Wetherby War Memorial - The Great War 1914 - 1918

Sergeant John Charles Kirk

Introduction
Gunter, R B N
Durrant, C M
Weston, C G
Kelly, K G
Armitage, G J
Durrant, H M L
Hargreaves, J P
March, G
Dukes, W
Fowler, R
Westerman, H
Kirk, J C
Wiggins, T A
Telford, G
Harper, J W
Alexander, H W
Mason, T F
Wilkinson, W
Brown, C
Adkin, J
Barton, F
Hobman, A
Webster, A E
March, E A
Miller, G
Hannan, E
Utley, G
Walker, F
Bygrave, E W
Chapman, E
Varley, N W
Bowen, F J
Byrom, F
Backhouse, S
Dalby, M
Crossland, A
Crossley, J S
Dean, R
Frost, A E
Hodgson, F H
Holt, J
Hood, W H
Hill, W
Kitchen, T
Linfoot, E
Metcalfe, J C
Marsden, J
Pawson, W
Precious, G
Scutt, T G
Shields,P
Wiggins, J
Walker, E
Wood, A
Young, T
Pratt, W
Taylor, H
Dawson, G W
Lister, J
Binge, T
Atack, G
Durham, E F
Precious, G R
Wheelhouse Smith, W
Backhouse, H
Swann, J W
Burnsides, G A
Coles, W
Kelly, H W
Miles, J G
Tapsell, K
Acknowledgements
Dardanelles

11076
1st/6th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders
Died Tuesday 23rd July 1918, age 28

Cemetery : Marfaux British Cemetery, Marne, France
Grave Reference or Panel Number : II.H.2

Son of John and the late Mary Louisa Kirk, of Rose Cottage, Barleyfields, Wetherby, Yorkshire.

John Charles Kirk was born at Coneythorpe, near Goldsborough, Yorkshire, on the 8th June 1890. Son of John, occupation, a Farmer and Cattle Dealer, and Mary Louisa Kirk.

Little is known of John's early life in the district but one may surmise that he was educated at Goldsborough Church of England School. Upon the death of his mother in 1903 in this quiet backwater of rural Yorkshire, it appears that an agricultural career was not the chosen path for John and either by his own volition or that of his father's, John Charles Kirk enlisted into the Royal Navy.

 

A Different Path To A Life On The Land: Service With The Royal Navy

John Charles Kirk, 237069, enlisted into the Royal Navy in 1906 and was allocated the rating of Boy 2nd Class. Aged 16 years, a physical description records Height as 5 feet, 5 1/2 inches, Hair, Brown, Eyes, Grey and Complexion, Fresh.

Engaged for a period of 12 years service, training in whatever trade was allocated would commence for a period of two years, his 'time' officially commencing within the Navy upon his 18th birthday. On the 23rd August 1906 John was posted to H.M.S. Ganges, a shore based boys training establishment located at Shotley, Suffolk. He he remained until the 17th November whereupon he was transferred to H.M.S. Impregnable, a Training Ship for Boys moored at Devonport.

Despite his character being described as "very good," his chosen career path within the Royal Navy it appears did not suit a young man rather restless with himself. On the 13th February 1907, John was discharged from the service after being granted a "Shore Purchase." (Authors note: This was not granted without sufficient reason and at a price).  

 

Enlistment Into The 5th West Yorkshire Regiment

Returning home to Yorkshire and still seeking a life in the service of his country, between the years of 1907 - 1909, John enlisted into his 'local' regiment, the 5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment. A battalion of the Territorial Force, the latter had undergone significant change during the Haldane Reforms of 1907. Formerly designated the 1st Volunteer Battalion with Headquarters located at Colliergate, York, the 5th Battalion were organised on a company basis utilising local Drill Halls. (Authors note: John possibly joined, exact dates of service unknown, "G" Company located in Knaresborough with satellite stations at Starbeck (Harrogate) and Boroughbridge). 

 

Enlistment Into The 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards

 

On the 19th October 1909, John Charles Kirk, occupation, Iron Monger, attested at York for a full time career in the military. Recording a preference for service in the Dragoons of the Line, John also provided a character reference signed Mr. John Thirkhill, a Cashier at the office of the North Eastern Railway:

October 14th, 1909:

"This is to certify that I have known John Charles Kirk from a boy, and, have always found him straightforward and honest."

