Rank: Gunner
Number: 160873
Unit: 299th Siege Battery ROYAL GARRISON ARTILLERY
Date of Death: 21 March 1918
Age: 32
Cemetery: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

John was born in Hazel Grove, the son of Edward H Taylor, a local butcher. In later life, John would follow his father’s trade. In 1901 he married Jessie Elizabeth Little at St Thomas’ Church, Norbury.

John’s service number confirms he was not an early volunteer for the army and it may be that he did not join until conscription was introduced in 1916. He was, therefore, probably an original member of 299th Siege Battery when it was formed at Dover on 1 November of that year. The Siege Batteries fired the most powerful guns in the Artillery and 299th was equipped with six 6-inch howitzers, capable of firing their 54kg shells over 10 kilometres.

A German offensive had long been expected in the spring of 1918. The only questions in the minds of the British defenders were where would it fall – and when. The answers came in the early hours of 21 March on a wide front between the French towns of Arras and St Quentin. Just before 5am, the German artillery opened a massive bombardment, It fell not only on the front line but, also, on the rear areas where the reserve infantry and artillery units were based and continued for several hours.

The War Diary for the Battery no longer exists at the National Archives and the details of the day is therefore sketchy but there are some accounts in the edition of the Field Artillery Journal published in the summer of 1920. The German infantry had started its attack at about 8am and within a short time large parts of the front line had been overrun. The Journal notes, however, the 299th Battery was still operational and firing at targets at 11.20am. By midday, the enemy had reached the British reserve line. Two hours later, an officer was despatched from artillery HQ to see what the situation was at 229th Battery. Telephone communications were, presumably, literally shot to pieces.

The infantry, meanwhile, had been in retreat although fighting all the way but many men had been taken prisoner or were dead. Well to the rear, 299th Battery was still operational and was sent new target information at about 5pm. These orders were changed less than an hour later as congested enemy transport had been spotted making its way forward along tracks. They made a good target. It has not been possible to establish any further information about the Battery’s activities on this day and it must be assumed that, at some point, John had become a victim of the German shelling. His body was never recovered and identified – hardly surprising in the circumstances of the retreat which continued for several days more and which cost the British all the ground gained in the previous two years.

Further information about John can be found in the book “Hazel Grove to Armageddon” by John Eaton.

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