John William OLDHAM
Rank: Private
Number: 11870
Unit: 1/4th Battalion King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment
Date of Death: 27 September 1917
Age: 27
Cemetery: Mendinghem Military Cemetery, Poperinghe, Belgium

John was the eldest child of the family which is recorded in the 1901 Census as living in a four room home at 37 Brook Street, South Reddish. He was named after his father, then aged 39, and working as a doubler in a cotton mill. His mother was 34 year old Violetta and her mother, Sarah Bruckshaw, lived with them. John's entry on the Census form records him as John Willie and it is probable that he was known as Willie, to distinguish him from his father. His younger siblings were Mary (then 7), Samuel (3) and Emmy (1).

When Willie left school he also went to work in the cotton industry and, in due course, became a doubler. When war was declared in August 1914, he was working for J & G Walthew Ltd, which had a mill in Stockport. He is commemorated in the Company's entry in the Manchester City Battalions Book of Honour (page 509). He joined up on 2 September 1914 and went overseas on 17 July 1915.

At the beginning of September 1917, Willie's unit was in reserve at Bonningues in northern France. The Battalion War Diary notes that, on the 1st, the finals of the Inter-Company Football competition were played, with the Headquarters team beating "C" Company by 3 goals to nil. Subsequent days were spent in training for the forthcoming attack. This comparatively quiet time came to an end on the 14th, when the battalion moved to an area north of Ypres.

On the 19th, they moved forward, taking over a section of the front line. The Battle of Passchendaele had been going on since 31 July and progress had been slow and at great cost. The front line at this point was just a collection of shell holes. During the night, the Battalion took up its final assault position. At 5.40am, the whistles blew and the men clambered out of the holes and started to advance through deep mud. In spite of stubborn opposition, the leading troops reached their first objective. After a slight pause to re-group, they continued to advance, but sustained heavy casualties from enemy fire from one side. A battalion of the North Lancashire Regiment then came up to support them and leap-frogged the Lancasters to capture more ground. Both battalions then stopped at a captured German trench known as Schuler Galleries and prepared for a counter attack. Losses amongst both Battalions meant that the most senior officer was only a captain. Capt. Proctor assumed command and they held this line all day, in spite on an intense enemy bombardment and fire from both flanks. 57 men had been killed during the day, including two from the Stockport area - Harry Pownall and Leonard Truran.

Over the next three days, the men in the front line were subjected to heavy artillery bombardments and an infantry attack was expected, but it failed to materialise and on the 24th , the King's Own was relived from the front line. Some time over these recent days, Willie was badly wounded. He was evacuated to one of the Casualty Clearing Stations a few miles away at Poperinghe. Military surgeons at one of these mobile hospitals would have tried to save his life but without success.

The local newspaper published an "In Memoriam" notice from the family, by then living at 13 Bangor Street, South Reddish. It mentioned that his brother, Sam, was serving "somewhere in France" as was his "true Pal", J Mantle. His "sweetheart", Bertha lived at 4 Chester Street in the Chestergate area of town. Mention was also made of Aunt Emma, 79 New Zealand Road and Uncle Samuel, Clarendon Street.

His brother was actually serving in Belgium, not France, at the time and news would come less than two weeks later that Sam had been killed.

(NB: Original research into Battalion activities by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorials website)

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