Date of Death:09/04/1916
Regiment:East Lancashire Regiment
Panel Ref:Panel 19.
John Beckett was born in Royton in 1879 to parents John & Charlotte Beckett.It was a large family with John having nine siblings (another brother,Joe,was also killed in WW1 ).The Beckett's often moved and lived in Lees,Oldham,Royton and Shaw. At some point after the birth of the youngest child in 1896, John Beckett seems to have abandoned his family leaving Charlotte to bring up the 10 alone.The family then again moved around the Oldham district before setting back in Royton.
John was a spinner at the Grape Mill. He married his wife Mary Elizabeth in 1905 at St.Paul's church and they set up home at 6 Highlands, on the same street as John's mother and siblings. They had three children together,Clifford,Ethel & Edith. They would have been nine,seven and four respectively when their father was killed.
John enlisted in April 1915 and arrived at Gallipoli on September 2nd to join his unit, the 6th East Lancashires who had suffered terrible losses the month previously (one of those killed being John Clifford King).
Another man, Edward Roe, joined the battalion later as part of a new draft of men on December 7th 1915. He wrote about the men he found in the 6th East Lancashires:
"The Battalion are in supports on Chocolate Hill, so called on account of the soil being the colour of ground chocolate. I thought we were quartered in a convalescent camp by mistake as the men were physical wrecks staggering like drunken men as they walked about. I did not recognize some of my old comrades who were wounded at Ploegsteert in '14'.So this is a sample of the army of invasion, a dysenteric, hollow-eyed,sunkencheeked army more resembling skeletons than men in the flesh."
The battalion were involved in no further large operations in the time John Beckett was at Gallipoli but nevertheless lost 40-50 men killed there during that period, with more subsequently dying of their wounds elsewhere after their medical evacuation.
The evacuation of British troops began in December 1915 and John Beckett and the 6th East Lancs left Gallipoli on the night of December 18th for Mudros on the island of Lemnos. There they remained until 07:00 on January 19th 1916, when they set sail for Egypt. Two days later the ship weighed anchor at Alexandria for 7 hours before moving on for Port Said where the men disembarked at 11:00 on January 22nd. Over the coming days,the men are said to have availed themselves of the chance of losing themselves in drink. Their stay at Port Said came to an end,with the town drunk dry, in the early hours of February 14th when they set sail on the SS Corsican for the Persian Gulf. They were to be part of the reinforcements for the forces fighting in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and arrived there at the beginning of March.
Once in Mesopotamia the battalion made there way up towards the front line and the forces attempting to relieve the besieged British garrison at Kut. Repeated attempts to breakthrough to Kut had failed and then on April 5th a fresh push was to be made with the 6th East Lancs playing their part. The 13th Division, of which the 6th East Lancs were part - as one of the infantry units of the 38th Brigade took over the trenches on April 4th and prepared to attack the Turkish held town of Fallaniyah ahead of them the following morning.
At 01:00 on April 5th the men of the 6th East Lancs assembled in the second line trenches, the 6th King's Own Royal Lancasters in the front line. The 6th KORL were to take the Turkish frontline and then John Beckett's battalion was to rush through and take the second line.There was then to be a pause whilst the British artillery softened up the Turks in the third line.
Edward Roe describes the opening fighting:
"At 04:30 the whistles sounded and over we go. Only a few stray and ill aimed shots greet us instead of the hail of lead, which we expected, and the first two lines are taken with trifling loss. We are deafened by the detonations of hundreds of shells of all calibres, which are bursting on and over the second Turkish position. The air seems to be full of express trains.....on meeting with no opposition our officers lost their heads and, instead of obeying orders by remaining for the stipulated twenty minutes in the captured Turkish trenches, flourished their revolvers and yelled, 'Come on boys, we've got them on the run. We won't stop until we get to Kut."
Pushing forward the East Lancs and men of the 6th KORL found themselves under shellfire from both the British & the Turks....
"As we advanced we came across Sergeant Major Ferguson who was in a horrible mess through shell wounds, yet he had the sense to exhort us to 'open out for God's sake'. We made a dive for the first line in the enemy's second position and of course came under the fire of our artillery. Men were sent to Kingdom Come in bundles of eight by our howitzers and river monitors....A private of the the King's Own mounted a trench parapet and,amidst the whine of shrapnel,the dull detonations of High Explosive and the clouds of battle smoke, kept on waving a large red flag in hopes that our artillery observers might notice it and cease fire, until he was badly wounded by a Lyddite shell, an heroic figure amidst an upheaval of iron foundries. Dawn broke, the smoke clouds drifted away, and better still our artillery came to the conclusion that we'd had enough and ceased fire"
The men of the 6th East Lancs then spent an uncomfortable day trying to dig in whilst under shellfire, meanwhile other units pressed on towards Fallaniyah which lay some three miles further on. That evening the four infantry battalions of the 38th Brigade advanced again, John Beckett's 6th East Lancs being the third in line. The Brigade found their targeted trenches lightly held and took control of them and Fallaniyah, the Turks chosing to retire to new defences at Sannaiyat. The day had cost the battalion around 120 men killed and wounded.
The fighting was taken up by other units for the next couple of days but the 6th East Lancs were again in the fray in the early hours of April 9th. Shortly before this John penned a final letter home to his wife Mary in Royton:
"You will have heard of this big effort which we have made to relieve General Townshend,and I think that we shall get to him in a day or two.We have lost a lot of men.The engagement has been on four days now,and we are giving the Turks something to be going on with.I think they will let us come home after this big fight is over for a rest.
