Joseph was born on 28th November 1888 in Needingworth and his mother was Elizabeth Mansfield. He had an older sister Elizabeth, and a younger brother John. His mother then married George Seekings and he was the half-brother of Mary and George Seekings. In the 1901 census he is a Plough Boy, but in the 1911 census he is a soldier in the 2nd Bedfordshire Regiment and is in Bermuda.
His Battalion was part of the British Expeditionary Force, the Old Contemptibles, and embarked for France on 16th August 1914. They were heavily engaged at Mons and the First Battle of Ypres.
At the time of Joseph’s death on 19th April 1915 the Bedfords were in the line at Hill 60, which the Allies captured on 17th April. During this attack the Bedfords were deployed on each flank of the attacking troops with the order to remain in line and provide the heaviest possible rifle fire in aid of these troops. The attack commenced as mines were exploded under the hill, which was the signal for the artillery to begin their bombardment. April 19th found the Bedfords on Hill 60 itself, relieving the West Ridings with difficulty.
The Battalion Diary says – “No one appears to know where the next post on the right or left was … and the enemy kept making small bombing attacks all along the line. After struggling through the craters, over dead and wounded men, and along old pieces of trench we eventually managed to relieve the West Ridings. Then began some hard work; to make more or less a continuous line of fire trenches, and to dig a communication trench from the top of the hill to our old front line. Before we could do this we had to get away a large number of wounded men who were scattered about everywhere. Each man worked hard all night. The bombardment never ceased and about 5am increased in intensity, and the German Infantry made a powerful attack. After a hard struggle and some fierce hand to hand fighting, in which the bayonet was freely used, the attack was repulsed. Both sides suffered heavily”
At 7am on the 20th April the Bedfords were relieved on Hill 60 by the East Surreys, and retired to their old trenches at the bottom of the hill, where they were continually bombarded and received more casualties. For Joseph Mansfield this no longer mattered as he was already dead on Hill 60 – the first son of Needingworth to die in the Great War.
He is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, Belgium. He received the 1914/15 Star Victory Medal and the British War Medal.
Hunts Post 22nd May 1915
Needingworth Man Killed
Needingworth has learned with regret of the loss of Private Joseph Mansfield. He was a reservist in the 1st Bedfords at the outbreak of the war, and was one of the first Needingworth men to go to France. From then up to the time of his death, about the 28th April, numerous letters have been received by different villagers from him. He had come unscathed through the many stiff fights of the Bedfords, and had begun to look forward to returning in the near future. Being of a happy disposition, he was much liked by all with whom he came in contact, and up to last season regularly played in the village football team.
Private Mansfield is the first Needingworth man to fall, although at present there are serving in France Ptes. H Attwood, Royal Fusiliers; Pte C Mansfield, 3rd Hussars; Pte E Easton, 1st Cambs; and Pte T Gray, King’s Own Rifles. Pte Attwood during last week received slight injury to the arm, and Pte Easton is at present in hospital suffering from injuries to the hand.