20786 Serjeant John Joseph Richardson DCM, 6th Battalion, the Machine Gun Corps died of wounds 7 July 1918 and is buried at Nine Elms British Cemetery, Poperinge, Belgium[1].  He was 28 years old and is commemorated on Evenwood War Memorial.

Family Details

John Joseph was born in 1890[2] at Lynesack to John Joseph and Sarah Richardson. There were at least 5 children all born at Lynesack:

  • Sarah Annie bc.1884
  • Robert James bc.1886
  • John Joseph born 1890
  • Sophia bc 1894
  • Elizabeth bc.1892

In 1901, 42 year old John Joseph and 39 year old Sarah Richardson lived at Quarry Lane, Butterknowle where he worked as a colliery engine man.  15 year old Robert worked as a coal miner (putter). [3]

By 1918 Sarah had died and John Joseph (senior) lived at 3 Gordon Gill, Ramshaw.[4]

Military Details

John Joseph Richardson enlisted at Barnard Castle and served with the East Yorkshire Regiment being allocated the regimental number 14018.  The service record of Serjeant J.J. Richardson has not been researched and the date he joined the Machine Gun Corps is unknown.  His regimental number was 20786.[5]

Machine Gun Companies and Battalions – some details.[6]

In November 1914, a machine gun training school opened in France and in England – at Belton Park and Harrowby Camps, Grantham, Lincolnshire.

Until the winter of 1917-18 British machine guns were deployed in companies with a company attached to each infantry brigade but from about the beginning of March 1918 machine guns were re-organised into battalions, one to each infantry division.  Prior to January 1918, the machine gun companies were attached to infantry brigades (or squadrons attached to cavalry brigades) and were armed with 16 Vickers guns (cavalry MG Squadrons 12 guns).  They took the brigade number i.e. 19 MG Company of the 19th Brigade.  There were 288 Infantry MG Companies (Coys.) and 26 Cavalry MG Squadrons.  A Major became the Brigade MGO, a Captain commanded the Company of 16 guns.  A  MG Company consisted of an HQ, 4 Sections of 4 guns and a Transport Section.  Sections were divided into 2 sub-sections each commanded by a subaltern, the senior being the Section Commander.  Sub-sections each had a Section Sergeant and a Section Corporal.  Transport Sections of mule drawn limbers for guns/ammunition were larger than an infantry battalion’s transport.  Cavalry MG Squadrons had 6 no. 2 gun sections.

Re-organisation in 1918 resulted in MG Companies (Coys.) in a Division forming a Battalion which took the Divisional Number i.e. 1st 2nd 3rd & 216th MG Coys 1st Division became “A”, “B”, “C” &”D” Companies, 1st Battalion MGC.  The chain of command was as follows:

  • Commanding Officer – Lieutenant Colonel
  • Second in Command – Major
  • Adjutant – Captain (the CO’s Staff Officer, orderly room, legal/clerical matters)
  • Signal Officer – Subaltern (an officer below the rank of Captain) thus Lieutenant or Second Lieutenant (communications between Div./Bn/Coys.  Signallers trained in the use of telephone, Morse code and semaphore.)
  • Transport Officer – Subaltern (Transport – horses/mules, limbers/carts drivers/grooms, shoe-smiths etc)
  • Quartermaster – Subaltern (Battalion supply department, collect /deliver rations, fodder/water, clothing etc. store-man, armourer, cobbler, carpenter and cook
  • Liaison Officer – French/Belgian bilingual officer or NCO
  • Medical Officer – Doctor with Regimental Aid Post with First Aid trained stretcher bearers
  • Regimental Sgt. Major – Regimental Police, discipline, ammo supply, POW, regimental tradition.

An infantry battalion had 4 companies, divided into 4 platoons each commanded by a subaltern.  Platoons were divided into 4 Sections each under a Corporal.  There were 2 sub-sections and 2 gun teams consisting of 6 men to each team.  A Gun Team had a crew of 6 men and they had specific tasks.  No. 1 a Lance Corporal was in charge, fired the gun and carried the tripod.  No. 2 fed the 250 round belts into the gun and carried the gun.  No. 3 supplied ammo to the gun, another observed, there was a range finder.

