James Henshaw, a wheelwright, married Elizabeth Porritt in the early 1880s at Christ Church, Heaton Norris. John was born about 1885 and, a year later, his sister Emeline was born. At the time of the 1901 Census, the family was living in the Lancashire Hill area of Stockport and John was serving his apprenticeship as a wheelwright.
John is reported to have enlisted into the army on 18 August 1914, only two weeks after war was declared. He was served at Gallipoli where he was wounded in the arm. This was with the Regiment's 6th Battalion and John had left Britain on 13 June 1915. After he recovered, he was transferred to the 8th Battalion, which will have been in greater need of replacement troops, and was sent to France.
Towards the end of April 1917, the Battalion was in trenches near to the village of Monchy, about 6 kilometres east of the French town of Arras. Prior to being relieved on the 1 May, the men had suffered several days of heavy shelling and sniper fire, reducing their strength to only about 350. The next few days were supposedly a period of rest but, as was common, they spent their time digging trenches.
John and his mates returned to the front line on 10 May. The Regimental History describes the local attack which would cost John his life. It was nothing short of a complete shambles.
"It was in the afternoon of the 12th that the Battalion was ordered to attack a trench which was to be incorporated in the British front system and, after three minutes drum fire the men went over the top at 6pm. Their failure to reach their objective was due to a cause as unfortunate as it was unexpected. They were subject to heavy enfilade machine-gun fire from both flanks and they were also caught in their own machine-gun barrage which, though accurately laid on the enemy trenches, swept in its trajectory the crest of a rise over which the Battalion had to pass. Assailed on all sides, the attack launched in two waves on a three-company front had not enough momentum to carry it through. Five officers were wounded as soon as the Battalion rose from its trenches and thirty-eight other ranks were killed or missing. When the survivors struggled back under cover of darkness, the Battalion numbered only a hundred and sixty-seven."
Under the circumstances, it will have been impossible to recover the bodies of men who had been killed in No Man's Land. John's body was never recovered and identified and his name is now commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Arras. Another local man, Jesse Hall, was also killed in the attack.