In the late 1880s, Charles Marsland, a coal hewer, married Rachel Fidler at St Mary’s Church, Cheadle. They would have two children, John and Eliza. The family lived for many years at 313 London Road, Hazel Grove and both children were born in the village
When John left school, he gained an apprenticeship with Swain & Co, the publishers of the Stockport Express and the Cheshire Daily Echo. In due course, he served his time to become a letterpress printer. In May 1915, John travelled into Manchester; joined the army and was assigned to the Artillery. 150th Brigade was part of the Army’s 30th Division which contained several battalions of infantry of the Manchester and Liverpool “Pals”.
The Division went overseas towards the end of 1915 and, around this time, John will have been promoted first to Lance Bombardier and then to Bombardier. These are the artillery equivalents of the infantry ranks of Lance Corporal and Corporal
The infantry attack on 1 July 1916 normally marks the opening of the Battle of the Somme but John will have been in action for two weeks before this as the artillery bombarded the German trenches and fired to try to cut the barbed wire that was strung across No Man’s Land. The thoroughness of the artillery in the south of the battlefield made 30th Division’s attack one of the rare successes of the day. In preparation for further attacks, there had been no respite for John and his mates and they were firing almost constantly for the next two weeks.
Further advances were made and, as the front line moved forward so did the artillery. After he was killed, one of the officers from “B” Battery wrote to his parents to explain what had happened. “He was sent forward to dig a new gun emplacement in a forward position to which the battery was moving. A party of 15 in all they were, and all was very quiet in the evening when suddenly without warning, a single shell burst on the road amongst them. Only seven escaped. Your son was only two yards from where the shell burst and was killed instantly. He was buried the same evening close to where he was killed. Your son had only joined the battery recently. He had had much hard work to do, digging and building, but he always did his duty conscientiously and cheerfully.”
Further information about John, including a photograph, can be found in the book “Hazel Grove to Armageddon” by John Eaton. In the book Mr Eaton writes that John shares his grave with another soldier, Gunner Dawson and concludes that it was probably not possible to separately identify the bodies. In fact, there are not two burials in the grave and William Dawson’s body is buried separately next to John’s grave (as confirmed by the grave reference information of the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission).