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John Garner joined the Militia on 25th November 1906 and transferred to the Colours in July 1908 where he completed just over four years regular service.

When war broke out John was mobilised as a Special Reservist and sailed out to join the 1st Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in the field on 22nd September 1914. He was promoted to Corporal the same day.

He was present and under fire during the infamous retreat from Mons, and during the Battalion’s next action at La Basse on 22nd December 1914 he was taken prisoner by the Germans. The following is an account of the action on the day he was taken prisoner.

21st – 22nd December 1914.
On 21st December at 07:00AM the battalion, with 2nd Brigade moved by motorbuses to Zelobes (1/2 mile west of Vieille Chapelle). From Zelobes they marched to Le Touret, arriving about 12:45PM.

Orders were received that the battalion, along with the Northamptons, should make a night attack in order to regain some trenches that had been taken by the Germans on the night of 19th – 20th December near an orchard by LA QUINQUE RUE. It was noted in the War Diary that the information of the enemy’s disposition was somewhat vague.

The battalion left Le Touret at 15:30PM followed by the Northamptons and were led by a guide (an officer of 2nd Gurkhas) to a spot from which it was decided the attack should commence. The men carried 170 rounds of ammunition each.

By 18:45PM the two battalions were deployed ready to advance. A and D Coys in the front line, supported by C and B Coys at 100 yards distance. The Loyal North Lancashires took the right of the line and the Northamptons the left. The whole frontage covered about 300 yards.

At 19:00PM the order to advance was given by Major Powell and the whole line moved forward with fixed bayonets, the companies now being closed up and in two ranks.
After crossing two lines of trenches occupied by the 58th Infantry, with heavy rifle fire they charged and occupied the front line of the enemy’s trenches. After a short halt the attack was continued and another trench about 100 yards further on was captured. The battalion advanced further and was reorganised on a road by the orchard. During the advance 2nd Lieut Ellis was seriously wounded and about 20 men killed and wounded.

A line was occupied, and a reconnaissance conducted about 20 yards to the rear of the orchard. Tools were sent up to the newly held trench an hour or so later. It is written that the night was very wet and cold and the men only had minimum rations.

The line was held throughout the night, but they did suffer some casualties from bombs that were thrown from a German trench running obliquely to their right flank. At 07:00 AM on the 22nd December a Company was withdrawn from the Northamptons line due to the trenches being over-crowded.

Shortly after day break a very strong German attack developed from the direction of LA QUINQUE RUE and by 10:00AM the line became untenable chiefly owing to the enfilade fire (flanking fire) from the right flank which was very exposed.

After suffering very heavy losses and putting up a very stubborn defence, the retirement of the line commenced from the left and about 300 men succeeded in reaching the Rue de Bois.

The Battalion was collected and reformed on Rue de L’Epinette, the Machine Gun detachment cooperating with the Northamptons went up in support and a line was held by them roughly on the line when the attack had started on the night before. At about 15:00PM the battalion was withdrawn and went into billets at La Couture.

The battalion loses from this action were heavy. Captains Smart and Graham killed. Captains (De Cantect), Lieutenant Batty-Smith, 2nd Lieutenant Gilliland were all missing. Captain Hay was slightly wounded. There were 408 other ranks killed, wounded or missing, including John Garner.

John was held at Wittenberg POW camp during the well documented typhoid epidemic. The following newspaper article was published shortly after he was released after hostilities had ended. It explains the terrible conditions the men suffered at the hands of the Germans at Wittenberg.

THREE YEARS IN GERMANY

Burnley Corporal’s Story of Diabolical Treatment.

Corporal John Garner, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, returned to his home at 8 Park Street, Burnley, on Friday night last. He suffered terrible privations and brutality at the hands of the Huns during the three years he was a prisoner of war in Germany and is still in a very weak condition. Prior to being captured by the enemy, Corporal Garner was a man of exceptionally fine physique, but the fiendish treatment to which he has been subjected has reduced him to a shadow of his former self. But for his splendid constitution he could not have survived the horrors which he has undergone and from which death was a happy release to many of his comrades whose strength was unequal to the hardships and cruelties they had to endure.

Interviewed by a representative of ‘The Burnley News,’ Corporal Garner said that he was in the special reserve at the outbreak of hostilities. He was in the first battle of Ypres, and was taken prisoner at La Basse on December 22nd, 1914. On being captured he, along with a number of others, were taken to Lille, where they were kept for three days in a fort. At eight o’clock on Christmas morning, they commenced the journey to Wittenberg, where they arrived at Noon on December 27th. They were herded together like cattle, and all they got to eat was a piece of black bread washed down by cold water served in a bucket.

garner-pow

Corporal John Garner, 1st Bn.

