RFA West Lancs Bdes
680133 CPL. J. E. GARDNER. R.F.A.
John Edward Gardner was born in December 1892 in Preston and baptised at Preston Emmanuel on 22 December. His father was George Gardner (b. 1860 in Goosnargh), a coachman. His mother was Ellen Walmsley (b. 1859 in Bamber Bridge). George and Ellen were married in 1892 and John Edward was born later that year. They had three other children, though two died, so John’s surviving sibling was Edith Alice (b. 1898). George died in 1908. In 1911, Ellen was living with her two children, and also an unmarried sister, Alice, at 64 Ripon Street, Preston. John was a cotton spinner. In 1914, John married Louisa Jackson (b. 1890 in Preston). In 1916, they had a daughter, Edith, but by this time, John was in the Artillery, and it’s possible he never met his daughter.
John signed up probably in 1915, though he may have been in the Territorials before the War. He was assigned service number 1053, which was later changed to 680133. His service numbers are among a batch used by “A” Battery of 276 Brigade, so this is the battery he originally served with, though later he was transferred to a different brigade. 276 Brigade formed part of 55th (West Lancashire) Division who landed in France on 29 September 1915. John was not with them, however, so he landed in France after the end of 1915. 55th Division fought at Guillemont and Ginchy (on the Somme) in September 1916, suffering severe losses especially at Guillemont. They also fought at Flers-Courcelette and Morval later that month, and then in October 1916 they were moved to the Ypres Salient, at the time a relatively quieter part of the front. Although there were no major engagements in early 1917, there was constant harassment, shelling and raids.
1917: Third Battle of Ypres
From 55th Divisional History: "The objective of what was called the Third Battle of Ypres was the capture of the enemy's Gheluvelt-Langemark system... The weather during the whole of June and during the greater part of July had been ideal for campaigning purposes. Unfortunately, on Sunday 29 July a particularly heavy thunderstorm filled up the shell holes and turned roads and tracks into a morass. The succeeding days were dull and hazy, making the completion of the artillery preparation peculiarly difficult and typical Flanders weather conditions prevailed on the morning of the 31st - the moment chosen for the attack. Low lying clouds which made aerial observation and cooperation as difficult as could be imagined; a dampness of atmosphere, threatening rain at any moment; a half sodden ground, greasy and depressing; such was the luck of the weather at 3.50am on 31 July 1917, when the barrage opened. Not since the war began had so intense a barrage been put down, and of its wonderful effectiveness all ranks in the line bore eloquent testimony."
At some stage, John was promoted to Corporal and he was also transferred to a different Brigade. When he died he was serving with “A” Battery of 307 Brigade. 307Bde was the 2/3rd (South Midland) Brigade, attached to 61st (South Midland) Division. 61st Division was not active in the opening phase of the Third Battle of Ypres, but in late August and early September the Division was involved in the efforts to push the line forward at positions around Schuler Farm and Aisne Farm near Kerselaar. This was the area vacated by 55th Division a few weeks earlier. John Edward Gardner died of wounds at Mendighem on 16 September 1917. He was 24 years old.
Service No: 680133
Date of Death: 16/09/1917
Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery, “A” Bty, 307th Bde.
Grave Reference: VII. C. 32.
Cemetery: MENDINGHEM MILITARY CEMETERY
After the War, in 1923, Louisa married William Stewart (b. 1874 in Preston), and their son, James, was born on 11 November 1924 (the sixth anniversary of Armistice Day).