The mill was the Highfield Mill on Bleasdale Street, a short stroll from Higher House. The Highfield had been built by Robert Mellor in 1876. The first of the Mellor sons to die was young Charles in 1898 aged only two years old and then in December 1903 his father Robert Francis died himself. The two Mellor widows shortly afterwards sold the Highfield which then became the Park Mill and later still the Larch Mill.
John Gerald Mellor was educated privately and then in September 1900 went to Hulme Grammar School in Oldham, where he studied for five years.From there he went to Diocesan Training College in Exeter which was a Church of England establishment for the training of school masters.Upon passing his final exams he took up a teaching post back in Royton at St.Paul's School.
When war broke out in August 1914 John headed back to Devon to enlist in the newly formed 2nd/4th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. One of the companies of this new unit were drawn from young men past and present of Exeter College.Based at first at Exeter the battalion moved to Exmouth that October.They sailed for India on December 12th 1914 and upon arrival there were stationed at Wellington Barracks in Madras.
The British & many units of the British Indian Army were fighting in Mesopotamia against the Turks in what is now a largely forgotten front of the war. In July 1915 a small draft of the 2nd/4th Devons were sent out to Mesopotamia and John Gerald Mellor was one of the volunteers to go. Once there, arriving at Basra on August 12th, they were attached to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal West Kents (who had been in Mesopotamia since February), a prewar regular army unit. With the West Kents they travelled up the Euphrates river to Nasireh, and from there as part of a two company detachment from the West Kents in October 1915 they went up the Tigris to reinforce the British Army, under General Townshend, which was then advancing upon Baghdad. They passed through Kut on November 23rd/24th only to find Townshend's force falling back. At Ctesiphon, only 16 miles from Baghdad, they had fought an inconclusive battle against the Ottoman Army but due to the amount of losses to what was already a force too small for it's objectives they withdrew back to Kut.
Kut was reached on December 3rd and the enemy arrived four days later to besiege it. During the siege John Gerald Mellor was to be wounded twice and was also laid up for a while with a fever. Repeated attempts were made by the British to relieve their besieged compatriots without success. During these battles three Royton men were to die - John Beckett, John Beilby & John Roberts. The last attempt to break the siege was on April 22nd but it ended in failure with the British only around 10 miles from the town.
The situation in Kut was by now already dire, a medical officer Ernest Walker later wrote:
This last part of the siege was a bad time, hungry, sick, overworked.Biting flies and mosquitoes increased apace. our dead stank, dead Turks stank. Never can I forget the cats, starved of course, eating dead Turks and feeding out of their skeletons.Diarrhoea began and fever, scurvy got worse.
Townshend surrendered on April 29th. Townshend has not been viewed kindly by history, both for his performance at Ctesiphon, his handling of the siege of Kut - giving out completely incorrect statements on his supplies which resulted in the first relief attempt being sent out in a rush,hopelessly unready at a great cost in lives and then living in luxury in captivity near Constantinople whilst the troops who had served under him suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of their captors.
The first stage in the horror for the men of Kut was an eight mile march to the first collecting poiont at Shumrun. Most of the men were severely emaciated by now and the first men began to die. Upon arrival at Shumrun they found that there was no shelter provided from the hot sun and most of the men having no means of providing it for themselves. The only food provided were rock hard Turkish Army biscuits. These, if mixed with water, would eventually yield up a porridge. No instructions were given as to how to consume these.Once mixed with water they turned into a porridge but eaten in their hard state they had a terrible effect on the men's weakened digestive systems. Within hours many men were dying and the night's silence was broken by the cries of agony of those effected. These deaths contributed to the estimated 300 deaths in the first week after surrender. Those with money could often buy food from the Ottoman troops guarding them, it was suspected this food was from rations that had been intended for free distribution. Those without money were reduced to trying to barter their clothing for food. The gulf between the health of the officers and the other ranks began to widen.
