John James Hilton was born in Royton on March 16th 1884. His father was Edmund, a labourer in an Ironworks, and his mother Betty. John's siblings were Elizabeth, Esther, Bertha, Augustus, Laura & Sarah. In 1890 John's father Edmund died at the age of 42. The 1891 census finds Betty, working as a charwoman, and the children living at 17 Back Spencer Street. By 1901 John, by now 17, and the family were at 3 Sand Hole. John was by this time a piecer in one of the local cotton mills.3 Sand Hole is the same address that John Armstrong was living at by the outbreak of war. In 1905 John married Ethel Petty and they lived together at first at the family home on Sand Hole. Their first child, John James jnr, was born in October 1906. By the time their second child, William, was born the following October they had set up home at 8 Cotton Street. William was to die in 1908. Further children, Ernest and Ethel May came along in 1909 and 1910 respectively. His mother Betty died in 1910.
Tragedy struck the family in 1911 when first Ethel,aged just 22, and then 1 year old Ethel May died. This left John as a widower with two children to bring up.
By the time war broke out, John had taken a job as an electricians labourer at the engineering firm Mather & Platt who had a large works in Newton Heath. John must have enlisted fairly early during the war (in Shaw) and his two children were entrusted into the care of one of his sisters. He arrived at Gallipoli on July 17th 1915 as one of a draft of reinforcements to the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. The battalion had been nearly wiped out twice already - the first time during the landings at Helles on April 25th when over 650 men were listed as being killed, missing and wounded. Then on June 4th in the Third Battle of Krithia from the c.830 men in the battalion that morning there were only 300 or so left by June 5th. Edwin Hyde was one of those killed.
John's first taste of open battle was to come on August 21st. The 1st Battalion were to support the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers on an attack on a well entrenched Turkish position called Hill 112. The wide stretch of No Man's Land was rough, stony and studded with patches of shrub. The vegetation caught fire in many places during the attack which added to the general confusion and mixing of units. The Munsters were held up by heavy fire and the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers advancing at 15:30 were met by heavy machine gun and rifle fire. Their attack and that of a neighbouring battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers also failed. By 19:30 scattered positions held by men of the Lancashire & Dublin Fusiliers were ordered to withdraw. The attack had been a complete failure. One of the dead was a fellow Royton man, William Baguley.
A few months later the men of the battalion were to suffer at the hands of the weather. A great storm hit Gallipoli on the night of November 26th/27th and the trenches of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers were flooded with water, it eventually settled at an average depth of four feet but had been higher as the flood hit. Then on the evening of the 27th a blizzard added to the catastrophe. John's battalion had lost about 20 men drowned, at least 19 had frozen to death and 11 officers and 525 other ranks had to be evacuated to hospital suffering from the effects of exposure.The battalion was finally evacuated from Gallipoli on January 2nd 1916 during the final evacuation and sailed to Alexandria. After a few weeks manning the defences of the Suez Canal John and his comrades were shipped to France and the Western Front in March 1916.
The 1st Battalion were to be involved during the first day of the Battle of the Somme which began on July 1st 1916. The majority of the men were at Mailly Wood, practicing the attack to come, whilst one company (C) took over a portion of the front line. The objective of the battalion on July 1st was the village of Beaumont Hamel.
Men of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers fixing bayonets before going into action on July 1st 1916. Copyright of IWM
JOHN JAMES HILTON
Date of Death:20/07/1916
Cemetery:Hamel Military Cemetery
At 07:20 that day the mine planted under the German positions at Hawthorn Redoubt exploded and whilst the men of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers lined up ready for the attack, 2 companies had advanced overnight to a sunken road in advance of the other two in the original front line, the Brigade's Stokes Mortar Battery opened up a bombardment. At 07:30 the leading sections from B & D companies went over the top from the sunken road,the first two lines had not got far when the German machine guns opened fire on them. The next two lines were virtually annihilated as they advanced from the sunken road. A & C Companies moving from the front trenches to the sunken road were similarly badly hit by enemy fire and the survivors who pressed on from there enjoyed no greater success than the men of the advance companies.
In total only a couple of officers and about 10 other ranks ever reached the German wire. By 12:30 it was clear that the battalion could not succeed in it's task and the afternoon was spent trying to organise the road for defence whilst under German shell & sniper fire. At 18:00 the sunken road was evacuated apart from a small group of men detailed to hold it during the night. The day had cost the battalion many casualties: 7 officers had been killed and 14 wounded. Of the other ranks, 156 were killed, 298 wounded and 11 missing. The brigadier in his report stated that he didn't believe any troops could have taken that part of the German line that day. Indeed it wasn't until 13th November (and then with two full brigades) that the village was taken.
The battalion remained in the front line, helping to defend the sunken road until July 3rd. The following day the whole battalion marched to Acheux Wood and were described as "a very depressed force".
The much under strength battalion then spent periods assigned to working parties and occasionally holding parts of the front line. They came under shellfire from time to time and on July 20th John was killed.
His sister at 70 Sandy Lane received a letter a fortnight or so later from Rev.H.Rosker an army chaplain:
"Dear Miss Hilton - it is with deepest regret that I write to tell you that your brother, Private Hilton, Lancashire Fusiliers, was killed by a bursting shell on Saturday July 22nd (date incorrect). He died instantaneously and was buried in the little burial ground at <censored>. A cross now marks his grave. I need hardly say how deeply we all sympathise with you all in your distress. Your brother was a promising soldier and a good comrade and respected by us all"
There are three other men from the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers listed as dying that day:
CHRISTIAN ROBERT Private 27227 from Isle of Man
FOSTER JOHN Private 18107 from Tyldesley
WHALEN JAMES Private 8747 from Manchester