JOHN HENRY THORLEY 

Rank: Private
Service Number: 2507.
Regiment: 1/6th Bn. Cheshire Regiment Died of wounds Wednesday 22nd November 1916 Age 26County Memorial Stockport
Commemorated\Buried ST. SEVER CEMETERY EXTENSION, ROUEN
Grave\Panel Ref: O.II.J.8.
France

Nothing is known for certain about John Thorley other than he was born in Stockport and enlisted in the town. The family history website, notes that the birth of someone with that name was recorded in Stockport between July and September 1889 and this is almost certainly him. His service number suggests he probably enlisted with the local Territorial Battalion, just after war was declared in August 1914. John went to France 18th February 1915. He was probably wounded in an attack a week before he died.

Although the Battalion had been on active service since November 1914, this would be its first major attack.

The Battle of the Somme had started on 1 July 1916 and, by the November, it was entering its final stages. The British attack that was launched on 13 November became known as the Battle of the Ancre (after the river which runs through the middle of the battlefield). The Cheshire’s' objective was the hamlet of St Pierre Divion to the north east of their position.

Conditions on the battlefield were horrendous. No Man's Land had been churned up by months of continuous shellfire. It had been raining heavily and the whole area had turned to deep glutinous mud. Walking could only be managed at only 15 yards a minute and men had to sit down to pull their legs out of the mud. A fall into a water filled shell hole meant almost certain death from drowning. It was almost impossible for a man to be pulled free. Stockport's Territorials would have to attack across several hundred yards of this ground before engaging the enemy.

At 10pm on 12th November, the Battalion assembled in shell holes and blown-in trenches at the recently captured Schwaben Redoubt. The slope of the ground meant they were in full view of the enemy positions but, luckily, were concealed overnight by a thick fog. At 5.45am, the Battalion left their positions and advanced, in four waves. The fog caused them to miss their first objective, Mill Trench, but they re-organised and captured it. By noon, they had also taken St Pierre Divion.

The History of the Battalion records that "A mist screened the movement of our troops, but also enabled many enemy parties, who had been overlooked, to fire into the backs of troops who had passed. Many of the Germans, who had surrendered to the first wave of troops, took up arms again and we sustained many casualties in this manner."

When the Cheshire’s reached the village, there were no buildings still standing - all having been destroyed by artillery fire. The Battalion History recounts "One signaller had been told that when he arrived at St Pierre Divion, he must look out for Brigade Signals for further supplies of wire. He sent a message back "Brigade Signals ain't here, wire ain't here and St Pierre Divion ain't here.""

During the day, the Battalion captured 150 prisoners and took two machine guns, but at a heavy cost. 126 men had been wounded. 38 had been killed. Many of the dead were local Stockport men. They were George Anderson, Edward Burgess, Robert Fenna, Samuel Gould, Travis Howarth, James McColgin, Frank Middlebrooke, William Oldham, Arthur Ridley, Thomas Shallcross, Arthur Spedding, John Street, Harry Swindells, William Walton and Edmund Ward.

The next day was spent on consolidating the position. At some point, John Hind was killed, probably by enemy artillery shelling, which was active throughout the day.

Harold Barnett, William Oldham, Samuel Wilson and John were wounded and died of their injuries later.

He would have received first aid treatment, from the Battalion Medical Officer, near to where he was injured, before being evacuated to a Casualty Clearing Station, probably at Contay, a few miles away. Once stabilised, he would have been moved to hospital at Rouen where he died.