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War Memorials



In Memory of
JOHN OLDHAM
Company Sergeant Major 25202
2nd Battn. Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry
Who Died from Wounds on Monday, 25th March 1918
Age 33

Plot IV Row A Grave 18
Roye New British Cemetery, Somme, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
&
Remembered with Honour
Roye New British Cemetery

Roye New British Cemetery, Somme, France

John Oldham was born in Beeston, Nottinghamshire in May 18842, the third of seven children of George (b. 1859, Beeston, Notts) and Mary Oldham (née Cox, c1862, Beeston, Notts)3. In 1901, George & Mary were living with all seven of their children, at 66 Upper Regent Street, Beeston with George working as a platelayer on the railway.4. John, aged 16, had already joined the Army with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

Although no documentary evidence has survived, it seems likely that John had enlisted for twelve years, the final five to be in the Reserves. His marriage, in June 1909, to Laura Kate Berry6 is consistent with his probable release from Regular Service around 1907. Their son, John Edward was born soon afterwards and there was to be another son, Gerald in 1912 and a daughter, Laura Kate, in 19167. By 1911, John and Laura, along with their son John, were living at 44 Abbey Road, Beeston and John was working as a night-time sick nurse to an invalid gentleman8.

When war came in August 1914, it appears that John joined his regiment - the Royal Warwickshires - immediately9. As his original period in the Reserves is likely to have expired, it seems that either his service in the Reserves had been voluntarily extended or he, like many others had presented himself for service as an act of duty and patriotism. Although there appears to little or no surviving documentation which describes John's service during the war, we do know that he was first attached to 9th (Service) Battalion which was formed in August 1914 as part of Kitchener's New Army of volunteers. As an experienced soldier, it seems that John's skills were called upon to introduce discipline and a good soldierly standard to the raw recruits. And, it seems, he did an exceptional job as he received promotion to Warrant Officer Class 2 with the role of Company Sergeant Major. It also appears that, when the battalion left for Gallipoli in July 1915, John stayed behind to continue the role he had established with new recruits as they joined10.

At some point, however, John was transferred to the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry and joined its 2nd Battalion on the Western Front where it had been in action since it had arrived there at the beginning of the war as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Although, once more, we do not have an exact date, it seems almost certain that he had joined the battalion by 1917, at a time when it had it had already been involved in many of the bloody actions of the 1916 and had incurred heavy casualties which had been continuously replaced by inexperienced men who needed the discipline and guidance that John could bring. 1917 brought more action at Arras in April/May with a welcome periods of relative calm during the summer months which allowed time for training despite seeing action during the Menin Road and Polygon Wood phases of the Third Battle of Ypres ('Passchendaele')11. It saw action again in November in the Cambrai operation where new tactics were tried, attacking with no preliminary artillery bombardment with tanks used to break through the German wire and with the infantry following under the cover of smoke barrages. Though initially successful with remarkable gains, a pause for rest and reorganisation, allowed the Germans to regain much of the ground. However, although the results of the battle were ultimately disappointing, valuable lessons were learnt about new strategies and tactical approaches to fighting. The Germans had also discovered that their fixed lines of defence, no matter how well prepared, were vulnerable12.

On 21st March 1918, the battalion was in camp at Ytres near Bepaume in the Pas-de-Calais area of France, expecting to be moved into a reserve position, when the enemy launched its Spring Offensive from the Hindenburg Line. A major attack by the enemy had been expected for some time as enemy positions had been strangely quite. The German's objective was to end the war before American troops and resources could tilt the balance towards the Allies. They aimed to smash through the Allied lines, push the British forces into the sea and to cut off their supply lines by seizing the ports. 2nd Battalion was ordered to take up battle positions at Bertincourt and came under heavy shelling - including gas. Over the next four days, the battalion fought strongly and bravely against well organised enemy advances and, despite being almost completely surrounded, the battalion fought a strong rearguard action, backed by the excellent judgement and leadership of its field officers, to avoid being surrounded13.

CSM Oldham was amongst the many casualties during this operation. Wounded during the battle, he was evacuated to a Casualty Clearing Station - probably the 53rd, then at Bailleu, about 90kms north, towards Calais, near the Belgium border. Sadly, despite all efforts, he died from his wounds on 25 March and was buried in Roye Old British Cemetery. After the war, the area having, soon after the burial, been captured by the Germans, his burial site was identified from German records and was moved to Roye New British Cemetery14.

