Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Remembered at Leigh and Tyne Cot - John Sheridan

Eughty nine years ago today, former Hickwells patient John William Sheridan, patched up and packed off back to the Western Front, was killed in action during the bitter struggle for Passchendaele Ridge. This is his story.

10690 Private John William Sheridan was a patient at Hickwells in late 1915 after being wounded at the battle of Loos. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album reads:

Pte J. W. Sheridan
12 Batt Northumberland Fusiliers

Wounded in the Big Battle of Loos on the 26 Sept

He shares this page with an entry from 3655 Private Martin Donnelly of the 1st East Surrey Regiment. Originally written in pencil, Sheridan’s entry has been over-written in black biro in later years.

Also on this page, to the right of Sheridan’s entry is a group photograph of convalescent soldiers. It is possible that Sheridan is one of these men although none of the individuals are identified and the picture is of a very poor quality.

John Sheridan’s partial service history exists as badly burned documents at the National Archive in Kew, London. He was the son of Thomas and Mary Sheridan and was born in Leigh, Lancashire around November 1890. He appears on the 1891 census living at 5 Dukinfield Street, Leigh. The household comprised James O’Neil (head, married, aged 38, a coal miner born in County Galway, Ireland), his wife Phoebe O’Neil (aged 30, born in Hanley, Staffordshire) and their three children: John W O’Neil (aged ten), Patrick O’Neil (aged eight) and Polly O’Neil (aged five). Also living with them were James’ 56 year old widowed mother-in-law, Bridget Cope (born in County Mayo, Ireland), Thomas Sheridan (brother-in-law, aged 26, working as a coal miner, born in Hanley), Mary Sheridan (sister-in-law, aged 24, also born in Hanley) and finally, John William Sheridan (recorded as John W on the census return), aged five months.

I have been unable to find John on the 1901 census and it is possible that by this time, the family had moved to Northumberland. At the time of his enlistment on 4th September 1914, he was married to Isabella (nee Marshall), whom he had married at Ashington on 6th February 1913. The couple also had a daughter, Mary Sheridan, who had been born on 2nd May 1914.

John enlisted in Ashington, Northumberland and arrived in France on 9th September 1915 with the 12th Northumberland Fusiliers which formed part of the 62nd Brigade in the 21st Division. This was a K3 division, comprised entirely of Kitchener volunteers. He was wounded on 26th September 1915, the second day of the Battle of Loos, sustaining a shell wound to his thigh. He was returned to England on 3rd October, his spell overseas having lasted just 24 days. Shortly after arriving in England, Sheridan would have been transferred to Hickwells in Chailey, although precisely when this was and how long he spent there is unclear.

The 21st Division’s baptism of fire at Loos has been well documented. Having arrived at Boulogne on 10th September, by the 24th, the 12th Northumberland Fusiliers were at Allouagne where it was “raining and cold.” The following information is taken from the battalion’s war diary:

NOEUX-LES-MINES - 25.9.15 - 10.30am
Marched to NOYELLES-LES-VERMELLES where the Bn rested and two heavy guns were in action. Wounded were met all along the rd.
NOEUX-LES-MINES - 25.9.15 – 3pm
The Bn moved off following 8 E Yorks R and 10 York R, both of which Bns extended below the crest of the hill about G 28 c [Map 1/40,000 36c FRANCE] and moved to the attack, The 12th Northd Fus extended on left of Lens Rs about 5.30pm but were later moved over the crest of the hill and occupied some GERMAN trenches. Letter “Q” Co went forward and took up an outpost line. Here the Bn first came under shell fire about 7.15pm
NOEUX-LES-MINES - 25.9.15 – 9.25pm
The Bn moved into Loos and came under shell fire on the Rd. Men very steady.
LOOS – 25.9.15
The Bn moved through LOOS and halted under cover of houses by church square. A patrol under Capt L H PHILLIPS went forward to report on best route to Tower Bridge an cinder heap. Sniping was continuous. The patrol returned and led the Bn up under cinder heap. Here the Bn had their first casualties from shell fire. These shells must have been cross fire as they came along the side of the cinder heap.
LOOS – 25.9.15 – 10.30pm
The Bn moved back into the street, the men still being steady. Lt Col Warwick went back to Bde HQ. Returned and moved the Bn to G 36a [Map 1/40,000 36c FRANCE]. The Cos here lay in lines of Platoons at 50 yds distance. Two platoons of A Co were sent forward to firing line with entrenching tools under 2nd Lt R M Hill & 2nd Lt R Oliver to help the 45th Bde entrench.
LOOS – 25.9.15 – 11.45pm
Later the remainder of A Co went forward to relieve 10th GORDONS under Capt F G F EDLMANN.
A patrol under 2nd Lt J PARKER went forward to trenches to find the best way forward in case of being called upon to reinforce.
LOOS – 26.9.15 – 2.30am
Shrapnel began and was fairly heavy. A burst of rifle fire was heard from trenches and Bn stood by. Instructions to Cos to charge with bayonet in case of enemy appearing.
LOOS – 26.9.15 – 5.30am
High explosive pitched in house behind Bn HQ and shells mostly high explosive were frequent. Some
casualties, men very quiet and steady.
LOOS – 26.9.15 – 7am
Shelling heavy in field and road
LOOS – 26.9.15 – 7.30am
Adjutant reported to Bde HQ and received orders for attack on Hill 70. Officers mentioned above crossed the cinder heap to warn the remainder of 8 E York R to retire. It being found impossible to evacuate the trench, the Cmdg Officers re-crossed the cinder track and Lt Col Warwick was shot between the shoulders. He was placed in a dug-out until the Scotts returned. Lt L N SHANN collected all available men and commenced putting LOOS in a state of defence, he afterwards handed over to Capt F G F EDLMANN who came in with A Co. Capt EDLMANN reports he was relieved by the Gds Div about 4.30am. Similarly, other parties of 12th Northd Fus were collected under Maj GRAHAM and [unclear] GALLATLY
Moved by Rd to NOEUX-LES-MINES where they entrained for BERGUETTE. Very cold and wet. Moved by Rd to WITTERNESSE, arriving at 8.30am
The Bn remained in billets at WITTERNESS

