photo courtesy of Bob Wood
JOHN CHARLES MELLOR
Date of Death:12/06/1917
Cemetery:Bray Military Cemetery
the blowing of the mine under the Hawthorn Redoubt
John Charles Mellor was born in Royton in 1882, the son of James and Hannah. James was an iron moulder originally from Liverpool, Hannah was a native of Royton. John was their first child of five;his younger siblings being Joe, Emma, Mary and Sarah. Tragedy struck the family late in 1888 when both Joe (aged 3) and Emma (14 months) died, they were buried together at Royton Cemetery on December 5th of that year. The Mellors lived at 53 Orchard Street throughout John's childhood and they were still there in 1900 when James died aged just 41. At some time after that the family moved to 65 Rochdale Lane and at the time of the 1911 census John was there with his mother, sisters Mary and Sarah along with Mary's husband Frank Whalley and their daughter Lilian. John worked nearby at the Holly Mill and he was later described by the Oldham Chronicle as having worked there for nearly the whole of his working life. He was a parishioner at St.Paul's Church and as a boy attended it's Sunday School. In 1913 John's mother Hannah died aged 56 and was buried in the family grave in Royton alongside her husband James and children Joe and Emma.
John enlisted in the army in Royton in the first half of 1915. He was sent out for active service to the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers and arrived in France on July 29th of the same year. The Battalion had only recently suffered heavy casualties fighting off a German attack at Pilckem near Ypres, one of those killed was Royton man Thomas Noone. Earlier in the war Harry Turner had also been killed serving with the 2nd Battalion.
After the fighting at Pilckem the battalion were in and out of the line for the remainder of 1915 near Auchonvillers near to the River Ancre. They were again at the Ancre in the line near Serre in February 1916 when they were attacked by the Germans. The trenches held by the Lancashire Fusiliers were in a bad condition and instead of a continuous front line they manned thirteen small posts. Some were linked up, others weren't. All attempts at digging communication trenches were thwarted by a combination of German artillery and by the wet weather. For some time casualties were abnormally high due to enemy shells and trench mortar bombs. On February 19th about a hundred of the enemy were observed cutting the wire in front of their positions and this was shortly followed by an artillery bombardment on the sheltering British.After about an hour the bombardment moved onto the rear positions and the Germans attacked. Three of the battalion's posts were taken for a while before a counterattack fought the Germans off. It was thought that the raid was an attempt to capture a Lewis Gun, a weapon that had just been introduced to the British frontline units. 11 Fusiliers were dead, 32 wounded and 18 missing.
The 2nd Battalion were to go on the offensive again themselves on July 1st 1916. The bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. The opening day of the Battle of the Somme saw them as one of the battalions tasked with the capture of the heavily fortified village of Beaumont Hamel. One of it's outposts was the Hawthorn Redoubt, under which a large mine had been prepared. It was blown at 07:20 on July 1st, 10 minutes before the British infantry were to attack. This unfortunately had the effect of giving the Germans ten minutes notice of what was to come. The 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers were one of the four infantry battalions of 12th Brigade. The 12th was to follow up behind 11th Brigade and take the second line system of German trenches some 1500 yards behind the front line with the 2nd LF being one of the two supporting battalions bringing up the rear.They were to feed men up to the leading battalions, the 2nd Essex and 2nd KORL, when and if needed. Upon reaching the final objective the battalion was to make two strong points in the new front line.
The battalion advanced from their overnight positions at 08:00-08:30 on a frontage of 250 yards and didn't suffer any casualties until about 09:00 when they came under German barrage. Up ahead the sound of rifle and machine gun fire made it clear that the 11th Infantry Brigade were not having an easy time of it. At 09:15 in view of the lack of success across the front as a whole the 12th Brigade were ordered to stand fast but as all units were on the move by that point it was impossible for the runners to reach everyone in time. The majority of the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers ended up fighting in and around a German strongpoint, the Quadrilateral, that had been seized earlier by troops of the 11th Brigade. The fighting raged to and fro in this area throughout the day and far into the night. The battalion had earlier received orders to assemble in the old British front line to act as the supporting unit to the rest of the 12th Brigade still holding the old German front line but due to the ongoing fighting it took some time to extricate everyone. The final casualties, while not immediately apparent due to the amount of men missing, eventually totalled 72 killed and 282 wounded. Royton man John Rees Butterworth was one of those who had lost their lives.
