Company Sergeant Major John Christopher Ward
John Christopher Ward was born about 1888 in Tipperary, Ireland. He was the son of Francis and Frances (nee Cawley) Ward, who married 11th February, 1878 at Geevagh, Co. Sligo.
The 1901 Census shows that they lived at 80, Roxburgh Street, Walton on the Hill, Liverpool. Francis Ward is shown as a Customs Officer, but it also states that he was a 'RIC pensioner', he had joined the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1865.
The family moved from Ireland to Liverpool at some time between 1896 and early 1901. In 1901 the family consisted of:
In 1911 the family were living at 115, Carisbrooke Rd, Walton, Liverpool.
Francis Ward, 64, HM Customs Clerk, born Salt-Hill Co. Galway
John's service number (2212) shows that he attested into the 9th Bn. King's Liverpool Regiment on 5th August, 1914, the day after the outbreak of the Great War. But, he had previous service with the 9th King's, as in the Battalion's 1914 Yearbook he is described as a Colour Sgt of "B" Coy. This was under the pre-war 8-company system. He must have served for a minimum of four years by 1914, although to reach the rank of Colour Sergeant in four years would have been exceptional, so he probably served considerably longer.
On mobilisation in August 1914 he went first to Dunfermline with his battalion and then to Tunbridge Wells where they trained until the departure of the 1/9th King's to France on 12th March, 1915. The medal roll entry for his 1914-15 Star confirms that he sailed with the battalion on that date.
He would have been present in the first major action for the 9th King's, at Aubers Ridge in May, 1915 and in September of that year he fought with his men at the Battle of Loos. He was a Company Sgt-Major at this time.
From "The 9th King's in France" by Capt. E.H.G. Roberts, M.C. & Bar:
In the grey light of the morning on the 25th September the British guns opened with a furious fire after many days of artillery preparation. The great battle had begun. For some time, and according to orders, the Battalion remained in its position. It was not to advance before 8 0 a.m. At this time the men left the assembly trench to move over the open to the front line. The enemy machine gunners had the range, and several were wounded almost on leaving the trench. The advance was made by sectional rushes, each section seeking what cover there was. Those who were wounded while actually advancing in many cases received slight wounds, but those that were hit while lying down were generally killed, as the bullets struck them in the head or traversed the vital organs for the length of the body. It required a courageous heart to advance seeing one's comrades thus desperately wounded or lying dead. The shell fire was not heavy, and few casualties were attributable to it. Lieutenant Colonel Ramsay led the attack in person, and he was easily recognisable by the wand which he carried. One of the Battalion machine guns was pushed forward about 2 0 p.m. and under the covering fire it afforded the advance was continued. The advance had been slow and losses were severe, but at 3 30 p.m. the men had succeeded in establishing themselves in one line about a hundred yards from the German trenches. A few minutes afterwards the Germans surrendered, and between three and four hundred prisoners were taken. They chiefly belonged to the 59th and 157th Infantry Regiments. A harvest of souvenirs was reaped by the men, many of whom secured the then coveted Pickelhaube helmet. The prisoners were sent to the rear, and the Battalion continued the advance and ultimately established a line on the Lens Hulluch Road. It is to be observed that the Battalion was the only one that got its field kitchens up to the village of Loos on the first day of the battle. At 4 0 a.m. next morning the Battalion was withdrawn to the old British line. Later in the day it moved forward to the old German trench system as reserve in the continued operations, sustaining several gas and shell casualties. On the 28th September the Battalion moved back to Mazingarbe, as the men thought, for a rest. They were soon disappointed. At 7 p.m. on the same day orders were received to take up a position at the Slag Heap or Fosse at Loos, known as London Bridge. At 9 0 p.m. the Battalion left its billets in a deluge of rain and marched back to the line in splendid spirits in spite of the fatigue resulting from the recent fighting. It was relieved from the trenches on the 30th September, and after one night spent in the ruined houses of Loos went to Noeux les Mines for a few days to re organise and re equip.