The Vickers MG Mark 1 was used by the Army from 1912 and earned a reputation for reliability and effectiveness and remained the support machine gun of the British Army until 1968.  The gun is water cooled.  It is capable of firing 10,000 rounds per hour then the barrel has to be changed – a trained team could do this in 2 minutes.  Ammunition came in wooden boxes ready belted or in cardboard boxes of 100 rounds which then had to be hand fed into the canvas belts.  A mechanical loading devise was available.

From 1904 – 1914, the War Office ordered 10 guns per annum.  By 1918, Vickers produced 39,473.  Each weapon cost the tax-payer £80.

The German Spring Offensive 1918 [7]

 The 6th Machine Gun Battalion was formed 1 March 1918, Divisional Troops associated with the 6th Division.  During the German Spring Offensive, the 6th Division took part in the following actions:

  • The Battle of St. Quentin: 21 – 23 March
  • The Battle of Bailleul: 13 – 15 April (71st Brigade)
  • The Second Battle of Kemmel: 25 – 26 April (71st Brigade)
  • The Battle of the Scherpenberg: 29 April

An account of the 6th Division[8]

The 6th Division did not take part in any major battle (defined as such) until The Advance in Flanders 18 August to 6 September 1918 but were involved around Ypres in several actions. Between 3 April and 24 August 1918 there were some 4,715 battle casualties in the Ypres sector which includes 750 at Neuve Eglise (71st Infantry Brigade) and 250 in the attack on Scottish and Ridge Woods. [9] The Franco-Belgian border was still an unpleasant place to serve.

27 June 1918:  the Division passed to the XIX Corps and relieved the 46th French Division (Chasseurs) in the Dickebusch sector.

“This was in a very unpleasant front, where the dominating position of the enemy on Kemmel Hill made movement, even in the rear lines, impossible by day and practically all work of which there was plenty, had to be done by night.”

The Diary at Appendix III provides details:

“July 6th – Enemy’s raid on Scottish Wood repulsed.”

The War Diary records as follows: [10]

“1 July 18:  Own artillery & aircraft active all day.  Enemy m.g.s active again all night.  Arrangements made to do harassing fire each night in conjunction with artillery & mortars.  Enemy bombimg planes passed over at intervals from 10.30

Casualties: 1 OR wounded2 July 18: Dickebush & Hallebast corner shelled intermittently during the morning & back areas received a lot of attention.  Enemy transport heard distinctly on Vierstratt.

Harrassing fire carried out by one m.g. during night

Casualties: 2 OR wounded

3 July 18: Targets engaged during night, 2/3rd Siege Farm, Beaver & Roads, Vierstraat, Parret Farm

Enemy m.g. less active.  Minewerfe on tracks at night – early morning

Casualities: Nil

4 July 18: Half of D Coy moved to Reserve Camp.  During the night of 4/5th a rearrangement of m.g. positions was carried out, these being now two coys in front & support line (A& B) one coy in support (A) & D Coy in reserve.

Harrassing fire carried out.

Enemy m.g. fire considerably less

No. of rounds fired 10,000

Casualties: 1 OR wounded

5 July 18: Remaining half of D Coy moved to Reserve Camp.  Enemy artillery more active.  Rounds 8000

Casualties; 1 OR wounded

6 July 18:  33 Div. & 41 Div. took portion of our front on left & right flank respectively.  Harassing fire continued. 

13,500 rounds expended. 

Enemy artillery active on Dichebush Line & vicinity.  Enemy t.m. [trench mortar] active on Scottish Wood

Casualties 1 OR wounded.

7 July 18:  Area N14 O0 50.60 to N15a 40.60 harassed by m.g. fire during the night.  Enemy artillery active on H27a & e and H27 a 30.30.

