Nothing is known of John’s early life, except that he was born in the Bradford area of Manchester. His closest relative was an aunt, Lucy Gill, who lived at 59 Ann Street, Reddish.
His service papers still exist at the National Archives and these confirm that he joined up at Manchester on 2 September 1914. For those days, he was above average height, standing at 5’ 9”. John weighed 145 pounds and had a sallow complexion with blue eyes and black hair. He recorded his religious denomination as Church of England.
His military service began at Winchester as a member of the Rifle Brigade’s reserve 5th Battalion but moved to another reserve unit, the 14th, at the end of October and completed his training in the Southend area. John spent most of the next summer in hospital having caught pneumonia but went overseas on active service on 30 September 1915. At this point, he was transferred to the 8th Battalion, then in Belgium.
On 30 November, the Battalion went into the front line taking over a sector from the 7th King’s Royal Rifle Corps at La Brique. The men’s dug-outs were along the canal bank. It had been a difficult relief as the there had been some shelling and the ground was muddy. The trenches were gradually falling in, due to the rain and, as the Battalion was down to about half strength, there were insufficient troops to man the firing line and undertake rebuilding work.
The next day, the Riflemen were subjected to shelling for most of the time. It was particularly heavy during the afternoon and the Battalion’s War Diary records “No. 5 Platoon, “B” Company in front line badly knocked about including 2nd Lt Goddard badly hit and 9 O.R.s killed.” John was one of the O.R.s (Other Ranks). The Diary notes that Sergeant Kimberley took over command and “especially distinguished himself and it was due to his coolness and courage the remains of the platoon stuck to the trenches and manned the broken parapets for a possible attack.”
John’s personal effects, which included a knife, wallet and seven photos, were sent home to his aunt. It was, no doubt, she who would arrange for his name to be remembered on the South Reddish War Memorial.
(My thanks to Andy, a pal from the Great War Forum, for helping me to tell John’s story – JH)