John had chosen the army as his career when a young man. He had served in South Africa during the Boer War but, when War was declared in August 1914, was much closer to home. His Battalion was on garrison duty in Ireland and was immediately mobilised. It’s not known if he had time to return to Stockport to see family before he went on active service. His only known relative was his father, believed to have been Thomas Riley who lived on Brinksway.
The Battalion quickly arrived in France and took part in the Battle of Mons and the subsequent actions of the retreat. By the beginning of November, the fighting had already started to develop into the attrition of trench warfare that would characterise the Western Front for the next four years. On 6 November, John and his comrades were moved by bus to Ypres and, from there, they marched a couple of miles to the front line near Hooge, taking over trenches in a wood south of the main road.
The next day, the Germans attacked just 200 yards to the left of the Bedfordshires’ main position, driving out the British troops. The Bedfords helped with a counter attack and restored most of the situation. The next day passed relatively quietly.
The entry in the Battalion’s War Diary for the 9th describes how two soldiers, named Mart and Cyster, crept through the trench system to the part still occupied by the Germans and managed to recover two light machine guns that had been left there. There are no other details of the day, except that it is noted that 17 men, including John, were killed.