Nothing is known about John's life, except that Regimental records published after the War indicate he had been born in Stockport and enlisted in the town. He is probably the boy of the same name whose birth was registered locally in 1891.
The Battle of the Somme had opened on 1 July and had seen the British Army suffer the highest number of casualties in one day. However, in the south of the battlefield, there had been success with the objectives captured and secured. Further attacks on the 9th captured the village of Longueval. The next step was to take the very heavily defended positions within Delville Wood - known as Devils Wood to the Tommies. South African forces tried to capture it on the 15th and were then pinned down in desperate fighting until they were relieved on the 19th. They had only captured the southern portion - the rest of the Wood was firmly in German hands.
The next day, the Fusiliers and the 2nd Battalion, Suffolk Regiment would try again. They would have an inauspicious start that would only get worse. They reached their rendezvous point without incident and then moved forward again; the officers guiding them with compasses across country. As they neared the front line, still held by the South Africans, they came under heavy machine gun fire. They were guided for the final part of the way but the guides lost direction. The Germans could be heard only a little distance in front of them and they were firing Verey lights to illuminate the Wood. There was no option but to deploy here and prepare to attack. As they were doing so, "B" Company came under attack from a large party of advancing Germans but, firing steadily, they were able to beat off the assault. A second attack was made later.
In between the two attacks, a Corporal Davies, of "D" Company, and eight other men had become separated from their company. When the second attack came, they were surrounded. Davies took cover in a shellhole and alternating between throwing grenades and rapidly firing his rifle, he routed the Germans. He then followed the retreat, bayoneting several. He would be awarded the Victoia Cross for his bravery.
Around this time, probably the greatest number of casualties occurred - and it would be from the "friendly fire" of the 11th Essex. They had not been informed of the Fusiliers presence and assumed there was a German attack and opened up with machine gun and rifle fire.
Even though numbers were now much reduced, attempts were made to move forward at about 3.45am but the advance was checked by machine gun fire and grenades. Private Albert Hill, from Manchester, would also win the Victoria Cross. After being involved in hand-to-hand fighting when he killed several of the enemy, he then went out to bring in wounded comrades. The Fusiliers now dug in and held their position until the early hours of the 21st. 228 men had become casualties - dead, wounded or missing. John and another local man, Thomas Colohan, were amongst them.