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John William was born on the 12th May 1895 in Preston to a single lady, Margaret Ann Oddie. John was nearly three and a half years old when his mother had him baptised on the 11th November 1898 at St. Paul`s Church in Preston, their home address at the time was 22 Russell Street.

In the December quarter of 1899 Margaret Ann Oddie married Samuel Brooks in Preston, sadly, Samuel passed away in 1901, his death being registered in the March quarter of that year. In the Census of 1901 Margaret and six year old John were boarding at 45 Duke Street East in Preston, the record noting that Margaret was a widow but that she had also reverted back to her maiden name of Oddie.

On the 1st November 1901 John William was enrolled at St. Mary`s Church of England School, his home address was noted as 1 Hop Street and his father was listed as Samuel (presumably Samuel Brooks). In the second quarter of 1902 Margaret Ann Brooks (nee Oddie) remarried to John Harrison, a widower, who was at least fifteen years older than Margaret, John Harrison`s first wife Catherine (Cannon) had also died in 1901.

In 1909 John and Margaret had a daughter and they named her Grace and then two years later the Census of 1911 shows the family living at 81 Albert Street in Preston. The family at the time comprised; John and Margaret Ann, John William (under the name Harrison), Grace aged 2 and two children from John Harrison`s first marriage, Maggie 15 and Martin 12. John William`s stepfather was a labourer whilst John was working as a creeler, his step-sister Maggie was a spinner, and step-brother Martin was working part-time as an apprentice in the biscuit works.

On the 18th June 1915, John attested into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment at Preston, his home address at the time was still at 81 Albert Street and he had previously been employed as a spinner in William Calvert & Sons Mill in Walton le Dale. At his medical inspection, the Medical Officer noted that John was five feet three and a half inches tall, his weight was measured at 154lbs and he had a 36” chest. For official purposes he named his mother Margaret Ann of 81 Albert Street as his next of kin. He was issued with the service number 4137 which, when the Territorial Force was renumbered in 1917, would become 201553.

John did his initial training with the 3/4th (Reserve) Battalion and must have impressed his superiors because by the 3rd May 1916 he had been appointed Lance Corporal, and was then posted to the 2/4th Battalion. A minor misdemeanour appears on his service record under the date 22nd January 1917 at Blackdown when John was `admonished` for overstaying his leave by nine hours. The 2/4th Battalion sailed for France on the 7th February 1917, the Battalion coming under the Command of 170th Brigade in 57th (2nd West Lancashire) Division. John was then promoted to the rank of Corporal on the 10th March 1917, his papers noting that he was replacing 200855 Corporal John Elliott McFetridge who had died from wounds on that date.

On the 7th May 1917, another entry appeared on John`s misconduct sheet, this time for “when on active service, being without his box respirator in the support line”, for which he was again admonished. The Battalion remained in the vicinity of Armentieres throughout the summer of 1917 and John`s service papers show that he was wounded on the 28th July 1917, the record noting gun-shot wounds to hand and face. The wounds however, appear to have been slight because he was back on duty two days later and then around the same time he was appointed Lance Sergeant (paid). The Battalion had a month`s additional training during September 1917 and John`s record shows that he was promoted to Sergeant on the 21st September 1917. Following their period of training the Battalion moved north to Boesinghe, north of Ypres, where they went into the trenches on the 24th October in preparation for their part in the Second Battle of Passchendaele.

At 3.40 on the morning of 26th October 1917 the Battalion had formed up in its assembly position and moved off to attack at 5.40 and captured their immediate objectives (Mendling and Reuben farms) fairly quickly and with relatively light casualties. In the process, however, all four company commanders had become casualties. The centre of the attack was then held up from heavy fire from German pill boxes. The pill box was eventually taken and a more dominant position achieved, but further advance was impossible due to heavy German machine-gun fire from all sides. The Battalion captured 18 Germans and destroyed several enemy machine-guns. The ground advanced over was very bad, swampy and covered with shell holes.

In this day`s battle the 57th Division encountered very severe losses, the 2/4th Battalion bearing its full share; 3 Officers and 58 other ranks were killed or died of wounds, 8 Officers and 252 non-commissioned Officers and men were wounded and 38 men were missing – a total of 358 killed, wounded and missing. Sadly, Sergeant John William Oddie was one of the casualties, his death later recorded as 26th October 1917.

The Preston Guardian later published the news of John`s death;

There is no record of whether any of John`s personal possessions were returned to his mother in Preston. After the war Margaret Ann took receipt of her sons` 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.

Sadly, John is one of the thousands of men whose bodies were never found and as such he has no known grave, his name was later added to the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing (pictured below);

Photo taken October 2016

Rank: Serjeant
Service No: 201553
Date of Death: 26/10/1917
Age: 22
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 2/4th Bn.

John`s mother also made sure her son was remembered on the Roll of Honour in the Harris Museum and Library in his home town of Preston;

The original submission form used to add John’s name to the Harris RoH

Paul McCormick
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