25630 LCPL. J. RILEY. M.M., M.G.C.(I)
John Riley was born in the first quarter of 1894 in Bamber Bridge. His father was also John Riley (b. 1868 in Preston), a spinner by trade. His mother was Marcella Cavanagh (b. 1871 in Warrington). John and Marcella were married at Brownedge St Mary’s in November 1890 and John was their first (surviving) child. In all, John and Marcella had 11 children, 7 of whom survived infancy: John, Elizabeth (b. 1899), James (b. 1900), Marcella (b. 1902), Thomas (1905-1916), Christina (b. 1906) and George (b. 1909). About 1908, the family moved to Oswaldtwistle, eventually living at 27 Albert Street. John jnr was working as a cotton creeler.
John snr also served in the Army, more about him later, but first back to John jnr.
John Riley joined the army in 1914, at the outbreak of War. He initially enlisted with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, and was assigned service number 10800. But at some stage he was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), given a new service number 25630 and posted to 41st Battalion. He landed in France on 10 August 1915. 41st MGC joined 14th (Light) Division on 15 February 1916, at Winnezeele, so we can assume that this is the point at which John was transferred. In the reorganisation of machinegun companies in March 1918, 41st MGC moved to 14th Battalion.
In 1916, 14th Division fought on the Somme (at Delville Wood and Flers-Courcelette), and in 1917 they were engaged in the pursuit to the Hindenburg Line, then the Battle of Arras (First and Third Battles of the Scarpe) and in the Third Battle of Ypres at Langemark and the First and Second Battles of Passchendaele. John was awarded the Military Medal for bravery (probably at Langemark 16-18 August), the announcement being made officially in the London Gazette, on 11 December 1917.
Early in 1918, John was promoted to Lance Corporal. During the German Spring Offensive, 14th Division were heavily engaged in the opening phase and they suffered very severe losses in March – as many as 6,000 casualties, killed, wounded and missing. In March 1918, 41MGC were in the area of Bihucourt/Favreuil/Beugnâtre/ Bapaume when the Germans launched the Offensive. On 22/23 March, they were defending the line at Beugny/Vaulx-Vraucourt/Mory. On 24 March, they covered the infantry withdrawal through Frémicourt and then withdrew themselves. On 26 March, they were then forced into a headlong retreat to Bucquoy, Gommecourt and finally Bienvillers where the German attack finally ran out of steam. John Riley was killed in the opening phase of this action on 22 March 1918, he was 23 years old.
Rank: Lance Corporal
Service No: 25630
Date of Death: 22 March 1918
Regiment/Service: Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), 41st Bn
Award: Military Medal
Cemetery/memorial reference: Bay 10.
Cemetery/Memorial: ARRAS MEMORIAL
Additional Information: Son of the late John and Marcella Riley.
The rest of the Riley family also has an intriguing, and sad, story to tell.
John Riley snr initially enlisted in the Army on 16 August 1887. He then served 14 years in the Territorials, with 3Bn Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He is not listed in the 1901 Census as living with his family so he was possibly serving in the Boer War. When War broke out John was 47 years old and too old to enlist but he declared his age as 42yrs and 7mths and enlisted in the army in September 1914. He enlisted at Blackburn and was assigned service number 29010. When he first signed up he was posted to Bedfordshire Regiment, but after suffering a bout of bronchitis he was discharged as physically unfit for war service, however, he re-enlisted in April 1915 and was initially attached to 3Bn LNLANR, and on 9 August 1915 he was posted to 1st Garrison Battalion, Cheshire Regiment. He was then posted to Gibraltar, where he served from 18 August 1915 to 11 December 1917. Gibraltar was relatively peripheral to the action in Europe – Spain was neutral during the War and the Mediterranean was not a focal point of fighting as it would be in WW2, nevertheless it was an important base for re-supply and re-fitting of naval vessels. John was discharged as no longer physically fit for war service on 25 February 1918. He was considered to have 100% disablement but this was not considered attributable to war service. When he was discharged he had two dependent children – Christina and George. His son Thomas and wife Marcella both died of tuberculosis in 1916 while John was serving in Gibraltar. The pension for his children was sent to John’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth (married name Cross) who acted as their guardian and was living at 70 School Lane, Bamber Bridge. John died in 1920. He is not recorded as having died in war service, so does not qualify to be listed on any War Memorial.