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John Thomas Belcher

Private John Thomas Belcher

Birth

John Thomas Belcher was born in Birthorpe, Lincolnshire, in 1898. His birth was registered between January and March 1898 in Bourne.

 

Family History

John Thomas Belcher was born 1898 in Birthorpe near Billingborough, Lincolnshire to John Belcher, a Railway Porter (1901) and his wife Mary Fisher.

John Belcher was born around 1873 in Hanthorpe near Bourne, Lincolnshire, and married Mary Fisher also born in Hanthorpe, in 1896 in the Bourne area.

In 1901 the family can be found living in Armley Leeds, with John working as a railway porter although by 1911 they were back in Lincolnshire living in Keisby. At this time John was working as a shepherd and son John Thomas was a farm boy at the age of 13.

They had four children in all; John Thomas (b 1898), William Horace (b 1900), Bernard (b 1903), and Richard (b 1905).

Later John and Mary moved to Bourne and were living at 79 Eastgate, Bourne in 1918.

Military History

We are unable to trace the war records for John Thomas, as with many from the Great War, these could be part of the burnt records that were destroyed in the blitz.

The Soldiers Died In THe Great War roll shows that Private John Thomas Belcher served in the 11th Battalion Royal Fusilliers. This index ties the soldier to his parents thus proving that this John is the son of John and Mary Belcher of Eastgate Bourne.

Also known as the City of London Regiment, the Royal Fusiliers raised no fewer than 47 battalions for service in the Great War. This makes it the fifth largest after the London Regiment, Northumberland Fusiliers, Middlesex Regiment and King’s (Liverpool Regiment).
In total the Royal Fusiliers lost 22,000 men in the Great War.

The 11th (Service) Battalion was formed at Hounslow on 6 September 1914 as part of K2 and came under command of 54th Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division and first landed at Boulogne in July 1915.

The 11th Battalion is an example of the meaning of personality. Recruited at Mill Hill as a battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, they were received at Colchester by Colonel the Hon. R. White (of the 10th),  who asked them if they would care to be a sister battalion to his own.

This was agreed to unanimously. At this time the battalion was simply a body of enthusiastic recruits from Manchester and Notting Hill ; and they slept their first night at Colchester under hedges. During the next week officers began to arrive. Major Taylor was the first officer in charge of the battalion ; but Lieut.-Colonel C. C. Carr was their first commander. The 10th battalion, which had given the name to the 11th, was transferred to the 9th Brigade ; and the 11th battalion was left to represent the Royal Fusiliers in the brigade.

The 11th battalion had the good fortune to find in Mr. S. C. Turner, a City business man, an ideal godfather. It has been very difficult to trace some of the war battalions of the Royal Fusiliers. They have disappeared with a completeness hardly credible in so short a time. But in Mr. Turner the 11th Battalion lives on its individual life.
During the war he took charge of every effort for the amelioration of the men’s conditions, and saw to their relatives. He invented an ingenious contrivance for drying the men’s socks—a very pressing need—and devised a special paper currency for the use of the battalion in France. These “Fusilier” francs and centimes were accepted, not only in the canteens, but by the French people in billeting areas ; and, issued at first in exchange for the men’s money, were soon used, at the request of the men, for their pay. The difficulties of small change were thus overcome as easily as ingeniously.

Between 5,000 and 6,000 men went through this one battalion in the 54th Brigade, with whom they went out to France in July, 1915.

The previous description and the following information has been taken from the war diaries of the battalion and also from the book “The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War” by H C O’Neill.

As we are not currently aware of when John Thomas Belcher join the battalion then we can only describe the events that took place in the lead up to his death.

The Battle of  Amiens. 1918—The share of the Royal Fusiliers in the great battle that first, beyond all ambiguity, marked the turn of the tide, is apt to be overlooked, sharing in the quite undeserved criticism that has been applied to the work of the 3rd Corps on this occasion.
By an unfortunate coincidence the Germans anticipated the advance of the 3rd Corps, and the 11th Royal Fusiliers lost very heavily in this undesigned prelude to the Fourth Army advance.

A reorganisation of the sector north of the Somme was in progress in the early morning of August 6th when the Germans suddenly attacked. This part of the front had been the scene of a striking Australian victory on July 29th, and the fresh 27th Wurttemberg Division had been brought down from the Lille area to restore the moral of the neighbouring troops by a sharp local attack. To the normal difficulties of a relief were added those of a side-stepping relief. The Bedfordshires were relieved by troops of the 58th Division, and they themselves were engaged in relieving the East Surreys lying to the north. The attack in such circumstances was assured of success ; and, in fact, it penetrated about half a mile into the British positions and secured 200 prisoners.

