John should not have been on active service until after his 18th birthday in September 1916. However, his service number indicates he enlisted during 1915 and, presumably, a "blind eye" was turned to his age. It was not uncommon.
John's father, also believed to have been called John, was a respected "pillar of the community". He was a local councillor and landlord of the Royal Oak public house on Higher Hillgate, Stockport. John, junior, worked for Stockport Corporation Cleansing Department , but it is not known in what capacity.
It can be said, with reasonable certainty, that John was not with the 6th Cheshires when he was killed. The Battalion was in rest billets, at Les Choquaux, some 75 kilometres to the north of where Ralph is buried.
An examination of the official War Diaries of several units provides some information. A large draft of new recruits had left England, in July, after training with the reserve Battalion (the 2/6th or 3/6th Cheshires). They had already been assigned to the front line unit - the 1/6th Battalion. The Battle of the Somme had started on 1 July and many units were now desperately short of troops. Whilst significant numbers of these new recruits did arrive at Les Choquaux, it would also seem that a good number were detached to other units. An entry in the War Diary of the 1/5th Kings Own Royal Lancasters records that, on 23 July, a draft of 87 Cheshires was attached, via the 1/5th South Lancashires. Whilst both of these Battalions were on the Somme battlefield, they were not in the sector likely to have casualties buried at Knightsbridge Cemetery.
However, two other soldiers killed whilst with the 11th Cheshires have very similar Territorial Army service numbers and are presumed to have been part of this draft of new troops (although there is no specific mention on them being 6th Cheshires). Although it cannot be said for certain that John had been attached to the 11th, the Battalion was in the right sector of the battlefield and did suffer a number of casualties during a tour of duty in the trenches which started on 22 July. The following is the official report on the tour, which was in trenches opposite Beaumont-Hamel, in the heart of the Somme battlefield:-
"This line was very quiet.....A trench "Hunter Trench" is being dug about 200 yards in front of our present front line and is daily damaged by shells and trench mortars of the Bosch who takes a particular delight in scattering shells all over No Man's Land during the night. The trenches we took over though badly knocked about in places were a great improvement on the Thiepval ditches or the Bosch lines at Ovillers and should assist the Battalion in finding its feet again. On the night of 29/30 the working party in the Sunken Road or Hunters trench was badly cut up by trench mortars and shells."
The Battalion was relieved from the front line, by the 8th Battalion, Border Regiment on the night of 30/31 July. John was probably killed by the continuing shellfire before the Battalion was fully away from the trenches.
The Battalion chaplain later wrote to his parents "We buried his body in a little Cemetery behind the trenches on August 1. A cross with an inscription is being put on his grave". The Cemetery, which is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, now contains 548 burials, most dating from 1916.