Remembering a humble hero – Joseph, 14, the drummer boy

Joseph Blakeley's grave
Joseph Blakeley's grave

A history enthusiast has documented the life of a young hero from Leyland, who served in the siege of Lucknow.

Joseph Blakeley was a bugler and drummer, who was posted to India in 1857, when he was just 14.

He was caught up in the Indian uprising at Lucknow, when the entire Bengal Army challenged British rule.

Tens of thousands of people died in the battle but Joseph survived, returning to his home in Bradshaw Street, Leyland, now known as Spring Gardens.

History writer Jack Winrow’s imagination was captured when he came across Joseph’s grave at St Andrew’s Church.

Jack, who lives on the Fylde coast, says he has been aware of the memorial since he was a boy, but started to dig deeper when he reached retirement.

He said: “I have always been interested in Leyland’s long, rich history and I started writing in 1985 but I didn’t start again until I retired 15 years ago.

“I worked at Leyland Motors for a number of years and, when it closed down, I took early retirement and moved to the seaside, which is something I had always wanted to do.

“I started writing this book for myself but it finished up in the library.”

Jack’s book, entitled A Leyland Hero, details Joseph’s life, the timeline of the war, and includes extracts from Joseph’s own diary.

It is available from libraries in Leyland, Euxton, Chorley and Lostock Hall, and can be bought at Great Grandfathers Book Shop on Towngate, Leyland. Jack says he is glad his books are ensuring that people like Joseph aren’t forgotten, even all this time later.

He said: “As a boy there has never been anyone putting anything down, no plaques or flowers there. Since my book came out, it has been covered in flowers.”

Jack’s interest has also spread to other gravestones in the yard, including that of the entire Watson family.

Mum Helen, dad Cyril, and their six children died in 1940 when a German bomber dropped two bombs on Ward Street, Lostock Hall.

On their gravestone reads the words ‘Not now but in the coming years, it may be a better land. We’ll read the meaning of our tears, and there sometime we’ll understand.’

25 people died in the air raid, and the tale of the bombing is told in another of Jack’s books, The Ward Street Bombing.

Jack says his books are based on official details, not third-hand knowledge or gossip.

He said: “When I asked the library if they would be interested in my book, they persuaded me to keep on writing.

“They said they would like me to go to the Lancashire Records Office in Preston and get the original documents.

“They wanted the facts, not the gossip.”

Despite living on the Fylde coast, Jack still visits the area to dig deeper into its history.

“I may be 76 but every week I pack my bike and get on the train to Preston and cycle to Chorley, and then come back through Euxton and Leyland. I always stop at interesting sights and buildings along the way.”