This was not the worst of the attack, for it had changed the starting point of the infantry and also the artillery programme for August 8th. An attempt was therefore made to restore the original situation, though even this prejudiced the battle of Amiens by exhausting troops who were to have taken part in the advance.
During the night of 6th—7th a persistent drizzle fell, and the trenches were filled with mud. The counterattack was delivered by two companies of the 11th Royal Fusiliers, north of the Bray road, with one  company each of the Bedfords and Northants, of the same brigade. But misfortune continued faithful. B Company, on the left of the 11th Battalion, could not locate the unit on their left, and the gap of 300 yards in this part of the front had to be filled up by two platoons. The whole plan was vitiated by this mischance. When the barrage opened at 4.40 a.m. the company had 300 yards of front more than had been allocated to them. An attempt to advance with two platoons proved a failure, and the men returned without taking the objective. In effect they filled the role which had been given to a  company of the East Surreys on the left. D Company, in command of Captain P. Baker, had meanwhile captured their objective. But the barrage died down at 5.10 a.m., and at 6 o’clock four attacks were delivered by the Wurttemberg troops.
All of these were beaten off, but one platoon, having exhausted their bombs, had to fall back. The  enemy gained a footing in Cloncurry Trench, the  German front line, and began to bomb  down it. Private Maloney’s Lewis gun had been knocked out by a direct hit from a trench mortar ; but after a search he discovered another, and promptly bringing it into action, checked the enemy advance. Both flanks of D  Company were  now in the air, but Captain Baker held on until all his bombs were exhausted and only three men remained. He was wounded, but crawled back and reorganised Croydon Trench. Lieutenant Wixcey with two platoons of B Company pushed up this trench shortly afterwards and recaptured part of Cloncurry Trench. They were working north and south when another heavy German attack at 3 p.m., after a sharp fight, pushed them back. The brigade had decided to  make a carefully prepared counterattack in the evening, but before this could be rearranged officers on the spot delivered a counter-attack, which completely exhausted the battalion ; and at the end of the day they had to fall back to the original positions. Many were the acts of gallantry in this action. Captain Baker was awarded the M.C., as also were Second Lieutenants Measures and Ross for their courage and skill. Private Maloney secured the M.M. But the net effect of the gallantry and skill was not to be measured by positions.

The battalion inflicted heavy loss on the enemy, and thus had their part in the success of the morrow without the glamour which that victory threw over the battle.

The Crossing of the Ancre – The Third Army advance had brought their front forward to positions before Achiet le Grand and along the north bank of the Ancre. The action of August 22nd on the Fourth Army front was designed to bring forward their left in preparation for a joint attack of both armies on August 23rd. The  enemy had to be driven out of his positions in and around Albert, and the nth Royal Fusiliers were involved in the capture of the ground between Meaulte and Albert. They had first to cross the Ancre, and the trestle bridges  made by the R.E. were placed in position on the night of August 21st. It was bright moonlight, and many of the men seemed to regard the undertaking as a joke. As a consequence the attention of the  enemy was aroused, and the men came under a heavy machine-gun fire. Private F. G. Hughes, finding one of the bridges could not be placed for this reason, jumped into the river and pulled the bridge into position, despite the concentrated fire from three machine guns.

The patrols anticipated the barrage, and seizing a foothold on the Albert-Meaulte road above Vivier Mill, enabled the nth Battalion to cross the Ancre and form up on this road. In front of them lay a belt of marshy ground which, outside a few paths, was quite impassable- Frequently the men had to wade with the water up to their hips, and Sergeant Ryan, seeing two platoons held up in the marsh, went back under an intense fire and guided them by a path to the  German position. C.S.M. Balchin reorganised his  company under similar conditions, and headed the assault on the first position. Wounded men were in danger of drowning ; but the gallantry of Private C. Smith, in charge of the stretcher-bearers, saved many by repeatedly crossing the treacherous ground, despite the enemy’s fire. The battalion, through these and other acts of cool courage, carried their front to about 500 yards east of Bellevue Farm, with their left bent back to Black Wood. Until the brigade on their left got through Albert no further progress could be made, and the battalion were relieved in these positions.

