24/784 Lance Corporal John William Arkless 2/5th Battalion, the Lincolnshire Regiment was killed in action 11 April 1917 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France.[1] He was 19 years old and is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.

Family Details:

John William was born 1898 at Evenwood, the son of Benjamin and Hannah Arkless.  There were 6 children:

  • Henry bc. 1884 at Killerby
  • Margaret bc.1887 at Evenwood
  • Thomas bc.1889 at Evenwood
  • George bc.1891 at Evenwood
  • Mabel bc. 1895 at Evenwood
  • John William bc.1898 at Evenwood

In 1901 the family lived at 8 Bowes Hill and 41 year old Benjamin worked as a coal miner (shifter).[2]  By 1911, Benjamin worked as a colliery labourer, Thomas was a coal miner, George a labourer, Mabel appears not to work and 13 year old John William was still at school.[3]  Benjamin died in 1916 aged 62 and was buried on 20 December 1916.  [4]

John William’s older brother Thomas married Edith Mary Woodhouse 10 May 1913.  Their first child Emily Greta was baptised on 24 May 1914.[5]  A son was born in 1917 and named John William (baptised 3 June 1917) no doubt in memory of Lance Corporal John William Arkless.[6]

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The Arkless Family outside Bowes Hill Cottage, Ramshaw.

Back Row: Thomas, Mabel, Irvin, George, Henry, Margaret:

Front: Benjamin, John William and Hannah.

Military Details:

John William Arkless enlisted at Bishop Auckland[7] and joined the Lincolnshire Regiment.  The 2/5th Battalion was formed at Grimsby in February 1915 and in July 1915 it came under the orders of the 177th Brigade of the 59th Division. [8]  From June 1915, units of the 59th (2nd North Midland) Division supplied replacement drafts for the 1st line 46th Division.  The original 177th Brigade (2nd Lincoln and Leicester) comprised the following units:

  • 2/4th Battalion, the Lincolnshire Regiment
  • 2/5th Battalion, the Lincolns
  • 2/4th Battalion, the Leicester Regiment
  • 2/5th Battalion, the Leicesters

Other units joined and left throughout the war.  It was only between November 1915 and March 1916 that proper equipment was received and initially the Division had no currently-serving officers of the Regular Army and only 12 former officers.  The Division was stationed in Ireland and involved in actions against the Republican Uprising of Easter 1916 and returned to England in January 1917.  In February 1917 it landed in France and spent the remainder of the war on the Western Front being involved in the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. [9]

The service details of Lance Corporal J.W. Arkless have not been researched and the date he enlisted is unknown.  The Medal Roll indicates that he was awarded the Victory and British Medals which infers that he did not see active service abroad prior to 31 December 1915.  It is not known whether he served in Ireland or when he entered France.


Lance Corporal J.W. ARKLESS

with his sister Mabel and mother Hannah

 March – April 1917: The German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line [10]

The devastating nature of the British offensive of the Battle of the Somme caused a serious re-assessment by the German High Command.  British offensive operations continued through the winter, notably actions on the Ancre.  The German army created a formidable new line some miles to the rear and they executed a withdrawal to it in March 1917.  The German withdrawal was pursued and the British encountered a veritable fortress – known to the Allies as the Hindenburg Line and the Germans, the Seigfried Line.

The following passage describes the actions of the retreating German troops:[11]

“The villages we passed through on our way had the look of vast lunatic asylums.  Whole companies were set to knocking down walls or sitting on rooftops uprooting the tiles.  Trees were cut down, windows smashed; wherever you looked, clouds of smoke and dust rose from vast piles of debris.  We saw men dashing about wearing suits and dresses left behind by the inhabitants with top hats on their heads.  With destructive cunning they found the roof-trusses of houses, fixed ropes to them and with concerted shouts, pulled till they all came tumbling down.  Others were swinging pile-driving hammers and went around smashing everything that got in their way, from the flowerpots on the window sills to whole ornate conservatories.