They arrived at Wittenberg completely worn out, and they had not been at the camp long before typhus of a very virulent type broke out, and men began to die off like flies. In the midst of these horrors the Huns left them to their own devices, and it was not until some English doctors arrived that those stricken with the disease received any medical attention. Several of the doctors contracted the disease, and died, and within a very short time there were only 80 deaths among the English soldiers in addition to the numerous fatal cases among the French and Belgian prisoners of war. The camp conditions were horrible. There were no beds, the place was alive with vermin, and what little food they were able to get was practically uneatable.

“Those of us who survived” said Cpl. Garner, “were reduced to sheer wrecks. We were not allowed to write home, and it was not until May, 1915, that I was able to send a letter home.”

Prior to the date mentioned, Corpl. Garner had been reported killed, and it was on the 12th May that his wife received a letter from him informing her that he was a prisoner of war. Corporal Garner, despite his weakened condition, was compelled to work in the coal mines at Wittenberg, and for eighteen months he had to work from 6 o’clock in the morning to half-past five at night. Illness was not accepted as an excuse, and whether a man was fit or not he had to obey the orders of his inhuman taskmasters.

Fortunately, the food parcels from England began to arrive pretty regularly, otherwise they must have died from starvation. One day one of the Hun guards found a cigarette card which was supposed to cast a slight on the Kaiser, and, as a punishment, the supply of cigarettes was stopped for thirteen weeks. Whenever any tinned meat or fruit arrived, the contents had to be immediately turned out, the Huns being afraid that the tins might contain explosives.

In December 1917 the non-commissioned officers refused to work any longer and they were sent to Werben, where conditions were a little better though the treatment still continued to reflect the brutal and inhuman characteristics of the Hun. “It was a happy release,” said Corporal Garner, “when we were sent to the Hague, for I would sooner die than again go through the horrible experiences I had at Wittenberg.”

Corporal Garner said there was tremendous rejoicings at the Hague when the armistice was signed, and the prospect of an early return home gave them unbounded delight.

He is home on a two-months leave, having to report at his Regimental depot on January 21st next. Corporal Garner is 31 years of age, and was formerly employed by Mr Holland, waste dealer.

The article mentions John was transferred to the Hague, his service papers state he arrived in Holland on 19th March 1918.

John was discharged to Class Z Reserve on 18th February 1919. His address upon discharge was 35 Bedford Street, Trafalgar Street, Burnley.

A month after his discharge, his wife Dorothy wrote to the Minister of Pensions requesting some financial assistance.

garner-letter

Transcription below

Sir,

Just a few lines to you to ask you if you will put my case before the Committee. My husband was taken prisoner of war on Dec 22 1914 and it has made him unable to work now that he has returned. He is unable to support my home and me and a little girl that I taken to bring up as my own. I hope Sir you will see into his case as what I had when he come home is all gone now it will mean me selling my home to keep him as when he was reported killed the shock caused me to have fits which leave me unable to work as it would not be safe for me as I am a weaver. I hope Sir you will do your best for me as while a prisoner of war one of his eyes has gone very bad he can hardly see.

Hoping Sir to hear from you soon.

I remain your respectful,

Mrs Dorothy Garner

Unfortunately the Pensions minister was unsympathetic to Dorothy’s letter, and provided the following response on 7th May 1919.

With reference to your letter dated 12-3-19 I am directed by the Minister of Pensions to inform you that under the Royal Warrant, gratuities or pensions can only be granted to soldiers who have been discharged as medically unfit or who are suffering from a disability caused or aggravated by military service.

Your husband’s records show that he was demobilised and transferred to Army Reserve Class Z 18-2-19 and not discharged as an invalid. The Minister regrets therefore that you are not entitled to the award of a gratuity or pension.

If however you claim that he is suffering from a disability attributable to service, you should present his case to the Local War Pensions Committee who will deal with it under the powers delegated to them. The address may be obtained at the Post Office.

Whether his pension claim was furthered through the local committee is not known.

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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One Response to 599 CPL. J. GARNER. L.N.LAN.R

  1. Larry Garrett says:

    A friend has a E Garner of the loyal North Lancs in his relations autograph book ( a nurse)
    He was wounded in left shoulder in the battle of the Ainse in 1914

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