John's terms of service were for a period of 7 years with the Colours and 5 years in the Reserve. Issued the serial number 3942, locations of early service are unclear as in terms of chronology but service was conducted at Brighton, Woolwich ? Seaforth. Further confirmation of "good" character is recorded in a document dated September 1913, this stating that at this juncture, John had been employed since his last assessment as an officers servant. Comments by this officer declare:

"Honest, trustworthy, industrious, cleanly, intelligent, would make a good private servant." Signed, Lieutenant William Gerald Bagnell and confirmed by the Adjutant, Captain Charles Beck.

As early as 1912, it became apparent that John was suffering with an underlying medical condition, namely the weakening of the cartilage in the right knee. In July of that year the condition had worsened as much as to necessitate 12 days in hospital, with a course of 'spirit of opium lotion' applied to the affected area and an issue of an elastic knee cap. In addition to requiring dental treatment, the problem with the right knee would continue to hamper John for the remainder of his life.

 

Declaration Of War

Appointed to the rank of Lance-Corporal (unpaid) in  July 1914, on the declaration of War, the 4th Dragoon Guards were located at Tidworth.
Leaving the latter location on the 15th August, 1914, the Guards embarked at Southampton on the SS 'Winifredian,' disembarkation taking place at Boulogne the following day.

Mons: The Opening Shots Of The Great War

John did not have to wait long for his first taste of action when, on the morning of the 22nd August, as a prelude to the Battle Of Mons, patrols of the 4th Dragoons clashed with German Cavalrymen of an Uhlan Regiment. One Corporal Ernest Thomas of "C" Squadron, 4th Troop, under the command of Captain Charles Beck Hornby, firing the first shots by a British soldier in the Great War.
During the subsequent retreat from Mons, John was posted as 'missing' on the 1st September no doubt due to the confused nature of the fighting. One of the consequences of the retreat was that the Cavalry Brigade as a whole had become dispersed over a wide area with stragglers rejoining their units over a period of days. John accomplished this on the 8th September, and, it would seem, that he was once again suffering from the effects of the knee complaint first diagnosed in 1912.
On the 10th September, John was admitted to the 1st Cavalry Brigade Field Ambulance (note: 2nd Cavalry Brigade re-titled 1st Cavalry Division on the 16th September) and diagnosed with a "loose cartilage right knee." The location of the Field Ambulance at this period is not stated. On the 18th of the month, John was then transferred to Number 8 Stationary Hospital where a more comprehensive assessment of his knee took place. The diagnosis prescribed was 'Synovitis' which resulted in John being discharged to a Convalescent Depot.
After this period of convalescence, it is unclear if John was posted back to his unit, however, it is stated that "in the field," he was once again admitted by the 1st Cavalry Field Ambulance for treatment in March 1915. This would suggest that he possibly rejoined his unit, a further indication alluding to this being that he was promoted to the rank of Lance-Corporal on the 3rd March 1915.
Later in the month of March, the deterioration of John's knee cap resulted in further hospitalization. Admitted to the Rawalpindi British General Hospital located at Wimereux near Calais, he was finally transferred to the U.K. onboard the H.M.H.S. St. Andrew at the end of the month.

Home Service

After a period of convalescence, location unknown, John was then transferred to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Gordon Highlanders located at Aberdeen on the 3rd June 1915. The battalion remained in the United Kingdom for the duration of the War, its role being one of providing drafts to the various battalions of the regiment.
Retaining the rank of Lance-Corporal and re-numbered 11076, promotion up the ranks continued when the rank of Corporal was appointed on the 7th October.
On the 8th May 1916, further promotion was granted, John being appointed to the rank of Acting Lance-Sergeant (unpaid).
As 1917 dawned, the Allies were planning for the first of many offensives that would take place on the Western Front this year. Deemed once again fit for front line service, John once again embarked for the Front at Folkestone, disembarking at Boulogne on the 9th February where he was posted to the 18th Infantry Base Detail located at Etaples. The aim of the I.B.D. was to train new recruits and wounded returning to the Front. This training included all aspects of trench warfare such as bayonet and musketry drill, the use of grenades, gas warfare etc.

