‚ÄčRoyton Roll of Honour

JOHN SAXON
Age:32
Date of Death:19/07/1916
Rank:Private
Service No:8990
Regiment:Manchester Regiment
Unit:1st Bn.
Cemetery:
Basra War Cemetery
Grave Ref:VI.W.21


John Saxon was born in Rochdale in 1884. His parents were John and Sarah, both cotton workers. They had 16 children in total but 11 of these died in infancy - some of these being James Coote, Joseph, James and twins Lily and Violet. John jnrs surviving siblings were Emily, Harry , Luke and Albert Edward. At some point between John's birth in 1884 and November 1886 the Saxons moved to Royton, at the later date they were living at 8 Mill Street and a year later 4 Union Street. The 1891 census found them at 9 Seville's Yard, in 1894 they were at 9 Dyehouses (where Charles Riley was later to die) and then in 1901 they resided at 11 Radcliffe Street. By this time John and brother Harry were working as Cop Packers in one of the local cotton mills.
On February 25th 1910 at St.Paul's Church John married Catherine Melia from Heyside. Daughter Harriet arrived later that year and then a son, Albert Edward, in 1913. They lived together at 20 Dyehouses, along the same row of cottages where John had lived as a boy in 1894.
Shortly after the outbreak of war, John was sent as a reinforcement to the 2nd Manchesters. This strongly suggests he had some previous military experience with the regiment - either as a regular or a territorial - but what that was and for how long is currently unknown. The 2nd Battalion had been fighting in France since August with several Royton men in their ranks - one of whom John Buckley had already been sent home wounded by the time John Saxon reached them in mid September as part of a draft of 170 nco's and men. On October 13th a general attack was ordered and the battalion advanced on Richebourg l'Avoue, but the going was slow - with the Germans making the British fight for every hamlet and every house. The western end of the village was occupied, and here the battalion dug in for the night with the Germans doing the same some 200-250 yards in front. The casualties that day were 10 killed and 43 wounded. On the 14th and 15th there was little change in the situation with 8 men being injured on the 14th, one dying of his wounds. On the 16th forward patrols indicated the Germans had fallen back so the Manchesters advanced once more. On the 20th of October though enemy reinforcements started to arrive, freed up from the fall of the Belgian city of Antwerp, and the whole British line was violently attacked. A Company of the 2nd Manchesters launched two bayonet attacks on the Germans but were caught by enfilading fire and lost considerably. Fighting went on until dusk until the Manchesters withdrew to support trenches. During the fighting from October 18th to 20th the battalion had lost 11 killed, 130 wounded and 72 missing. We can't say for certain when John Saxon was wounded but he arrived at hospital in Colchester on October 27th. The nature of his wounds are also unknown but the Oldham Chronicle reported later that his wounds had been severe and needed a long period of convalescence. While he was home his brother Harry was seriously wounded and returned to England with life changing wounds that were eventually to prove fatal. As for John,the family had presumed he would eventually be discharged but he was eventually reported as being fit for active service again and found himself with the 1st Battalion Manchester Regiment in Mesopotamia.
The 1st Manchesters had been in India at the outbreak of war in August 1914 and had reached France that September. They served on the Western Front until December 1915 whereupon they moved to Mesopotamia, landing at Basra on 8th January 1916. During their service in France the following men from the Royton War Memorial had all been killed serving with them - Fred McSweeney, James McGivern, Bertram Lees, William Henry Roberts and William Holt.
We can only guess as to when John reached his new battalion, whether it was before they left France in December 1915 or if he was one of the several drafts of new men they received in the first half of 1916 whilst in Mesopotamia - one on February 5th, another on March 4th, then again in April and another at the end of June. For an idea of any action he may have seen whilst with the 1st Battalion please see the entry of fellow Royton man James Ward who died in June 1916. Around this time John would have discovered that his brother Harry had died back in England.
There followed a period out of front line action but the men, suffering already from sickness & disease, then had to cope with fierce temperatures as the summer progressed. Temperatures in the shade rose to as high as 124 degrees Fahrenheit on some days in July. It was during this month that John Saxon died, the Oldham Chronicle later reporting from "the effects of heat".