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John Thomas Rigby was born on the 18th September 1874 at Newton Heath in Manchester, the son of Richard and Mary Ann Rigby (nee Preston), his parents married in St. George`s Church in Wigan on the 4th September 1865. John had at least four surviving siblings; Mary Alice (1873), Richard (1876), Nancy (1878) and James (1879). Not long after John was born the family went to live in Liverpool, the Census of 1881 describing his father`s occupation as `iron roller`. By 1891 the family had moved to a house in Bolton at 20 Joiner`s Square and John`s father was now a `steel roller` whilst John had gone into mill work as a cotton piercer.
Ten years on and still at the same address in Bolton, John was now employed as a general labourer and his father a foreman `iron roller`. On the 25th April 1903 John married Alice Florence O`Dowd in Bolton, Alice was originally from Dublin and when the couple married she already had a son George who had been born in Leeds in 1896. John and Alice eventually set up home at 14 Phoenix Street in Bolton and this is where they were living in 1911 together with George O`Dowd and four of their own children; John Thomas (1903), twins Mary Ann and Alice Florence (1905) and Margaret (1907). John was employed in the moulding department of a textile machine works as a labourer. His fourteen year old stepson George was working as a `plaiter` in the bleach works whilst his wife Alice was a rag sorter in the marine stores. There was also another lady in the household, a visitor, Mary Callaghan, aged 43, and she appears to be working at the same place as Alice as a rag sorter.
John enlisted at Bolton on the 11th September 1914 agreeing to serve a term of 3 years with the Colours, he lied about his age stating he was 34 years and 4 months old when in fact he was just over 40 years old at the time. He was given the service number 15042 and posted to the 7th Battalion LNL. The Medical Officer reported that he was five feet five and three quarter inches tall, weighed 141lbs with a 39” chest and had grey eyes and `greyish` hair. John declared he had no previous military experience and for official purposes he named his wife Alice as his next of kin.
On the 17th July 1915 the 7th Battalion sailed for France and John went with them as a member of “B” Coy. The strength of the Battalion at this time being 30 Officers and 900 other ranks, the Battalion coming under the Command of the 56th Brigade in 19th (Western) Division.
The Battalion played their part in the Battle of the Somme and on the 20th July 1916 they marched from Henencourt Wood to Bazentin-le-Petit. It was here that they held an extended line of over 1000 yards in length. At 19:00hrs that night they managed to shoot down a German aeroplane with a Lewis gun, the plane bursting into flames just in front of their line. On the morning of the 23rd July 1916 the Battalion was ordered to attack the switch line with the intention of taking High Wood (there had been several attempts to take High Wood in the past week by other Divisions). Now it was the turn of the 19th Division (including the 7th Bn LNL) and the 1st Division. Sadly, it was during this days` action that John Thomas Rigby was posted missing.
An unnamed soldier from the 7th Battalion who survived the action later penned a letter describing the Battle, extracts from the letter appeared in the Preston Herald on the 26th August 1916;
WHAT THE PALS WENT THROUGH
“I wish to tell you all that I know and what exactly happened in the attack on the morning of the 23rd July. After being out for a rest behind Albert a few days after the first attack, orders came through suddenly on the night of the 19th July and we moved up to the trenches, straight into the support trenches the same night. We had been heavily shelled and it had been a long march up the valley, but we had a few casualties, and pushed forward through the remains of Bazentin-le-Petit and dug in about 400 yards in front of the village between two roads, with a ridge between us and the Huns rising to the right, and High Wood on the right flank.
We had some men sniped while we were digging in, then we held the shallow trench for three days in a very hot sun, with very little water and no chance of making any tea, and no communication only over the top. On the first day we saw one of our planes bring down an Alleymayne plane down after a hard fight nearly over our heads and very near the floor. Our plane drew slightly away and our rifle and machine-gun fire finished the Bosche, one of the greatest sights we have ever seen.
On the night of the 22nd the heavy artillery on both sides was very active and the Hun sent a lot of high shrapnel over our trench, and the machine-guns played incessantly. There were the lights of a big strafe going on in High Wood and by 1 o`clock we were reinforced by our other two companies coming over the top from support just in front of the village.
In about ten minutes word came down “B” and “D” Companies prepare to mount the parapet and we saw our Captain (Thompson) and Sergeant Major getting over on the right. The boys went over and troops (regular and otherwise) never went over in better spirit in the face of a very heavy shrapnel and machine-gun fire. Things were not so bad till we got to the ridge, and we had kept in line and direction as well as possible in the dark.
When we got over the ridge we were met by a strong enfilade fire from the right, which mowed us down in rows like corn, and in a few minutes before we could get a footing in the trench, all our Officers were gone, and very few men left, and after two rushes to try and get into the trench on the right we had to withdraw, and try to get back to our own trench. It was impossible to tell who was next to you, only by shouting. The bullets tore up the ground and tinkled as they hit the steel helmets, and a lot of chaps who got back, had bullet holes through their canteens, or their clothes ripped. There were very few of our platoon left. We were relieved very early that evening by another Regiment and went back into the reserve trench in the wood behind the village. During the day we were only able to get the chaps in who were wounded near our line”.
During the action the Battalion losses amounted to 11 Officers and 290 other ranks killed, wounded or missing.
There is no mention of any of John`s personal effects being returned to his widow in Bolton. Alice was later awarded a pension for herself and their four children of 25/- per week with effect from 19th May 1917.
As previously mentioned, John was posted missing and this remained the case until April 1918 when Alice Rigby received a communication originating from the Director of Graves Registration and Enquiries, the message confirming that John had indeed been killed and his grave had now been located 5 miles to the north west of the village of Combles, his original burial place had been marked with a cross bearing his details. John`s body was recovered and later reinterred at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval.
After the war Alice would receive her late husband`s 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals that he was entitled to and would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.
Service No: 15042
Date of Death: 23/07/1916
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, ‘B’ Coy, 7th Bn.
Cemetery: CATERPILLAR VALLEY CEMETERY, LONGUEVAL
Janet Davis has been researching her family history for many years and through this she discovered many relatives who served in WW1. This interest then led Janet to do many walking the battlefield tours with her husband. In April 2013 she discovered this website and volunteered to help. Janet believes that there are lots of stories still to be told, most of them very sad but at the same time they are a fascinating insight into the men, their families, what they did and where they came from.
(This post has been visited 52 times in the last 90 days)
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