From August 4th to September 17th the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers carried out routine tours of duty in the line near Ypres, the unit had been sent to regroup in that area after July 1st, before heading by train back to the Somme area.
At a point in the British line between Lesbouefs and Le Transloy there was a 'dent' of German held ground.Before winter set in it was decided to straighten out the line and to gain possession of the ridges near Le Transloy. The 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers were to be one of the units involved in this battle. The fighting had begun on October 1st but it wasn't until October 9th that the men of the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers reached the front line, relieving men of the Queen's Westminster Rifles. They came under heavy shellfire on both October 10th and 11th. On the 11th orders were received for an attack the following day. The battalion, along with other British and French troops, were to attack a ridge which lay about 1500 yards ahead of the existing line. The attack was to be in eight waves, the first four to take the objective,push patrols forward and dig in.The second four waves were to follow up and dig a support trench to the rear of the objective. The men were ready at their assembly positions at 05:15 on October 12th and the artillery bombardment began at 06:00. Zero hour wasn't until 14:25 and the bombardment continued up until that point. A few small parties of Germans tried to come across and surrender, 22 succeeding in their aim with others being killed or retreating back to their trench. From these incidents there came the strong impression that the enemy's morale must be very low. However it was also clear that the Germans must know full well an attack was about to come, something confirmed when two German airplanes flew over the assembly trenches and would have seen that they were packed with troops.
Shortly before zero hour the two companies on the right, A & B,left their trenches and lay in shell holes and escaped any wholesale immediate casualties. C & D didn't leave their trenches until 14:25 and immediately came under enemy machine gun fire. It was noticed that there was a small trench between the lines manned by about 20 Germans with two machine guns. This group inflicted very heavy casualties and held up the advance as they poured enfilade fire through A & B Companies. In the centre of the battalion's attempted advance, small groups from B & C Companies managed to get past this trench and pushed about 200 yards further on before digging in. These men were later cut off and were all either killed or captured. The situation by this point was critical, Second Lieutenant Hawkins from C Company later wrote:
"2.50pm.Fifty per cent of company already down.Whole Brigade appears to be held up.L/Cpl.Fenton, one of my Lewis gunners,has got his gun going in a shell hole on my left. Awful din, can heardly hear it. Yelled at Sjt.Marrin to take the first wave on. He's lying just behind me. Hodgkinson says he's dead. Sjt.Mann on my right, of 7 Platoon,also dead.Most of the men appear to be dead. Shout at the rest and get up to take them on. Find myself sitting on the ground facing our own line with a great hole in my thigh.....Hodgkinson also hit in the wrist.Awful din still. Most of the Company now out....I put my tie round my leg as a tourniquet. Fortescue about five yards on my right still alive....Yell at him to come over to me. Show him my leg and tell him to carry on. He gets into a shell hole to listen while I tell him what to do. Shot through the heart while I'm talking to him.Addison also wounded and crawling back to our lines. That's all the officers and most of the NCO's.Can't see anything of Sergeant Bolton and 8 Platoon..."
Elsewhere small groups of Lancashire Fusiliers were in scattered positions holding on to what they had as best as they could. At 19:30 orders came from the Brigade for a combined raid to be made that night to expel the party of Germans in the small trench.Word got back to Brigade HQ from Major Willis at 20:50 that he now had only two officers and eighty men left so the plan was abandoned. The course of action after that was to collect any survivors and to consolidate any progress made. Eventually about 130 men were brought together and the battalion's surviving officers could tally up the day's losses. 4 officers and 62 other ranks killed, 6 officers and 162 other ranks wounded, and 1 officer and 100 other ranks missing. Many of those missing were in fact dead, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists 144 men from the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers as having been killed that day. One of the dead men was another Roytoner Owen Regan.