Roye, a commune in the Department of the Somme 40 kilometres south-east of Amiens, was in German hands from 30 August 1914 until the French retook it on 17 March 1917. The town was recaptured by the Germans on 26 March 1918 but was evacuated by them on 26 August. The French First Army entered the town the following day. Roye Old British Cemetery was 1.6 kilometres south of the town. It was made in March 1918, by the 53rd Casualty Clearing Station but there was little time to mark the graves before the town was captured by the Germans, who extended this cemetery for the burial of their own dead. In 1920 the Commonwealth graves were removed to Roye New British Cemetery. Roye New British Cemetery was made after the Armistice when graves were brought in from the battlefields and from a number of burial grounds in the surrounding area. The cemetery now contains 565 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. 153 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials are erected to 13 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials record the names of 117 casualties buried in Marchelepot British Cemetery and in three German cemeteries, whose graves could not be found. The cemetery also contains the graves of 43 Second World War airmen15.

CSM Oldham was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal16. His Army financial effects of 46 2 4d were paid, divided between his widow and children, on 23 September 1918 and 4 November respectively. His War Gratuity of 28 was similarly paid on 2 December 1919 and 19 January 1920 respectively17.

John's wife, Laura Kate, had moved back to Devonport with their three children by the end of the war and she was to live there for the remainder of her life, At first she lived at 25 George Street, Devonport before settling at 3 Cardinal Ave, St Budeaux, Plymouth, where she was living at the time of her death in April 1955.18. John's parents lived out their lives in Beeston with George dying in 1939, aged 80, followed by Mary in 1949, aged 8619.


Footnotes
1The photograph of Roye New British Cemetery is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
2His date of birth was recorded as 14 May 1884 when he was baptised at Beeston Parish Church on 15 June 1884. His birth was registered in Basford Registration District (of which Beeston was part) in Q2/1884 (Ref 7b 197).
3George and Mary were married at Beeston Parish Church on 28 March 1880.
4Beeston, Notts, 1901 Census, Piece 3153 Folio 118. John's siblings were George (b. 1880), Mary Elizabeth (b. 1882), William Ezra (b. 1886), Florence (b. 1889), Ethel May (b. 1895 and Frank (b. 1896).
5Some records show that his Service Number while with the Warwicks was 7662. This may indicate that he joined originally in about February 1901. It is not clear whether he was with 1st, 2nd or 3rd Battalions, all of which shared the same number series (Army Service Numbers, 1881-1918 website - armyservicenumbers.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/roayl-warwickshire-regiment-regular.html ) Although the Warwick saw service in the 2nd Boer War (1899-1902. As a young, new recruit it is unlikely that John was involved.
6John Oldham & Laura Kate Berry (b. 10 September 1884, Devonport) were married at Beeston Parish Church on 8 June 1908.
7John Edward G Oldham was born on 5 December 1908 in Nottingham, Gerald Middleton Oldham was born on 16 January 1912, probably at Beeston, as was Laura Kate who was born on 14 August 1916.
8Beeston, Notts, 1911 Census, Piece 20426 RD429 SD3 ED1 Sched 355.
9The amount of John's War Gratuity indicates that he joined in August 1914.
10Details of the formation and early deployment of 9th Battalion is from the Long Long Trail website at www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/royal-warwickshire-regiment .
11Details of the early deployment of 2nd Battalion is from the Pegasus Archive website at http://www.pegasusarchive.org/normandy/unit_2oxbucks.htm .
12This outline of the strategy and outcome of the Cambrai operations is from the Commonwealth War Graves description of the Cambrai Memorial.(http://www.cwgc.org)
13This brief account of the battalion's involvement against the German Spring Offensive is derived from the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry website at oxandbuckslightinfantry.weebly.com/1st--2nd-battalions-in-the-great-war.html .
14Details of the relocation of John's burial is included in his Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorial page.
15This description of Roye New British Cemetery is based on that on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
16CSM's medal awards are recorded in the Medal Rolls and on his Medal Card, available on ancestry.com.
17Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929, available on ancestry.com.
18Laura Kate's George Street address is from John's CWGC Memorial page. Laura Kate is recorded at the Cardinal Avenue address in the 1939 Registration and her Probate Calendar entry.
19Based on standard genealogy sources and Beeston Boiler Company records.

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