As far back as the Siegfried Line, every village was reduced to rubble, every tree chopped down, every road undermined, every well poisoned, every basement blown up or booby trapped, every rail unscrewed, every telephone wire rolled up, everything burnable burnt; in a word, we were turning the country that our advancing opponents would occupy into a wasteland.

As I say, the scenes were reminiscent of a madhouse, and the effect of them was similar: half funny, half repellent. They were also, we could see right away, bad for the men’s morale and honour. Here, for the first time, I witnessed wanton destruction that I was later in life to see to excess; this is something that is unhealthily bound up with the economic thinking of our age, but it does more harm than good to the destroyer, and dishonours the soldier.

Among the surprises we’d prepared for our successors were some truly malicious inventions. Very fine wires, almost invisible, were stretched across the entrances of buildings and shelters, which set off explosive charges at the faintest touch. In some places, narrow ditches were dug across roads and shells hidden in them. A nail had been driven into the plank, only just above the shell-fuse. The space was measured so that marching troops could pass over the spot safely, but the moment the first lorry or field gun rumbled up, the board would give, and the nail would touch off the shell. Or there were spiteful time bombs that were buried in basements of undamaged buildings. They consisted of two sections, with a metal partition going down the middle. In one part was explosive, in the other acid. After these devil’s eggs had been primed and hidden, the acid slowly, over weeks, eroded the metal partition, and then set off the bomb.

One such device blew up the town hall of Bapaume just as the authorities had assembled to celebrate victory.”

It was within this environment that 2/5 Lincolns advanced before engaging the enemy in a more formal battle.

2/5 Lincolnshire Regiment: in action [12]

6 April 1917: The battalion was stationed at Roisel preparing for an attack on German positions.

9 April:  the battalion marched to Templeux and the battalion would take over new positions taken by the 4/Lincoln Regt. along the east side of Hargicourt to Malakoff Farm.  However the German trench was only 2 ft. deep and heavy enemy fire from a position known as the Quarry made it impossible to hold. A new position was established and this too was constantly shelled heavily during the night.

10 April:  at noon an attempt to bomb down the German trench to Malakoff Farm was frustrated by enemy machine gun fire from Cologne Farm and the Quarry.

At 6.00pm information was received that the 7/Worcesters to the left:

 “would advance its posts to the Sunken Cross Roads in F29b, which was strongly held by the enemy.”

Orders were received at the same time:

“to take any advantage of their advance and to push our posts forward, to bomb down the enemy trench from HARIGOURT to MALAKOFF FARM and to capture the QUARRY and L.5d and COLOGNE FARM en route.”

On the ground, it was decided that no attempt would be made on Malakoff Farm until both the Quarry and Cologne Farm were in British hands.  Following liaison with 7/Worcesters arrangements were made with 295th Brigade Royal Field Artillery for artillery support.  At 11.00pm, information was received that the Germans were reported to be returning to the Hindenburg Line.

11 April:  At 3.00am patrols reported that the Quarry and ground in the vicinity of Cologne Farm was clear of the enemy.  The artillery support was cancelled and orders for the attack were issued.  The War Diary continues:


3.00 am. A heavy engagement ensued as these places were found to be strongly held.  An account of the battle is found in Appendix XIII.

4.30 am. The attacking troops returned to the original line held. 


Officer killed. Capt. T. Bryant

Officers wounded. Lieut. J.S. Simons

………………………….…Lieut. J.H. Shrewsbury

Officer wounded & captured. Lieut. R.W. Alston

Officer wounded & missing. Lieut. J.W. Walker

Other ranks Killed, wounded and missing 254

8.30pm. Inter company reliefs. A Coy by D Coy.  C Coy by B Coy.  A & C Coys. Suffered most casualties in the attack and were formed into a composite company in reserve.

9.00pm.  Situation unchanged.  Our lines were continuously shelled by the enemy by Field Artillery and also by 15cm. Howitzers.  We suffered a few casualties.  1 man, 5 wounded.  Attempts to establish a post at L.5.c.5.1. were met by heavy m.g. and rifle fire.  A German post at L.5.a.9.5. was found to be strongly wired and held.”