[Diary signed off by Maj D Graham Pole, Comdg 12th (Serv) Bn Northd Fus]

John Sheridan must have recovered sufficiently to return to serve his King and country because by 6th July 1916 he was back in France and was posted to the 10th Northumberland Fusiliers in the Field. Army Form B. 103: Casualty Form - Active Service, notes Sheridan’s regiment or corps as the 15th Northumberland Fusiliers although this is scored through and is presumably an error as the first entry on this sheet, also for the 15th Battalion, is corrected to the 10th. Like the 12th Battalion, the 10th Northumberland Fusiliers was a K3 battalion which had been formed in Newcastle in September 1914. It now constituted part of the 68th Brigade in the 23rd Division and had been in France since August 1915.

On 7th July 1916, Sheridan joined the 31st Infantry Base Depot and on 10th September 1916 he was moved again, this time transferred to the 8th York and Lancaster Regiment. The transfer meant a new army number: 34238. Like his two previous battalions, the 8th York and Lancaster Regiment was a K3 battalion. It had been formed at Pontefract in September and was part of the 80th Brigade in the regular 8th Division.

On 17th January 1917, Sheridan was admitted to No 70 Field Ambulance with a gun shot wound to his right eyelid, and transferred the following day to the 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station. The wound must only have been slight as he rejoined his battalion on the 30th January. Some time afterwards, Sheridan was wounded for a third time, this time a gun shot wound to his ankle. The date of this wound has been obscured on his surviving documents but again, this was not serious enough to necessitate him being returned to the United Kingdom.

Sheridan had been appointed lance-corporal on 17th February 1916 and he was promoted to full corporal on 19th April 1917.

Sheridan’s remaining papers reveal little of his life in France and Belgium but it would be possible to trace his movements by referring to the 8th York and Lancs war diary. What is known however, is that Sheridan was killed in action on 11th October 1917 whilst serving with the 8th Yorks & Lancs. At the time however, his fate was uncertain and somebody has scrawled across his attestation paper, the words, “Assumed Dead”. Later, he would be commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium (below); one of 13 men from the battalion to die on that day.

Sheridan’s British War and Victory Medal roll entry in the Yorks & Lancs Regiment roll reads as follows:

10690 Cpl 12th North’d Fus Assumed Dead 11.10.17
10th North’d Fus
34238 8th York & Lanc R

The war diary of the 8th Yorks & Lancs makes little mention of hostile activity during the time that Corporal Sheridan was killed. On the 10th October 1917 at 2:30pm, the battalion moved up to the trenches in front of POLYGON WOOD and relieved the 2nd Warwicks in the 7th Division after their attack in front of the wood. The relief was not complete until the following night. The following day, the 11th, the situation was reported as: “…normal. Enemy snipers very active.”

It is difficult to ascertain how Sheridan was killed but the likelihood is that it was either at the hands of a sniper or shellfire during the relief.

Some while after his death (the date is unclear on his surviving documents), Sheridan’s former wife, filled out an army form giving details of his relatives. She had re-married and was now Isabella Greenhalgh, living at 5 Albert Place, Dukinfield Street, Leigh. Sheridan’s mother had also re-married and was now Mary Knowles and living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. With her was Sheridan’s 27 year old brother, Thomas Sheridan. Another brother, Elijah Sheridan aged 24, was living at number 4, Springfield Place in Leeds. Sheridan had no full-blood sisters but his mother had acquired two step-daughters when she emigrated to Canada. Sarah Knowles (aged 19) and Mary Knowles (aged 16) were living with their new step-mother.

Back in Sheridan’s home town of Leigh, a public meeting held on 31st July 1919 set a target of £25-30,000 to establish a war memorial fund to commemorate the town’s dead. A little over three years later, on 30th September 1922, General Sir Beauvoir de Lisle unveiled Leigh’s war memorial. Designed by Ernest Prestwich, Leigh’s cenotaph is located on Church Street and stands over eight metres high. Made of Portland stone, two bronze panels, each containing 350 names of the dead, are recessed between two Corinthian columns. The memorial cost £200 but the fund also provided for an ex-serviceman’s club and a new children’s wing at Leigh infirmary.

The site of the cenotaph occupies an area in Leigh previously known as Church Street Gardens which was opened to the public on 1st June 1901. It was handed over to the corporation complete with bandstand on 1st June 1902. The bandstand remained on this site until 1921 when it was demolished to make way for the present War Memorial.

In recent years, the war memorial has undergone restoration work and is now restored to its former glories. John Sheridan’s name is recorded on the south panel.

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