(L to R) British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal
John was born in around April 1893 in Warburton near Altrincham in Cheshire. His father was called Thomas and his mother was Louisa. He had 3 older siblings: Joe Hatton, Harold and Louisa, and 2 younger: Robert Meakin and Charles Edward.
Thomas worked as a baker and confectioner. In 1901 the family lived on Stamford Street in nearby Ashton-upon-Mersey. Ten years later they had moved to Manchester, and lived at 41 Talbot Street in Moss Side. In this year's Census Thomas gave his occupation as 'invalid', suggesting he was no longer able to work. Joe had married and left home, but Harold, Louisa and John all lived with their parents and worked to support the family. John was an office clerk.
The First World War broke out in August 1914, and John joined the Army on the 25th October 1915. He enlisted in the 6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 3992. This was a unit of the Territorial Force based on Stretford Road in the Hulme area of Manchester.
John was 5 feet 8 inches tall when he enlisted, and weighed 114 pounds. The original 6th Battalion had gone overseas at the outbreak of war, so John trained with either the newly formed 2/6th Battalion or the 3/6th Battalion.
The 1/6th Battalion had fought in Gallipoli between May and December 1915, and then moved to Egypt. It took casualties throughout this period and needed replacements from the UK to bring it back up to strength. The battalion had not seen any serious fighting since it left Gallipoli, but the climate and disease were constant dangers.
John was assigned to a reinforcement draft in early May. He set sail from Devonport near Plymouth in Devon on the 4th May. After 11 days aboard the troopship HMT Arcadian he arrived in Alexandria, Egypt on the 15th. He was held at a Base Depot until the 22nd, when he joined the 1/6th Battalion in Suez.
In Egypt the battalion was involved in defending the Suez Canal from a Turkish attack. This required them to spend long periods of time living amongst the sand dunes of the Sinai Desert.
John kept a diary during his time in Egypt. He wrote it in an address book. It is not a detailed record of everything he did, but it covers almost all of his time in Egypt and his early weeks in France. His first entry was on the 16th May 1916:
Very hot, before breakfast we had a small march + at 11-15am rifle inspection, then at 3-15pm we had another march. Generally quiet. Twice went swimming.
The diary is held in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre, under reference MR3/17/126.
John fell ill on the 4th September and reported himself sick. He was put on light duty on the 4th and 5th. On the 6th the doctor sent him to hospital. He had 'diarrhoea very bad'. He was admitted to the 1/3rd East Lancashire Field Ambulance for treatment, and fed on 'milk only'.
The next day John felt 'a lot better'. He was able to eat 'ordinary food' and write a letter home to his mother. He was discharged from the 1/3rd Field Ambulance at 4pm and rejoined the 1/6th Battalion.
On the 1st March 1917 the 1/6th Battalion was sent to France to serve on the Western Front. At around the same time soldiers serving in units of the Territorial Force were given new service numbers. The 6th Battalion was allocated the range 250001 to 275000. John's new number was 251338.
From John's diary we know that the ship carrying the battalion was not able to land in Marseilles on the 8th March 'owing to [the sea] being rough'. They finally 'went into dock at 8:30am, we disembarked at 7:30pm'.
The rest of March was taken up with route marches, parades and training on techniques and equipment that the battalion had not used in Egypt, such as the 'gas helmet'. He spent much of April 'road making' around places such as Villers Carbonnel, Chuignes and Perrone.
The last entry in John's diary was written on the 24th April. The 1/6th Battalion went into the front lines for the first time on the night of the 27th-28th.
During the summer of 1917 the 1/6th Battalion served in the trenches around Epehy and Havrincourt. John was able to return to the UK for 10 days of leave between the 18th and the 27th August.
At around the time John returned to the battalion it moved north to the Ypres area of Belgium. They played a small part in the Passchendaele Offensive that was fought there during the autumn.
On the 1st September the 1/6th Battalion moved into the front line on Passchendaele Ridge. Their trenches were new and filled with mud and water because of the wet weather. This meant they did not offer much as protection from German artillery.
John was wounded by shrapnel from a German shell on the 4th September. He seems to have been hit in the left hand. He was evacuated for treatment at the 1/2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance. They sent him up the medical chain to 46 Casualty Clearing Station. The staff here realised John needed more treatment and sent him to Number 53 General Hospital in Boulogne. He was admitted on the 5th.
John was treated here for almost 2 weeks. He was discharged on the 18th September and sent to Number 1 Convalescent Depot to complete his recovery and to retrain. He needed until the 30th October to become fit enough to return to the front.
After a week at the 30th Infantry Base Depot in Etaples John rejoined the 1/6th Battalion on the 8th November. By this time they were stationed at Nieuport, now Nieuwpoort, on the North Sea coast.
John left Belgium during November and by early December the 1/6th Battalion was stationed near Givenchy in France. After serving in the front lines during January 1918 the battalion spent February in the rear, training and resting.
On the 21st March 1918 the German Army launched a huge offensive against the British and French Armies. They hoped to win the war before too many American troops could arrive to fight them. At first the attack was extremely successful. Many Allied units were cut off and forced to retreat.
At the time the 1/6th Battalion was in reserve, but they were quickly transported to the front. They took part in the desperate fighting that stopped the German advance during March and April.
On the 27th June John was attached to the 127th Light Trench Mortar Battery. These used the 3" Stokes Mortar to support infantry battalions. Mortars fire explosive bombs high in the air, so gravity means the bombs drop onto their targets. This allows them to hit targets that flatter-shooting rifles and machine guns cannot.
Mortars were essential weapons in the trenches because they could accurately fire into trenches and dugouts, but being a member of the crew could be dangerous. Mortar units were often kept on the move, after arriving in a front line trench they might fire on a target and then leave the area. If they were spotted mortars would often attract German artillery fire. This could kill or injure the crew, or if they had already left then the infantry battalion holding the trench would be the one to suffer. This meant that mortar crews were not always popular with their own side either!
The British began their own advance in early August, and this continued until the end of the war on the 11th November. We believe John stayed with the 127th LTMB throughout the advance. We have no record of him being injured.
John returned to the UK on the 13th February 1919 and was demobilised from the Army on the 12th March. He returned to 41 Talbot Street.
Between July and September 1920 John married Isabella Norbury in Salford, Lancashire. They had known each other since before the war, as in his diary John recorded writing her several letters during his time in Egypt. He called her 'Bella'. He signed himself 'Jack' on a postcard he sent her from Trouville-sur-Mer in France during December 1918.
We don't believe John and Bella had any children. We also don't know what work John did after he left the Army.
Bella died in Barton, near Salford, between April and June 1962. She was 68. We believe John died aged 88 between January and March 1982 in or around Southport in Lancashire. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in November 1987.