Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Honouring unsung heroes

ercy Jeeves, who was born in Earlsheaton. in his uniform. Picture from the Kelly Collection.
ercy Jeeves, who was born in Earlsheaton. in his uniform. Picture from the Kelly Collection.

There were many men from Dewsbury killed in World War One whose names were never recorded on the war memorial in Crow Nest Park.

Why they were omitted no-one knows, but fortunately a group of dedicated local war historians are making sure these omissions are rectified.

One name which should be on the memorial is that of a young soldier called Percy Jeeves, who was born in Earlsheaton.

Before going to war, Percy, was a first class cricketer playing for Warwickshire, but his sporting career was cruelly cut short by the war.

He was killed in the Battle of the Somme, aged 28, but his body like those of thousands more was never found.

Little is known about Percy's early life in Dewsbury, but local historian Betty Goodwin has learned that he was born in Earlsheaton.

Later he moved with his parents and siblings to Ravensthorpe, where his parents were living when he was killed.

Although Percy's father, Edwin Jeeves, came from Hitchen in Hertfordshire, his mother's family were native to Earlsheaton right back to 1841.

It is believed that Percy, who was born in 1888, went to live in Goole in 1901 when he would be aged around 13.

Alan Kaye, who is part of the committee recording names of local men killed in World War One, says they have come across a number of other Dewsbury men whose names should be on the memorial.

"I am aware of Percy Jeeves as one of the cricketing victims of WWI, and that he came from Dewsbury, therefore it would be fitting that his name should be included on the town's memorial."

Percy Jeeves until recently was not remembered for his heroism in battle, or even for his cricketing skills, but rather for his unusual surname.

For the celebrated author, P G Wodehouse, chose this name for his fictional butler Jeeves in his Bertie Wooster tales.

Woodhouse, a lover of cricket, admitted that it was while watching Percy play for Warwickshire that he got the idea of using his name.

But Jeeves did not become a household name until the Wodehouse books were adapted for television and several famous actors played the part, the most recent being Stephen Fry.

Percy, who was 28 when he was killed, was the son of Edwin and Nancy Jeeves, of Craven Street, Ravensthorpe, but few people were aware of his link with the famous literary figure.

Percy was an outstanding bowler, but his cricketing career came to an abrupt end when he joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment during the First World War.

Percy's heroism in battle, like that of so many of his comrades, might never have been acknowledged but for a brilliant book written by Birmingham journalist Brian Halford.

The book is entitled The Real Jeeves – The Cricketer Who Gave His Life For His Country and His Name To A Legend.

The book, priced £16.99 and published by Pitch Publishing, recounts Percy's heroism on the battlefield, his remarkable cricketing career and how he became a literary phenomenon through the P G Wodehouse books.

It was just six weeks after playing his last first class match with Warwickshire on August 29, 1914, that Percy began his military training for war.

Tragically, he was killed 21 months later in The Somme in a place called High Wood and his parents were informed by telegram that he had been reported missing.

His body was never found but his name can be found with 72,000 others on the Thiepval Monument which is dedicated to those soldiers with no known grave.

Brian's book which was published to coincide with the centenary of World War One, spent 11 years on and off researching the book and two years writing it.

He said in an interview with the Birmingham Post at the time of publication: "The more I learned about Percy, the more I admired him for his cricket talent, his humility and the patriotism which cost him his life.

"Many men had as much to give as Percy – but none had more. The lives of many ended in circumstances as appalling and hopeless as Percy's – but none more so.

"All of my research suggests that Jeeves was a terrific player. He never played for England but he would have done if they had played Test matches in the summer of 1914."

It was while PG Wodehouse was in New York in 1916 that he decided to use Jeeves' name for one of his characters.

Writing from his home in New York in 1967 to confirm this, Wodehouse wrote: "I suppose Jeeves' bowling must have impressed me, for I remembered him in 1916 when I was in New York and starting the Jeeves and Bertie saga and it was just the name I wanted. I remember admiring his action very much."

• Grateful thanks to Graham Young of the Birmingham Post whose review of Brian's book provided some material for this article.