ETHERINGTON John Joseph 1880 – 1916


16904 Private John Joseph Etherington, 10th Battalion, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) was killed in action 15 September 1916, aged 35.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial[1] and the Escomb War Memorial.

Family Details

John Joseph Etherington was born 1880 [2] at Escomb, the son of John and Elizabeth Etherington.  There were at least 8 children, all born at Escomb:[3]

  • Annie Jane bc.1876
  • Mary Elizabeth bc.1879
  • John Joseph born 1880
  • Harrison bc.1884
  • Thomas bc.1886
  • Margaret bc. 1890
  • Edith bc.1894
  • Emily bc.1896

In 1881, John and Elizabeth lived at New Row, Escomb where 29 years old John worked as a, “mason at the colliery”.[4]  In 1891, the family lived at Escomb village, John worked as a mason.[5]  By 1901, the family lived at “Bridge”, Escomb, 48 years old John still worked as a colliery mason.  His oldest son, 20 years old John, was employed as a colliery mason’s labourer.  In 1906, John Etherington married Jane Donald [6] and they had 5 children, all born at Escomb:[7]

  • Gladys May born 15 September 1906
  • Freda born 30 July 1908
  • Hilda May born 13 July 1910
  • Winifred born 15 September 1912
  • Maud born 20 December 1914

In 1911, John and Jane lived at Escomb with their 3 children, Gladys, Freda and Hilda.  John worked as a coal miner (hewer).[8] By 1916, Jane and her children lived at Wesley Terrace, Escomb.[9]

Military Details

The service details of Private J.J. Etherington have not been traced.  John Joseph Etherington enlisted at Bishop Auckland and joined the Cameronians, 10th battalion and was given the service number 16904.[10] He was a volunteer, answering Kitchener’s call to arms.  The 10th (Service) Battalion, the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) was formed at Hamilton in September 1914 as part of K2 (Kitchener’s New Army) and came under the orders of 46th Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division.[11]  By September 1916, the 46th Brigade consisted of:[12]

  • 7/8th Bn., the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, merged in May 1916
  • 10th Bn., the Cameronians
  • 12th Bn., the Highland Light Infantry
  • 10/11th Bn., the Highland Light Infantry joined May 1916
  • 46th Machine Gun Company joined February 1916
  • 46th Trench Mortar Battery
Private J.J. Etherington

The 15th (Scottish) Division landed in France between 7 and 13 July,  Private J.J. Etherington entered France 11 July 1915.[13]  The Division served with distinction on the Western Front.  Up until the death of Private J.J. Etherington, the Division saw action in September 1915 at The Battle of Loos and in 1916, 27 – 29 April, German gas attacks near Hulluch and 11 May, the defence of “The Kink Position” and specific engagements at the Battle of the Somme namely:

  • 15 July – 3 September: The Battle of Pozieres
  • 15 – 22 September: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette in which the Division captured Martinpuich

The Battle of the Somme 1 July – 18 November 1916

The Battle of the Somme was viewed as a breakthrough battle, as a means of getting through the formidable German trench lines and into a war of movement and decision.  Political considerations and the demands of the French High Command influenced the timing of the battle.  They demanded British diversionary action to occupy the German Army to relieve the hard pressed French troops at Verdun, to the south.  General Sir Douglas Haig, appointed Commander-in-Chief in December 1915, was responsible for the overall conduct of British Army operations in France and Belgium.  The battle was to be the British Army’s first major offensive on the Western Front in 1916 and it was entrusted to General Rawlinson’s Fourth Army to deliver the resounding victory.  The British Army included thousands of citizen volunteers, keen to take part in what was expected to be a great victory.  The main line of assault ran nearly 14 miles from Maricourt in the south to Serre to the north, with a diversionary attack at Gommecourt 2 miles further to the north.  The first objective was to establish a new advanced line on the Montauban to Pozieres Ridge.   

The first day, 1 July, was preceded by a week-long artillery bombardment of the German positions.  Just prior to zero-hour, the storm of British shells increased and merged with huge mine explosions to herald the infantry attack.  At 7.30am on a clear midsummer’s morning the British Infantry emerged from their trenches and advanced in extended lines at a slow steady pace over the grassy expanse of a No Man’s Land.  They were met with a hail of machine gun fire and rifle fire from the surviving German defenders.  Accurate German artillery barrages smashed into the infantry in No Man’s Land and the crowded assembly trenches – the British suffered enormous casualties:

  • Officers killed 993
  • Other Ranks killed: 18,247
  • Total Killed: 19,240
  • Total casualties (killed, wounded and missing): 57,470

In popular imagination, the Battle of the Somme has become a byword for military disaster.  In the calamitous opening 24 hours the British Army suffered its highest number of casualties in a single day.  The loss of great numbers of men from the same towns and villages had a profound impact on those at home. The first day was an abject failure and the following weeks and months of conflict assumed the nature of wearing-down warfare, a war of attrition, by the end of which both the attackers and defenders were totally exhausted.     

The Battle of the Somme can be broken down into 12 offensive operations:

  • Albert: 1 – 13 July
  • Bazantin Ridge: 14 – 17 July
  • Delville Wood: 15 July – 13 September
  • Pozieres Ridge: 15 July – 3 September
  • Guillemont: 23 July – 3 September
  • Ginchy: 9 September
  • Flers-Courcelette: 15 – 22 September
  • Morval: 25 – 28 September
  • Thiepval: 25 – 28 September
  • Le Transloy: 1 – 18 October
  • Ancre Heights: 1 October – 11 November
  • Ancre: 13 – 18 November

Adverse weather conditions i.e. the autumn rains and early winter sleet and snow turned the battlefield into morass of mud.  Such intolerable physical conditions helped to bring to an end Allied offensive operations after four and a half months of slaughter.  The fighting brought no significant breakthrough.  Territorial gain was a strip of land approximately 20 miles wide by 6 miles deep, at enormous cost. British and Commonwealth forces were calculated to have 419,654 casualties (dead, wounded and missing) of which some 131,000 were dead.  French casualties amounted to 204,253.  German casualties were estimated between 450,000 to 600,000. In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette

The battle was a major Allied thrust with the French Army, Canadian Corps, the British Fourth Army involving 10 British Divisions and the Reserve Army attacking in what was believed to be the last chance of winning the war in 1916. [14]  This narrative will only deal with the 15th (Scottish) Division and in particular 10/Cameronians (Scottish Rifles).