Posted to the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders

On the 29th February, John was posted to the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, the battalion being contained in the 3rd Division, 76th Brigade which included the following units:

8th King's Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment

2nd Suffolk Regiment

10th Royal Welch Fusiliers

The 1st Gordon's served on the Western Front from the outset of the War with the division. After suffering heavy casualties however in the early stages of the conflict, they were transferred to the 25th Division, returning to the 3rd in October 1915.
During the Somme offensive of 1916, the division fought in the major actions at Bazentin in mid July, and the Battle of the Ancre in November suffering heavy casualties. The New Year would also see them participate in the next offensive planned to take place at Arras.

John reverted to the rank of Lance-Corporal on the 9th February. On the 5th March, he was once again promoted, and according to surviving records, it would appear twice in one day, Corporal, then, Acting Lance-Sergeant (paid) respectively.

The Battle Of Arras And Subsequent Actions

The attack at Arras was launched at 5.30 a.m. on the 9th April 1917 after a heavy bombardment of the enemy's positions. The objective of the 3rd Division on the opening day of the offensive was to attack the German defensive system in the vicinity of Tilloy-les-Mofflaines located to the south-east of Arras. Penetrating the first line of defence, the division would continue the advance in an easterly direction along the line of the Arras-Cambrai Road. The leading battalion, the 1st Gordon's, advanced under the cover of a 'hurricane' bombardment carried out by trench mortars. Initially, the attack made good progress but was eventually halted by heavy machine-gun fire from enemy positions located to the north in the 12th Divisions area of attack. What gains had been made by the 3rd Division were consolidated.
Also on this date, John was promoted to the rank of Sergeant no doubt a promotion that reflected the losses of the battalion in N.C.O.'s.
In the late evening of the 11th April, the battalion was relieved by units of the 9th Brigade of the division and moved into tunnels and then billets at Arras.
Here, the battalion remained until the 23rd April when it then moved into Divisional Reserve at Bois de Boeuf to the east of Tilloy-les-Mofflaines. On the 24th, whilst taking over the line west of Monchy-le-Preux, the enemy opened a heavy barrage on the Gordon's causing numerous casualties, no doubt, in response to the re-newing of the offensive on the front from Croisilles in the south, to Gavrelle due east of Arras.
It was during this barrage that John was numbered amongst the wounded.

Evacuated

Evacuated to the 7th Field Ambulance of the division on the 25th April, treatment was administered for "S W R Knee." This  terminology could be interpreted as a 'shot wound' or even a 'shrapnel wound' to the right knee as opposed to a wound inflicted by gunshot. Whatever form this injury took, it is unfortunate that in a knee already troubled by years of discomfort, that a wound would be inflicted in this of all places.
Evacuated along the casualty clearing chain, John was admitted to the 4th General Hospital located at Camiers, north of Etaples. It would appear through surviving service documents, that treatment was administered for what can be deciphered as "Abrasion Cont" (possibly "Abrasion Continues?").
As a result of his injuries and the continuing medical issue of the right knee, John was transferred to England on the 2nd May via H.M.H.S. St. Andrew

Rejoining The 3rd Battalion Gordon Highlanders

On the 3rd May, surviving documents suggest that John was posted to what may have been some form of convalescent depot. It is clear however that on the 28th of the month, he once again rejoined the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Gordon Highlanders located at Aberdeen.
After spending a period of Home Service that lasted for over a year, John was once again posted to the Western Front embarking at Folkestone and disembarking at Boulogne on the 17th June 1918.
After instruction at an Infantry Base Detail located at Etaples, he was posted to the 1/6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders on the 9th July, joining this unit just as it was about to be relieved from the front line trenches in the Willerval Sector north-east of Arras. On the following day, the battalion proceeded into billets at Ecurie Wood Camp, however, un-beknown to the battalion, the stay here was to prove to be very short indeed.

1/6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders

Initially, the 1/6th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders (Bannfshire and Donside) served with the 7th Division and saw action in various engagements on the Western Front most notably First Ypres and the Battle of Loos. Transferred to the 51st (Highland) Division in June 1916, just prior to the Battle of the Somme, the battalion formed part of the 152nd (1st Highland) Brigade and fought with distinction throughout the latter, most notably in the capture of Beaumont Hamel in November 1916.

