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John R. Hanson

John R. HansonLance-Corporal John R. Hanson, 242568, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 1st/5th Battalion

John Richard Hanson was born in Hartshead in 1897 the only son of Fred Taylor Hanson and Sarah (nee Horsfall), who married in 1895. The couple had six children from their marriage but only three, John Richard and two girls survived.

In 1901, Fred, a carrier, and his his wife and family were living at Roberttown, Liversedge, but by 1911 the Hanson family had moved to live at 17, Hilda Street, Ossett. At that time, John Richard, aged 13, was a football maker living with his parents and siblings.

At the time of his death, John Hanson's parents, Fred Taylor Hanson and Sarah Hanson, were living at 14, George St., Healey Rd., Ossett, Yorks.

The 1st/5th Battalion of KOYLI was formed in August 1914 at Doncaster and was part of the 3rd West Riding Brigade, West Riding Division. They moved on mobilisation to Doncaster and then in November 1914 to Gainsborough. The battalion moved again to York in February 1915 for training and on the 12th April 1915, they landed at Boulogne. On the 15th May 1915 the formation became 148th Brigade, 49th (West Riding) Division. On the 2nd February 1918, they transferred to 187th Brigade in 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division and absorbed the 2/5th Battalion and were renamed the 5th Battalion.

In 1917, 49th Division took part in the Third Battle of Ypres (commonly known as Passchendaele). After Haig had passed the command of the battle from General Gough to General Plumer, and Lance-Corporal John Hanson's 148th Brigade in the 49th Division took part in II Anzac Corps' attack at Poelcapelle on the 9th October 1917.1

"The plan indicated the men were to advance 150 yards behind a creeping barrage. The direction of the advance (across the Stroombeek and up Belle Vue Spur) was up a gentle incline but the Germans had a very strong position above them. Well-sited machine guns at Wolf Farm and on Belle Vue Spur itself gave them the ability to sweep the entire battlefield with machine gun fire.

The artillery were intended to fire 50% shrapnel and 50% high explosive with smoke flares to disguise the exact direction of attack. The men had been given SOS flares the call down artillery barrages on German positions which had been missed. In the attack 1/8 West Yorks, 1/7 West Yorks and 1/5 West Yorks of 146 Brigade advanced on the left of 1/5 Yorks & Lancs and 1/4 Yorks & Lancs of 148 Brigade. There had been no aerial spotting since the 5th October due to the weather. The men had found the advance to their own lines very difficult - it took them the best part of 11 hours to walk the two and a half miles from where they had been billeted.

At 0520 the attack started. The artillery barrage was feeble as the guns slipped back into the mud after firing and had to be re-sited. The short falls (which became increasingly more common) caused casualties even before the German machine guns opened up. The men crossed the Stroombeek with difficulty, some of the troops had brought up impromptu 'bridges ' to get across. The machine guns at Belle Vue Spur prevented the right hand attack from keeping up. The troops of 146 Brigade were able to take Yetta Houses just in front of their first objective. The gaps between the attacking battalions opened up and there was a very high casualty rate amongst officers and NCOs especially in 148 Brigade.

When the German artillery opened up, the reserve battalions were unable to advance. Most of the first objective was taken but advance on the second objective was patchy. Eventually reserves were brought up to consolidate the first objective and to 'dig in' in front of the German wire. The casualties of the division in this attack were 2585 of which 654 were fatal."

The "Ossett Observer" 2 carried this obituary for Lance-Corporal John Hanson:

"Ossett Territorial Killed in Action - Lance-Corporal John R. Hanson (20), of the trench mortar battery, K.O.Y.L.I., son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred T. Hanson, of 14, George-street, off Healey-road, Ossett, is reported to have lost his life in the war. Writing on the 13th inst., a comrade of his says 'It is with the deepest regret I have to announce the death of your son John. He was a great pal of mine, and I thought it was the very I could do to let you know. He was very well respected by all the boys in the battery, and was a staunch and true pal. I am glad to say he suffered no pain, as he died an instantaneous death, after being hit by a piece of shrapnel on the temple. He had just been made a lance-corporal and was likely to have made one of our best and most respected NCOs. Before the war, Lance-Corporal Hanson was a member of the local Territorials, being at the Whitby camp when war was declared. On account of his youth, however, he did not go into the fighting area until the end of last year, embarking from this country last Christmas Day. He used to work as a football stitcher at Messrs. Woodcock and Hutchinson, Healey, Ossett."

Poelcapelle Ocober 1917

Above: Poelcapelle in bad weather conditions, early October 1917

John Hanson’s service record has not survived. He was formerly KOYLI service no. 1980 and he did not serve overseas before the 31st December 1915. In addition to his British and Victory Medals, his medal card is stamped "I.F.WAR KOYLI TFM." It does not record his promotion to Lance Corporal.

Lance-Corporal John R. Hanson died on the 9th October 1917, aged 20 years, and is remembered on Panel 108 to 111 at the Tyne Cot Memorial, 3 Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. The Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing forms the north-eastern boundary of Tyne Cot Cemetery, which is located 9 kilometres north east of Ieper town centre, on the Tynecotstraat, a road leading from the Zonnebeekseweg (N332).

The names of those from United Kingdom units are inscribed on Panels arranged by Regiment under their respective Ranks. The Tyne Cot Memorial is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient. Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war.

The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the Allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side and the violence of the attack forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence.

There was little more significant activity on this front until 1917, when in the Third Battle of Ypres an offensive was mounted by Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further south. The initial attempt in June to dislodge the Germans from the Messines Ridge was a complete success, but the main assault north-eastward, which began at the end of July, quickly became a dogged struggle against determined opposition and the rapidly deteriorating weather. The campaign finally came to a close in November with the capture of Passchendaele.

The German offensive of March 1918 met with some initial success, but was eventually checked and repulsed in a combined effort by the Allies in September. The battles of the Ypres Salient claimed many lives on both sides and it quickly became clear that the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites.

The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields. It commemorates those of all Commonwealth nations, except New Zealand, who died in the Salient, in the case of United Kingdom casualties before 16 August 1917 (with some exceptions). Those United Kingdom and New Zealand servicemen who died after that date are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot, a site which marks the furthest point reached by Commonwealth forces in Belgium until nearly the end of the war. Other New Zealand casualties are commemorated on memorials at Buttes New British Cemetery and Messines Ridge British Cemetery.

The Tyne Cot Memorial now bears the names of almost 35,000 officers and men whose graves are not known. The memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker with sculpture by Joseph Armitage and F.V. Blundstone, was unveiled by Sir Gilbert Dyett on 20 June 1927. The memorial forms the north-eastern boundary of Tyne Cot Cemetery, which was established around a captured German blockhouse or pill-box used as an advanced dressing station. The original battlefield cemetery of 343 graves was greatly enlarged after the Armistice when remains were brought in from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck, and from a few small burial grounds.

It is now the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world in terms of burials. At the suggestion of King George V, who visited the cemetery in 1922, the Cross of Sacrifice was placed on the original large pill-box. There are three other pill-boxes in the cemetery.

There are now 11,956 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in Tyne Cot Cemetery, 8,369 of these are unidentified.

References:

1. From Disaster to Triumph: the 49th (West Riding) Division in the Great War

2. "Ossett Observer", 20th October 1917

3. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site