John was born in Stockport, the son of cotton card grinder Robert Barratt and his wife, Mary Emma. The family lived at 22 Wood Street and, later, at 154 Daw Bank. The 1901 Census shows that he had an older brother, George, who would also serve in the army during the War. There were two younger sisters and a brother - Mary, Elizabeth and Arthur. He was educated at St Peter's School where the family is thought to have worshipped. He was also an active member of the Church's Company of the Boys' brigade
When he left school, he went to work at the cotton thread mills on Brinksway belonging to Louis G Drinkwater Ltd. But, on 13 January 1914, he joined the army as a regular soldier, no doubt intending to make it his career. Remnants of his service papers still exist at the National Archives. They were badly damaged in a fire during the 1940s, but it is possible to note that he was of a sallow complexion and had given his religious denomination as Anglican. After training, he was posted to the 2nd Battalion on 24 April.
When War was declared on 4 August, the 2nd Battalion was rushed overseas, landing in France on the 11th and taking part in all the early battles. John was not amongst them and was retained in England until 13 December. It is not known why - perhaps it was felt more training was needed for this new recruit or, perhaps, he was not fully fit at the time. His file shows that, in the middle of April 1915, he was away from duty for several days whilst he received treatment for boils, rejoining his mates on the 27th.
Towards the end of September, the Battalion was preparing to take part in a major offensive which would later be called the Battle of Loos and which was scheduled to be launched on the 25th. The British artillery opened it's bombardment on the 21st. This continued throughout the next day. The Germans, of course, responded with their own shelling and, sometime over the two days, John was badly injured by shrapnel in the head and both legs. He was taken to the dressing station, a little way behind the front line, which was operated by 6th Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, but there was nothing that could be done for him.