It was then announced that the officers were to be taken up to Baghdad by boat whilst the men would have to march there. Even the fittest men were in a skeletal condition by this point and they were to march in the day in temperatures up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The only rations were the aforementioned army biscuits and a few dates. As men inevitably fell out of line they were either savagely beaten or just left to die. Countless men died during the eleven day march to Baghdad. Many of the survivors arrived there almost naked having either been forced to sell their clothing for food or having had it taken from them by their guards or the hostile Arab natives whose villages they passed through.
They were paraded through Baghdad for two hours with many in the crowd jeering and spitting at them. They were eventually dumped on a piece of waste ground near to the city's railway station.by their escorts. The American Consul, a Mr.Brissell, who had witnessed the plight of the men on their march through the city arranged to have food delivered to the men each day. This undoubtedly saved many lives. An area was set aside by the British Medical Officers for the very ill, this was a patch of ground covered from the sun by baskets. There was no bedding, the men lying in dirt and filth with thousands of flies swarming around them. The dead were wrapped up in blankets and left amongst the sick until such time could be found to remove them.
Around the camp the tally of deaths continued to rise as Cholera,Typhus and Dysentry spread rapidly. The British Medical Officers eventually managed to prevail upon the Turks to take the worst cases into Baghdad's hospitals. Brissell, the US Consul, who did so much for the men was himself to die of cholera.
John Gerald Mellor passed away on June 26th 1916 of disease. The only communication his family had received since November 1915 was a postcard dated June 2nd in which he,no doubt putting a very brave face on the situation, stated he was well. The lot of the men who were eventually marched out of Baghdad to camps further up country or in Anatolia did not get any better. They were the victims of terrible beatings, torture, starvation, neglect and many young soldiers were gang raped.
John Gerald Mellor was born in Royton on September 24th 1889, the son of John Francis Mellor and Hannah. He was the seventh of eleven boys. His brothers were Frederick, Francis,George, Arthur, Robert, William, Harry, Edward, Douglas & Charles. Frederick & Francis were the sons of John Francis' first wife, Elizabeth, who died in 1877 aged only 23, two years after their marriage. John Francis remarried in 1881 to Hannah Jane Butterworth. John Francis Mellor was a solicitor and was the son of mill owner Robert Mellor.
Consecration in 1917 of graves of prisoners of war who had died in Baghdad after capture by the Turks at Kut © IWM (Q 25260)
JOHN GERALD MELLOR
Date of Death:26/06/1916
(attached to 2nd Bn.Royal West Kent Regiment)
Cemetery:Baghdad(North Gate)War Cemetery
Park Mill No.1/Larch Mill on the left,earlier the Highfield Mill belonging to the Mellor family (spot the WW1 tank in the photo)
the Mellor family home, Higher House c.1910
An estimated 13,000 people fell into Turkish hands upon the surrender of Kut. Some 70% of the British and 50% of the Indian prisoners were to die whilst in captivity. Of the 226 Royal West Kents (including John Gerald Mellor and his 2nd/4th Devonshire comrades) who passed into captivity only 69 survived to get as far as their prison camps. A majority of those would have died whilst there.
Official notification of John's death reached the Mellor family back in Royton in September 1916. The previous month they had received news of the death in combat of his brother Edward and their cousin Robert Stott Mellor .Later that year another tragedy hit the Mellors when John's brother George died in Stockport. In November 1918 another brother, Arthur,died in Royton during the great Influenza Epidemic.
In 1891 the family were living at 49 Oldham Road but by 1901 were living at Higher House which Robert Francis had inherited upon his father's death in 1894. Higher House was what many Royton residents will remember later became the Tramtracks pub and after that a nightclub, Scandals. It was where the houses are now at the corner of Rochdale Road and Rochdale Lane. Along with the house Robert Francis had inherited a half share, along with brother William Edwin, in the family's cotton mill. William Edwin Mellor was to die soon after in 1895.