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John Gleaves was a pre-war time expired soldier that was recalled to the Colours on 1st September 1914. He had first served with the 3rd Battalion of the Regiment, enlisting on 4th October 1906 with the number 613. He was at that time 18 years six months old and was working as a labourer in a colliery in St Helens.

John was recalled as a Special Reservist and sailed to France to join the 1st Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in the field on 29th November 1914.

In February 1915 the following article appeared in a Flintshire newspaper.

HOLYWELL BOY WINS V.C.

Through Shot and Shell: How He Saved Lieutenant and Private.

A MODEST HERO.

A Holywell boy has been awarded the coveted V.C. Corpl. John Gleaves, of Wigan, is a grandson of the late Moses Williams of Yrddyn, Whitford Street, Holywell.

He was well known as a boy in the town. When only a month old he was brought to his grandparents at Holywell, has mother having died.

He was brought up by them and attended the Bryncelyn National School. Upon leaving the school he was employed by Mr. Daniel Hughes, Utica House, as an errand boy for three or four years, afterwards leaving for other employment in Manchester. Nine years ago he joined the Army.

The story may now proceed as given in the Wigan Observer – To very few men, however good their intentions, falls the honor of commencing the New Year in so auspicious a manner as Cpl. John Gleaves, of 57, Linney-street, off Platt lane, Wigan, began the present year.

It was within a few hours of the ushering in of the New Year that Gleaves, in spite of a heavy hail of rifle fire and shells, ran 130 yards in the very teeth of the enemy’s fire in order to save the lives of an officer and a private of his regiment; a deed so conspicuous in its personal bravery and courage that he is to have bestowed upon him the greatest reward of bravery in our Empire – the Victoria Cross.

With the modesty characteristic of the brave, he speaks more warmly of the work done by his regiment, merely referring casually to his own brilliant deed in going forward into a hail of lead to succour two wounded comrades and bring them to safety. He disregarded all warnings, the call of the helpless taking him through the veritable hell of flame and melignite for a distance of 130 yards. Not content with that he went another 400 yards for a stretcher to carry his wounded comrades on.

HIS OWN STORY.

“I ONLY DID MY DUTY.”

In an interview with Corporal Gleaves on Thursday afternoon a representative of the “Wigan Observer obtained from him his own story of the affair. He is a pleasant, unassuming young man, and was born in the neighbourhood of Darlington-street, Wigan, 26 years ago.

He is a married man, with a wife and one child, having had the misfortune to lose one child by death since he went to the front. “I have been in the Army nine years, always as a regular,” he said, “and had been invalided home from Mauritius, being then found work in the canteen at Fulwood Barracks, Preston.

On the outbreak of war I was recalled to my regiment, the Loyal North Lancashires, and early in September I went with them to the front, taking part in many engagements with the enemy, including Hazebrouck and the second series of battles at La Bassee.

I was wounded in September and invalided home, but returned to the Front in November. It was at La Bassee on New Year’s Day that this happened. We received orders to take some German trenches in front of us at all costs, so we fixed bayonets and got ready to charge. It was pouring with rain and the enemy were firing repeatedly. Just before we went into the charge our Colonel very kindly gave each man a piece of chocolate, and in fact both the Colonel and the Adjutant were very good to us. Then we charged the enemy through a regular hail of bullets and shrapnel shells, and did some good work that night.

Our lads fought like demons, and we simply cleared the Germans out, and did it well, too. In the charge, however, amongst others, our company officer, a lieutenant, was seriously wounded, and put out of action, so I had to take over the command of our section for the time being.

In order to see what was going on in front of as, and to give orders, I had to stand on top of the trench while the bullets were humming through the air all round and shells bursting. I located the lieutenant and a private close to him, both lying wounded, so I went out to fetch them in. I got the officer all right, and then went again, and also got the private safely in; then I got a stretcher for them, but I was shot in the right foot, and also got a piece of shrapnel in my right side, so I had to go into hospital.

Two officers of the King’s Royal Rifles recommended me for the V.C. I was sent into hospital at Boulogne for a time, and was then brought home, staying first at Princes-street Hospital, Manchester, and from there being sent to. the Red Cross Home at Eccles.”

Asked what his impressions of the affair were he simply replied, “I only did my duty, and I hope they will all do the same.” He added that alongside him in the trenches were several Wiganers, about half a dozen of whom were known to him personally. Questioned as to his experience of the Belgian and French soldiers, he said they were all good comrades, and both were always glad to have the English with them in the trenches. They always referred to them”Good English”. The “Belgian soldiers are gentlemen,” he added. What other brave deeds Gleaves has performed during the war will, perhaps, never be chronicled, but the bravest deed of them all will have a reminder for ever in the shape of a much-coveted Victoria Cross, which he is shortly to receive at the hands of King George himself.

BADLY WOUNDED.

Writing to Mr., and Mrs. D. Hughes and family a little time back from the Elm Bank Red Cross Hospital, Eccles, near Manchester, Corpl. J. Gleaves. says “Just a few lines to let you know I have landed once more from France. This time, wounded very badly. This has done me for ever, my legs, my back, and my eyesight very bad. I was wounded at La Bassee. I have been mentioned in despatches for saving an officer’s life and a private soldier’s life, and also I hear recommended for the V.C.

So look out in the papers and you will see what I have done for my V.C.

The officer was Lieut. RowellLoyal North Lancashire Regiment. I cannot tell you what I have gone through this last couple of months. If any fellow has gone through the mill I have. Will you remember me to Holywell people (a number of names are mentioned). The writer concludes “May God be with all those poor boys we left in the trenches.”

John was discharged due to sickness and wounds on 11th October 1916 and was given Silver War Badge number 11174. He was not awarded the Victoria Cross and I can find no mention of a lesser award or his mention in despatches; however Lt. William Cecil Rowell was wounded in January 1915 at La Bassee as John stated.

 

Paul McCormick
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Paul McCormick

Paul McCormick is the creator and administrator for the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment website. Since 2010 he has been researching the soldiers that served during the First World War and sharing their stories on his website. You can contact Paul through the website 'Contact Me' page or on Twitter and Facebook.
Paul McCormick
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