In 1917, the division was involved in the major offensive at Arras, which commenced on the 9th April and in the Battle of Cambrai, November 1917. With the onslaught of the first German offensive in March 1918 known as the 'Kaiserschlacht,' the division fought a fighting retreat suffering considerable losses. In April 1918 during the Battle of the Lys, the division once again fought with distinction, although, once again, casualties were heavy.

An 'unknown' destination

On the afternoon of the 11th July 1918, the battalion entrained at Ecurie in five trains. Travelling by light railway, they subsequently detrained at Monchy-Breton, to the east of St. Pol at 5.30 p.m. whereupon they proceeded into billets near St. Michel located near the latter place.
On the 13th, after a period of cleaning up and rest, the battalion, with a marching strength recorded as 32 officers and 862 Other Ranks began a route march to Roellecourt, west of St. Pol, via Maisnil and Foufflin-Ricametz.
It was whilst at Roellecourt that Lieutenant-Colonel John Gibb Thom D.S.O., M.C. Officer Commanding rejoined the battalion.
After being visited by the G.O.C. Division and the Brigadier-General, a warning order was issued to prepare for a movement to an 'unknown destination.' In accordance with these orders Lewis guns and associated ammunition were loaded up and the battalion proceeded by march at 9.15 p.m. on the 14th, to Pernes located some distance to the north. Prior to the movement of the battalion, a Billeting Party under the command of Second-Lieutenant J. Hay had been dispatched to prepare accommodation on arrival at the final destination. The battalion entrained at 3 a.m., minus "C" Company who were to follow on over 6 hours later. Once entrainment was completed, the train departed Pernes at 4.20 a.m. on the morning of the 14/15th.
As the train headed, possibly 'known' to some 'oracles' of the battalion, southwards, the men were provided with hot meals consisting of fresh meat cooked on fires on open trucks and freshly brewed tea. Only one halt was made at Gisors, some 30 miles north of Paris, where a 40 minute period was set aside for bathing.
By midday, Paris was passed and shortly afterwards the battalion arrived at Romilly-sur-Seine where they detrained after some delay as another battalion cleared the sidings at the station.
The battalion, still minus "C" Company and the Billeting Party that had been sent forth previously, proceeded to prepared bivouacs located in a poplar wood on the banks of the canal to the north of the town. Due to these arrangements being made under French control, the battalion was at present detached from brigade and the remainder of the division.
The weather during the day spent here is recorded by the War Diary as "very hot" but there was a degree of shade provided by the poplar trees and bathing in the canal was to be enjoyed by all ranks.
However, the peace of this rural 'idyll' was soon to be shattered when news reached the battalion that the German Army had launched an attack to the west of Reims early on the morning of the 15th.
The battalion was once again about to march towards the sound of the guns.


Marne: The Battles of Tardenois

The German attack, codenamed 'Reims-Marneshutz' had been launched by Ludendorff to the west and east of Reims. To the west, the French Fifth Army under the command of General Henri Berthelot had particularly suffered heavy casualties due to inadequately prepared defences whilst to the east, enemy advances had proved to be less successful.
As a consequence of this assault the Allies were forced back to positions south of the Marne. This created a salient with Chateau Thierry located at its centre. General Foch, General-in-Chief of the Allied Armies now intended to launch a counter-attack with the objective of 'pinching out' this salient. This attack was to take place on the east and west faces of the enemy line south-west of Reims and south-west of Soissons.
To assist the French Armies, General Sir Alexander Godley's XXII Corps comprising of the 15th, 34th, 51st and 62nd Divisions had been moved southwards and were now located in French G.H.Q. Reserve.
The 51st (Highland) Division, in conjunction with the 62nd (West Riding) Division were to be attached to Berthelot's Fifth Army for the forth coming operation to the east of Reims. To the west, the Sixth, Ninth and Tenth French Armies would be tasked with the offensive.
The 51st Division now prepared to move to the front to mount an offensive operation in what was to be known as the Battles of Tardenois.

