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Captain Eric Rigby-Jones MC and Bar

20 September 1897 – 20 July 1952.

Captain Eric Rigby-Jones  MC and Bar

Eric Rigby-Jones was born in Cheadle and raised in Ormskirk where his family owned the ropeworks. Eric left Rossall School in 1914 at the age of sixteen, a week before the outbreak of war, and then spent a year as an apprentice with the ropemakers, Jackson McConnan and Temple, at Goree Piazzas, Liverpool before deciding to join up. He was still six weeks short of his eighteenth birthday when he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Liverpool Rifles, the 6th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, in August 1915. As he was not allowed to serve overseas until he was nineteen he was not sent to France until January 1917. On arrival there he was immediately transferred to the 20th Battalion, the last of the Liverpool Pals’ four battalions to be formed in 1914, and would spend the rest of his time on the Western Front with the Pals in the 89th Brigade.

In April 1917 he commanded a platoon in D Company at the start of the Battle of Arras when his battalion attacked the Hindenburg Line at St Martin-sur-Cojeul. After his relief he was admitted to hospital with trench fever. In May he was back with the Pals for their week-long march from France to Ypres where they were to take part in the start of the British offensive on 31 July. Luckily Eric, who was now a company commander and acting Captain, did not take part as his turn for his first fortnight’s home leave had come up a week earlier. The Pals would be stationed near Ypres for the rest of the year but, after their losses on the Somme in 1916 and at Arras and Ypres in 1917, they needed time to re-group and so were kept away from the main fighting. Eric stood in as battalion quartermaster for several weeks in the autumn and was mentioned in despatches for his service in the field during the latter part of 1917.

Early in 1918 the Pals were among the first units to be moved to the eastern end of the extended British line south of St Quentin in anticipation of a major German offensive in the spring. In February, when the strength of every brigade in the British army was reduced from four to three battalions due to a crisis in manpower, the 20th Battalion was disbanded and Eric was transferred to the 17th Battalion where he was given command of A Company. He would be the only officer in his battalion to serve throughout the six weeks of the German offensive, from 21 March to 29 April, and was later awarded the Military Cross and Bar for his bravery during its opening and closing phases. On the evening of the first day he and his men were attached temporarily to the 184th brigade in another division and sent on what he described as a suicide mission to hold up the German advance north of Holnon Wood – luckily they were ordered to re-join the 89th Brigade and retreat behind the Somme the following morning just as they saw the Germans advancing; although surrounded on several occasions, Eric then exercised complete control over his men during their hungry and exhausting week-long retreat to Amiens; and, after being transferred back to Ypres in early April, he helped see off the final desperate German assault on the city at Voormezeele at the end of the month.

Having been badly gassed and buried alive twice by shells on the final day Eric was invalided home in May for the rest of the war. He was presented with his Military Cross and Bar by the King at Buckingham Palace on 26 September, a week after his twenty-first birthday. With the Pals having been disbanded after the German offensive due to the scale of their losses Eric rejoined the Liverpool Rifles and was sent back to Belgium immediately after the armistice, where he served until his demobilisation in January 1919. In 1921 he commanded the guard of honour when the Prince of Wales visited Liverpool to open the Hall of Remembrance at the Town Hall. He finally resigned his commission in the Territorial Army on 11 November 1935, the 17th anniversary of the armistice.

On his return from Belgium in 1919 Eric joined the family rope business, H. and J. Jones, in Liverpool and Ormskirk and worked there until 1933 when the worldwide recession forced him to move to Ireland where, with the support of the Irish government, he established a new ropeworks from scratch in the derelict former British cavalry barracks in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. His company, Irish Ropes, was listed on the Dublin stock exchange immediately after the war in 1946 and Eric went on to become a leading industrialist and a world leader in the fine spinning of sisal fibre and the manufacture of sisal carpets. He died of cancer in 1952, aged 54, leaving behind a widow and three children. He was buried in Newbridge. His family have always said that he never fully recovered his health after his experiences on the Western Front. The story of Eric’s experiences in the war, based on his diaries and letters home, has recently been told by his grandson, John, in his book, Best Love To All, which was published by Helion & Co in 2017. His next book, about Eric’s life and career after the war, is due to be published in 2020. Eric’s medals, diaries, and letters were presented by his family to the Museum of Liverpool in 2018.