Private John William HEATHCOTE

King's Own
(Royal Lancaster Regiment)
2nd Battalion
Service Number:
Date of Death:
20 February 1915 - Killed in Action
Cemetery / Memorial:
Memorial Reference:
Panel 12

Personal History:
John was born at his grandfather, John's, farm in Earl Sterndale, Buxton in September 1890, the oldest son of Joseph (Labourer) and Mary Ann (née Hambleton) Heathcote. (1891 Census RG 12/2774). By 1901 (Census RG 13/3264) he had three younger siblings, Joseph, Annie and George Henry, and were living at "Farm House", Earl Sterndale, and John father was now employed as a "Farmer and Limestone Quarryman".
By 1911 (Census RG 14/34998) John had enlisted in the 2nd Battalion Kings Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), and was stationed at Fort Regent, Jersey, Channel Islands. It seems that at home things had taken a downturn as the family had left the farm and were at 159 Earl Sterndale. Father, Joseph, was now working in a Quarry; youngest brother, George Henry, had died in 1903, but four more brothers had been born, Arthur, Edward, Albert and Harold. (1911 Census RG 14/21196).

Sadly, the Census return reveals that in addition to their 7 surviving children Joseph and Mary Ann had had 5 more children who had died in infancy. (Records show that 19 'Heathcote' children died in the area during the period of their marriage!)

Military History:
John enlisted into the King's Own Regiment at Macclesfield, Cheshire. When the War began the 2nd Battalion were in Lebong, India. It returned to England on 22nd December 1914 and joined 83rd Brigade in 28th Division. The 28th was formed at Hursley, Pitt Hill and Magdalen hill Camp near Winchester in December 1914 - January 1915 and was rushed as a much-needed reinforcement to France.

Within three weeks John was posted to France, sailing from Southampton, landing at Le Havre on the 16th January 1915, and then moved to concentrate in the area between Bailleul and Hazebrouck, arriving on the 17th and on the 19th on to Clapbanck.. His Service papers have not survived but John's Medal Index Card indicates that he was posted to France with his Battalion on the 15th January 1915, which points to the fact that he was a regular serving soldier at the outbreak of War, although some posts were filled by Territorials.

On the 1st February the men moved in buses to Vlamertinghe then to Vijverhoek on the 2nd. The next day they went forward in buses to Ypres and the same afternoon took over trenches near Oosthoek. They were relieved by 3rd Middlesex Regiment on the 6th February and moved into the Cavalry Barracks at Ypres, then in afternoon to Ouderdom. The casualties in this first engagement were 7 killed and 46 wounded. The War Diary also notes that some 140 men were sent to hospital suffering from frostbite. All ranks "... had their feet and legs rubbed with whale oil before going into the trenches."

The Battalion moved back to Ypres on the 11th and in evening went into support positions at the Tuilerie near Zillebeke Farm. During two attacks to regain a lost trench near Zwarteleen they had 4 Officers killed and 52 others killed or wounded. The Battalion History also records that on the 17th February it took part in a Bayonet Charge at Zwartelen and on the 21st February repulsed an attack near Ypres.

On the 19th they were holding the trenches at Zwarteleen. This transcript of the War Diary starts on the evening of the 19th:

"19th 10.00 p.m. - 20th 4.00 a.m.

The Battalion was relieved partly by E. Yorks Regt. and partly by K.O.Y.L.I. with the exception of ‘B’ who remained in the trenches. The remainder of the battalion moved as follows. H.Q.s A, D, & ½ C Coys. to BLAUPORT FARM in the Right Section of the Brigade Line, in support; ½ C Coy. to ‘dug-outs’ behind the right fire trenches. The relief was not completed until 4.00 a.m. on the 20th.

20th. 2.30 p.m. Request received from O.C. Right Section to hold one Company in readiness. ‘B’ Coy. was detailed and in response to a message from O.C. Right Section desiring them to move up in support, left BLAUPORT FARM at 3.15 P.M. with instructions to report to O.C. Right Section. The Company together with the ½ of ‘C’ Coy in the ‘Dugouts’ was apparently placed under orders of the G.O.C. 84th Brigade and employed in an attack intended to retake a trench, which had been taken by the enemy from that Brigade.

8.00 p.m. A N.C.O. arrived from BLAUPORT FARM and reported that all the Officers of the Company and a half had been shot down, that a few of the rank & file had reached & entered the trench which was the object of attack and found it empty except for dead Germans and had been led out of the trench by an Officer of another regiment.

9.00 p.m. The Battalion was relieved at BLAUPORT FARM by the 2nd Btn. K.O.Y.L.I. a unit of the relieving 13th Bde. and marched to YPRES. The remains of the Company and a Half which had been sent to assist the 84th Bde. (‘D’ & ½ ‘C’ Coys.) also returned to YPRES, and so too the Company ‘B’ which had been left in the fire trenches of the Left Section.

In the attack under orders of the G.O.C. 84th Bde. in which D and ½ C Coys. took part the Battalion suffered the following losses:

Killed. Officers nil (as far as can be ascertained). Other Ranks 6.
Wounded. Officers Capt. H. A. Kaulbach, Capt. R. A. Ray. Other Ranks 42.
Wounded and Missing. 2nd Lieut. R. M. F. Ross.
Missing. Other Ranks 7."

The War Diary also records that an NCO came back later to Headquarters and reported that all Officers had been shot down. A few men had reached the objective, but the trench was found to be empty except for German dead. Recorded Casualties were 3 Officers wounded, 55 other ranks killed, wounded or missing.

The CWGC database lists a total of 1 Officer (2nd Lt. Ralph Morison FORBES-ROSS - listed as wounded and missing above) and 24 other ranks of the 2nd Battalion who died on the same day that John was killed in action. Like John none have a known grave and all are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.

· 'The Buxton Advertiser' - 30 October 1915
· I am grateful to Andy (Northern Soul) via The Great War Forum,
  for the extract from the War Diary
· "British Battalions on the Western Front, January - June 1915" -
  Ray Westlake [ISBN 0850527686] p.17

Commemorated on:
John is also Commemorated on his parents' grave in
   St Michael and All Angels Churchyard, Earl Sterndale
Link to CWGC Record
The Menin Gate Memorial
Pt John Heathcote
Pt John Heathcote's name on the Memorial
Earl Sterndale Name panel
John's name on the Earl Sterndale Memorial
John's name on his mother's grave in Earl Sterndale Churchyard