To the valley of the Ardre River

On the 17th July at 9 a.m., French motor transport arrived at Romilly to transport John and the men of the 6th Gordon Highlanders to the area of offensive operations.
Arriving at Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, south of Epernay, the battalion then marched at short distance towards the village of Gionges.
The battalion then billeted in the village with Headquarters and officers occupying the chateau. "C" Company had now rejoined the battalion and the remainder of the 152nd Brigade were now occupying billets at Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.
As the battalion waited for the Regimental Transport to arrive, rations were drawn for the 16th 17th but none were issued for the following day.
News began to filter through to the battalion as regards the progress of the enemy offensive and the War Diary records that "enemy success was against the Italian troops (Authors note: Italian II Corps attached to French Fifth Army)
holding the line of R. Marne in section 15.f. west of Epernay and that French counter-attacked this morning with six divisions and drove him back across the river."
The men knew what lay ahead as the sound of the battle raging to the north-west had become audible on the wind.
On the 18th, with no rations to consume, brigade authorized the consumption of the emergency ration, however, at 10.30 p.m. the Regimental Transport finally arrived and by 11 p.m., the rations.
In the early hours of the 19th, movement orders were issued whereupon the battalion and the Regimental Transport proceeded to the march at 6 a.m.  stopping for two hours at Le Mesnil-sur-Oger for breakfast. The march continued via Oiry and Epernay where at the latter place the River Marne was crossed. As the march continued northwards through Dizy, the topography of the landscape began to change with steep wooded hills punctuated by broad sweeping valleys. At 5 p.m. the battalion arrived at Champillon where the 152nd Brigade had assembled and by 8.15 p.m. the battalion were once again ordered to move to the Bois de St. Quentin about 4 kilometres to the north-west which was reached at 10 p.m.
The days march of over 11-12 miles had been carried out in very hot weather conditions with very few men falling out of the line.
The 152nd Brigade were now placed in Divisional Reserve with an echelon remaining at Champillon.
On the following morning the 153rd and 154th Infantry Brigades of the 51st (Highland) Division would be launched into the attack in conjunction with units of the 62nd (West Riding) Division.


Bois de Courton, 20th July

The attack commenced on the 20th July under a 'creeping barrage' provided by French and Italian Artillery. The barrage commenced at 8.00 a.m. and was ordered to fall 1000 yards ahead of the assembly positions of the 62nd Division to the north of the River Ardre. The 51st Division, assaulting to the south of the river, were tasked with the capture of the Bois de Courton and its environs.
The terrain of the valley of the Ardre consisted of fields of ripened corn of a sufficient height to aid the attacker and the defender alike. Bordering the valley, the land consisted of steep ridges and spurs punctuated by small villages and woodland ideally located for a defensive strategy.
This land, untouched by the ravages of war, provided a whole new environment that would require a different strategy of attack to be performed by the assaulting divisions.
At 8.00 a.m. the barrage was launched but fell too far in advance of the attacking brigades of the 62nd Division. As a consequence of this, numerous hidden enemy machine-gun posts were left untouched. The latter caused numerous casualties in particular to the attacking battalions of the 185th Brigade, 62nd Division, located on the left of the divisions attack frontage. Failure to perform or acquire adequate reconnaissance of the attack area attributed to the many losses incurred by the 8th & the 2/5th Battalions of the West Yorkshire Regiment on this flank.
On the left bank of the Ardre, the 51st Division advanced against strong enemy positions located in and around the Bois de Courton. The assault was to be led by the 154th Brigade on the right flank and the 153rd Brigade on the left. These brigades consisted of the following battalions:

154th Brigade

1/4th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders

1/4th Battalion Gordon Highlanders

1/7th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

153rd Brigade

1/7th Battalion Gordon Highlanders

1/6th Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)

1/7th Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)

The reserve consisted of the 152nd Brigade, augmented by the 8th Battalion, Royal Scots, Divisional Pioneers. This brigade consisted of the following battalions:

152nd Brigade

1/5th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders

1/6th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders

1/6th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders

Intelligence acquired from prisoners indicated that the positions in and around the wood were strongly held by the enemy. At 8.00 a.m, the assaulting brigades of the division commenced the attack supported by French artillery and the guns of the 255th & 256th Brigades of the Royal Field Artillery. Initially, the assault progressed well as the infantry penetrated the wood but quickly degenerated into a series of local engagements. The nature of the terrain, in particular, the dense vegetation that covered the ground of the wood inhibited close co-operation between the two brigades, ultimately leading to them becoming separated. On the left flank, the 153rd Brigade, cooperating with French infantry on the left assaulting the village of Paradis, made good progress despite having to endure withering machine-gun fire. In the early evening of the 20th, and repelling an enemy counter-attack, it became apparent that the attack could progress no further, gains made during the day being consolidated.


