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John Henry Gleesons’ birth was registered at Heaton Norris between July and September 1880. It would seem that his parents, John Gleeson and Mary Hannah Fisher, did not marry until a few weeks later. They were married in a civil ceremony at Stockport in the late autumn. Family history records indicate that a woman called Mary Gleeson died, aged 31, in 1882 in the Heaton Norris area.

It has not been possible to find the future soldier on the 1901 Census and it is possible that, as with many young men, he had joined the regular army and may well have been abroad fighting in the Boer War. However, if this is how he spent his early years, his period of enlistment must have ended as well as his period on the reserve, as John was not recalled to the army when war was declared. He did, however, re-enlist quite quickly, at Ashton under Lyne, joining one of the Territorial Battalions of the Manchester Regiment (service number 3446). It would seem that he was transferred quickly to the North Lancashires, probably whilst still in training, and went overseas with them as part of a draft of replacements for casualties.

In mid September 1915, the Battalion had been in reserve positions at Lozinghem in northern France, but was then moved forward to Marles-les-Mines for the forthcoming Battle of Loos. The Battalion War Diary notes that the men bivouacked in a field which was fairly well hidden from the enemy’s view by the surrounding high ground. They were very comfortable due to the warm weather and the fact they had managed to find straw paillasses to sleep on. During the evening of 24 September, they moved forward to assembly trenches ready for an attack the next morning. Throughout the past days, the British artillery had been shelling the German trenches.

At 5.50am, gas was released in the direction of the Germans, but, almost immediately, the wind changed and it blew back onto the Lancashires, causing many casualties. At 6.35, John and his comrades left the trenches, initially in four lines with probably 200 men in each line. The gas was still lingering in the area, as the wind had now dropped, and the men became disorientated. The lines became mixed up with the battalion on their right, but they continued to advance. They reached the German wire but found it uncut and could go no further. Desperate attempts were made to cut the wire, as two enemy machine guns opened up on them. There was no option but to return to their own trench. The Colonel regrouped the men and led them out again, but it was no use. The two machine gun officers took their teams out, almost to the German positions. These soldiers manned the four guns and tried to provide cover for the remnants of the Brigade to advance again, but this again failed.

By late afternoon, the most senior officer left, a 2nd Lieutenant Collins, regrouped the Battalion. This now comprised Lt Collins, two other officers and 159 other ranks. The attack had been a failure. John and 117 of his comrades had been killed.

John Henry GLEESON
Rank: Private
Number: 22060
Unit: 1st Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
Date of Death: 25 September 1915
Age: 35
Cemetery: Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

(NB: Original research of the Battalion’s attack 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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