When I first wrote John’s story, in November 2005, much of his military service was a mystery.
As with all the men included in this project, his story started with the inscription of his name on a War Memorial. The name of John Irlam was amongst those recorded on the Stockport War Memorial (at the Art Gallery) as someone who served with a Lancashire Regiment.
The Local Heritage Library holds a brief newspaper extract reporting his death. This confirmed his age and the date when he died. It notes his parents lived at 15 Sandbach Road, Heaton Norris and that, before he enlisted, he worked at the Reddish Vale Print Works. The newspaper also noted that he had enlisted in August 1914 (within days of war being declared); that he joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and that he was wounded in action on three occasions.
It has been possible to tell the full story of many other men, starting with considerably less information. But John Irlam was not a name commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Nor was he included in the CD-ROM “Soldiers Died in the Great War”. I concluded that he must have died sometime after the end of the War, but I’ve recently received information which confirms a different story. In October 2006, I received an email from a project undertaking “one name” family history research into the members of the Earlam and Irlam family. This revealed that, at the beginning of the 20th century, the two names were pretty much interchangeable even between different close members of the same family. And although, the name James Irlam appears on the Memorial the family name was definately Earlam.
John Earlam and Eliza Ann Arrowsmith had married at St Elizabeth’s Church, Reddish in the late 1880s. By 1901, they were living at 30 Edward Street, Reddish and had three children – Edwin (then 11), Lillian (9) and the future soldier, John (5).
On 9 April 1918, the German Army launched the second phase of its spring offensive in what would become known officially as the Battle of the Lys (after the nearby river). On the 15th, John and his comrades took up defensive positions northwards from the Le Bassee Canal, near the hamlet of Le Preol (just to the east of the French town of Bethune).
The British Army had been in retreat since the 9th with the Germans never far behind. A further attack was anticipated and it soon became clear that the North Lancashires would come under attack on the 18th. At 4.15am, the German artillery opened a heavy bombardment along the British front line and this increased in intensity until 8am, when their infantry attacked from the north. They quickly overcame the lightly defended front line and moved on the main “line of resistance”, probably a mile to the rear. Again, they captured these positions, from other units, with relative ease. The British reserve troops now quickly launched a fierce counter-attack. “C” and “D” Companies of the Battalion formed part of this attack which, by 11am, had succeeded in forcing the Germans out of the main trench system. John had been one of about 50 members of the Battalion who had been killed in this action.
JH – October 2006
(December 2008 – further update……Research now confirms that Edwin Earlam was killed in action on 22 August 1917. He is not commemorated on a local war Memorial but brief details of his service are in this section of the website. )