John had been born in Ashton-under-Lyne in about 1884. When the National Census was taken in 1901, the family had moved to Stockport and was living at 2 Parker Street. His father had died by then but his 39 year old mother, Caroline, was working as a charwoman. John was he oldest child, then 18. He worked as a grinder in a cotton mill. Also at home were her two other children - Alfred (15) and Annie (10).
When John volunteered for the army in February 1915, he was working as a labourer. He had also married by this time and had two children. They were all living at 15 Knowsley Court, Bamford Street, Stockport. After training, John went overseas on 22 June 1915, as part of a draft of replacements for casualties in the 1st Battalion. This was a regular army unit but, by even this early stage of the War, it was accepting new recruits who had joined up only for the duration of the fighting.
On 28 February 1916, the Battalion started a tour of duty in the front line trenches near to Hawthorn Ridge, Beaumont Hamel, in the heart of what a few months later would be the Somme Battlefield. For most of the time over the coming days, the men worked to improve the condition of the trenches. The Battalion's War Diary makes no mention of casualties during this tour. The Diary for 3 March records only that the Battalion ended it's tour that day and was relieved by the 7th Worcesters. It notes that the trenches remained in a bad state and "much work is required to keep pace with the weather".
A Lance Corporal friend of John's later wrote to his widow "As you know, your husband was a Battalion sniper along with myself and whilst engaged in building a loophole, he was hit by a German sniper and died almost immediately, suffering no pain. Your husband was one of the bravest men in the Regiment and was well liked and respected by all who knew him. He was the dearest chum I ever had and I shall miss him very much. He was buried just behind the trenches and later a cross will be put over his grave and if I come through safe myself, I will take you to it after the war."
His officer also wrote "He had been under me as a scout for a number of months and I always found him ready to go out scouting beyond our lines at any time. He was a brave man, quite without fear, and was a very good soldier. One thing you may comfort yourself with is that death came to him very quickly and almost painlessly".
John appears to have undertaken two of the most important jobs in the Battalion - that of scout and sniper. Scouts would go out into No Man's Land at night and try to get as close to the enemy trench as possible in the hope of picking up intelligence. It took great skill and bravery.
The static nature of trench warfare means it is difficult to over-estimate the importance of the trained Battalion snipers. At times of relative quiet in the trenches, the fear of a sniper's bullet was ever present and it acted to unsettle the enemy. It is, however, generally accepted that this was a job at which the Germans were better skilled, trained and equipped. It is entirely probable that a German sniper observed the loophole being constructed and, at the right moment, shot through it to kill John.