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John Cloe (1878-1917)

Sergeant who died from anthrax

My Great Grandfather was Serjeant John Cloe of ‘B’ Company, 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. He was born 12 February 1878 at Hill Top, Dipton, County Durham.

According to his service record, John Cloe enlisted on 20 September 1914, aged 31 years 7 months [possibly an error on his service record as Cloe would have been 36 years 7 months]. He died on 22 April 1917, at No. 20 Casualty Clearing Station in France of anthrax. He is buried at Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery, Saulty, France.

He left behind, his wife Amelia Cloe (nee Carr) and 5 children, Amelia (15), John (14), Lily (11), Manuel (7) and my grandmother Meggie (3).

Additional information from the Durham at War team:
It is extremely interesting that the cause of death is anthrax. On looking at the war diary for 15th Battalion, they were in rest and training for nearly two weeks prior to John Cloe’s death. The diary of No. 20 Casualty Clearing Station provides Cloe’s regimental number, rank, and name in full, with cause of death ‘Anthrax’ underlined. In the entries of a few months either side of this entry, no other patient is individually named, suggesting the death was noteworthy.

Research shows that John Cloe might have been one of a small but significant number of men who died throughout the war due to shaving brushes that were contaminated with anthrax. Shaving kits were a common care item sent out to soldiers.

Shaving brushes were commonly made from badger hair but the war was disrupting the supply of this. Other sources were found, such as horse hair, to make the brushes. It is reported that this hair was not cleaned as well as it should have been, and some contained anthrax spores. If a user was to cut themselves shaving, the wound could be infected with the spores.

A document in John Cloe’s service record indicates that he had been feeling ill for several days before arriving at the Casualty Clearing Station, and had a glandular enlargement on his neck, and an ulcer. A smear of the ulcer found anthrax bacilli.

There is no evidence as to the source of the anthrax so it can not be confirmed that a shaving brush was the cause, the circumstances of Cloe’s illness and death suggest a strong possibility.

Further information about anthrax and shaving brushes can be found here:

Wife – Ameilia, nee Carr
Children – Amelia, John, Lily, Manuel, Meggie

Military Service:
18409 Private 20-Sep-1914
Acting Lance Corporal 4-Feb-1915
Corporal 26-Sep-Jun-1916
Sergeant 1-Jul-1916

Civil Parish: Collierley

Contributed by Caerportus, Portchester, Hampshire | additional information - Durham County Record Office

Comments on this story


My grandad William Higgins was step brother to John Cole and joined The Durham Light Infantry together William was lucky and returned from the war in France He moved to Stainforth in South Yorkshire to work at Hatfield Main Colliery

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