JOHN WILLIAM HEYS
Date of Death:12/10/1916
Regiment:The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
Cemetery:Grandcourt Road Cemetery
John William Heys (known as John Willie) was born in Rochdale in early 1888, his parents were James - a railway worker - and Elizabeth. He was one of five children, his siblings being Elizabeth, Mary, Harriet, James and Clara. John Willie's early years were spent at Back Durham Street in Rochdale before the family moved to Brow Street - just down the street from the Buersil & Balderstone War Memorial that bears his name. He worked in the cotton industry, the 1901 census recording that at the age of 13 he was employed as a Ring Frame Doffer. At some point between 1911 and 1915, John Willie moved to Royton and was working as a Stripper & Grinder. His address when he enlisted - in December 1915 - was 111 Springfield Lane. His brother James lived around the corner on Castleton Road.
John Willie's date of enlistment, in Royton, was 9th December - the same as John James Platt whose military career was to follow the same trajectory. After signing up John Willie Heys was put on the Army Reserve and then finally called up on April 17th 1916. He was first with the 27th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, a reserve unit who were at Altcar near Southport. A little over four months training with the 27th and he was sent for active service - his new unit was to be the 16th Battalion of the Manchesters. John Willie left Folkestone on August 29th 1916 and arrived in Boulogne the same day. Then followed further training at the great Etaples camp before, on September 9th he was posted to his new battalion. It wasn't to be the 16th Manchesters though, he - along with over 60 others - had been transferred to the 8th Loyal North Lancashires. The 8th Loyals had been out in France since September 1915 and had suffered losses throughout July and August in the Somme area.
When John Willie and the other new men joined them they were behind the line near Abbeville and for the next two weeks they moved between various billets in the area. John Willie's first experience of the front line came on September 30th as the battalion relieved men of the Lincolnshire Regiment in the 'Hessian Trench' sector west of Stuff Redoubt near to Thiepval. On October 2nd, ten men from the battalion were killed - four were from the Oldham area, one of them was John James Platt who had enlisted into the Manchester Regiment back in Royton the same day as John Willie had.The battalion was relieved on October 3rd.
On October 10th, at Stuff Redoubt, the men of the 8th were back into the line - they took over the northern face of the redoubt which had been captured by the 10th Battalion Cheshire Regiment just the day previous. The following day the Germans made a few weak attacks on the positions held by John Willie and his comrades but the evening of the following day, October 12th, things were of a different magnitude. At about 18:45 the Germans made a very determined attempt to retake their lost ground.They gained a footing in one part of the line for a period but were eventually ejected having suffered many casualties. John Willie Heys was one of those amongst the ranks of the Loyal North Lancs to be killed.The Battalion suffered around 80 casualties - 11 of which were fatal.
Back home, John Willie's lack of contact had greatly concerned his family. On 21st January 1917 his brother in law, John Heaton who was married to Clara, wrote to the Army Records Office in Preston:
"Dear Sir, can you please give me any information of the whereabouts of Private J.W Keys 27231 12 Platoon C Company 8th Batt L.N.L BEF France as I have not heard since October and we are anxious to know his whereabouts and oblige you
faithfully. J.R Heaton"
If John Heaton got a reply and if he did what it said is unknown but it wasn't until May 9th 1917 that the Rochdale Observer reported that John Willie was believed to have been killed. John Willie Heys doesn't appear on Royton's War Memorial but, as mentioned above, his name can be found on the Buersil & Balderstone memorial which is on Oldham Road on the way into Rochdale from Royton.
The other men to die with John Willie Heys were:
AUSTIN STEPHEN Private 27202 from Wigan
BENTHAM JOSEPH 22 Private 29933 from Wigan
HARGREAVES ROBERT Private 29967 from Blackrod
LAURIE ALEXANDER 27 Private 29704 from Suffolk,lived Moss Side,Manchester
LONGSON WILLIAM Private 27236 from Failsworth
PARKINSON JOSEPH 24 Private 24534 from Bolton
PARR WALTER 24 Private 29887 from Liverpool
PATRICK WILLIAM 21 Private 29659 from Bolton
THORNLEY JAMES 29 Private 4207 born Ince,enlisted Farnworth
UNDERHILL EDWARD 21 Captain from Warlingham,Surrey