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John Stirzaker was baptised on the 27th June 1878 in Emmanuel Church in Preston the son of William Edward and Grace Stirzaker (nee Edmondson). He was the eldest of at least twelve children the couple had although it would appear that at least eight of those children did not survive infancy. In 1901 John was living with his parents at 7 Aughton Street in Preston with his three surviving brothers; George (1880), William (1890) and Robert (1900). His father worked in a local mill as a cotton card grinder while John and his brother George were both employed as cotton spinners.

On the 30th May 1903 John married Mary Elizabeth Vandome in St. Mary`s Church in the town and the following year a son William Edward was born but sadly he died in 1906. By 1911 the family was living at 3 Crown Street in Preston and they had three children; May (1906), Elizabeth (1907), Grace Agnes (1909). The 1911 Census does record a one year old boy Edward Stirzaker living in the house and he is described as a son but to date no birth registration has been found for him. John`s occupation at the time is described as a cotton mule spinner. Another daughter Jane was born later in 1911 and she was followed by another daughter Margaret in 1914.

On the 2nd September 1914 John enlisted into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment at the recruiting office in Preston. He had previously served for 12 years with the Territorials and had attained the rank of Corporal during that service. At his enlistment he stated his age as 34 years but he was actually 36 years old and he was 5`3” tall and weighed 114lbs. He was given the service number 13389 and posted as a Private into the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the L.N.L.

John sailed to France with a batch of reinforcements for the 1st Battalion on the 4th January 1915. Ten days later he was admitted to a field ambulance suffering from bronchitis and didn`t return to his Battalion until the 29th January 1915. On the 27th March 1915 he was admitted to a Field Ambulance with what his papers state was a gun-shot wound to his right arm and three days later he was in No.16 General Hospital in Boulogne.

The Second Battle of Ypres had commenced on the 22nd April 1915 which would last until the 24th May. The 1st Battalion as part of the 2nd Brigade first became involved in the action in the early part of May and John, now recovered from his wound re-joined his Battalion on the 4th May 1915 just prior to the 1st Battalion`s involvement in the battle.

An attack was planned for the 7th May 1915 but was subsequently postponed until the morning of the 9th.

Extract from the Battalion War History

7th May 1915 – A long day of preparation, every man was issued with 220 rounds of ammunition, a gas mask and two sandbags.

8th May 1915 – The Battalion left Le Choquaux at 8pm and moved into battle position in the third line of breastworks behind the Rue du Bois, and was in position there by midnight.

The attack went ahead as planned on the 9th May 1915 but John was severely wounded in the action having received gun-shot wounds to his left thigh and abdomen. He was removed to number 1 Casualty Clearing Station where sadly he succumbed to his wounds four days later on the 13th May.

The following letter was sent to the Lancashire Daily Post after the events of 9th May 1915 from three Preston soldiers who served with the machine gun section of the 1st Battalion L.N.L.

Privates 1575 A Blackburn, 2006 W Steed and 1603 J Milner – who have been serving with the British Expeditionary Force in France since early September (1914), write home to say that they have all been in the recent battles. They give the following description of their last engagement:-

“We were rushed to the trenches late on Saturday night, May 9th. We stayed in our reserve trenches until the following morning, in the bitter cold, waiting orders. At 5am one of our great 15 inch guns fired and that was the signal for one of the greatest battles in the history of the world. As fresh guns opened fire behind us, we were all ready to mount the parapet on the word to advance to our next line. The bombardment lasted an hour, and when the inferno ceased the boys were up and out before you could look round. They knew that some of them would never return, but that was not the question; they were out to avenge their comrades who had fallen in this terrible war.

Slowly they advanced until they got to the German barbed wire, which was cut by our shells. Whilst this was going on we had our machine-guns trained in case they tried to come over, but as we say, nothing could live under such a fire our artillery were sending across. Our lads got into the German lines without opposition, but the wounded soon began to come in, because the German shells were bursting amongst the men crossing the open. It would make your heart bleed to see the German snipers firing on our wounded as they were trying to get back to safety in the trenches. But this only makes the brave men out in the front all the more eager to give the German cowards a sound thrashing. The day will come when we will avenge our fallen comrades, and when it does we shall not forget”.

A few weeks after John`s death his widow Mary Elizabeth received some of her husband`s personal effects which included; 1 bag, 1 pipe and a tobacco pouch, 1 card case, 1 New Testament, a handkerchief, some letters and a 5c piece.

After his death was confirmed John`s family informed the local paper who then published the following photograph and information.stirzaker

Private John Stirzaker was buried in Chocques Military Cemetery and after the war his widow Mary Elizabeth took receipt of his 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals.

Rank: Private
Service No: 13389
Date of Death: 13/05/1915
Age: 34
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st Bn.

Janet Davis
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