Louis (“Lewis”) James Jossa 1881-1951
“Lewis” (Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Great Uncle) was working full time from his early teens as a Cartridge Boy in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich doing the unskilled and somewhat dangerous work of filling cartridges with explosive powder. After his Father’s marriage to Annie Taylor he started showing signs of anti-social behaviour; in 1897 he was caught letting off fireworks in the street and received a court appearance and a fine for his efforts. Having said that, throwing a few Bangers around probably didn’t seem like such a big deal to a boy who risked having a hand blown off any day at work while loading explosives into cartridges. He got a five shilling fine, and no doubt a clip ’round the ear from the PC who nicked him, and probably from his Dad when he got home.
Louis carried on working in the Royal Arsenal, but just being a Labourer there, although regular fairly well paid work, obviously didn’t suit him, perhaps living at home with a new Step-Mother, and normal teenage rebelliousness all contributed to his desire to seek pastures new, and in the Spring of 1899, at the age of 17, he walked into an Army Recruiting Office, and joined his local Regiment, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment. We know from the records that he had Brown Hair and eyes, and like the rest of his Family was a Roman Catholic. He was known in the amy as “Lewis” Jossa.
Louis wasn’t a big chap at 17, only 5 feet 4 inches tall and 115lbs (just over 8 Stone) but he was used to handling explosives, was physically fit, and after being drilled at the Barracks for three months, and was most likely a crack shot, as he was soon put forward as a good candidate for The King’s Royal Rifle Corps. The KRRC were an elite regiment who traditionally recruited shorter men, who were considered wiry and fast moving, presenting a smaller target on the battlefield and when used as snipers. In July 1899 “Lewis” joined the Corps. This was an upward move in his Services Career.
Louis spent the first 18 months at home in England then in Cork in the South of Ireland learning Rifle drill, marksmanship, and marching at double time. In December 1901 his Battalion was shipped out to South Africa where the Second Boer War was being fought by the British against the White South African Boers. A Mounted Infantry Company had gone ahead, to be followed by Louis and the Infantry. They arrived at Durban from where they proceeded to Harrismith 200 miles away, in the Newly formed British Orange River Colony.
The Infantry Battalion’s first job was to build a line of Fortified Block Houses with areas of barbed wire in between, these were manned and defended, whilst the Cavalry and Mounted Infantry attempted to Drive the enemy Boer Units onto the Rifles of the infantry’s defensive positions, effectively surrounding and cutting off Boer Units and forcing their surrender. The Blockhouses and their barbwire stretched for over 3,000 miles. Louis’s position near Harrismith can be seen on the map below the label “DE WET” the name of the local Boer Enemy Commander.
One odd feature of British Soldiers’ humour, was that almost every Blockhouse had it’s own dummy guards and dummy cannon, setup partly as a joke, and partly to draw Boer fire, especially at night, so that the Boers would give away their positions whilst “Tommy Atkins” was safely within the Blockhouse defences.
The King’s Royal Rifles took part in a number of confrontations with the Boers for which they were commended by Lord Kitchener. As the Cavalry Columns drove the Boers towards the Block Houses and Barbed Wire, attacks would take place to try to force a way through.
So it is highly likely that Louis saw a fair amount of action, as he not only received the South Africa Campaign Medal, but also three “Clasps” to denote were he took part, Louis had the Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the 1902 Clasps. Louis would stay in South Africa through 1902 and the end of the War.
One notable clash took place when General Christiaan De Wet, the local Boer Commander, successfully tried a new tactic of having his mounted “Commandos” drive herds of cattle into the barbed wire to force a way through, he successfully escaped from British pursuit by employing this tactic, although, such attempts were not always successful, with the British firing from their Blockhouse with tracer bullets, and employing trains mounted with searchlights and Machine Guns to try to intercept the Boer Columns.
At the end of the War Louis and the KRRC were shipped out, and between 1903 and 1905 Louis was back in the UK, then between 1905 and 1907 was stationed in Malta, one of the main British Garrison Islands in the Mediterranean. In 1907 he returned to the UK. It seems that Louis served his time well in the Army, but like so many soldiers, when not in action, the Devil would make work for is idle hands, and on two occasions outside of his time in South Africa he lost his Good Conduct Standing and pay, although on each occasion is was restored.
In 1907 Louis left the Regular Forces and went back to Civvie Street, but still serving in the 1st Class Army Reserves, so attended occasional musters and would have received a small payment as being liable to recall in time of War. At this time he sought and gained permission to settle in Canada whilst in the Army Reserve.
In August 1907 Louis sailed in steerage aboard the steamer Corsican, bound for Toronto, registered as a “City” Labourer (as opposed to an Agricultural Labourer). He didn’t last long in Canada, work may have been had to come by, and within 6 months was heading south to New York to seek work. Some years later in 1910 the British Military would strike him off the reserves list for “illegal absence” from musters, probably completely unaware that Louis was by then living in New York.
