The first reference that has been found to John is in the 1901 Census. He was then aged 7 and living with his family at 12 Brettenham Road, Edmonton, London. He had been born in that neighbourhood. The property consisted of only three rooms but eleven people lived there. There were his parents, William and Eliza and nine children - Rose and Lily (both then 13), Harry (12), Elizabeth (10), William (8), John, Nellie (6), Alfred (4) and Charles (1).
It is not known when the family moved to Stockport but, certainly by 1912, John had enlisted into the army in the town and became a regular soldier. At the time of the Great War, Mr Woodhead was living at 12A Caroline Street and it is possible that Eliza had died by then.
John was a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Shropshires and, in 1913, went to India as part of the Army's normal duties of patrolling the Empire. John would have been expecting to have stayed there for about 4 years, but the War intervened. When hostilities broke out, the Battalion was in Secunderabad but was recalled to Britain, landing at Plymouth in November. There would have time for a short period of leave back home in Stockport, before leaving again for France on 21 December.
In May 1915, John was invalided home with frostbite. When he had recovered, in July, he was transferred to the 5th Battalion. On 25 September, John and his comrades were in trenches in Railway Wood, to the east of the Belgian town of Ypres. Miles south of their position, other British troops were starting the "big push" that would later be officially called the Battle of Loos. The Shropshires and other troops in this sector were to launch a subsidiary action against the Germans, intended to keep them pinned down and unable to transfer men to Loos.
The Regimental History notes that, at 3.50am, the British artillery opened an intense bombardment on the German trenches opposite. "A" and "D" Companies and half of "B" had come out of their trenches and were already in No Man's Land waiting for "zero hour" at 4.20. "C" Company and the remaining men from "B" remained in the trench as support troops.
As far as the Battalion was concerned, the attack was a success. The men carried out their allotted task and reached the second line of German trenches. However, the battalions on either side were not able to reach their objectives and the Shropshires were now isolated. When the Germans brought up fresh troops, the Shropshires position became untenable and there was nothing to do but to withdraw back to their original trenches, at about 8.15am.
These had now been almost filled in due to the strength of German shellfire. The losses had been so heavy that the Shropshires had to be re-enforced by two platoons from the Somersets. Shelling continued up till 1pm and then started again at 9pm for three hours, around which time, the remnants of the Battalion were relieved from the front line. They had suffered 48 known to be killed, 285 wounded and 107 missing.
John was one of those posted as being missing. Nothing was ever heard of him again and, in the November 1916, the War Office officially declared that he must have been killed. Reporting his death, the local newspaper noted that his older brother, Willie, was serving with the army in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). He is thought to have survived the War.