21st July: The attack resumes

During the afternoon of the 20th July, orders had been received by the 6th Gordons and the 6th Seaforth Highlanders to move to woods south-west of Nanteuill where both battalions bivouacked for the night.
During the early hours of the morning of the 21st orders were received for both battalions to proceed to the Bois de Courton. At 5.30 a.m. the Brigadier-General Commanding 152nd Brigade held conference with Officers Commanding the 6th Gordons and the 6th Seaforths explaining the Operation Order that had been received to mount an attack in conjunction with French units on the left flank. Zero hour was to be set for 8 a.m.
Orders stated that the battalion were to form up on a ride in the wood running from les Haies to la Neuville. Once they had cleared the wood of the enemy, the 5th Seaforth Highlanders who were to be in support of the attack were ordered to leap-frog the 6th Gordons on this objective.
Prior to moving off to their assembly positions at 6.45 a.m. a welcome hot meal had been provided for the men, for some, it would be their last.
On reaching their assembly point (Authors note: Annotation in the War Diary reads "road along the north-west edge of the wood")running southwards in the direction of Paradis, it was observed that the ground beyond was occupied by the enemy who were moving along the tracks and rides in the wood in large numbers. On account of this observation the battalion now deployed along a track running parallel to the initial point of assembly but about 700 yards to the rear.
As the Allied barrage opened, it failed to hit pre-arranged targets due to front line positions being altered during the night. As a consequence of this, the advance of the attacking troops did not benefit  from the protection of the artillery and fierce opposition was met in the close confines of the wood where the enemy had many concealed machine gun nests and trench mortar positions.
The companies on the left flank of the 6th Gordons attack were able to maintain touch with the French but the advance was held up after an advance of 500 yards due to stiff enemy opposition. On the right flank however, the advance had proved to be more rapid and progressed to within 200 yards of the north-west edge of the wood but here a large number of the enemy held a line which they defended stoutly with machine gun and rifle fire, bomb, and trench mortars.
During the advance of the battalion gaps had developed in the line which they enemy tried to exploit. On the right flank which was unprotected, the enemy attempted to outflank the battalion and as a consequence of this attempted manoeuvre the line was retired to a distance of 300 yards from the track that was the initial point of assembly to avoid being cut off. To fill the gaps that had occurred one company and half of another of the 5th Seaforth Highlanders was sent forward to reinforce the line. This line now being consolidated.
During the night active patrolling was carried out and reports were received that these had encountered parties of the enemy but they were beaten off.
The enemy had suffered many casualties and the War Diary records that several German officers riding on horseback in the wood were shot and killed. The battalion also proudly records that they had captured several trench mortars and machine guns during the action, however, as the days that followed would prove, the enemy was as determined as ever to maintain his positions in the Bois de Courton.

22nd July

To the north of the River Ardre, the 186th Brigade, 62nd (West Riding) Division maintained pressure on the enemy that would ultimately result in the fall of the Bois du Petit Champ by the end of the day.
During the afternoon the 6th Gordons had been placed under the orders of the 153rd Infantry Brigade. The battalion was ordered to advance its left flank to conform with positions held by the latter brigade who were operating in conjunction with French units in a projected attack towards Paradis due to take place during mid afternoon. The attack proved to be abortive, it is unclear as to if it actually took place,  and the outcome was that the Gordons were ordered to remain in their original positions.
Further orders were now issued to the battalion at 3.30 p.m. from the 153rd Brigade that stated that they would be relieved by the 8th Royal Scots, Divisional Pioneers. On completion of this relief the battalion were to proceed to assembly positions of the 152nd Infantry Brigade who were in preparations for an attack due to commence during the morning of the 23rd.
Further orders now issued by 152nd Brigade directed the Gordons, on relief, to take up a position on the left flank of the 6th Seaforth Highlanders.
Operational orders dictated that the brigade would attack the following day across open ground to the north-east of the Bois de Courton and the River Ardre. The objective assigned to the 6th Gordons was the village of Espilly and the slopes beyond.


