Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

John Norman Leather

John Norman Leather :

John Norman Leather : 1914-15 Star

1914-15 Star

John was born between October and December 1892 in Bury, Lancashire. His father was called George Wood and his mother was Mary Elizabeth. He was one of 7 children. Ernest, A., George Alexander, Edith Annie, Amy Gertrude and Florence Mary were all older, and Mary Elizabeth was younger.

In 1901 George worked as a print machinist for a calico printing and bleaching company. The family lived at 206 Walmersley Road in Moorside, Bury. Ten years later they had moved to number 205 on the same street. George was now an engineer at the calico printing company. John worked as an assistant to an articled clerk.

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and John joined the Army in late November or in December. He joined the 5th City Battalion. This was being formed so that men from the Manchester area could enlist and serve together. It became the 20th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and John was assigned to XII Platoon in C Company. His service number was 17680.

The 20th Battalion began life at Belle Vue in Manchester. They soon moved to nearby Heaton Park, then to Morecambe on the Lancashire coast. They spent 17 weeks there before moving again to Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire. By September they were at Larkhill in Wiltshire. On the 9th November John and the 20th Battalion crossed to France.

By the time John arrived in France he had joined the 20th Battalion's Machine Gun Section. This operated the Vickers machine gun. It was used to support the rest of the battalion, who were mostly armed with slower firing and shorter ranged rifles. He had been promoted twice, to Corporal, by the time he left the UK.

On Thursday the 11th John wrote a letter to his father.

Dear Dad,

We had a very calm crossing to France + of course as soon as we landed I tried my French on a woman, but she only laughed, it was no use I couldn't have her. It took us about 11 to 13 hours to cross + it was a blessing it was so calm for everybody had to go below.

Then after landing we had the job of unloading the whole ship, + then to load again on limbers or wagons for the station. Our compartment consisted of something little better than a cattle truck with about 25 of us in it.

We were in the train about 11 hours without grub of course we had to sleep + huddled together as we were, we couldn't make out why we weren't warm; until I who was sleeping on the floor observed I had nearly fallen through a nick.

On arriving at our destination we had the heavy job of unloading + then about an 8 mile march on a very empty stomach + in the pouring rain. Of the battalion who came the same way a day later only about half finished the journey.

We are billeted in a sort of farm, it is passably clean but we are all overcrowded, but it is dry and that's a blessing. Myself and another non-commissioned officer have already made friends at the farm + enjoy certain privileges there such as a couple of hours quick smoke or a hot shave etc etc. They are a very old couple, I think the grandpere fought in the Franco-Prussian War
[1870-1871] + I try polishing my French on them but it is very difficult.

It is quite an event to change money, most of the people will only take French. The only things I want are two or three oz.s of tobacco, a few boxes of safety matches, + if you can get it a franc or two + a couple of pairs of socks.

Our chaps nevertheless are all jolly + still game. This letter might not go till tomorrow or even the day after.

Best love to all,

Jack

P.S. Don't send too much at a time, as we have nowhere to put it.

Later in November John served in the trenches for the first time. In February 1916 the battalion moved to the Fricourt area. They spent time in the front line at Fricourt and in the rear around Morlancourt. During June they began training to take part in the Somme Offensive.

The Somme Offensive began on the 1st July. John and the 20th Battalion attacked towards Fricourt during the afternoon. The attack was unsuccessful and the 20th Battalion lost around 140 men, with another 171 wounded.

The battalion was pulled out of the front line on the 3rd. They returned to the fighting on the 14th July at Bazentin Wood. The battalion's attack on this day was successful, but it again took heavy casualties. Afterwards they again went into reserve. Their next attack was on the 4th September towards the village of Ginchy. By this time the battalion only contained around 130 original members. John had been promoted to Lance Sergeant at some point before this attack.

The 20th Battalion's attack was unsuccessful. They lost even more soldiers, and John was wounded. He was evacuated to the 21st Casualty Clearing Station at Corbie. We don't know what had happened to him, but his condition was serious. On the 20th a Chaplain based there, the Reverend Robert Featherstone Wearmouth, wrote to John's parents at their home, Holme Villa on Walmersley Road.

Dear Mr Leather,

Thanks for your card. I am sorry to say your son is not quite so well, but he is still keeping bright, although rather weak. He has been able to eat some of the jelly and cream which you sent. His faith in God is still strong + he hopes to recover soon. Every attention is still being given to him + no doubt he will feel the benefit.

P.S. I haven't told him I am writing this note.

Robert wrote again on the 27th September:

Dear Mr Leather,

I regret to inform you that your son died on the 25th and was buried in a little cemetery nearby. A cross bearing his name, regiment and date of birth will be erected and a record kept.

Everything possible was done for your loved one but his wound proved fatal. He was very patient during his stay here + was trusting in God all the time. Naturally he expected to pull through + was hoping to see you all again. But you have the glad assurance that you can meet him in the better land.

I hope God will be with you + give you grace to carry your cross. Your cross is indeed heavy, but his grace is sufficient. Please accept my deepest sympathy.

John was 24 years old when he died. The 'little cemetery' he was buried in is now La Neuville British Cemetery near Corbie. It contains 861 men. John's modern grave reference is II. F. 20.

As well as his 1914-15 Star, John was also awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal for his Army service.

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