Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

John Ratcliffe

John Ratcliffe  :

John Ratcliffe  : Military Medal

Military Medal

We don't know anything about John's family or early life. We believe he was either born or grew up in Burnley, Lancashire.

The First World War broke out on the 4th August 1914 and John had joined the Army before the end of the month. He enlisted in the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 3580. John was posted to the 11th Battalion. This was a new unit being formed by men who had enlisted 'for the duration of the war'.

The 11th Battalion trained at the Manchester Regiment Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne, and then moved to Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire. By April 1915 they had moved to an area of Surrey near the villages of Witley and Frensham. After a final inspection they set sail for Gallipoli on the 30th June. By this time John had been promoted to Lance Corporal.

John and the 11th Battalion took part in the landing at Suvla Bay which began on the 6th August. This was intended to support the British forces already fighting at Cape Helles in Gallipoli by diverting Turkish soldiers to deal with this new threat.

The landings did not go well. Inexperienced soldiers were coming ashore in darkness and under Turkish fire. This was made worse by poor leadership, meaning that the British suffered many casualties. After several days they were still unable to capture the high ground from the Turks.

John endured up to 4 months of stifling heat, lack of water and poor health. The British were not able to advance; instead they held their trenches under heavy shell and rifle fire. The campaign had been a failure and the 11th Battalion was evacuated to Egypt in mid December.

We don't know whether John was ever wounded or taken ill during his service. After 7 months in Egypt the 11th Battalion were sent to France. They spent the rest of the war on the Western Front.

On the Western Front the battalion fought around Arras, during the Somme Offensive and on the Ancre during 1916. In May 1917 they moved north to the area around Ypres in Belgium. That autumn they took part in the Passchendaele Offensive.

On the 16th August John and the 11th Battalion were in the first wave of the Battle of Langemarck. The attack began in the early morning as the battalion crossed the Steenbeek River on temporary bridges. They suffered heavily from German artillery, but were able to hold their positions.

John was awarded the Military Medal for bravery during this period. His award was published in the London Gazette on the 2nd November 1917, which suggests it was awarded for his actions during this fighting. Unfortunately his citation has not survived, so we don't know exactly what he did.

The offensive continued until early November. By March 1918 the battalion had returned to France. It fought hard to defeat the German Spring Offensive in March and April 1918. It then took part in the Allied advances of the final 100 days of the war. By the time the war ended on the 11th November, John held the rank of Sergeant.

John was transferred to the Class Z Reserve on the 14th March 1919. This meant he could return home, but could be called back to the Army if the Armistice with Germany had broken down; but it never did.

The rest of John's life remains a mystery. As well as his Military Medal, he was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal for his Army service.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council