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John Unsworth was born in Preston on the 9th December 1897 to John and Mary Unsworth (nee Turner). His parents had married in Preston in the March quarter of 1897 and they had two more sons although only one of those survived; Frederick (1899-1901) and Frederick (1910).

In 1901, John together with his parents and two year old brother Frederick were lodging at 34 Albert Street in Lytham with another Prestonian Samuel Kerridge and his family. John Unsworth Senior was employed as a slater and flagger working on the roads. Sadly, tragedy struck the Unsworth family on the 10th July 1901 when John`s little brother Frederick went missing for several hours and was later found drowned in the Liggard Brook at the bottom of Albert Street where they were living at the time. Frederick was buried on the 11th July in St. Peter`s Roman Catholic Church in Lytham.

The Lancashire Evening Post published a brief report of the event on the 10th July 1901;


“At 12.30 this afternoon, the body of a child named Frederick Unsworth, aged 2 years, was pulled out of the Liggard Brook at Lytham. He had been missing since 9 o`clock this morning, and after several hours search, the dead body was discovered in the brook. It is supposed that he rambled  away from home, and fell into the brook, which is unfenced”.

At some point after this John and his parents returned to live in Preston and on the 3rd April 1905 John was enrolled into the English Martyrs Roman Catholic School in Preston, his home address at the time was 79 Broughton Street.

The Unsworth family were still resident in Broughton Street in 1911 where John Snr. was now employed as a general labourer in the blacksmith`s shop at the Electric Car Works on Strand Road in Preston. John Jnr. is listed as still being at school in this census although his school record states that he left school in December 1910 to go into full time work.

On the 1st November 1912 and agreeing to serve for four years John joined the 4th Battalion (TF) of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment at Preston. His `apparent` age was recorded as 17 years old but he was in fact still five weeks short of his fifteenth birthday. Physically he was said to be in good condition and his height was measured at five feet six and a half inches which was probably slightly taller than the average. He passed his medical inspection and was issued with the service number 1721 which would later become 200375. John confirmed his home address was 79 Broughton Street and that he was employed as a moulder at John Dewhurst`s Moorbrook Foundry. For official purposes he named his mother Mary as his next of kin. The following year John went on to complete his annual two week territorial camp at Denbigh 3/8/13 – 17/8/13. At some point after his enlistment John left his job at the foundry and had gone to work for the London and North Western Railway Company at Preston.

When war broke out in August 1914 John who was still a serving Territorial Soldier would have been mobilised along with the other men. The main body of the 1/4th Battalion sailed for France on the 4th May 1915 but prior to them leaving the men would have had another medical inspection to verify their fitness before they went overseas. Although John`s service papers are rather fragmented and incomplete there is a note which suggests that his medical inspection took place on the 13th April 1915 after which the Medical Officer noted “passed fit for imperial service but underage”. As a result of this John had to remain in England and continue with his training.

He was still only 17 years and 8 months old when on the 8th August 1915 he sailed for France with a batch of reinforcements joining the 1/4th Battalion on the 22nd August whilst they were in billets in Aveluy. In October 1915 he went out of the line suffering from bronchial catarrh 27/10/15 – 9/11/15 and then again 27/11/15 – 4/12/15 suffering from boils.

In January of 1916 the Battalion was transferred to the 164th Brigade of the 55th (West Lancashire) Division.

On the 4th May 1916 John was sent to do a spell of fatigue duty at a railhead and only re-joined his Battalion again on the 20th July 1916. The following month on the 9th September his papers confirm that he was wounded by shrapnel during the Battalion actions around Delville Wood which kept him out of action for seven days.

The Battalion War History records that the 55th Division as a unit was not actively engaged in the June 1917 operations which resulted in the capture of Messines Ridge by the Second Army, however, the Division did all it could to help the good work which others were carrying out.

Battalion War History

On the night of the 20th May we were relieved by the 1/4th the King`s Own, and on relief we marched to A Camp just behind VLAMERTINGHE, leaving Captain Harris and 200 men of B and D Companies in YPRES as a working party.

On the night of the 26th May we relieved the 1/4th King`s Own in the POTIJZE Sector, C and A Companies in front, B in support and D in reserve, and began at once a series of works designed to mislead the enemy and make him think an attack was intended on our front. How much he was deceived appeared from the amount of attention we received from this time onward until the Battle of Messines.

The opposing sides gained much of their of their knowledge of the other`s intentions from aeroplane photographs which show up with great clearness, any newly dug earth. It was then our task to open up all disused trenches on our sector, placing along the top a row of new sandbags, and to dig saps out into NO MAN`S LAND, at the same time annoying the Hun by every means in our power. Two men were killed and three wounded during the next four days, during which we kept throwing things at the Hun – trench mortars, grenades, bullets etc. – and we really did stir him up. Then came the news that we were not to be relieved so the Companies changed over.

On the 1st June the gas strafe started; our people started it with a discharge of 500 gas drums on enemy reserves. The enemy retaliated on us, killing one man and wounding three, using everything he had, including gas shells, chiefly at night on lines of communication.

On the 2nd June we sent over more gas drums and again the Hun retaliated, damaging trenches and killing two men and wounding five others.

On the 3rd June we treated him to a combined smoke, artillery and machine-gun barrage, and he replied, but more feebly, killing one man and wounding two; but during the night from 10pm to 4am he drenched YPRES with gas shells, our transport suffering slightly.

On the following day, 4th June he put 67 `minnies` onto B Company, killing one man and wounding Second Lieutenants Hall and Johnson and 11 others.

Sadly, the one man from B Company who died on the 4th June was 19 year old John Unsworth.

The following article was published in the Preston Guardian after his death;

200375 Private John Unsworth 1

A few months later John`s mother took receipt of some of her sons` personal effects which included; a cigarette case, photos, a prayer book and a medallion.

John was later laid to rest in Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery. After the war his mother took receipt of his 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals to which he was entitled and his family would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice for his country.

The name of John Unsworth is also remembered on the Roll of Honour in the Harris Museum and Library in his home town of Preston and also on the grave of his maternal Grandparents in Preston (New Hall Lane) Old Cemetery.

200375 Private John Unsworth 2

Rank: Private
Service No: 200375
Date of Death: 04/06/1917
Age: 19
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st/4th Bn.

Janet Davis
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