It may be difficult to appreciate the grief that Mary Blease must have felt when news came that her eldest son, John, had been killed. It is, certainly, impossible to comprehend how she must have felt when , almost exactly a year later, news arrived that her other son, Leonard, had also been killed. Within three years, she had lost two sons to the War and a husband to illness - George Blease had died in 1915.
The family had lived in Edgeley for some considerable time - first at 1 Greenhill Place and, later, at 20 Petersburg Road and John is believed to have worked in Manchester.
At the beginning of September 1914, he enlisted into the army in the city, joining the third of the "Pals Battalions" being formed by the Manchester Regiment. It was entirely recruited in just two days - the 5th and 7th - and John was assigned, probably on the first day, to No. 8 Platoon, "B" Company. . Some details of the Battalion's recruitment and training can be found here. Training was over by November 1915 and the Pals went to France on active service.
1 July 1916 was the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. It was John's first time in a major action and he came through unscathed.
After a few days in reserve to recuperate, the Manchester Pals returned to the front line on 8 July. The next major attack in this sector would be on the heavily defended German positions in Trones Wood. Other units led the attack on the Wood and, during the afternoon, "A" and "B" Companies were pushed forward to support them. At about 5pm, "C" and "D" were also sent forward to prop up the attack and hold the positions on the edge of the Wood for the night.
An unnamed officer, writing in the Battalion History said "At that time, the damage by shellfire was not extensive. The leaves were green and there was thick undergrowth, but already there were signs of the carnage to come. Dead and wounded of the 21st Brigade and the enemy lay about everywhere and as it was not safe to show even a hand above the trench, the work of trying to make some sort of firestep in Trones Alley (the captured German trench) was rendered extremely difficult." Throughout the night, the Manchesters were shelled and the German launched three counter-attacks which were unsuccessful in dislodging the men.
On the morning of the 9th, the 17th Manchesters were ordered to renew the attack on the Wood and the 18th were ordered to be in support of them. The 18th's officer continues "...the small body of survivors, mostly "B" Company and a few men of "A" and "C" were rather surprised, to put it mildly. They had exhausted their ammunition (and themselves incidentally) in their efforts during the night, but by collecting from the dead and wounded they were able to replenish their pouches, and when the bayonets of the 17th Manchesters were seen flashing in the sun as they advanced across from the Briqueterie our men raised a cheer."
As the 17th went into action, the men from the 18th followed in support abut 100 yards behind. "Our difficulties began as soon as we entered the Wood. Our advance had been clearly seen by the Germans who made preparations accordingly. A deluge of shells, such as can rarely have been equalled...fell upon the part of the Wood we had entered. Trees crashed down on every side, men lost touch in the undergrowth, wounded lay where they fell for no help could be given to them and within less than half an hour the attack of the two battalions had been dissipated and small bodies of men wandered about the Wood, almost blind by shell fumes, having lost touch with their companions, having, in fact, no sense of direction at all. And all the time the shells fell without ceasing."
At about midday, "A" Company was detached to give support to the Royal Scots Fusiliers. In the late afternoon, orders were given to both Battalions to withdraw from Trones Wood as best they could. The remnants of "B" and "C" Companies were able to withdraw successfully but the message did not reach the very small number of men still fighting with "D" Company and it was not until mid-evening that they pulled back. "A" Company remained with the Fusiliers and had helped fight off a counter-attack at about 3.30pm before they also withdrew later in the afternoon.
65 men had been killed since the men moved into the front line on the 8th. Official records indicate that, most surprisingly, only 4 are recorded as been killed on the 8th. Perhaps, in the chaos of the two days, correct army form-filling was not a high priority. As well as John, two other local men, John Gorton and Sidney Ingham had been killed.