Private John Spedding, 51921, Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment), 9th Battalion
John Spedding was born in Chickenley on the 16 November 1893, the eldest child of thirteen born to Thomas Henry Spedding and his wife, Hannah (nee Hepworth), who married at Earlsheaton St Peter’s Church on the 4th May 1889. The couple had lost three of their children before April 1911. The Speddings lived at Earlsheaton in the early years of their marriage with Thomas Henry working at local farms. They moved first to Chickenley and then to Ossett in the late 1890s and by 1901 Thomas Henry Spedding was the cowman at Park Mills Farm on Park Mill Lane, Ossett. John Spedding was only 7 and at school.
In 1911 Thomas Henry Spedding, wife Hannah and nine of their children were living in a five-roomed home at Low Laithes, Ossett where Thomas Henry was a cowman, probably at Park Mill Farm. John Spedding was now aged 16 and working as a printer’s apprentice. By 1919, John's father, Thomas Henry Spedding had moved to Acute Terrace, Flanshaw.
John Spedding was 22 years and one month old and working as a painter when he enlisted in November 1915. He was posted to the army reserve and mobilised in January 1916. He joined the Highland Light Infantry with the service number 37761, and was subsequently transferred to The Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment) with the service number 51921. John was 5’ 4” tall and weighed 105 lbs when examined at Pontefract on the 28th January 1916. He embarked for France on 6th March 1917, but on 15th December 1917, he was admitted to Leeds War Hospital probably wounded, gassed or suffering an illness whilst serving in France. He left hospital in late January 1918 and, after a period of convalescence at home, he returned to France on the 31st March 1918. He was killed an action on the 1st August 1918.
One of John’s brothers was Clifford Spedding, who was born in 1902, and would only be 16 at the end of the war in 1918. This Clifford is not to be confused with Clifford Spedding of the 13th Hussars who was aged 29 when he died in India in April 1918.
John Spedding was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals.
The 1/9th (Highlanders) Battalion of the Royal Scots Regiment was formed in August 1914 at 89 East Claremont Street, Edinburgh. Part of Lothian Brigade, Scottish Coast Defences. On the 26th February 1915 they landed at Le Havre and transferred to 81st Brigade, 27th Division. On the 24th November 1915 the battalion transferred to 14th Brigade, 5th Division and on the 25th January 1916 they transferred to Third Army Troops. On the 1st March 1916, the battalion transferred to 154th Brigade in the 51st (Highland) Division. On the 6th February 1918 they transferred to 183rd Brigade, 61st (South Midland) Division and finally transferred once again on the 1st June 1918 to the 46th Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division. They were in action in Battle of the Soissonnais and the Ourcq taking part in the attack on Buzancy, and The Final Advance in Artois.
John Spedding was killed during the the Battle of the Soissonais and of the Ourcq, which took place between the 23rd July - 2nd August 1918. The 9th Battalion of the Royal Scots joined the 15th Division on the 1st June 1918 and were a part of 46 Brigade. During July, the Division came under French control and was involved in the capture of Buzancy.
On the 1st August 1918, 15 (Scottish) Division attacked in the neighbourhood of the Bois d'Hartennes, having been involved in about a week of continuous combat. The plan was as follows: On the right 46th Brigade was to attack two wooded hills on the west of the Soissons road, advance as far as Hartennes-et-Taux and capture it. As they went they were to form a defensive flank running south-east from the road.
On the left, 45th Brigade was to capture the Soissons road. 44th Brigade was to than advance through the 46th and capture the northern end of the Bois d'Hartennes, linking up with a French attack from the south. 46 Brigade had the 9th Royal Scots on the right with the 7th/8th King's Own Scottish Borderers on the left with 10th Cameronians in support. The support units were able to move up unseen and remained hidden in fields of standing corn.
'H' hour was at 9 a.m., after a successful French attack, they came under very heavy artillery and machine gun fire, in particular machine-gun fire from derelict tanks in front of 46th Brigade. Artillery was called in to support, but without success, and the 9th Royal Scots on the right flank advanced only about 250 yards before they were stopped. 'C' and 'D' companies of 9th Royal Scots, which led their attack suffered heavily. The regimental history says that 80 per cent of the battalion were casualties and Private John Spedding was one of those who was killed in action on the 1st August 1918. His body was never recovered.
Although the 15th Division attack was halted, it tied up so much German manpower that French attacks were successful and forced the Germans to move back. The division which was to have been relieved now went on the advance on the 2nd August 1918 and by day's end were about 2 to 3 miles further east than their start point. The 15th Division was finally relieved on the 3/4th August.
The "Ossett Observer" 1 had this obituary for John Spedding:
"Low Laithes Soldier Killed - In an engagement with the enemy on August 1st, Private John Spedding (24), Royal Scots Guards, whose home was at Low Laithes, Ossett, is officially reported to have been killed. Previous to joining the army in December 1915, he was employed as a painter and decorator by his uncle, Mr. Fisher, of Chickenley. On one occasion whilst at the front, he and a few others were cut off from their regiment, and experienced a most trying time. For five days they had to shelter in a shell hole between the lines, being without food and sometimes up to the waist in water. He was at the point of death when found, and was invalided home, suffering from exposure and shell-shock. He returned to France in February. A brother is a prisoner of war in Germany."
Above: The wrecked French village of Hartennes-et-Taux, near Soissons, where Private John Spedding was killed in action on the 1st August 1918.
Private John Spedding, aged 24 years, died on the 1st August 1918. He is remembered on the Soissons Memorial,2 Aisne, France. The town of Soissons stands on the left bank of the River Aisne, approximately 100 kilometres north-east of Paris.
The original British Expeditionary Force crossed the Aisne in August 1914 a few kilometres west of Soissons, and re-crossed it in September a few kilometres east. For the next three and a half years, this part of the front was held by French forces and the city remained within the range of German artillery.
At the end of April 1918, five divisions of Commonwealth forces (IX Corps) were posted to the French 6th Army in this sector to rest and refit following the German offensives on the Somme and Lys. Here, at the end of May, they found themselves facing the overwhelming German attack which, despite fierce opposition, pushed the Allies back across the Aisne to the Marne. Having suffered 15,000 fatal casualties, IX Corps was withdrawn from this front in early July, but was replaced by XXII Corps, who took part in the Allied counter attack that had driven back the Germans by early August and recovered the lost ground.
The Soissons Memorial commemorates almost 4,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom forces who died during the Battles of the Aisne and the Marne in 1918 and who have no known grave.
1. "Ossett Observer", 21st September 1918