Lance Corporal John William Arkless was killed in action 11 April 1917.  He has no known grave.

Losses on 11 April were heavy and it is evident that the report received at 11.00pm on 10 April 1917 informing “that the Germans were reported to be retiring on the Hindenburg Line” was clearly wrong and the decision to cancel the artillery support unfortunate.

The battle continued into the 12 April with the German snipers causing great problems.  Lieut. F. Wright was killed and 4 Other Ranks were wounded while on patrol.  2/4 Leicesters were to the right and 7/Worcesters to the left.  By 8.00am on 13 April, sniping posts were established in Hargicourt and enemy activity was “considerably reduced.”  At 8.00am. 14 April, the situation was unchanged, the British lines and HQ were shelled intermittently.  By 8.30pm. A & C Companies were relieved by B Company.  D Company being stronger arranged its own relief within the company.  By 16 April, the situation was still unchanged with the Quarry and Cologne Farm being held by the Germans.  The Germans were clearly putting up stout resistance as they organised their retreat to the Hindenburg Line.

Later research records that that 3 Officers and 60 Other Ranks serving with the 5/Lincs were killed in action on 11 April 1917.[13]

Reports of “Missing”

A local newspaper reported as follows:[14]

“Mrs. Arkless, Gordon Bank, has received intimation that her son Pte. John Wm. Arkless is missing.  Pte. Arkless was a son of the late Mr. Ben Arkless and before joining the colours was employed in the grocery department of Evenwood branch of the Bishop Auckland Co-operative Stores.”

Notification of his Death

Over a year later, August 1918 the Evenwood Church Magazine reported as follows: [15]

“Then there are Ptes. Arkless, D.L.I and W.R. Storey, (nephew of our good friend and sidesman Mr. J. Brass) both of them once reported missing, now officially notified as dead.  There again there was uncertainty, long endured by loving anxious hearts at home, ending at last in the news which has all along been dreaded.  If anybody has suffered and endured for their country, the parents of these boys have and we ought all of us to do our very best to comfort and cheer them in so far as it is possible to us to do so.  I did not know Pte. Arkless quite so well as I knew the other two and I grieve that I did not for it would have been an honour to have known him well but in various ways I saw a good deal of 2nd Lieut. Applegarth and I well remember preparing and presenting William Robertson Storey for confirmation.”


 Lance Corporal J.W. Arkless has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.  The Memorial bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the UK and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave.  Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.  The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 31 July 1932.  Lance Corporal John William Arkless is commemorated at Pier and Face 1C. [16]

Lance Corporal J.W. Arkless is also commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.

Commemorative Plaque

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For some reason the website isn’t letting me download JWA’s memorial scroll


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] 1901 census

[3] 1911 census

[4] Evenwood Church Magazine

[5] Evenwood Church Magazine

[6] Evenwood Church Magazine

[7] Soldiers Died in the Great War




[11] “In Stahlgewittern” 1920 Ernst Junger: “Storm of Steel” 2003 Translated by Michael Hofmann  p127& 128

[12] 2/5 Lincoln Regt. War Diary

[13] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[14] Auckland & County Chronicle 17 May 1917

[15] Evenwood Church Magazine August 1918

[16] CWGC


ARKLESS J.W. Thiepval The Bell Family

Lance Corporal J.W. ARKLESS is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.
The photo shows his descendants, representatives of the Bell and Ninham families visiting Thiepval.  Front row, second right is Hilda Bell [nee Cox].  She was Mabel Cox’s [nee Arkless] daughter, hence would have been John William’s niece. Next to her is Michael Ninham, her nephew, another member of the Cox family and then Alan Bell at the back.  Left to right we have, Kath, Shirley, Tricia, Hilda, Bev (Alan’s wife) Michael and Glenys.


Above: A detail from the Evenwood Parish Magazine, July 1917. Thomas, John William’s older brother, and his wife Edith named their son John William in his honour.

Below: Thomas Arkless with his son, John William in later life The family emigrated to Doncaster, Yorkshire in search of work in the pits.