photo courtesy of Chris Eaton
John Starkey was born in Royton on February 25th 1896, probably at 8 Thorp. This was the family address at the time and his sister Alice was still resident there when she died in 1961. John's parents were William, a bricklayer, and Sarah both of who were Royton born. John was their second of two children, Alice having been born in 1893.
When old enough to work John took up employment as a Cop Packer (a cop being a bundle of cotton) in one of the local mills. At the time of his enlistment he was working at the Vine Mill. Before the war his father William died in 1913 aged 50.
John was called up in February 1916 as part of the Derby Scheme and headed to Crowborough in Sussex to join the 2nd/10th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. From that point on John Starkey received no home leave and so never saw Royton again.
The 2nd/10th was one of Oldham's Territorial units. The original local battalion - the 1st/10th - had set sail for Egypt very early in the war, at which time the 2nd/10th were formed to replace them.The 2nd/10th left Oldham in November 1914 for Southport and where there until May 1915 when they moved to Crowborough. Some 300 men left in July of that year to Gallipoli to make up losses suffered by the 1st/10th.
In March 1916 the 2nd/10th, with John Starkey amongst their ranks, relocated to Colchester. The battalion would eventually get to France in February 1917 but John and many other local men were sent out to the front in the summer of 1916. To the surprise of the draft of men that included John Starkey they were not to join another battalion of the Manchesters but were to become members of The King's Liverpool Regiment.
The 1st King's had been decimated in an attack on Guillemont on August 8th and needed a large influx of new men to bring it's numbers back up. John Starkey was probably one of the group of 20 officers and 750 other ranks who joined the battalion on August 20th, these new men were all from the Manchester Regiment. The largest group of which were from the Oldham district. The 1st Battalion of Liverpool's local regiment now had more Oldhamers in it than Liverpudlians. The new commanding officer of the battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel S.E Norris, related that there was a great deal of discontent amongst the new men at being sent to a strange unit rather than to a battalion of the Manchester Regiment. He later wrote:
"I remembered my regimental history, and this gave some hint of the best thing to do in the big task of pulling the battalion together again. I assembled the whole of the new officers and men and told them how closely the King's and Manchesters were related, in addition to their recruiting areas being neighbours in South Lancashire. How, in 1758,the 2nd King's was constituted a separate regiment and became the 63rd Foot, the 63rd Foot now being the 1st Battalion, The Manchester Regiment. Instead of being drafted, as the imagined, to a strange regiment, they were simply coming back home again, and the old 8th Foot welcomed them back as the descendants of it's 2nd Battalion which went away so many hears before.
Before I had spoken many minutes I could see the men were thoroughly interested. The impression my remarks made was profound, and company commanders told me later that when censoring letters home they noticed that nearly every man mentioned the incident. The new officers and men settled down quite contentedly, and in a very short time the 1st King's was again an effective fighting battalion. I was greatly assisted in the above incident by Second-Lieuts.Bannatyne and Walsh, both of whom had read and remembered the Regimental History"
One other Royton man had already been killed serving with the battalion - Thomas Henry - but there were to be several more. Although the large majority of the men had no experience in trench warfare they were in the front line just six days later on August 26th. They spent four days there in the Serre sector getting used to their new environment. The Germans were fairly active during this time and casualties in the battalion were reported as being frequent but not numerous. September and October saw the men in and out of the front line, when they were out they were stationed in Couin and other nearby villages.The 1st King's were to go into combat on November 13th, the first day of the Battle of the Ancre. This was the final large British attack of the Battle of the Somme. The British artillery had begun it's bombardment of the German positions on November 6th and by the start of the battle had cut much of the barbed wire and many enemy defensive positions. It hadn't destroyed the dugouts built deep below the villages near the front line though.
At nightfall on August 12th all units were notified that zero hour was at 05:45 the following morning. At 20:00 the battalion marched out from Mailly-Maillet to their assembly positions which they reached before midnight. The 1st King's were one of the four infantry battalions of the 6th Brigade. The 13th Essex and 2nd South Staffords were to form the first wave with the 1st King's supporting the Essex and the 17th Middlesex the South Staffs.
The objective of the 13th Essex and 1st King's was through a strongly fortified position on the northern flank of Beaumont Hamel, known as the Quadrilateral. This position was in a hollow between the slopes leading up to Serre on the left and Beaumont Hamel on the right. It formed a German salient in No Man's Land and was well protected with thick belts of wire in front of it. As for No Man's Land, thanks to rain and constant shelling it was an almost impassible quagmire of mud. That morning the area was covered in thick fog, the men could only see 20 to 30 yards ahead of them but in turn that hid them from German view. However, once the troops went over the top the front two battalions of the 6th Brigade began to suffer heavy casualties in front of the Quadrilateral. Behind the 17th Essex the men of the 1st King's had advanced in good order but it soon became apparent that due to the amount of mud the Essex were in difficulties. The two battalions then advanced together and made many desperate efforts to get through or around the bog and into the enemy trenches. All the while the area was swept by machine gun fire and shellfire.The men on the left of the advance were forced to dig in and take shelter behind a small ridge about 30 yards from the German front line. They then received orders to hold on and draw enemy fire while those on the right could advance. On that flank a mixed group of Kingsmen and Essex had successfully advanced to their objective. Troops from the 99th Brigade then worked around the side of the Quadrilateral. As night fell the 1st King's had dug in across No Man's Land and the following morning a group of 50 or so Kingsmen were in action with the 22nd Royal Fusiliers from the 99th Brigade as they pushed into the Quadrilateral. Enemy trenches were cleared, communication trenches blocked and strong points formed. The main German position in the Quadrilateral was now cut off and other troops were able to advance past it and onto their objectives. On the morning of November 16th the 1st King's were relieved and marched out of the line.Their losses were 2 officers killed, 8 wounded and 245 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. 70 of those were dead with approaching half of those losses from the Oldham district. Counting the wounded there were probably over 100 casualties from the area. One of those killed was John Starkey. Another local lad, John Wilson was seriously wounded and passed away in a casualty clearing station on November 20th. For the list of those killed alongside John Starkey please see the casualty list under John Wilson's entry.
Another Royton man, Albert Butterworth, who was a friend of John's and was possibly wounded in the same fighting that had claimed the lives of Starkey and Wilson wrote back home to his fiancee stating that his friend had been killed. It was through this letter that Sarah Starkey learned of her son's death. Butterworth's fiancee was called Alice so it is possible that this was John's sister.
The Oldham Chronicle reported that John had been very well known and respected in Royton and that he had been 6 foot high and very smart in appearance.
The following year on November 17th 1917 the following appeared in the paper:
In loving remembrance of John,
the dearly loved and only son of the late William and Sarah Starkey,
King's (Liverpool) Regiment,who fell in action in France Nov.13th-15th,
1916 aged 20 years.
Time has no force to break affections golden link.
Mother & Sister, Thorp
on November 16th 1918 and November 15th 1919 the following notice appeared:
In loving memory of Private John Starkey,
King's (Liverpool) Regiment,
of Ivy Cottage, Thorp, Royton,
who fell in action Nov 13-15 1916,
in his 21st year.
Always remembered and deeply regretted by
his Aunt, Uncle and Cousins
273 Turf Lane, Royton
John's mother Sarah died in 1926 aged 67 and was buried alongside her husband in Royton Cemetery. Also now buried with them are John's sister Alice (1961, aged 68) and her husband William Porter.
Date of Death:Between 13/11/1916 and 15/11/1916
Regiment:The King's (Liverpool Regiment)
Cemetery:Serre Road Cemetery No.2