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War Memorials

In Memory of
Private 28763
15th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers
Who died on Saturday, 27th January 1917
Age 43

Plot I Row H Grave 5
Varennes Military Cemetery, Varennes, Somme, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Varennes Military Cemetery

Varennes Military Cemetery, Somme, France1

John Thorley was born in Wollaton, Nottinghamshire in Q4 18732, the sixth of nine children of John (b. c1844, Wollaton, Notts) and Sarah Ann Thorley (b. c1843, Long Clawson, Leics, née Branson ). John senior worked as a labourer and later a gardener in Wollaton all his life. In 1881, he is described a an under gardener and is living with his wife and their nine children, including John junior, then a seven year old schoolboy3. By 1891 John jnr had left home and was working as a farm servant on a nearby farm4. By 1911, still single, he was lodging with his widowed sister Charlotte at 46 Denison Street, Beeston and working as a colliery loader, probably at Wollaton Colliery5.

John enlisted in the Army, apparently initially with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps6, probably in April 19157. Elsewhere, the 15th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers. otherwise known as the 1st Salford Pals, were in training and eventually left for France on 22nd November 1915. On 1st July 1916, during their first action in Thiepval Ridge, the battalion was almost wiped out. It seem likely that it was then that Private Thorley was transferred to the battalion as part of the reinforcements that were urgently required.

In November 1916, the battalion appears to have taken part in the Battle of Ancre, as part of 96 Brigade, 32 Division, during which, despite atrocious conditions and confused motives for the operation, the German defences were pushed back, effectively marking the end of the Battle of the Somme. Both sides suffered heavy casualties, including over 2500 in 32nd Division. Overall British casualties were over 23,000 against 45,000 enemy losses8.

In early January 1917, despite continuing extreme weather conditions, waterlogged trenches and heavy mud, the battalion took part in further operations on the Ancre, as part of preparations for an intended offensive at Arras. It appears that it was during this period that Private Thorley was probably wounded and removed to a Casualty Clearing Station - probably the 4th, 11th or 47th - where he died. He was buried in Varennes Military Cemetery, situated in the village of Varennes, 11 kilometres from Albert and 18 kilometres from Amiens. This cemetery had been laid out by the 39th Casualty Clearing Station in August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, but the first burials were made during August and September by more mobile divisional Field Ambulances. The 4th and 11th Casualty Clearing Stations then used the cemetery from October 1916, joined by the 47th from December 1916. The cemetery contains 1,219 burials of the First World War9.

Private Thorley was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal10. As well as the memorial in Beeston Parish Church, Private Thorley is also remembered on the war memorial in St Leonard's Church, Wollaton.

His sister, Charlotte Sykes, as the sole legatee under the terms of his Soldier's Will, received payment of his financial effects of 6 13s 11d on 4 September 1917 and his War Gratuity of 8 on 4 October 191911. Charlotte continued to live as a widow, at 46 Denison Street, Beeston until her death in 1961, aged 93.13.

1The photograph of Varennes Military Cemetery is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
2His birth was registered in Basford Registration District (of which Wollaton was then part) in Q4/1873 (Ref 7b 162). He was baptised at Wollaton Parish Church on 11 January 1874.
3Wollaton, Notts, 1881 Census, Piece 3331 Folio 145.
John's siblings were James (b. c1865), Mary (b. c1866), Charlotte (b. c1868), Henry (b. c1869), Eliza (b. c1872), Rachel (b. c1876), Albert (b. c1878) and Julia (b. c1879)
4Wollaton, Notts, 1891 Census, Piece 2671 Folio 151 - farm servant to William Beardall. John has not been located on the 1901 Census.
5Beeston, Notts, 1911 Census, Piece 20427 RD429 SD3 ED2 Schedule 59.
Charlotte Thorley had married James Sykes in Basford Registration District in Q3/1900 (Ref 7b 327) and they had set up home at 46 Denison Street, Beeston. James worked as a nursery gardener but died in Q4/1901, aged 28 (Basford Registration District Ref 7b 112). Charlotte had worked in the lace trade since she left school and, by 1911, had become an overlooker.
6Private Thorley's attachment to the Royal Veterinary Corps is recorded in both 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' and the Medal Rolls. His service number while in this role was 7265
7As John's Service Record has not survived, this approximate date has been estimated, based on the amount of his War Gratuity.
8As the battalion's War Diary does not appear to have survived, this account of its formation and involvement in the Somme battles is based on its entry on The Long, Long Trail website (www.1914-1918.net/lancsfus.htm) and the Wikipedia entries for the Ancre battles.
9This description of Varennes Military Cemetery and its connection with Casualty Clearing Stations is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
10Details from World War 1 Medal Rolls. John's Medal Card has not been found
11Details of the payments are from the "Army Register of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929" - available on ancestry.com.
12Charlotte is recorded at this address on Electoral Rolls and Directories, up to at least 1958. She died in Nottingham in Q1/1961 (Ref 3c 323).

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