It’s possible that some members of his Mother’s extended Somers Family were already in New York, and may have sent Louis word about opportunities there, as in 1910 we find Louis living in an apartment with three members of the extended Somers Family, a Widow with two grown up children, plus Louis’s younger brother John Jossa, and a friend of theirs named John Curran, more of whom later.
Louis was a worker in an Iron Foundry, his brother John was a Machinist in a Machine Workshop, and John Curran was a woodworker on the Railways, while the Somers were working as a Car Inspector on the local Street Railway, and a Telephone Operator.
Their apartment was near 10th Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue at the time, or Death Avenue as the locals called it, because of the high numbers of deaths caused by the locomotives that crossed the roads in the area. Everyone in the apartment with Louis was English, apart from John Curran who was Irish, and indeed English born people were the third largest immigrant group in their block, after “Yiddish” Russian Jewish immigrants (and one Austrian Jewish Family) and Italians, followed by Germans, almost all the Americans in the block were children living with their immigrant parents. The English don’t really fit the representation of immigrants that are normally associated with New York in the early 20th Century, the English (and they do call themselves English not British) were probably barely seen as “foreign” compared to their more exotic neighbours, so, despite their large numbers, tend to be overlooked in popular US culture.
The 12th Ward of Manhattan were the brothers lived was a poor one, and this was reflected in the diseases that plagued the area, in 1910 it was reported that the 12th Ward was the worst for disease in the whole of Manhattan with 188 cases of Measles (Measles was a killer disease for children in the early 20th Century), 104 cases of Scarlet Fever, 55 cases of Diphtheria.
Despite the challenges, in 1911, Louis married an Irish girl named Elizabeth Curran, the sister of his friend John Curran. They began to raise a Family with Charles in 1912, Louis 1913, George 1916, and Ellen in 1917. Louis had managed to move away from Labouring and was working as an Elevator Operator by 1915, and despite being on the draft for WW1 and having an experience of battle conditions in the Boer War, was never called upon to serve, probably because of his age and lack of citizenship. At the end of the War in 1918 Louis finally applied to become a US Citizen.
By 1920 Louis had returned to being a Labourer, now in the New York Shipyards, perhaps the money was better in the Shipyards, or perhaps work was hard to find? Sometime in the 1920s Louis and Elizabeth’s daughter Ellen disappears from the records, the inference being that she had died as a child. In 1922 Louis took the family North to Elizabeth’s brother’s Farm (Edward Curran) in Edmonton Alberta Canada, it’s not clear if that was for work or a family visit, but we do know that Edward was an ex-soldier who had been given a grant to build a farmstead in the Canadian Plains in 1921, under the “Soldier Settlement” scheme, aimed at bringing British ex-soldiers over to settle in the Canadian Prairies. So it’s possible that if work was in short supply in New York, the Jossa’s moved to Canada to help Edward on the Farm, maybe even to look into setting there themselves.
However, there were still costs involved, so new settlers needed capital to setup, even ex-soldiers needed large loans at times. Whatever the reason, by 1925 Louis and family were back in New York, and Louis had found work as an Electrician. The family’s neighbours are now predominantly Italians, and native born Americans, as well as a few English and Scandinavians, not many people registered as German, as there were some mixed feelings about Germans after WW1.
There was little change for the Family as the as the 1930s arrived, they still lived in the Amsterdam Avenue area, Louis was an Elevator Mechanic, but now his elder sons Charles and Louis were working for a Brokerage Company as a Runner and a Clerk respectively, strangely the younger Louis also appears on the 1930 census on April 1st (9 days earlier) as an ordinary seaman onboard the USS Neches, perhaps he gave up a life on ships in the time in between? Most of their neighbours were now Americans, with a large Irish population, some Canadians and Russians, and a smattering of English, Scandinavian and German immigrants, plus the odd Turk, Hungarian, and a Japanese Cook.
By the 1940s there was still little change for the family, still living at Amsterdam Avenue, Louis still working as an Elevator Operator, Charles their eldest son had left home, while Louis Junior and George were still at home, however the stock market crash that started in 1929 had put paid to their careers ion brokerage, with the value of stocks and shares collapsing, closing companies, throwing thousands out of work, and causing the start of the great depression.
The boys were lucky, they managed to get jobs Louis Jnr now worked as a typesetter on the New York Times, whilst George had got a job through his Dad as an Elevator Operator.
The Jossa’s neighbours were mainly American born, but with notable numbers of Russians, Germans, Irish, English, and a smattering of Hungarians and other East Europeans, and a few Canadians and Scots.
Come the outbreak of WW2 Louis signed up for the “Old Man’s” draft, which was quite an optimistic thing to do given that he was 61 years old by then, but hats off to him for chutzpah. At the time he was an Elevator Operator for Gresham Realty.
After the War Louis and Elizabeth retired to Santa Barbara California where their eldest son Charles had settled.
In Part 4 we shall see what happened to Charles Jossa, and his adventures in the workhouse, Navy, Marines, and Army, across England, USA and Canada.
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