Tuesday July 23rd, 1918: The death of Sergeant John Charles Kirk

Owing to some confusion in the orders for relief issued by the 153rd Brigade, by 4.30 a.m. on the morning of the 23rd only 3 companies of the 6th Gordons had been relieved by the 8th Royal Scots. "C" Company were still in positions and awaiting relief as the attack commenced at 6 a.m.
Promptly, the Allied barrage began to fall but it is then that disaster struck the waiting officers and men of the 6th Gordons. Before the line had even commenced to the advance, a barrage of French 75's fell on the assembly positions of the battalion. Casualties due to this unfortunate incident were heavy including all the officers of one company.
As the enemy opened a heavy artillery and machine gun barrage also, the men proceeded onwards with great courage and tenacity to a sunken road from a cross-roads running from the east of the village of Espilly to the south-east side of Bois des Eclisses. With the left flank of the attack coming under a maelstrom of heavy machine gun fire from the direction of the Bois de Courton, the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on the extreme of this flank, could not continue the advance through the wood. Any further advance by the Gordons up a slope into the village was also checked as a consequence of this intense machine-gun fire being directed upon them from the left.
At this crucial juncture in the battle, "C" Company of the 6th Gordons who had eventually been relieved, arrived on the battlefield and were immediately sent into the line to defend the left flank of the battalion.
As the battle wore on, several attempts were made during the day to advance the line but these proved to be unsuccessful due to the heavy and concentrated machine gun fire that swept the ground from the Bois de Courton and the village of Nappes.
To the right of the sunken road position, the battalion had maintained contact with the 6th Seaforth Highlanders and a line was established and continued to the edge of the wood and then consolidated.
At dusk, out-posts were established about 200 yards in front of this line but were later ordered to withdraw in preparation for an attack the following day.

In the days that followed, the battalion remained alternately in and out of front line positions until on the 31st July they moved to woods south-east of Nanteuil.
Sergeant John Charles Kirk lay dead on the battlefield after only 14 days service with the 6th Gordon Highlanders.
Between the 20th - 31st July, casualties sustained by the battalion amounted to 2 officers and 69 Other Ranks, killed or died of wounds. (Source: Soldiers Died In The Great War).


A newspaper article dated 17th August, 1918 states;

'Mon's Hero's Death. - Mr. J. Kirk, of Rose Cottage, Wetherby, late of Coneythorpe, has received information on Saturday that his son Sergeant J.C. Kirk (29), of the Gordon Highlanders, was killed in action on July 23rd. He was one of the "Old Contemptibles," and had been in many actions from Mons onwards, being twice previously wounded.'

John's body was located on the battlefield and interred at Marfaux British Cemetery. Personal effects including letters, a pencil case, a card and a comb were sent home to his grieving family.
If there was any comfort to be found from the War, it was that one of John's younger brothers, Harold, serving with the 3rd Hussars since 1915, survived the conflict and returned home. Harold's war  ended as a member of the occupation forces of the Army of the Rhine with the 2nd Cavalry Division.
In addition to being commemorated on the memorial at Wetherby, John's name is also inscribed on the War Memorial located at Goldsborough Village, North Yorkshire.

Marfaux British Cemetery, Marne, France

The cemetery was constructed after the Armistice by the concentration of battlefield graves and from Military Cemeteries located in the Marne area.
The cemetery commemorates over 1000 casualties from the Great War 1914-1918. Of those who could not be identified after the War, these number over 300 and special memorials are erected to 8 soldiers of the United Kingdom known or believed to be buried in the cemetery. There are also other special memorials commemorating 12 soldiers of the United Kingdom, buried in other cemeteries, whose graves could not be found after concentration.
The cemetery also includes the Marfaux (New Zealand) Memorial that commemorates 10 casualties of the New Zealand Cyclist Battalion (placed under orders of the 62nd Division on the 21st July) who gave their lives in July 1918 and who have no known grave.


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