John Thomas GANDY
Rank: Able Seaman
Number: R/2894
Unit: Anson Battalion ROYAL NAVAL DIVISION, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Date of Death: 1 November 1917
Age: 41
Cemetery: Wimereux Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France

John’s father, William Henry Gandy, had died by the time of the 1901 Census. The family was in a “two up, two down” property at 23 Lincoln Street, Stockport. Living at home was his mother, Margaret, John and his four brothers and two sisters. John had been born on 5 March 1877 and, then aged 24, he was working as a piecer at a cotton mill. This was probably Palmer Mills, on Mersey Street, Portwood where he was known to be working before he enlisted into the army.

Just after the Census was taken, he married his fiancée, Florence Holehouse, at All Saints Church, Heaton Norris. They lived at Portwood Hall Fold and would also have one son together. Born in about 1912, he was named after his father. Florence died in 1915 and, the following year, John enlisted into the army.

For some reason, he joined up at Cardiff, on 26 July 1916, and was assigned to the 1/7th Battalion, Welsh Regiment. This was a Territorial unit which would remain in the UK throughout the War. However, on 20 June 1917, he was transferred to the Royal Naval Division and joined the Anson Battalion on active service overseas on 30 August 1917.

The Royal Naval Division was hurriedly formed in 1914 of pre-War “regular” Marines together with recalled Navy reservists for whom no ship could be found. They fought on land throughout the War and proudly retained their original naval traditions and ranks. By 1917, replacement troops were assigned as with an ordinary infantry Battalion of the Army.

The Third Battle of Ypres (often called Passchendaele) had started on 31 July and was still making very slow progress in October. John’s unit did not take part in the early weeks of fighting and he will have found September and most of October a fairly quiet time (albeit still dangerous) time.

On 26 October, the final major attack was launched in what would later be called the Second Battle of Passchendaele. Nearly 150,000 British and Canadian troops would be involved. John and his comrades attacked at 5.40am. In their sector, the Anson Battalion and the 1st Royal Marine Battalion led the way, supported by the 2nd Marines with the Howe Battalion in reserve. Rain had fallen heavily during the night and the shell holes across No Man’s Land were full of water and the ground was very muddy, slowing up the progress considerably. However, by 7.20, Anson had captured their first objective at Varlet Farm. 40 minutes later, the second objective at Banff House had also been taken and the men were digging in to consolidate their gains.

In the late afternoon, they were forced to fall back from Banff House under pressure from German counter-attacks. There was fierce fighting over the coming days around Banff House with the position changing hands more than once. The Anson Battalion remained in the front line during this time but did not attack again. However, sometime since the early hours of the 26th, John had been badly wounded. He will have received treatment at a field hospital (Casualty Clearing Station), some miles behind the front line, where his condition would have been sufficiently stabilised to allow his transfer to 2nd Australian General Hospital on the Channel coast at Wimereux.

He had been severely wounded by shrapnel in the right wrist and shoulder. His major wound was in his lower leg and it was necessary to amputate his right foot. However, the wounds were too severe and he died at 2.15pm on 1 November.

His five year old son, John, was now an orphan but it’s thought he was raised by his aunt, Ethel. She had married and was living at 5 Greenhalgh Street, Stockport. Family history websites suggest her husband may have been John Presson who is recorded as marrying a woman of this name in 1905.

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