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john thomas rigby 2854John Thomas Rigby`s birth was registered in the March quarter of 1889 in Chorley and he was the eldest of four surviving children born to Richard and Mary Jane Rigby (nee Fairclough). His parents married in Chorley in the December quarter of 1885, the couples` other three children being; Mary Jane (1891), Richard (1894) and Susanna (1895).

In 1901 the Rigby family lived at 59 Water Street in Chorley where Richard Rigby was a bricklayer by trade and twelve year old John was recorded as being a cotton weaver. Ten years later the family had moved to 18 Park Road in Chorley and in this Census John is also recorded as a bricklayer like his father. His three younger siblings all had jobs in one of the local mills, Mary Jane was a roving frame tenter, Richard a card tenter and Susanna was a cotton weaver.

John enlisted into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment at Chorley on the 9th October 1914 and was issued with the service number 2854. His declared age at enlistment was 25 years and 10 months old and he was 5`5” tall and had a 37 inch chest. His home address was 20 Park Road in Chorley and prior to his enlistment he confirmed his occupation had been a bricklayer. For official purposes John named his mother Mary Jane Rigby of 20 Park Road as his next of kin.

John sailed to France on board the `SS Onward` with the main body of the 1/4th Battalion on the 4th May 1915. A week after landing in France the Battalion became part of the 154th Brigade of the 51st (Highland) Division.

During the early part of the operations known as the Battle of Festubert the 51st Division remained in reserve to the Indian Corps, being held ready to move up to the front at short notice. On the 14th May 1915 they marched to the area Caestre-Borre-Merris-Meteren and came into G.H.Q. Reserve to stay in billets on the east and north-east side of the town of Meteren. On the 18th May the Battalion moved to billets in Locon where they remained until the 25th and then on this date the Battalion was sent to relieve the 7th Black Watch of the 153rd Brigade, taking over a sector about one mile west-north-west of Festubert. “A” and “D” Companies and the machine-gun section occupied the fire trenches with “C” in support and “B” Company in reserve.

The Divisional History in referring to the state of the ground in this area states that “in the case of the front taken over by the Division, the normal difficulties were accentuated by the fact that digging in was only possible to a depth of from two to three feet. Everywhere in the Flanders mud, below that level, water was encountered. It was therefore necessary to erect above ground double rows of traversed breastworks, between which the men must live and have their being. The difficulties of consolidation in this mud country requires to have been experienced to be fully appreciated”,

The Germans kept up an intermittent fire all day of shrapnel and high-explosive shells and it was here that the Battalion experienced their first casualties of the war. By the time the Battalion had been relieved on the 1st June one man had been killed and 2nd Lieutenant H. Bryce-Smith and a number of other men had been wounded, one of them being John Thomas Rigby with a gun-shot wound to his left leg sustained on the 28th May.

The 1/4th Battalion`s casualties from their first experiences of the front line was reported on in the local Preston paper in early June 1915;

2854 Lance Corporal John Thomas Rigby 4th Battalion

John`s wounds were initially treated in France but by the 5th June 1915 he was on his way back to England where on arrival he was sent to Lord Derby`s Hospital in Warrington for further treatment.

His family had the following photograph and details published later in the local paper. Although his service papers state that he had a gun-shot wound to his left leg, the article states that he had been wounded by shrapnel.

2854 Lance Corporal John Thomas Rigby 4th Battalion 1

Having sufficiently recovered from his injuries John married local girl Margaret Alice Green on the 24th August 1915 at St. Gregory`s Roman Catholic Church in Chorley.

On the 11th January 1916 he was made Acting Lance Corporal whilst still in England and by the 10th March 1916 he was on his way back to France to join his Battalion who had recently been transferred to the 164th Brigade in the 55th (West Lancashire) Division. The day after he arrived back in France his papers note that he reverted back to being a Private. John only spent three days at the Base Depot before being sent to join the 1/4th Battalion in the field on the 13th March 1916. The following month on the 2nd April 1916 he was promoted to Lance Corporal (paid).

John`s papers also note that he attained a first class shot qualification after attending an MGC school in the field from 6th May – 15th May 1916.

On the 29th June 1916 Margaret Alice Rigby gave birth to the couples` only child, a son and she named him John Richard.

In the middle of July 1916 the 55th Division was sent south to play their part in the Battle of the Somme. By the 30th of July the Division had taken up its appointed place in the line opposite the village of Guillemont, a place that had already proved to be a thorn in the British side having already held up more than one attack. The capture of Guillemont became extremely important to the success of the general advance and a further attack entrusted to the 55th Division was scheduled to take place on the morning of the 8th August.

Sadly, prior to the scheduled attack John was fatally wounded on the 5th August 1916.

Extract from the Battalion War History

“Prior to the opening of the attack the Brigade – and also the Battalion had suffered much from the German guns during the preliminary occupation of the line, the Battalion having three men killed, and 2nd Lieutenants Orrell, Munro and Hunt and thirty one men wounded.

On the 5th and again on the 6th August “D” Company, under Major Parker with Lieutenants De Blaby and 2nd Lieutenant Hague, made several attempts to dispossess the enemy of a ridge he was occupying about 150 yards to the front, and in these operations two men were killed and twenty five were wounded, while 2nd Lieutenant A.E. Hague was missing”.

The second man who was killed alongside John was 2972 Private Robert Moss, a Preston lad.

Just four of John`s personal effects were returned to his widow Margaret at their home in Chorley, these being; 1 wallet, 1 Rosary, 1 pearl pendent and some photographs.

After the war Margaret signed for her husband`s 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals and she would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice for his country.

Lance Corporal John Thomas Rigby`s body was never recovered from the battlefield where he fell and so his name was later inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme. In Chorley he is remembered on memorial plaques in both St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s churches and on page CMB/I/197b (his entry below) of the Chorley Memorial Album in Astley Hall.

john thomas rigby 2854 cmb

Rank: Lance Corporal
Service No: 2854
Date of Death: 05/08/1916
Age: 27
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st/4th Bn.

Thank you to Adam Cree for use of the CMB photos

Janet Davis
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