Rank: Private
Number: 1527
Unit: A Company, 1/5th Battalion CHESHIRE REGIMENT
Date of Death: 1 July 1916
Age: 20
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

John Clifford originated from Chesterfield, Derbyshire. He was a pre-war member of the Territorials and quickly volunteered for active service after war was declared in August 1914. After training at Shrewsbury, the Battalion left for France on 14 February 1915.

The Stockport Advertiser reported, on 17 December 1915, that he was home on leave and looked "exceedingly well". He said how pleased the boys at the front were to receive parcels from the village.

The Battalion was commanded by Colonel J Groves. He was not respected by many and was described in a subordinate officer's diary as "An absolute coward, he dare not go out to the trenches. The C.O. is living in luxury. Carpets, sofas, fires and beds just the same as at home. He sits down and carves his joint and has his wine at night." This was in stark contrast to John and his comrades who were living in the trenches amongst mud, lice and rats. In the early part of 1916, Colonel Groves volunteered them to become a Pioneer Battalion - having the dual role of fighting and trench construction. The men felt they were no longer a "proper" front line unit, who only had to fight.

1st July 1916 was the first day of the Battle of the Somme and would be the last of many soldiers' lives. John was in trenches opposite Gommecourt in the north of the battlefield. Alongside him, in the same platoon, was James Minshall, also remembered on the Cheadle memorial.

"A" Company's job was to follow the leading attack battalions across the 800 yards No Man's Land to consolidate the captured German trenches and establish strong points to repel any counter-attack. Leaving their trenches at 8am, many of the Cheshires lost contact with their officers and comrades, in the smoke and confusion. They made it to the captured trenches but quickly found themselves in fierce hand-to-hand fighting with groups of enemy soldiers who had come out of their "dugouts".

Another member of John's platoon (Private H Lancashire) described what happened. "I was in a shell hole. We got the order to advance and got bombed again, so we got down and opened fire near the German front line. I looked to my right and saw Lieut. Bass with Private Clifford going over some high ground near the German second line. I made my way up and found Clifford waiting. Lieut. Bass came up and gave orders to three of us, who were to make a fire step in a trench running along the cemetery. As we were digging, some bombers passed along and one accidentally dropped a bomb, which exploded. Lieut. Bass was hit in the eye and Clifford was wounded. We bandaged them up but could not stop Lieut. Bass bleeding."

Both Philip Bass and John Clifford had been mortally wounded by the "friendly fire" of the accidentally dropped grenade. Their bodies were not recovered and identified. Over 100 members of "A" Company, included James Minshall, were wounded, killed and missing out of the 200 who "went over the top".

He left a widow and two children. The youngest daughter was born on 26 September 1916 - the same day as official confirmation of his death.

(NB: Original research by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorials website)

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