Major John Hopwood BOARDMAN

Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
2nd Battalion [Later 5th]
(Attached: 9th Battalion, Rifle Brigade)
Service Number:
Date of Death:
25 April 1918 - Died of wounds
(Prisoner of War)
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:
II. B. 8.

Personal History:

John was born on the 16th September 1891 in Manchester, the son of John Hopwood (Solicitor) and Emily Boardman. He had a younger sister, Phyllis Swinburn.

In 1901 the family were living at Links Gate, St Anne's-on-Sea, Lancashire. (Census RG13/3968).
However, in 1905 John's parents divorced - Husband's petition (National Archive: Divorce File 5812) and three years later, in the September quarter 1908, John Hopwood Snr. died. John Jnr. was educated at Haileybury Public School, Hertford, and was boarded at Colvin House from 1905 - 1910.

The 1911 Census (RG 14/29578) shows John lodging with the Fawcett family, whilst a "Military Student", at Moor View, Rawdon, Wharfedale, Yorkshire. In the December quarter 1913 John married Ann Clark, in Sunderland.

After his death in 1918, John's Probate Record shows he died 23rd April 1918 (i.e. not 25th) and lived at 'Underlowe', Buxton. 'Underlowe' is a large house at 9 Robertson Road, now converted into flats. He left a total of £7301 2s 0d (£7301.10) to his sister in his Will. [This would amount to over £290,000 in today's terms - 2013]

[N.B. John's Aunt, Mary Swinburn Boardman, died in 1948 and at that time was still living at Underlowe, Robertson Rd, Buxton. She was resident at Stone Hurst, Buxton in 1911 which probably accounts for John's inclusion on the town War Memorial, both on The Slopes and at Burbage.]

Military History:
At the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914 the 2nd Battalion, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, were in Aldershot, part of 5th Brigade in 2nd Division. It landed at Boulogne on 14th August 1914, although John's Medal Index Card shows he entered France two weeks later, on 30th October 1914, clearly a regular serving soldier at the time.

In the first months of the War the Battalion took part in The Battle of Mons and the subsequent retreat, The Battle of the Marne, The Battle of the Aisne and First Battle of Ypres. In one of these actions John's National Archive file states that he was wounded, " a bullet wound that entered past the left clavicle and exited from his back leaving a rough septic wound, and he was sent back to England to recover ". [It has not been possible to ascertain from the Battalion War Diary which action.] On his return to England he was probably nominally transferred to the 5th Battalion.

John was promoted from Lieutenant to Temporary Captain on 9th October 1915 (London Gazette 3rd December 1915) and to full Captain on 25th November 1915 (London Gazette, 1st April 1916). His final promotion, to Temporary Major, was effective from 23rd January 1918 (London Gazette 14th May 1918)

In the time from entering France to John's transfer to the Rifle Brigade on 3rd March 1918 the 2nd Battalion was in action in most of the major Battles of the War. The 2nd Ox and Bucks arrived on the Western Front as part of the 5th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division – one of the first divisions of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to arrive in France. The battalion took part in the first British battle of the war, at Mons, on 23rd August. The battalion subsequently took part in the retreat that began the following day, not stopping until just on the outskirts of Paris, then halting the German advance at the First Battle of the Marne (5th –9th  September).

The 2nd Ox and Bucks later took part in all the subsidiary battles of the First Battle of
Ypres (19 October – 22 November) that saw the heart ripped out of the old Regular
Army, with 54,000 casualties being sustained by the British Army. On 11th November
the Germans made another attempt to capture Ypres, sending, on the orders of the
German Kaiser, the élite Prussian Guard against the British forces. The 2nd Battalion
counter-attacked them at Nonne Bosschen wood, proceeding to prevent their advance
and rout them.


At the Battle of Festubert, launched in May 1915 to support of the French attack south
of Vimy Ridge, John's Battalion was part of the second wave of the 5th Brigade attack
and, during the course of the battle, sustained just under 400 casualties; the largest the
regiment had suffered so far in the war, and the largest it had suffered for over 100 years.


John's Battalion also took part in a subsidiary attack during The Battle of Loos, 25th September - 18th October 1915. The 2nd Division History reads:
"The 2nd Division was disposed for attack as follows:
5th Infantry Brigade north of La Bassée Canal in the Givenchy section: in front-line trenches from left to right, 2nd Oxford and Bucks (from Deadman’s Trench to a few yards north of Berkeley Street)"

The 2nd Battalion War Diary for the 25th September recorded the action:
"The Regt’s frontage was between BERKELEY St. (about 100 yards S. of the SHRINE) and N. end of Northern group of craters. Coys. being distributed as follows:
On right 'A' Coy., supported by 'C'.
On left 'D' Coy., with 'B' Coy. in reserve.
Regt. HQ moved to Deep Shelters close behind the support trenches.
Bde. HQ moved to FANSHAWE Castle between PONT FIXE and WINDY CORNER"

The London Gazette, 23rd April 1918, reported John's transfer to the Rifle Brigade as: "Rifle Brig.: Capt. J. H. Boardman (Oxf. & Bucks. L.I.) to be actg. Maj. while 2nd in comd. of a Bn. 3 Mar. 1918". [N.B. John's Medal Index Card shows him attached to the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, but no evidence can be cound of that transfer - unless it was after he returned to France and before his attachment to The Rifle Brigade.]