Towards Peronne.—Meanwhile the Royal Fusiliers in the III. Corps had been heavily engaged against a growing resistance north of the Somme. On August 25th the second line London battalions and the 9th and nth Royal Fusiliers were all involved in the attack. Moving from positions west of Bronfay Farm, the 2/2 and 2/4 Londons pushed well forward to the east of the Carnoy-Suzanne road. The 2/2nd at the end of the day lay astride the Fricourt-Maricourt road east of Carnoy, after capturing Carre Wood and an elaborate trench system ; while the 2/4th held positions to the north-east of Billon Wood, which they had captured after a very fierce struggle.  To the north the 9th Royal Fusiliers advanced on a front of 1,200 yards to a depth of about 2,000 yards, carrying the line forward to the south-western edge of Fricourt. Patrols were sent eastward along the north-west edge of Mametz, and reported the village evacuated. Fricourt was also found to be clear of the enemy at the same time, and the division advanced. But this weakening resistance did not confront the nth Royal Fusiliers, who, attempting to capture the high ground in front of Montauban, encountered a most stubborn resistance, and were unable to capture their objectives. The struggle was renewed on the following day, and fighting vigorously across ground where they had first gained their spurs, the battalion pressed into Montauban.

The 3rd Londons on this day (August 26th 1918) represented the Fusilier Brigade. Attacking at very short notice astride the Peronne road, the battalion had gained all objectives by 9.30 a.m. Their final line lay across the western outskirts of Maricourt. B Company, indeed, had entered the village, but had been forced to retire. The village was attacked and carried on the 27th, and on the following day the 2/2 Battalion captured the  German positions between Bois d’en Haut and Support Copse, while the 9th Royal Fusiliers, on their left, advanced about 2,000 yards to their objectives. Hardecourt fell to them, and 50 prisoners of various battalions of the 2nd Guards Division with sixteen machine guns. They had suffered heavily from machine-gun fire, but the capture of prisoners from a famous division was an inspiriting performance.

The second line Londons on August 26th received a note of well-earned praise from their Brigadier : ” The Major- General commanding the division, in congratulating you all, wishes me to tell you that Sir Douglas Haig, the Army Commander, and the Corps Commander, have all expressed the highest praise for the  way in which the brigade is fighting. For myself, I cannot say how proud I am to be in command of such a brigade as the Fusilier Brigade.”

At 5.15 a.m. on August 30th the 11th Royal Fusiliers advanced through the Northants. The preceding day the brigade had gone forward in column of route, the leading companies alone being in open formation, and with little resistance had reached the edge of Combles. But the 11th Battalion came under heavy fire and were held up at Priez Farm. By this time this battalion had secured during August 3 officers and 450 other ranks prisoners. They had received a letter of warm congratulation from Sir Henry Rawlinson for their feat in crossing the Ancre, and, indeed, their action had been deserving of all praise.

As a result of the fighting since August 8th, the enemy had been beaten out of his positions over a great stretch of front.
“During the night of September 2nd—3rd he fell back rapidly on the whole front of the Third Army. By the end of the day he had taken up positions along the general line of the Canal du Nord from Peronne to Ypres, and thence east of Hermies, Inchy en Artois and Ecourt St. Quentin to the Sensee east of Lecluse.”

Battle of Epehy.—At 5.20 on the morning of September 8th the Fourth and Third Armies struck on a front of about seventeen miles from Holnon to Gouzeaucourt.
Hard fighting was the lot of all these units in this battle, but, for the complexus of difficulties involved, the 11th Royal Fusiliers’ role must have been almost unique. The R. W. Kents, attacking with the 54th Brigade, were to capture and hold a line through the eastern outskirts of Ronssoy. The Bedfords were to pass through them and establish a line at the junction of the Bellicourt and Guillemont (farm) roads. The Northants on the left and the 11th Royal Fusiliers on the right had then to form up and attack northwards, at right angles to the main line of advance, with May and Lempire among their objectives.
By 7.30 a.m. (September 18th) the 11th Battalion were formed up. This alone was no slight matter under the circumstances. In the fog the attacking lines of the three battalions became considerably mixed. Despite the heavy machine-gun fire about Ronssoy, Captain G. E. Cornaby exposed himself freely in order to organise his company ; and this done, he led them forward under the barrage to almost the whole of their objectives. Captain Hornfeck with Captain Cornaby led his men forward, and, in spite of his exposed right flank and heavy machinegun and point-blank artillery fire from that direction, succeeded in gaining his objective, capturing two field guns and several trench mortars. On Captain Cornaby becoming a casualty he took command in this area, reorganised round the principal strong points and drove off two counter-attacks.” Some of the men moved throughout the morning to the whistle of the sergeantmajor as though in extended order drill. To complete the anomaly, a  German prisoner, eating black bread and sausage, insisted on following the sergeant-major, and, all threats notwithstanding, cheerfully continued to do so.
But, despite all gallantry and skill, the troops did not reach their final objectives, and  when the 55th Brigade attacked through them they, too, could  make very little headway. The enemy’s resistance on the east of Basse Boulogne and in Lempire could not be overcome.