Infantry preparing to advance from assembly trenches during the opening day of the Battle of Arras, 9 April 1917 © IWM (Q 5118)
Early 1917 was fairly quiet for the Battalion but this was all to change when the Battle of Arras began on April 9th. This was the British Army's first major offensive of 1917 and the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers were to be part of the second phase of the opening day's assault. The 9th Division, in the first phase, was to take three lines of German defences (known as "Black","Blue" and "Brown") and then the 4th Division, which included the 2nd LF, was to pass through and take a fourth line and the village of Fampoux before pushing on and establishing themselves in a fifth German line - the "Green Line". The 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers allocated role in the scheme of things was first to capture 500 yards of the German fourth system and then to go on and seize about 450 yards of the "Green Line". It was then to dig in but to send strong parties forward to capture any German artillery in the area and to keep in touch with the retreating enemy. The 9th Division had been unable to keep up to it's timetable which meant the battalion had to wait it's turn out in the open. Under German artillery fire they lost about 150 men in casualties. At 13:30 it finally moved forward, reaching the Brown Line at 14:00. Then under cover of a creeping barrage the battalion went on the attack at 15:13 with B & C Companies reaching the first objective at 15:45 without great difficulty and without suffering many further casualties.Most Germans encountered at this point surrendered, a few tried to run but most of these were killed by Lewis-gun fire.At 16:12 it was the turn of A & D Companies as they passed through B & C and advanced towards the Green Line. They came under heavy machine gun fire and at first tried to push on but then coming to an area of ground that was flat and swept by fire had to dig in just east of the road running north of the eastern end of Fampoux. The battalion had suffered 63 casualties by this point. The men stayed in the new position overnight during a heavy snowfall and then throughout April 10th in which a further 73 casualties were suffered under sniper and shellfire.
The following day, April 11th, B & C Companies (later joined by D Company) played a minor role in a failed attack by the 1st King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. The battalion's casualties during the day totalled 19. One of the wounded men during this period was Charles Riley, who had to have a leg amputated and the following year died at home in Royton.
After their involvement in the opening days of the fighting the 2nd LF rested in the back area until April 29th when they moved back towards the front. At this point they were some 450 men strong - at full strength a British battalion would have nearer 1000.
They relieved the 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers in the front line to the east of Fampoux late on April 30th. The men found that the trenches were shallow and weren't sufficient to protect men standing upright. May 1st was a quiet one but at sunset and then again at dawn on May 2nd the Battalion came under German artillery fire suffering some casualties. The men were to launch an attack in the early hours of May 3rd but before doing so men of D Company were sent out to secure an unclaimed section of trench, moving in bright moonlight they came to the attention of German snipers and suffered several casualties in doing so. While this was going on the rest of the Battalion were readying themselves for their attack which was to take place at 03:45. Their first objective was a chemical works and Rouex railway station. They were then to push on and take some german trenches about 1400 yards further on. The chemical works were about 500 yards from the men's starting positions and the railway station perhaps half that distance. At 03:45 the Lancashire Fusiliers went over the top, advancing behind a creeping barrage provided by the British artillery. On the right B Company was in front with C in support whilst on the left D led the way with A following. D company was held up almost at once by machine gun fire, they and A Company suffered heavy losses. An attempt was made to outflank the houses where the German machine gunners were stationed but this failed and the survivors from both companies were forced to return back to the original front line.Meanwhile B & C Companies met little opposition and managed to push forward under cover of the barrage. They captured the chemical works and then still in accordance with the timetable began to progress further. Owing to the darkness and a railway embankment that split the two prongs of the Fusilier's attack these two companies were unaware of the failure of the attack to their left. To compound their problems the Brigade on their right had failed to capture their objective - Rouex Chateau - and when daylight came the defenders of that position began to put rifle and machine gun fire down on the Lancastrians. The men now found themselves trapped having advanced without support on either side. The Germans re-established their line between the station and the chateau and the entirety of B & C Companies were lost - either killed or captured. The Battalion recorded their losses for the day as 4 officers wounded, 1 officer wounded and missing and 9 officers missing with 17 other ranks killed, 84 wounded and 174 missing. Two more Royton men were killed that day - Joseph William Helliwell and Robert Franklin.
After it's latest mauling the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers alternatively rested, provided working parties and underwent training. In early June they were in the Bertrancourt and Beaussart area north east of Amiens. While there John Charles Mellor fell ill and was moved to a Casualty Clearing Station where he died on June 16th of meningitis. He left his belongings and outstanding army pay to his sister Sarah.