The Rifle Brigade Battalion War Diary for the period from the 1st to 11th March locates it at Montescourt, from where it carried out a tour of trench duty. On the 12th it moved to Jussy.

"On the 21st it moved up to the railway embankment at Montescourt, two Companies being sent forward as an escort to guns in front of Clastres, and covered the retirement of the Division. Later in the day it moved to Petit Detroit. Next day it moved to Flave le Martel and on the 23rd the enemy attacked, and as the Battalion left flank was found to be in the air it retired to Cugny - a Neuville Road where it remained until 12 noon on the 24th, when it was relieved and marched to Guiscard, and later in the day to Crissoles and Sermaize.

The casualties during the period 21st to 24th were as follows:-
Killed: Captain Hon. A.A. Tennyson., Captain A.G. Martin missing, believed killed.
Wounded: Captain S.H. Russell, 2nd Lieutenants C.R. Swift, D. McIntosh, A.M. Penman, G.W. Baker, W.L. McKechnie, P.F. Bayley and G.A. Wallace.

Wounded and missing: Major J.M. Boardman (Oxs & Bucks L.I. attached); 2nd Lieutenants W. McGeoch, H. Chandler, and R. Wilson; other ranks 285."

Very shortly after he was wounded and captured, John was taken as a Prisoner of War to Germany where he subsequently died of his wounds on 25th April 1918. A telegram to his family in April 1918 read: "Regret Major J.H. Boardman, Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry attached Rifle Brigade reported wounded and missing no details known." His National Archive file gives a little detail of his death: "Died 25/4/18 from gunshot wound left thigh right thigh in Reserve Hospital II at Heilbronn. Buried Cemetery there Section 31, Row 7, Grave 10. The usual death report which we circulate appears to have been mislaid. Will you therefore notify Base on the above report."

The relevant German paperwork says much the same: "Heilbronn im Reservelazarette II, Harmoniegebäude"  [i.e."Heilbronn in the reserve cellar II, Harmony building") with the additional note: "an Herzschwäche nach Amputation eines Beines." [i.e. "of heart failure after amputation of a leg". The German paperwork also gives date and time of death as "April 25th, at 12.15a.m.", and the German doctor who provided the information as "Staff Surgeon Doctor Göschal. "

A message was sent to his aunt, Miss Mary Boardman at Buxton: "Died of Wounds (P. of W.) Geneva Red Cross P.M.477/9. 29.6.18, 25th April, 1918". In other words, the Red Cross notified them in June of John's death in April. (In a letter in the NA file, Mary Boardman wrote, "I may say he is like our own boy.... [he] has been (and is) with us for the last 10 years, and he was our ward until he came of age." His sister also got word from the Red Cross, at a hospital in England where she was working. John's Medal Index Card shows that she went on to work at the Anglo-American Hospital in Cairo, Egypt.

Sadly, there's also information in the file that Boardman had sent a postcard to his family to tell them he was a prisoner, so the news of his death would have been an extra shock. He had told them of plans to amputate his left leg. In July 1918 they wrote asking " do you think there is any mistake [illegible] this terrible news is not correct..." The MoD wrote back "I much regret to say that we find by experience that these reports from the Geneva Red Cross are as a rule correct... The Military Secretary desires me to convey to you the deep sympathy of the Secretary for War in your distress."

His aunt and the Military authorities exchanged a number of communications questioning John's reported death, but the response was always the same, stressing the reliability of all information coming out of the Geneva Red Cross. The Germans later sent his effects to England for his family: "Leather wallet; cheque book; note book; pencils; pen knife; tooth brush; tooth paste; 2 pence; 20 centimes; various letters."

John is buried at Niederzwehren, but clearly did not die there nor was initially buried there. This cemetery contains 1795 Commonwealth soldiers from the Great War buried or commemorated. In 1922 - 23 it was decided that the graves of Commonwealth servicemen who had died all over Germany should be brought together into four permanent cemeteries. Niederzwehren was one of those chosen and in the following four years, more than 1,500 graves were brought into the cemetery from 190 burial grounds in Baden, Bavaria, Hanover, Hesse and Saxony.

· I am grateful to Grant Tobin for supplying the photograph of John's grave
· 'The History of The Second Division, 1914-1918' by Everard Wyrall (Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., 1916) - Available online
· I am grateful to Robert (Great War Forum) for the photo of John from 'The Sphere' Magazine and also to Barry, also via the Forum for the
  information linking John's extended family of Buxton.
· ... also Jonathan via the Great War Forum for supplying information from John Boardman's NA file
· Correspondence with John's aunt in Buxton, postcards etc    
· Derbyshire Record Office, File D7737 

Link to CWGC Record
Lt-Col E J Walthew's Grave
2nd Ox & Bucks at Nonne Bosschen
2nd Ox & Bucks engage the Prussian Guard at Nonne Bosschen
Major John H Boardman
.... about the Battle of Nonne Bosschen
.... about the Battle of Festubert