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WW1 Casualty: Private 4100 John Birchall -

Private 4100 John Birchall

Unit/Regiment 1st/5th Bn., South Lancashire Regiment
Date of Death 09/08/1916 Age at Death 29
& Reference
Dive Copse British Cemetery
II E 8
Census Details 1901 Census -

At 57, Beaconsfield Street lived Thomas Birchall, a 47 year old coal miner and his wife Emma (45), with children William (21), a labourer in the Brass Shop at the Wire Factory, Elizabeth (19), Margaret (17), a Domestic Servant, John (13), a colliery Trolley Boy below ground, Ann (10), Richard (5), Frederick (3) and Thomas (9 months)

1911 Census -
The Birchall family were living at 7, William Street, Prescot. Thomas (58, a Coal Mner) and Emma (56) had been married for 30 years and had 9 children, 7 of whom were still alive. John (23, Coal Drawer Below Ground), Richard (16, Colliery Pony Keeper) and Frederick (14, Mechanical Fitter's Labourer) still lived at home.
SDGW – Where Born Prescot, Lancs
Enlisted St Helens, Lancs
Resided Prescot
How Died Died of Wounds Theatre of War France & Flanders
Notes There is a single entry on the Prescot War Memorial and also the Parish Church Rood Screen for "J Birchall". The extract from the Parish Magazine in August 1916 confirms the man to be “John Birchall”
Research Ref. No. P018

Service Details

The 5th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, had just started its annual training in camp when war broke out in August 1914. It was sent to Edinburgh until October, then moved to Tunbridge Wells until February 1915. It was then ordered to France, sailing on the 13th aboard s.s. King Edward., arriving at Le Havre the same day.

John Birchall attested for military service at St Helens on 22nd June 1915. His address at that time was 7, Williams Street, Prescot and he signed on for the duration of the war.

His medical report showed that he was aged 28 years and 3 months. He was 5ft 10.5 inches in height, with a chest measurement of 34 inches, fully expanded to 37 inches. He general physical development was 'Good' although he suffered from 'poor teeth'. He recorded his occupation as 'Miner'. His eyesight in both eyes was classed as 'Good'. The Medical Officer classified him as fit for active service.

After just three months training with the 5th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, Private Birchall embarked for France on 2nd September 1915 to join the British Expeditionary Force, arriving at Le Havre the following day.

His Service record shows that on the 18th September 1915, he was 'Confined to Barracks' for 3 days for unauthorised absence. He had missed the Tattoo Roll Call. On 29th November 1915, he was sentenced to 7 days 'Field Punishment No 1' for Neglect of Duty, the details of which are not recorded.

On 8th August 1916, as part of the great Battle of the Somme, the battalion was ordered to capture the village of Guillemont, which had defied all previous attempts at capture and was a thorn in the side of the British forces. The attack commenced at 4.20 a.m. and initially all objectives were taken despite strong resistance. By the end of the day, the Railway Station and the front line trenches in front of the village were in allied hands. Orders were then received to be ready to continue the attack the following morning.

Zero hour was again at 4.20 a.m. and the initial assault was met with withering machine gun fire from the German defenders, resulting in the troops falling back to their starting points. This also resulted in the companies being heavily mixed up and it was noon before reorganisation was complete. After this, the battalion remained near Trones Wood until the 10th, clearing the dead of the previous two days of battle and consolidating the ground won at such a heavy cost. On the evening of the 10th, they were withdrawn to bivouac and then on the 12th returned to the line at Maltz Horn Farm.

The next entry in his Private Birchall's service record shows that he was admitted to a Royal Army Medical Corps Main Dressing station on 9th August 1916 with Gun Shot Wounds to the back of the head. These wounds had been incurred 'in the field', and Private Birchall died of these wounds the same day.

The Battalion War Diary for the date of Pte. Birchall's death is reproduced below

August 8 12midnight
Operation orders for attack received and Btn moves forward to get into position for an attack. 166 Inf Bde ordered to attack as follows:

1st Objective: Enemy front line from T25 b 1.5 through T25 a 3.3 to S24 d 65.75

In moving up valley was found blocked with troops and transport.

August 9 2am
Commanding Officer with Adjutant arrived at proposed Btn Hqrs A5d 8g and found 2 Btn 165 Inf Bde (5th and 7th Kings Liverpool) in possession. Informed 166 Inf Bde Hqrs and were told to move up to Sunken Road T30c

August 9 3am
Established Hqrs in Sunken Road. Company Officers warned of changed Hqrs and sent for to explain changed scheme of attack as issued in Operation orders. No time to go into detail or for Coy Comdrs to explain to Coy Officers and N.C.O's as attack was timed for 4.20am. Owing to all N.C.O's and Btn and Coy runners having no idea of the country and the sunken road being crowded with men of 164 Bde great delay was caused in getting the Coys out in position.

August 9 3.55am
North Lancs just arriving and Officer in Command said he had only just heard that they were going to attack.

August 9 4.15am
Our guns opened a Heavy Barrage and the Germans dropped their Barrage within 3 minutes. Their back barrage line being our sunken road. Companies not all in position had to move thro Barrage. Those in position moved forward behind assaulting waves but whole line was unable to make headway owing to machine gun fire and heavy barrage. Whole line fell back and manned our original front line, Coys hopelessly intermixed with men of other attacking battalions.

August 9 12noon
Orders to withdraw Coys from line and relieve 1/5 Loyal North Lancs in Left Sector in front of TRONES WOOD. Relief completed 5pm. 5th Kings Own relieved 10th Liverpool Regt, on our right, also during afternoon.

August 9 5pm to August 10 midday
Btn worked hard clearing trenches and consolidating line.

August 10 4pm
Relief started by 8th West Kent Regt 72nd Bde. Relief complete 8pm and Btn moved back to Bivouacs in F22.

Total casualties from 12 midnight 8th to 12 midnight 10th 8 Officers 130 other ranks.

Private Birchall rests in Dive Copse British Cemetery. The area just north of the cemetery was chosen prior to the Battle of the Somme for a concentration of Field Ambulances, and it seems likely that Private Birchall died at one of those.

In a letter dated 21st December 1916, the War Office advised the Army Records Office that any personal effects of Pte. Birchall should be forwarded to his mother, Mrs. Emma Ann Birchall of 7 Williams, Street, Prescot.

On 17th January 1917, the Army Records Office at Preston returned Pte. Birchall's personal effects to his mother. They were listed as 1 Identity Disk, Letters, 1 Wallet, 1 Metal Cigarette Case, 1 Mirror in Metal Case, 1 Pocket Knife, 1 Cap Badge, 1 Pair of Titles, 1 Metal Watch.

On 17th October 1919 the army wrote to his mother in connection with the issuing of Pte. Birchall's death plaque and memorial scroll, asking for details of living relatives.

On 22nd October, his mother completed the army statement of relatives to show that John Birchall was unmarried and had no children. His parents were recorded as Thomas and Emma Ann Birchall of the same address. He also had three brothers, William (38), Richard (25) and Frederick (22), and three sisters, Elizabeth (35), Mary (31) and Ann (27).

Private Birchall's death announcement in the Manchester Guardian Casualty List of 11th September 1916

His medal entitlement is recorded as the 1914-1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His mother acknowledged receipt of her son's medals on 25th September 1921.

Private Birchall's service record, showing his dates and theatres of war, followed by his medal entitlement

John Birchall's Medal Index Card, confirming his arrival in France on 3rd September 1915

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