Rank: Private
Number: 31926
Unit: 8th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment
Date of Death: 8 June 1917
Age: 35
Cemetery: Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France


John was born in the Stockport area in about 1882, the son of Ralph and Mary Ann. Ralph died in 1891, aged 41. In 1901, Mary and her three children (James, John and Annie) were thought to have been living at 14 Alpine Road, Stockport.

John would later marry and, in the 1920s, his widow, Mary Elizabeth Jackson, was living at 21 Grimshaw Street in the Turncroft Lane area of town.

His army service number is not an early one and suggests he probably did not enlist until late 1915 or 1916.

Planning for a major attack south of the Belgian town of Ieper had been underway for over twelve months. The forthcoming Battle of Messines  was intended as a preliminary move to occupy high ground which runs from Armentieres to Dixmude and which overlooked the Allied positions in the Ypres Salient. Detailed preparations had been in hand for some time - road-making, water supply, dressing stations, aid posts, telephone exchanges, machine gun emplacements, etc - all had to be built, together with miles of communication and assembly trenches. A key to the success of the operation would be the explosion of 20 mines under the German defences. Tunnellers had been digging for months and everything was now ready

Three full Army Corps would launch the attack on a six mile frontage. 25th Division, which included three Cheshire Battalions, would attack on a front on 1260 yards wide. The South Lancahsires would be held in reserve from the initial assault and would then "leapfrog" the leading battalions to take the second objectives.

John and his mates assembled in Crescent Trench, on 6 June. Enemy shelling was persistent and several men were killed. All the troops had to wear their gas masks as the Germans fired lachrymatory shells as well as high explosive.

At 4.45am on the 7th, they left their trenches and moved to engage the enemy at Despagne Farm, taking it with little opposition. They immediately pushed patrols forward. Two hours later, "C" Company had completed "mopping up" the area. The Company had had a stiff fight for Lumm Farm which was heavily defended by machine guns. It was eventually rushed by a platoon led by 2nd Lieutenant Stowell.

A new trench was quickly dug and the gaps in the line held by the South Lancashires were quickly plugged as other units also moved forward. There was a counter-attack at 1.45pm but this was driven off by rifle and Lewis gun fire.

Sometime during the day, John was badly wounded. He was evacuated from the battlefield to one of the field hospitals based a few miles away across the border into France. There, military surgeons would have done all they could, but he died the next day. John Ainsworth, another local man with the South Lancashires, was killed during the day's fighting.

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