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In the late autumn of 1897, John Oldfield got married at St Peter’s Church, Swettenham, Cheshire. His bride was Jemima Vaudrey (the 1901 Census spells the family name as Vawdrey). Within a year, they had a son who they called John. By the time the Census was taken, they had another son, Herbert, who was then 11 months old. The family was then living Bollington.

At some time between 1901 and the Great War, the family moved to the Stockport area and lived at Rose Cottage, Heaton Mersey. John received his education nearby at St John’s Parish Church School. Other than this, nothing is known of John’s early life.

When he enlisted into the army, he joined the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment (service number 19656). He went overseas on active service with the Battalion, probably in late 1916. It is not known when he transferred to the North Lancashires, but it will, probably, have been after a period of sick leave due to wounds or illness. When he was ready to return to duty, the North Lancashires will have been more in need of replacements.

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. John had made it through the attack uninjured. On the 8th, the North Lancashires held their position but came under shell-fire at intervals throughout the day. John was killed during one of these barrages.

John Vaudrey OLDFIELD
Rank: Private
Number: 29940
Unit: 9th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
Date of Death: 8 June 1917
Age: 19
Cemetery: St Quentin Cabaret Military Cemetery, Heuvelland, Belgium

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



Paul McCormick
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