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Joseph was born in Wolverhampton on 8 September 1896, the son of Eliza Kelly. In 1901, he was living with his grandparents, his mother and brothers William and Albert Edward, at 241 Steelhouse Lane, Wolverhampton. His mother appears to have remarried, as by 1911 Joseph and his brothers were living with their mother and step-father, Walter Burns, at 19 Commercial Road, Wolverhampton. Joseph was working as a blacksmith striker for a hurdle manufacturer.

Joseph enlisted initially in the South Staffordshire Regiment (number 24786), and later transferred to the Worcestershire Regiment (number 40402). He was listed as wounded in the Express & Star on 26 May 1917. However, he appears to have recovered from these wounds, and survived the war.

In 1920, Joseph married Anne Beddows in Wolverhampton, and the couple had four children – Mary I. (1921), Joseph W. (1924), Kathleen (1927) and Jean M. (1930). Joseph died in Wolverhampton in 1964.