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John William Atkinson

Private John William Atkinson, 242421, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own), 2nd/6th Battalion

John William Atkinson was born on the 15th September 1890 and was baptised at Ossett Holy Trinity Church on the 5th October 1890. He was the eldest son of Thomas Atkinson, innkeeper of Bank Street, and Emma (nee Cudworth ) who married at Ossett Holy Trinity on the 9th January 1887. Emma was the daughter of Gamwell Cudworth, innkeeper of the Weavers on Storrs Hill Road.

In 1891, Thomas Atkinson, of Farsley, Leeds and his wife, Ossett-born Emma were living and working at the Cock and Bottle Hotel on Bank Street Ossett. By 1901, Thomas had remarried, having lost his first wife, Emma, aged 28 years, in 1895. He was now living with his second wife Mary (nee Race) at the Commercial Inn, Flushdyke where he was the Innkeeper. Thomas and Mary, who married at Ossett Holy Trinity on the 26th January 1896, had a child, George Percival Atkinson from their marriage. John William was also living with them. Mary Race was the daughter of John Race, a publican, of Wakefield Road, Ossett.

Thomas Atkinson vacated the tenancy of the Commercial Inn at Ossett in 1902 and died later that year in the North Bierley (Bradford) area in June 1902. His 10 year-old son George Percival Atkinson died there in the winter of 1907. In 1911, widow Mary Atkinson was living with her niece at East Bierley and it seems probable that the whole family, including John William Atkinson moved there around 1902.

John William Atkinson married Ann Gambles in Bradford in March 1912, and they had four children over the following four years. Samuel was born in September 1912, Emma and Thomas, named after John William’s parents, were born in 1914 and 1915 respectively and Clara was born in 1916. At the time of John William’s death in 1917 his wife, Ann’s address was 41A Lowtown, Pudsey.

The 2/6th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment was formed at Bradford on the 12th September 1914. On the 1st March 1915, they came under orders of 185th Brigade, 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division and moved on to Matlock and then in May to Thoresby Park, going on in October 1915 to Retford, November to Newcastle, January 1916 to Salisbury Plain and June 1916 to Somerleyton near Lowestoft. In October 1916, they moved to Bedford and finally landed at Le Havre in January 1917.

Private John William Atkinson's army service record has not survived but other records suggest that he was living in Ossett at the time that he enlisted at Leeds. He was posthumously awarded the British and Victory Medals but not the 1914/15 Star indicating that he did not serve overseas until after 31st December 1915.1 He is not remembered on any Ossett Memorial or Roll of Honour, which may be because he moved to the Bradford area with his parents in the early 1900s. He subsequently married and had children there about the time of his enlistment.

Private John W. Atkinson died on the 11th April 1917 at the age of 26 years during the first attack on Bullecourt as part of the Arras offensive. The first Battle of Bullecourt took place in the snow on the 10/11th April 1917 and involved the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division and the 4th Division of the 1st Anzac Corps, ending in a disastrous failure. The plan was to attack either side of the village of Bullecourt and push the German’s out of their fortified positions and into the reserve trenches.

Tanks intended for the assault were delayed by bad weather and the attack was postponed for 24 hours. However the order to delay did not reach all units in time and two battalions of the West Yorkshire regiment attacked and were driven back with significant losses. This aborted attack alerted the German’s in the area to the impending assault and they were better prepared for the attack to follow. Badly planned and hastily mounted, the Germans quickly overcame the attack. This was largely due to the failure of tanks to support them, due to their breaking down and vulnerability to attack. Also, a limited artillery barrage left much of the barbed wire in front of the German trenches uncut.

Bullecourt April 1917

Above: By 8 April 1917 the two front lines were as shown above. The red marks the forward system of the Hindenburg Line, snaking around the "front "of Bullecourt. The 2nd/6th West Yorkshire Regiment fought to the west of the village of Bullecourt.

Private John Atkinson is remembered on Bay 4 of the Arras Memorial,2 Pas de Calais, France. The Arras Memorial is in the Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery, which is in the Boulevard du General de Gaulle in the western part of the town of Arras. The cemetery is near the Citadel, approximately 2 kms due west of the railway station.

The French handed over Arras to Commonwealth forces in the spring of 1916 and the system of tunnels upon which the town is built were used and developed in preparation for the major offensive planned for April 1917.

The Arras Memorial commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918, the eve of the Advance to Victory, and have no known grave. The most conspicuous events of this period were the Arras offensive of April-May 1917, and the German attack in the spring of 1918. Canadian and Australian servicemen killed in these operations are commemorated by memorials at Vimy and Villers-Bretonneux. A separate memorial remembers those killed in the Battle of Cambrai in 1917.

References:

1. 2014 biography and Roll of Honour because the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and/or the U.K. Soldiers who Died in the Great War 1914-1918 listing records him as born or residing in Ossett.

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site