On the 7th October the Battalion, now reduced to a rifle strength of only 425 men, returned to the front line which was alongside the Lens Hulluch Road to the north of Loos. The trench had evidently once been the ditch on the side of the road. It was very shallow, and it was decided to deepen it the next night as the men were too tired after their long march. This was a good resolution, but it was not carried out. The enemy commenced next morning about half past ten with heavy shell fire. In the afternoon it became intense and an attack seemed imminent. There was no shelter in the shallow trench, as there had not been sufficient time to make any dug outs. The men could do nothing but wait. Minutes seemed hours. The shelling appeared endless. So terrific was the enemy fire that it was doubted by the artillery observers in rear whether any of the front line garrison was left alive. All who might be lucky enough to escape physical destruction would at any rate be morally broken. The Germans who had concentrated in the Bois Hugo attacked about 4 30 p.m. They were repulsed by rifle and machine gun fire, and it is gratifying to know that two of the Battalion machine guns caught the enemy in enfilade and executed great havoc. So exhausted were the men that the Battalion was relieved that night and taken to the neighbourhood of Le Rutoire Farm."
The Battalion War Diary states that Major F.S. EVANS and Capt. H.W. HOWROYD, commanding 'C' and 'A' Companies, respectively were wounded in the attack. A photograph published in July, 1915 shows the Sergeants of 'C' Company and the CSM was Percy Byrne, who received the DCM and Medaille Militaire for the battle, so it is highly likely that John Ward was the CSM of 'A' Company on that day.
CSM Ward was mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig's dispatch dated 03/06/16.
After the Battle of Loos the battalion re-equipped and took in reinforcements to replace the large number of casualties they had suffered during the battle. In January, 1916 they left the 1st Division to join the re-constituted West Lancashire Territorial Division, now numbered the 55th.
After serving through the spring and summer of 1916 in the Wailly sector, south of Arras, the battalion moved to the Somme at the end of July. They took up reserve positions close to Trones Wood, at the south end of the British sector of the front, and they didn't have log to wait before it was their turn to attack.
From "The 9th King's in France" by Capt. E.H.G. Roberts, M.C. & Bar:
"Between the two armies there was a wide broken in trench running from the Allied towards the German lines. For some time before zero the Allied artillery kept up an incessant barrage on the German lines. The shells fired by the French were noticeable by a much sharper report. At zero the French attacked on the right of Cockrane Alley, advancing at a run in small groups of from eight to twelve men, and they got a good distance without any casualties. Then one by one the Frenchmen commenced to fall, and on reaching the enemy line the French company immediately on the right of the Battalion met with strong resistance. None came back and it is thought that almost every man perished. Meanwhile the two companies of the Battalion attacked in waves on the left of Cockrane Alley. They got eighty or ninety yards without difficulty, when the enemy opened a heavy machine gun fire, and the ground being convex the attackers formed a good target. The Commander of the right company who led his company from the right so as to be in touch with the bombers in Cockrane Alley, though twice wounded, still continued the advance until he was shot dead. His example was emulated by the Company Sergeant Major who perished in similar circumstances. [The Battalion War Diary states that "A & B Coys were detailed to attack - 'A' on the right & 'B' on the left", so John was definitely a member of 'A' Company]. Meanwhile the bombers were endeavouring to work their way down Cockrane Alley. The trench became shallower, and on reaching a road it disappeared. As the bombers emerged on to the road they were shot down one by one. The enemy then turned their machine guns on to Cockrane Alley, and raked it with fire until it became a shambles. Most of the men of the two companies were casualties, and many were killed. A few stragglers who were able to take cover in shell craters managed to return later under cover of darkness.
"What became of the wounded lying out between the lines was never known, as any attempt at rescue was impossible. As most of the stretcher bearers with the companies were themselves incapacitated through wounds the rapid evacuation of the wounded even in the trenches was impossible, and moreover the aid post at Headquarters was under heavy artillery fire, so that it was only at great risk to the bearers that the wounded could be cleared at all from the trenches.
"For the French the day had been very successful. They had captured Maurepas, but for the Battalion it was a total failure. However, the work done earned for the Battalion the praise of the Corps Commander, expressed in an order published the next day, which was as follows:-
"The Corps Commander wishes you to express to the Companies engaged last night his admiration, and that of the French who saw them, for the gallant and strenuous fight they put up."
"Had the ravine been captured by the French, there is no doubt our objective could have been realised."
John Christopher Ward was killed that day, leading his men after his Company Commander, Acting Major A. W. Fulton, had fallen. Fulton was mentioned in Dispatches for his actions during the attack. 3 officers and 62 other ranks of the 9th King's were killed going forward on 12th August, 1916. Only 12 have a known grave, all in Guillemont Road Cemetery. The rest, including John Ward and A.W. Fulton, are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.
The Liverpool newspapers the 'Post' and the 'Mercury' both carried the following item on 6th September, 1916: