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John Fox lived with his father, also called John and his mother, Ada, at 26 Massie Street, Cheadle. He had been educated at Cheadle National School and was a former member of Cheadle Church Sunday School. He had been employed in the grocery business of William Davies & Son, Cheadle Hulme for 5 years.

He had enlisted in June 1915, originally in the Manchester Regiment (service No. 3647). He was soon transferred to the North Lancs. and went to the front on 4 August 1916. He had no leave between then and when he as killed. He had been in action twice before and had trained as a signaller whilst at the front.

Preparations for the Battle of Messines (west of Ypres) had been underway for 18 months. Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers had dug 22 mine shafts under the German lines and the plan was to explode them at zero hour. This would be followed by an infantry advance supported by artillery, tanks and the use of gas. Over the months 8000 metres of tunnel were dug and 600 tons of explosive placed.

The artillery bombardment of the German lines started on 21 May and continued until 2.50am on the morning of 7 June. The Germans, believing the attack was about to start, rushed to their front line defences. Twenty minutes later, the order was given to detonate the mines. Two failed to go off. An estimated 10,000 men were killed by the explosions. (Note: After the War, the Army mislaid details of the location of the two mines that did not detonate. One exploded in 1955, when the only casualty was a cow. The other is still waiting to be “discovered”)

John would have been in the second line assembly trenches. In front of him, he would have seen the two leading battalions (the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles and the 13th Cheshires) start to advance, After a few minutes, the North Lancashires and the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers were ordered to follow in support. As planned, the leading battalions captured their objectives. By now, the North Lancs. had started to suffer some casualties but they passed through the newly captured positions and moved on to their own objectives, on Wytschaete Ridge, which they secured after about an hour and a half from when they had left their trenches.

The Battalion then dug-in to secure the position and they also pushed forward some squads of men as outposts in shell holes in front of them. It would now be late morning and the following account confirms that John had made it safely through the attack

His officer wrote to his parents “I am sorry to inform you that your son was killed on the 7th inst. About 5 o’clock in the afternoon. He was killed instantaneously by high explosive shell and was buried by our padre, Capt Evers. Your son has for some time been the company’s gunner and was splendid in every way as we could always rely on his doing his duty. I was only a few yards from your son when he was killed along with three others.” He was one of 78 members of his Battalion killed during this successful operation.

John Hooley FOX
Rank: Private
Number: 29735
Unit: 9th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
Date of Death: 7 June 1917
Age: 21
Cemetery: Menin Gate Memorial, Ieper, Belgium

John Fox is also commemorated on the Cheadle & Cheadle Hulme Memorials.

(Note: original research by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorials website)

This article has been reproduced with kind permission from the Stockport 1914-18 website.


Paul McCormick
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