RFA West Lancs Bdes
681909 DVR.S/S. J. H. TAYLOR. R.F.A.
John Herbert Taylor was born on 9 November 1894 in Biddulph, Satffordshire. He had a twin brother, William. Their father was Herbert Smith (b. 1860 in Biddulph), a blacksmith and ironmonger. Their mother was Elizabeth Hamson (b. 1862 in Hoby, Leicestershire). Herbert and Elizabeth were married in 1881 and they had five children: Florence (b. 1890), Frances (b. 1893), then John and William, and finally Laura (b. 1900). In 1911, the family was living at 19 High Street, Biddulph. William had joined his father in the family blacksmith business but John was working down the coal mine as a pit boy/horse driver.
John Herbert enlisted probably in 1915 and his work skills were put to use as he was given the job of driver/shoe smith. He was posted to 277 Brigade and eventually assigned service number 681909. 275, 276 and 277 Brigades all formed the artillery brigades of 55th Division. Some men arrived in France with the Division in September 1915, but John arrived later, though I don’t know precisely when. The Brigade saw some reorganisation in October 1916 and again in January 1917 and my guess is that he would have joined the Brigade in early 1917. 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."
55th Division spent the period from 7 August to 12 September either at rest or in training. The weather throughout August had been appalling but in early September, as the Division prepared to return to the front, it became fine and dry. They took up their position in the line on 15 September, in almost exactly the same place they had left back in August. As they prepared to enter the line, between Frezenberg and St Julien, the various sections of the Division were constantly harassed by enemy fire. On the night of 19/20 September, as they prepared their assault on the Schuler and Pond Farms, the rain began to fall once again. The assault was nevertheless successful and after this operation, the Division was withdrawn and moved to the south of Cambrai.
55th Division occupied a length of the front of about 8,000 yards, to the east of Épehy. On 20 November, when the main tank attack was launched at Cambrai, the Division launched its own diversionary attack to the south and this was costly but successful. However, when the Germans launched their counter-attack on 30 November, the Division was routed, the front line defence apparently crumbling and allowing the enemy to have a “rapid and almost bewildering” advance. The Divisional history remarks that “only two of our men passed through the straggler posts”; this may be so. But hundreds of troops had fallen into enemy captivity. “Not a man returned” from the 1/5th Bn, the South Lancashire. The Division’s reputation fell sharply in the eyes of the higher command. It was withdrawn from the area and sent to Bomy near Fruges for intensive training. Although the infantry suffered massive losses, casualties among the artillery were lighter. John Herbert was wounded, probably in the action on 20 November or shortly afterwards and he died of his wounds on 30 November 1917. He had just turned 23.
Rank: Shoeing Smith
Service No: 681909
Date of Death: 30/11/1917
Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery, 277th Bde.
Grave Reference: III. C. 21.
Cemetery: ROCQUIGNY-EQUANCOURT ROAD BRITISH CEMETERY, MANANCOURT
Additional Information: Son of Herbert and Elizabeth Taylor, of 19 High Street, Biddulph, Congleton, Cheshire.