Rounds fired by m.g.s 8000.

Ration tracks shelled by enemy from 9 to 9.30pm

Casualties: 1 OR killed, 1 OR wounded

8 July 18: Targets engaged (list specified) Rounds 7000

Enemy transport heard on road near N.5d.

Casualties: Nil “  

7 July 1918:  Serjeant John Joseph Richardson died of wounds. [11] It is likely that he was one of the 6 Other Ranks recorded in the war diary as “wounded” during the first week of July 1918.

Serjeant J. J. Richardson was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).  The DCM was instituted in 1854 and was awarded to enlisted men for acts of gallantry.[12]  The following citation appeared in the London Gazette: [13]

“20786 Sjt. J. Richardson MGC (Evenwood)

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in action in charge of a machine gun. 

Three times he drove back a fierce hostile attack with very heavy casualties and when his officer was killed, he continued to fire his gun until practically surrounded.  Finally, his gun being knocked out, for five hours he assisted to take up ammunition to a battery across exposed ground, until ordered to retire.  His gallantry and determination was quite exceptional.”

Serjeant J.J. Richardson was awarded the DCM, the British War and Victory medals.[14]

News of his Death

14 November 1918: Auckland & County Chronicle:

“Butterknowle: Sergt. John J. Richardson M.G.C. of Quarry Lane, Butterknowle, died from wounds 7th July 1918.”

Burial [15]

 Serjeant J.J. Richardson is buried at grave reference XI.F.18 Nine Elms British Cemetery near Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.  The cemetery was first used from September to December 1917 for burials from the 3rd Australian and 44th Casualty Clearing Stations, which had been moved to Poperinge in preparation for the 1917 Battle of Ypres.  The cemetery was used again by fighting units between March and October 1918, the period of the German offensive in Flanders.  The cemetery contains 1,556 Commonwealth burials of the First World War and 37 German war graves from the period.


Serjeant J.J. Richardson is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial.

The Machine Gun Corps Memorial, unveiled by the Duke of Connaught in 1925 at Hyde Park Corner, London close to the Royal Artillery Memorial, has as its main feature a bronze figure of David by Derwent Wood.  The naked David is holding the slain Goliath’s huge sword and an inscription on the stone base of the memorial is a brutally frank quotation from 1 Samuel, chapter 18, verse 7:


To either side of the figure and at a slightly lower level is a bronze machine gun covered by 2 laurel wreaths and on the back of the central pedestal is inscribed a short history of the Corps.   Its Colonel-in-Chief was King George V.  It was formed 14 October 1915 and disbanded finally 15 July 1922.  The Corps served in France, Flanders, Russia, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Salonica, India, Afghanistan and East Africa.  The total number who served was some 11,500 officers and 159,000 other ranks of whom 1,120 officers and 12,671 other ranks were killed and 2,881 officers and 45,377 other ranks were wounded, missing or prisoners of war.  Officers and men of the Corps earned 7 VC’s, 292 Military Crosses, 779 Distinguished Conduct Medals, 3653 Military Medals and 156 Bars, 276 Meritorious Service Medals and many foreign decorations.  170,500 officers and men served in the MGC.  62,049 were casualties; killed, wounded or missing.  The unofficial nickname of the MGC was “The Suicide Club (or Squad).”  [16]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales 1837-1915 Birth Index Vol.10a p.259 Auckland 1890 Q2

[3] 1901 census Note: 1911 census record has not been traced

[4] CWGC

[5] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[6] Jim Parker

[7] http://www.warpath/

[8] “A Short History of the Sixth Division” edited by Major General T.O. Marden

[9] Appendix 1 of the Divisional History

[10] 6th Battalion MGC War Diary 1 – 8 July 1918

[11] CWGC


[13] London Gazette 3 September 1918

[14] London Gazette & Medal Roll & medal photograph courtesy of  Mrs. E. Wallace, Eggleston

[15] CWGC

[16] “A Century of Remembrance” D. Boorman