You will have seen it in the paper about it,but,thank God,I have got through so far,and I hope I get through at the finish"
In advance of the attack the men had moved forward into position overnight and lay there in very cold temperatures until 03:00 when they attacked. The first line reached the Turkish trenches but the second was broken by enemy fire and fell back. The first line finding themselves exposed and unsupported were eventually forced out of the Turkish trenches and had to dig in some 400 yards back. The failed attack of the 38th & 40th Brigades that morning came at the cost of another 1807 casualties.
One of the men killed was John Beckett. Another Royton member of the 38th Brigade - John Beilby also fell. Edward Roe described the scene:
"At 800 yards, or it might be a little more, a solitary shot was fired on our left. I reckoned it was very close to the Tigris. The double report of the Mauser had no sooner died away than the whole Turkish line from the Tigris to the Suwaikya Marsh sent up Very lights;'twas like one man pressing a switch. By their ghastly flares their position was revealed to us and we to them. The Turks were shoulder to shoulder in the trench. Machine guns were embedded on the parados, as also were Turks in the kneeling and standing positions. Before the flares expired their shrapnel was on us good and hard. A cyclone of bullets from machine guns and rifles battered and tore great gaps in the closely packed lines. Men fell by the dozen. you could hear the continual thud of bullets as they came into contact with human bodies. Men bayoneted each other when falling dead or wounded. I remember poor Hopwood shouting 'Charge' - and away he went, never to be seen again. A few of the leading platoon followed him. Dawn was breaking. All was confusion. We were trying to make up a second line from what was left of the third and fourth, with the enemy still pumping lead and shrapnel into us. Some had already charged 'the other way'."
Roe went on to describe Arab soldiers from the Turkish army leaving their trenches to plunder and club to death injured British soldiers.
After he was posted missing Mary Beckett made exhaustive inquiries from every available source as to her husband's welfare.In July 1916 she visited the family of Private H.Newcombe in Hollinwood. Newcombe was in the same section as John. Newcombe's family had received a letter from him saying that the engagement lasted four days and that he was the only one of his section to escape either being wounded or killed.No prisoners were taken by the enemy in the engagement.
Newcombe was to be killed himself the following year.
In December 1916 the Oldham Chronicle reported that there was a very persistent rumour throughout Royton that John was a prisoner of war in Turkey.His wife requested that the Chronicle report that as far as she knew there was no truth in it.It wasnt until 1918 that Mrs Beckett received official confirmation that her husband could be presumed dead. She outlived him by 40 years.
The men from the 6th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment who were killed in action alongside John that day were:
ASTON WILLIAM 20 Private 11684 from Colne
BALDWIN ALFRED Private 20863 from Barnoldwick
BARNES JOHN RICHARD Private 11923 from Burnley
BERRY WILLIAM Private 12050 from Burnley
BLAKE EDWARD Private 11744 from Salford
BOWDITCH JOHN Private 22058 from Colne
BOWMAN JOSEPH Private 18935 from Manchester
BRAY RICHARD 21 Private 10633 from London
BUCKLEY WALLACE Private 13570 from Salford
BULL HENRY Private 9642 from Bethnal Green
BURROWS JOHN THOMAS 42 Serjeant 6072 from Burnley.Served in the Chitral Campaign(1895)
CALVELEY JOSEPH Lance Corporal 10335 born Birkenhead,enlisted Burnley
CHAPPLES ROBERT HEYS Serjeant 18817 from Accrington
CLITHEROE WALTER Private 20151 from Barnoldswick
CLOSS SAMUEL PERCY 21 Private 18544 from Chepstow
CLUTTON WILLIAM Private 20451 from Clitheroe
CONWAY JOHN Private 12043 from Haslingden
ECCLES THOMAS 31 Lance Corporal 19934 from Liverpool
GIDDINS HARRY 19 Private 11969 from Manchester
GOULDING JOHN JAMES Private 20270 from Warrington
HARRISON EDWARD 45 Private 6182 from Rossendale
HARTLEY HIRAM 29 Private 11597 from Burnley
HATTON WILLIAM Private 8554 from Blackrod
HAYMAN BENJAMIN Private 17429 from Manchester
HEAPS ROBERT 25 Private 19873
HOPWOOD EDWIN JOHN 47 Lieutenant from Guernsey
HOUGHTON ALFRED Private 18943 from Darwen
HUGHES EDWARD Private 20225 from Collyhurst
JOHNSON JOHN Private 11250 from Burnley
JULIUS CECIL HERBERT Lieutenant from Richmond
LAFFY JOHN Private 11319 from Haslingden
LIVESEY JESSE Private 5823 from Bacup
LIVESEY THOMAS Corporal 11284 from Blackpool
McGLYNN JOHN Lance Corporal 9244
McKENZIE JOHN RICHMOND Serjeant 12915 from Liverpool
McNALLY THOMAS Serjeant 5471 from Burnley
POTTEN WILLIAM THOMAS Lance Corporal 18865 from Balham
REID WILLIAM Private 17509 from Liverpool
ROBERTS WILLIAM Private 20027 from Darwen
SAUNDERS ROY LLEWELLYN Second Lieutenant
SHAW EDWARD 18 Private 11036 from Barnoldswick
SHAW ERNEST WILLINGTON 25 Private 20415 from Manchester
SMITH ARTHUR Private 18746 from Manchester
SMITH JOHN WILLIAM Private 19586 from Burnley
TOWERS GEORGE 22 Private 10647 from Leyland
TURNER GEORGE 26 Corporal 10033 from St.John's Wood
VAUGHAN WILLIAM Private 19069 from Burslem
WILLIAMS JOHN Private 19975 from Workington
WILSON HARRY Corporal 18310 from Grange over Sands