Rank: Sapper
Number: 20735
Unit: 23rd Field Company ROYAL ENGINEERS
Date of Death: 3 February 1915
Cemetery: Bethune Town Cemetery, Pas de Calais

It has been difficult to establish John Melville's story. His name is inscribed on the Stockport War Memorial amongst those who served with the Royal Engineers. The Cheshire Daily Echo reported his death in the following terms "Official intimation has been received that Sapper John Melville of the Royal Engineers has died of wounds at Bethune. Sapper Melville was formerly employed by Mr R R Shuttleworth as a pawnbroker's assistant and lived at 4 George Street, Stockport. He was 25 years of age and unmarried."

Initially, no trace could be found of this man amongst the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. However, eventually an examination on the Commission records for burials at Bethune revealed a man called John Melvell, whose details are given above. The spelling as Melvell is also confirmed by the soldier's medal entitlement records at the National Archives. Army records published after the War show that this man had been born in the Manchester area and enlisted at Stockport and must be the right person.

An examination of the 1901 Census and local births records has been made to try to establish the correct spelling but without success. There is no mention of a Manchester area birth around 1890 of anyone with either spelling of the surname. It seems likely that Melvell is correct as this is the name he enlisted under. A possible explanation for the spelling on the War Memorial is that the name was taken from the newspaper report and that as he had no family in the area, there was no-one to correct it. However, it is impossible to be certain and, with the passage of time, his real name will probably never be known.

It is also unknown how he came to be mortally wounded. The Field Company's War Diary has been examined at the National Archives and gives no real clue. Numbers of men wounded are given but there are no names. The period in late January/early February was one of relative quiet for the British 1st Division, of which John was part. There were no major attacks and it is likely that he was wounded by shellfire. John will have died in one of the military hospitals then based at Bethune

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