John was the eldest child of Samuel and Martha Gould. The 1901 Census found the family living in Reddish, where he’d been born, at 166 Reddish Road. He was then aged 19 and working as a card room hand at the Coronation Cotton Mill belonging to John W Whittaker & Co, Coronation Street, Reddish. The Census also records his four siblings – Thomas (then 17), Albert (15), Eliza (11) and Eva (4).
In later life, John was a teacher at Tiviot Dale Sunday Scholl and became ambulance instructor to the local Boy Scouts. He was a committed tee-totaller and Secretary of the local Band of Hope. In 1902, he married Mary A Derbyshire at Heaton Moor Methodist Church. The couple lived at 7 Beard Street, Heaton Norris and would have three children together.
John joined the army on 15 July 1915 and his past experience made him an ideal recruit for the RAMC. He went overseas in the late spring of 1916 and had been invalided home at some point suffering with rheumatic fever.
Salta had been built as a passenger ship, of 7200 tons, in 1911. In 1915, she was acquired by the Admiralty and converted for use as a hospital ship. She was operated on the Admiralty’s behalf by Union Castle Mail Steamship Ltd.
On 10 April 1917, she was nearing the French port of Le Havre from Southampton with a cargo of medical stores. Early that morning, a patrol craft found drifting mines (later ascertained to have been laid the previous day by the German submarine UC26. At 11.20am, Salta’s identity was confirmed by the drifter “Diamond” and she was approved to enter the port. Whilst following the buoyed channel into Le Havre, Salta's Captain Eastaway gave orders to alter course to the north. The commander of the Diamond relayed a frantic message that Salta was now approaching the zone where the mines had been seen. One of the Salta's surviving officers later reported that Eastaway was concerned about entering Le Havre without a pilot because of the bad weather and had wanted to let the other ships pass.
Realising the grave danger, Eastaway tried to re-trace his course back to the buoyed channel. In poor weather conditions, Salta drifted across the mined zone and hit a mine at 11.43am. An enormous explosion breached the hull near the engine room and hold No. 3. She quickly listed to starboard and sank in less than 10 minutes, ½ mile north of Whistle Buoy.
Despite help arriving rapidly, the state of the sea and the strong winds hampered the rescue operation and the human cost was appalling. Of 205 passengers and crew, 130 perished. In spite of extensive searches, only 13 bodies were initially recovered. There are now 24 burials from the sinking of the Salta in Ste. Marie Cemetery, Le Havre, and also a memorial to those who were not recovered. As well as John, two of his comrades, Mark Kinder and Frederick Hodkinson, also died.