Census, Death and Marriage details consistently record the true family name as Marston.
Son of the late John Renton Marston and Annie Marston
(nee Tipling) of Bishopgate, Wetherby.
John William Marston was born in 1898 at Bilton, Harrogate, to parents John Renton Marston, occupation, a Shepherd,
and Annie Marston, the family residence being located at The Square, Plumpton, near Spofforth.
Upon the death of his father on the 12th November 1901, the family circumstances
become somewhat unclear however the 1911 Census details record that at this juncture the family had relocated to Wetherby.
With the family name now recorded as Marsden, possibly a transcription error by the Enumerator as the next document appears
to read Marston, Annie had by now found employment as a Charwoman, the family taking up residence in Bishopgate. The dwellings
that formed this area have long since been demolished but the row of houses that constituted this locality were to be found
near what is now referred to as Bridgefoot, the area of Bishopgate being accessed by a narrow passageway located to the side
of the then White Horse Inn, High Street.
Little is known about John's early life but with
the War now over twelve months old an analysis of army serial numbers issued indicates that he attested for voluntary military
service under the Derby Scheme at Harrogate in early December 1915 and was then placed on the Army Reserve. The terms
of his enlistment were that of a Short Service Obligation, i.e. For the Duration of the War, with the Colours and in the
Army Reserve. Mobilised in mid January 1916 and posted to the ranks of the West Yorkshire Regiment, John was allocated
the serial number 23834. Processed at the Regimental Depot located at York, surviving service documents of men allocated this
batch of serial numbers indicates that John was then posted to the 13th (Reserve) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, located
at Rugeley Camp, Staffordshire.
It was at Rugeley that John was put through his basic
military training this consisting of programmes of drill, musketry and field craft to mould him into an effective soldier.
Amongst the ranks also at Rugeley was another Wetherby lad, Henry Crawford, a Motor Mechanic of 27, Saint James Street. Henry
had also enlisted in December 1915 and had been mobilised in mid January 1916 whereupon he was posted to the 13th Battalion,
West Yorkshire Regiment. Posted to the 16th (Service) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (1st Bradford "Pals"),
he would receive wounds to his head in the attack on Gavrelle, near Arras, on the 3rd May 1917. Posted back to the Western
Front in March 1918 and after service with the 3rd Entrenching Battalion and 1st West Yorkshire's, he would survive the
the early months of 1916, the camp comprised of a variety of Reserve Regiments. The 11th (Reserve) Battalion, West Riding
Regiment, 15th (Reserve) Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, 9th (Reserve) Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, 11th (Reserve) Battalion,
Yorkshire Regiment and the 11th (Reserve) Battalion, York and Lancasters to name but a few. The men comprised of those who
had been wounded at the front but mainly of those who had yet to witness active service. Many were in their late teens and
early twenties and for the vast majority, it was their first time away from the family home and loved ones. For some, this
separation proved too much and suicides were relatively common place, one, in particular, laying the blame at the outburst
of patriotic fervour that had swept the country before the advent of conscription. In early March, the body of a Private of
the 11th Yorks. & Lancs. was found floating in the Trent & Mersey Canal, close to Rugeley Church. A letter, found
on the body of this unfortunate soul aged just twenty years read:-
"Dear Mother, Brother and Sister.....I am
sorry to cause you so much trouble, but I shall be better in Heaven, as I am sick of this life. It is not like being at home.
I had one of the best of homes, and if it had not been for Lord Derby I should have been there yet. I am sure I shall break
your heart, but as I say, I shall be better out of this world."
Drafted To The Front
Due to losses suffered
by the 10th West Yorkshire's since July 1915 and with their participation in a major offensive imminent, drafts were needed
to bring the battalion up to at least fighting strength. On the 25th of March 1916, a large draft was received comprising
of 90 men was received whilst the battalion were located in Brigade Reserve at Houplines near Armentieres. On the 29th of
the month, a further draft was received numbering 1 officer and 50 men and on the 21st of May, a draft comprising of 21 "Bantams"
was received whilst the battalion were in training at Bayenghem-les-Eperlecques. The last draft comprising of men short in
stature, men under the regulation height of 5 feet 3 inches, was described in the pages of the War Diary as "very
bad" but who actually were these men that comprised the drafts?
One was Private Fred Bolton, 19/178, of Hunslet, Leeds.
Posted to to the 10th West Yorkshire's from the 19th Battalion of the Regiment, the latter were formed from an amalgamation
of the Depot Companies of the 1st Leeds "Pals," 15th Battalion, and the 2nd Leeds "Pals," the 17th (Service)
Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, Fred originally enlisting in the 2nd Leeds ("Bantams").
Private Harry Hook,
17/75, a married man and a resident of Armenia Square, off Roseville Road, Leeds. Harry had enlisted into the 17th Battalion
("Bantams") in about February 1915 at Leeds. Posted to the Depot Company of the battalion and subsequently to the
10th West Yorkshire's, one may surmise that he was one of the number of the draft received on the 21st.