The III Corps (15th, 50th and 47th Divisions) were tasked with 2 roles:

  1. Protecting the flanks of the main 2 thrusts – towards Flers and the Canadian assault on Courcelette.
  2. Gaining the German lines along the reverse slopes of the ridge running between the villages of Martinpuich and Flers.

On the left, the 15th Division succeeded in capturing Martinpuich. [15] The 45th Brigade was on the right and the 46th on the left – 10/Cameronians, 7 & 8 Kings’ Own Scottish Borderers and 10/11th Highland Light Infantry led the attack with 12/HLI, 6 & 7 Royal Scots and 9/York & Lancs (attached from 23rd Division) in support.  At 7am, they achieved their objective, Factory Lane.  10/11th HLI linked with the Canadians.  At 9.20am, the artillery lifted from Martinpuich and both brigades sent in strong patrols.  Just after 10am 10/Cameronians dug in along the objective.  The ruins of the village were occupied by 46th Brigade.[16]

10/Cameronians in action [17]

“We moved into position on the night of the 14th/15th and at 6.20 in the morning the Battalion advanced to the attack.  The barrage was wonderful.  It was not the sound of a storm of hail but the exhilarating music of shell following shell more rapidly than the ear could assimilate, whistling in high and low tunes overhead like a constant sheet of stinging spray hurling at the Boche lines.  At 6.35 the first objective had been taken and some men were even in Martinpuich.  At 6.45 the barrage rose and crossed into Martinpuich…Not only had we advanced successfully but we had got into Martinpuich…and the signalling section carried out the plans so well laid by Johnnie Walker, who had been wounded the night before, that we maintained uninterruptedly a line into Martinpuich until we were relieved…The Hun neither ran nor was killed.  He had had enough…We took over 300 prisoners…The clearing of Martinpuich was mainly in the hands of Lieut. Roberts and CSM Baxenden and very effectively they did it.  By 10.30 A.M. the whole of the village was in our hands and free from the enemy.  We had advanced about 600 yards beyond our objective…we entrenched and by 10 o’clock all fire had ceased for the Hun did not know where we were and was unable to open with his artillery…At 3.30 P.M. we moved forward to secure our flank along the left, incorporating the whole of Martinpuich and taking up positions immediately on its outskirts…We were in final positions at 3.45 P.M.  About midday the shelling had started again…On the night of the 16th we were relieved and moved by to Contalmaison.”

The War Diary states that: [18]

“At 4pm we moved into PUSH ALLEY on the left of MARTINPUICH and forward of GUNPIT TRENCH.  We met with no opposition and consolidated our position here, constructing another strong post in the centre of the village.  Enemy shelling continued and there was a little hostile sniping.  At 10.30pm we were relieved by 9th Yorks & Lancs and returned to our old front line.  The enemy moral was bad.  We had extremely few casualties until we entered Martinpuich, thereafter we suffered heavily from shell fire.” 

Casualties given were Officers: 1 killed, 9 wounded; 3 officers attached to the 46th Trench Mortar Battery wounded, 2 of whom died of wounds; Other Ranks: 6 NCOs and 41 Other Ranks killed; 250 wounded. [19]     

Later research records that 10/Cameronians lost 1 Officer and 34 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds 15 and 16 September 1916.[20] This number is somewhat fewer than the figures given by the War Diary and battalion history.

Medals and Awards

Private J.J. Etherington was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British War medals.[21]

Medal Roll card index

Effects and Pension

Private J.J. Etherington’s widow Jane received his pension[22] and effects.[23]

Commemoration [24]

Private J.J. Etherington has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval 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 Thiepval Memorial



16904 Private John Joseph Etherington, 10th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) was killed in action 15 September 1916, aged 35.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.  John was born in 1881, lived and worked at Escomb and surrounding area.  He married Jane in 1906.  He was a Kitchener volunteer seeing action at the Battle of Loos in September 1915 and the Battle of the Somme in September 1916.  He was probably killed by shell fire.  He left a widow and 5 children.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10 p.170 Auckland 1880 Q4

[3] 1881, 1891, 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1881 census

[5] 1891 census

[6] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.319 Auckland 1906 Q1

[7] Dependant’s Pension card index

[8] 1911 census

[9] Dependant’s Pension card index

[10] Soldiers Died in the Great War



[13] Medal Roll card index

[14] “The Somme” 2005 Peter Hart p.377

[15] Hart p.383

[16] “The Somme – The Day by Day Account” 1995 Chris McCarthy p.105-107

[17] “The Tenth Battalion, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) A Record & a Memorial 1914-1918” 1923 Herbert J. Gunn p.55-58

[18] 10th Battalion Cameronians War Diary September 1916 National Archives reference WO-95-1954-2-1

[19] Gunn p.58

[20] ODGW & SDGW

[21] Medal Roll card index and Rolls dated 26 August 1919 & 28 April 1920

[22] Dependant’s Pension card index

[23] UK Army Register of Soldier’s Effects 1901-1929 Record No.408736

[24] CWGC