In order to complete the capture of the objectives of September 18th, the attack was resumed at 5.20 a.m. on the 21st, the nth Royal Fusiliers being in reserve. But about midday two companies, organised as one, were attached to the Bedfords, and they were sent forward against Duncan Post at 12.15 am- on the 22nd. There was a little moonlight, but not much, and the company, losing direction, captured Cat Post (500 yards farther south) and some trench elements, sending back 20 prisoners. There was thus a gap on their left flank. About 1 p.m. the Bedfords carried Duncan Post with a number of prisoners. About ioo Germans attempted to escape eastwards, and the attached Fusiliers gave chase. In the midst of this incident our barrage came down to break up a counter-attack farther north, and some of the Fusiliers were caught in it.  Somehow out of the confusion a solid achievement emerged, and the ground was cleared for the general offensive.

The entry from the Battalion Diary for this september reads as follows:-

COMBLES
1/9/18 – The battalion left Savernake Wood and took up a defensive position E of COMBLES. D Coy in trench running from FREGICOURT N to T23 b.5.3., B Coy., from T23 d 5.4. A & C  Coys., in Sunken Road at T22 d.7.5.
2/9/18 – Battalion remained in these positions
3/9/18 – Battalion proceeded during the evening to Camp W. of COMBLES at T20 central. Programme of training made out.
4/9/18 – General training. Games in afternoon.
5/9/18 –               -do-
6/9/18 –               -do-
7/8/18 –               -do-   & Battalion bathed in COMBLES
8/9/18 – Sunday. Church Parade.
9/9/18 – General Training.
10/9/18 –         -do-
11/9/18 –         -do-
12/9/18 –         -do-   & Bathing in BERNAFAY WOOD
13/9/18 –         -do-
14/9/18 –         -do-   & C.O’s conference on pending attack by this battalion
15/9/18 – Battalion marched to SUGAR FACTORY in LONGUEVAL to watch 2nd Bedfords and 6th Northants carry out a demonstration attack through LONGUEVAL assisted by 5 tanks. Warning order received that battalion would move to the Battle Zone on the 16th.
16/9/18 – Battalion and Coy. Commanders left at 9am by lorry to reconnoitre the sector over which we should attack. The Battalion embussed at LEUZE WOOD at 10am and proceeded to MOISLAINS. On debussing the battalion fell out on the side of the road and a german land mine exploded wounding 2nd Lieutenant MOIR E.J. and 23 other ranks. The battalion marched to AIZECOURT-LE-BAS where they bivouaced.
17/9/18 – Final conference on plan of attack and all arrangements completed. Companies left AIZECOURT-LE-BAS area at 6.30pm and proceeded to the W. of SAULCOURT where they rested. Hot tea was sent up at 11.30pm. Coys then moved up to their assembly positions at 12.30am
18/9/18 – Coys. were reported in position for the attack at 3.10am and attacked the enemy’s positions at 5.20am assisted by tanks and a very heavy barrage. We met with stubborn enemy resistance W. of the village of RONSSOY.
Enemy’s field guns were firing at point blank range. B Coy., captured one of the guns. Several prisoners were captured by us. Our line at 8pm ran roughly F16 C3.0 – F15 d2.9. F16 C3.8- F15 b5.5. C Coy captured 2 field guns. Capt. G.E. CORNABY was wounded (Since reported died of wounds) Whilst trying to reorganise his Coy.
19/8/18 – The Battalion remained in positions gained the previous day. They were intermittently heavily shelled during the day and night. At 6.30pm O.C. B Coy., sent a message that the enemy were massing opposite our front. The S.O.S. was sent up which was repeated all along the line. No enemy attack however developed owing to our intense barrage put down on enemy’s forming up ground.

Private John Thomas Belcher 66508 was killed in action on 18th September 1918, aged 21.

Medals

Private John Thomas Belcher was eligible for the Victory and British medals. The fact that he was not eligible for the 1914-15 star would mean that he would not have seen active service before 1916.

Memorial

Private John Thomas Belcher, 66508, 11th Battalion Royal Fusiliers who died on 18th September 1918, aged 21, is remembered with honour on panel 3 of the Vis-En-Artois Memorial. It is assumed that as he is listed on a panel then he has no known grave.

J t Belchersm

J t Belcher gate sm
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