There was also a large
number of men of the Depot Company of the 18th (Service) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (1st Bradford "Pals")
posted amongst the drafts. Private Charles Davy, 18/1496, a native of Frizinghall, Bradford, aged 41 years. Private Charles
Arthur Hall, 18/1283, a married man of Idle, Bradford, and Private Willie Hall, 18/528, a married man and a native of Baildon
another man of the "Bantam" draft was one Private Frank Smith, 17/1590, the stepson of Mrs. Eliza Lee of Ashton
Street, Harehills, Leeds. A Milkman prior to the war, Frank had enlisted in Leeds in early June 1915.
With John Marsden
numbering amongst these drafts, it is impossible to determine the exact date of his posting to the 10th West Yorkshire's
with some degree of accuracy. Passing through the 33rd I.B.D. (Infantry Base Depot/Detail) located at Etaples near Boulogne,
after a period of training in various aspects of warfare, John and the other men contained in the various drafts joined their
allocated unit in the field. Due to the lack of an exact date of posting, I will now commence this commemoration in the month
of May 1916 as the 17th (Northern) Division were withdrawn for training for the Somme offensive. Prior to this, the movements
of the 10th West Yorkshire's can be ascertained by following this link to the commemoration of Charlie Brown:-
Lance-Corporal Charley Brown
Preparations For The Allied Offensive
It was on the 8th of May 1916 that the 10th West Yorkshire's were withdrawn from the line west of Armentieres.
As the New Zealand Division completed a relief of this sector on the 16th, preparations were now made for a period of "intensive
training." Now under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Dickson late South Lancashire Regiment and Staff,
the battalion handed over their billets to the 1st Wellington Battalion, 1st New Zealand Brigade on the 12th and proceeded
by route of march to Estaires where billets were found to be comfortable but scattered.
The 50th Brigade now set forth on the following day in hot and sunny weather and proceeded to march to their assembly
areas for training. With the constituent battalions of the brigade following various routes, the 10th West Yorkshire's
journeyed via Morbeque to Campagne, south-east of Arques, arriving at the latter place at 12.30 p.m. on the 14th. It was of
no surprise that due to the weather conditions, 32 men fell out however the Adjutant, Lieutenant John Webster Shann, was unforgiving
and recorded in the pages of the War Diary that "this is disgraceful."
On the following day and possibly as a consequence of the heat, 35 men were sent on by train from Arques
as the battalion resumed its march from Campagne to Eperlecques whereupon good billets were occupied that were described as
"very compact and very comfortable."
Now placed in G.H.Q. Reserve and after just one day of rest including cleaning and kit inspections, the 50th Infantry
Brigade now set about an intensive programme of training. With 17th Division Headquarters being established at Tilques to
the north-west of St. Omer and Brigade Headquarters established at Nort-Leulinghem, the billets of the brigade itself were
scattered throughout the locality. 7th Yorkshire Regiment at Mentque, the 7th East Yorkshire's at Eperlecques/Westrove
whilst the 6th Dorsets found billeting a serious issue with Headquarters being established at La Panne, the battalion itself
being ordered to divide into five companies so as to find appropriate accommodation in the area. Specific training grounds
were also allocated, a triangular area selected for the 10th West Yorkshire's between Mentque - la Balance Road and the
la Balance - Culem Road.
|Extract Of Map, France, Sheet 27 A, S.E.
The principle element of the training carried out by the 50th
Brigade were that the latter were in a scenario in Corps Reserve. Once an imaginary breakthrough of a hostile system of defence
had been achieved, units of the brigade would be brought up to exploit the situation. Comprising of a system of training conducted
during the day and night by companies, it was on the 18th of May that "A" and "B" Companies carried out
night operations followed by "C" and "D" Companies on the night of the 19th respectively. Particular attention
was also placed on the training of specialists whilst the routine training comprising of musketry, 'Smoke Helmet'
and close order drill was performed by all ranks. Areas allocated for company training were also to be used for battalion
training however at some point, not recorded, the 10th West Yorkshire's changed areas with the 7th East Yorkshire's,
training being conducted in the area between the la Balance - Culem Road and the Inglinghem - Carre de Marne Road.
On the 20th, the monotony of the training schedule was broken by the award
of the Military Cross to Second-Lieutenant Hermon Marsden attached from the 14th Battalion (Supplement to the London Gazette
dated the 31st of May 1916) and the award of the Military Medal to Sergeant Peter Duffy, 3/9369, a native of Tyne Dock,
South Shields. (Supplement to the London Gazette dated the 3rd of June 1916).
As training continued, it was on the 27th that the men of the battalion who
had not been inoculated for the period of one year were given a 'new' injection for typhoid. (Source: War Diary 6th
Dorsets, T.N.A. WO95/2000/2). As a consequence, the vast majority of the men suffered the effects for a number of days and
this in turn precluded the programme of training to some extent however on the afternoon of the 30th, a Divisional Field Day
was held between the hours of 2.30 p.m. to 10.15 p.m. This first day of divisional exercises comprised of a simulated attack
of a Division from Corps Reserve