JOHN WILLIAM SHIRT
Date of Death:22/02/1916
Regiment/Service:King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment)
Cemetery:Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery
John at the age of 18
John William Shirt was born in Royton on March 2nd 1888. He was the only child of James & Ellen. At the time of John's birth his father was a labourer. At the time of the 1901 census they were living at 28 Union Street and ten years later could be found at 113 Middleton Road. The Shirt's then became the licensees at the Church Inn on Middleton Road.
John enlisted in the army in January 1915 and whilst still in England he married Sarah Ann Smith at St.Anne's Church at Lydgate in October of that same year. Sarah moved in with John's parents at the Church Inn.
John was sent out for active service in late December 1915, arriving in France on December 28th. He joined his new unit, the 8th Battalion of the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment shortly after - probably being a member of the 50 strong draft that reached the battalion on January 17th whilst the unit was in a rest camp in the area around Ypres. The 8th Battalion had been out at the front since September 1915 and counted a fair few Royton men amongst it's number.
The period that followed was one in and out of the frontline with no great actions to report. John must have been one of the battalion's machine gunners as while the battalion was in a rest camp on February 18th the unit's machine gun crews were sent up to the line in the early hours as support for a battalion of the Gordon Highlanders and one from the Suffolk Regiment. On the following day two casualties from the machine gunners are noted in the 8th KORL's war diary - one killed and one wounded. The wounded man was John Shirt. The dead man was Serjeant Lawrence Brooks (15814) from Wigan.
John was admitted to a Casualty Clearing Station, with wounds to his abomen, and after never regaining consciousness he passed away at 04:15 in the morning on February 22nd.
At St.Paul's Church on Sunday March 5th the Reverend J.H Humphrey said that John was a hero who had lain down his life for his country. He remembered him as a member of the church Sunday school. He said that John had always been a quiet, steady and respectable lad.
John's father, James, was to tragically drink himself to death - passing away on December 1st 1916 aged 49. His mother Ellen passed away herself in April 1917 at the age of 48, not long after she had posted the following in the Oldham Chronicle on February 24th 1917:
Could I have raised his dying head
or heard his last farewell
The grief would have not been so hard
For one who loved him well
No one knows how sad the parting was
or guessed what the farewell lost
But God and his Holy angels
Have gained what I have lost
We little knew as we said goodbye
We were parting forever and you were going to die
From his loving mother E.Shirt
John's widow Sarah moved to Mossley and in February 1918 the following appeared in the same newspaper:
Deep down in my heart
Aches a wound I try to hide
For a loved one dear, who knew no fear,
Who fought for England's Pride
Anchored by love, death cannot sever
I sadly miss him and will do for ever.
But the hardest part is yet to come,
When the heroes do return,
And I miss him among the cheering crowd
The one that will never return,
from his sorrowing wife. S.H Shirt
Grove School, Haddens, Mossley
John's name doesn't appear on Royton's War Memorial. Presumably this is to do with being an only child and both his parents dying soon after him, along with his widow moving away from the town. He is commemorated at both St.Paul's in Royton and St.Anne's in Lydgate.
Sarah Shirt had the following engraved on John's headstone:
BUT MEMORY NEVER FADES.