John Henry GIBSON
Rank: Private
Number: 275715 (or 275717)
Unit: 1/7th Battalion MANCHESTER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 3 April 1918
Age:
Cemetery: Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France

Nothing of John's early life has been established except that, pre-War, he was living at 38 Albert Road, Heaton Moor. He enlisted into the army at Manchester and his original service number, 2843, suggests this was probably in late 1914. Assuming this to be accurate, he will have gone overseas in the middle of 1915 as one of a draft of replacements for casualties at Gallipoli.

John died in a military hospital on the Channel coast from wounds he had received in action. It isn't known when he was injured but troops were usually evacuated back to Britain as soon as they were fit enough to travel so it is likely that he had only been in hospital for a few days.

On 21 March 1918, the German Army launched an attack on the British trenches that, within hours, had overwhelmed the troops in positions around the French town of St Quentin. An attack had been long predicted - all that was not known was where it would fall and when. John and his comrades were in reserve but, at 8.55pm on the 22nd, they received orders to dump non-essential supplies and make ready to move. Overnight, they were bussed south, arriving near the village of Ayette, just over 24 hours later. They deployed immediately, taking up a defensive position between the village of Ablainville and the crossroads on the road between Ayette and Courcelles.

Later in the day, they were ordered south to positions at Gomiecourt. They remained here all through the 25th without coming into direct contact with the German infantry. The Battalion History recounts that they had spread out fanwise holding scattered outposts and "it was not long after daylight before the enemy began to drop shell indiscriminately about this ground".

At 2am on the 26th, the Battalion was withdrawn to a new defensive position at Logeast Wood. They had hardly settled themselves in before new orders arrived withdrawing them further to a position between Bucquoy and Ablainzeville. There were no trenches and the men lay out in the open, prior to starting to dig-in. "Platoons had barely been allotted their areas when clumps of Huns began to appear on the ridge we had just vacated. They proved to be teams of light machine gunners and without preliminaries in the manner of searching for cover, they promptly opened fire, and soon there was a perfect hail of grazing bullets swishing over the Battalion area. German officers calmly walked about directing operations and the whole scene resembled a "stunt on the pictures" rather than modern war. They had made a mistake though and if they were seeking the dramatic effect it was only short-lived. Our men were delighted at the perfect target they presented on the skyline and rat-tat-tatted merrily in reply to the Hun swish."

At about noon, the Germans started to shell the Manchesters' positions; first with light guns, then with heavier artillery. During the afternoon, the German infantry could be seen assembling about 800 yards away in preparation for an attack but it failed to materialise. The night passed quietly. In spite of the dangers of the day, the Manchesters' casualties had been light.

Throughout the 27th, the Germans shelled the Battalion's positions and their infantry tried to edge forward to gain a suitable assembly position for an attack. When the infantry assault came, it was not against the 7th Battalion but other nearby units and, apart from the shelling, the day passed otherwise peacefully.

The enemy attack resumed at daylight with heavy shelling which continued all day. German machine gun fire also swept the Battalion's positions from Ablainzevelle. The German infantry were again seen massing near some huts in preparation for an assault but the Battalion History recounts that Colonel Bromfield "decided to call for howitzer assistance to smash down the earth walls round the huts, a plan which met with great success. Our shells dropped plumb amongst them and Huns could be seen dashing about in all directions in search of more effective cover. Our shrapnel barrage had also considerably improved also, and the moment the enemy left their positions it promptly came down and drove them to earth."  The threatened infantry attack had been broken up and the Battalion was relieved the next day.

On the 30th, the Manchesters were back in the front line south of the village of Gommecourt; scene of fierce fighting in the summer of 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. The German attacks had petered out and, on both sides, there was an air of comparative calm and peace. The Battalion's War Diary entry for the 31st notes that there were some casualties in "B" Company from enemy shelling and, on 1 April, "B" Company's positions were again shelled. Three men were killed and another three wounded.

Sometime during this period, John had been wounded. He will have received emergency treatment at a field hospital some way behind the front line and will then have been evacuated to Etaples.

   
           
   
     
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