GUY John 1881 – 1917

JOHN GUY 1881 – 1917

5871 Private John Guy, 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, died 17 May 1917, aged 36.  He is buried in Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines, France [1] and commemorated on the Witton Park war memorials.

Family Details

John Guy was born 1881,[2] the son of John and Isabella Mary Guy.  There were 6 children, all born at Bishop Auckland:

  • John born 1881
  • Charles born 1883
  • Harry born 1885
  • Herbert born 1888
  • William born 1891 (Willie) 
  • Isabella born 1898, known as “Ella”.

In 1891, the family lived at Southgate Street, Bishop Auckland where 36 years old John was employed as a, “bookseller”.[3] In 1901, the family lived at George Street, Bishop Auckland, John senior still worked as a bookseller. Three sons were in employment, 19 years old John junior as an, “Asphalt maker”, 18 years old Charles and 16 years old Harry were both employed as, “Iron moulders apprentices”.[4]  By 1911, the family lived at Fore Bondgate, Bishop Auckland and John senior was then employed as a, “General labourer” for the Rural District Council, 29 years old John junior was an unemployed labourer and  20 years old William worked as a, “Labourer” at an engineering works.  Of the other children only 13 years old Isabella was at home.  Charles and Harry were working away, as “Iron founders” at a blast furnace in Scunthorpe.[5]  Perhaps 29 years old John, being unemployed, considered that his prospects offered little, therefore, he joined the Army.

The shop at Witton Park
Isabella Mary Guy and daughter Isabella

        The Guy Brothers ?

In January 1912, Charles and Harry emigrated to New Brunswick, Canada.  William left for Quebec 7 months later.  In March 1913, Herbert, aged 24, left Glasgow aboard the Allen Line vessel SS Ionian for the 9-day passage to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. [6]

By 1913, the Guy family lived at 22 Queen Street, Witton Park and it is believed that John senior worked at the slag works.  By 1914, they lived at Main Street, Witton Park where mother, Isabella was a shop keeper, being a confectioner.[7]

Military Details

The service details for Private J. Guy have not been traced.  It is believed that John Guy enlisted about 1910/11.[8] He died whilst serving with the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, his service number was 5871.  The Roll for Individuals entitled to the Victory and British War medals record that he also served with the 2nd Battalion.[9]  It is likely that he initially served with the 2nd battalion and was transferred to the 1st battalion later. 

King’s Own Scottish Borderers Cap Badge

The 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers (2/KOSB) was in Dublin, Ireland when war commenced in August 1914.  It was immediately sent to France and landed at Le Havre, 15 August 1914.  The battalion came under the orders of the 13th Brigade, 5th Division.[10] It remained in the 13th Brigade throughout the war.  Other infantry battalions and units were:[11]

  • 2nd Bn., Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) left January 1916
  • 1st Bn., Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)
  • 2nd Bn., King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry left December 1915
  • 1/9 Bn., London Regiment, various periods
  • 14th Bn., Royal Warwickshire Regiment, December 1915 – October 1918
  • 15th Bn., Royal Warwickshire Regiment, January 1916 – October 1918
  • 16 Bn., Royal Warwickshire Regiment, joined October 1918
  • 13th Brigade Machine Gun Company December 1915 – April 1918
  • 13th Trench Mortar Battery, formed April 1916
Private John Guy

The battalion, 2/KOSB, was in action for all the important battles of 1914 but Private J. Guy was not overseas until 1 November 1914[12] which coincided with the First Battle of Ypres.  The phase known as the Battle of Nonne Bosschen commenced 11 November. 

In the subsequent years, the Division saw action at the following battles and engagements:


  • 17 – 22 April: The Capture of Hill 60 (under II Corps)

The Second Battle of Ypres, phases:

  • 22 – 23 April: The Battle of Grafenstafel
  • 24 April – 4 May: The Battle of St. Julien


The Battle of the Somme, phases:

  • 20 – 25 July: Attacks on High Wood
  • 3 – 6 September: The Battle of Guillemont
  • 15 – 22 September: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette
  • 25 – 28 September: The Battle of Morval

The Battle of the Somme: 1 July – 18 November 1916: an overview [13]

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.  This action 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 1st July 1916 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 title, “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: 3 – 6 September
  • Ginchy: 9 September
  • 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 Guillemont, 3 – 6 September

High Wood, Ginchy, Guillemont and Falfemont Farm were the starting line objectives for the next big offensive and it was intended that all of these positions would be taken.  Rain severely delayed preparations for the attack.  It was finally set for 3 September.[14]  The 5th Division was in the front line and the 13th Brigade was in an assembly trench at 0850 hours.  The 5th Division faced the dreaded Falfemont Farm.  2/KOSB attacked the right on Point 48 and the left on Falfemont Farm.  The French 127th Regiment, in the Ravine, was pinned down by machine gun fire.  The KOSB failed, with nearly 300 casualties.  At noon, 13 Brigade made another attack using the 14th and 15th Royal Warwicks. [15] When the attack went in the results were patchy, except at Guillemont where the concentrated attack of the 20th Division overcame German resistance.

Later research records that between 3 and 6 September, 2/KOSB lost 2 officers and 108 Other Ranks, killed in action or died of wounds.[16]  Private J. Guy was listed as, “wounded” on the Casualty List issued by the War Office from 5 September 1916. [17]  Details of his wound and treatment are unknown due to lack of research.

The Battle of the Somme continued its depressing course until November.  It is doubtful whether Private J. Guy played any further part.  By October 1916, the 5th Division left the Somme and moved to the quieter line near Festubert. 

Without further details, the date when Private J. Guy joined 1/KOSB from 2/KOSB is speculative.  Following his recovery from wounds, he may have re-joined 2/KOSB or he may have been transferred to the 1/KOSB.  The major actions of both battalions are summarised below.  What is known, is that Private J. Guy had another period in hospital between 22 and 31 March 1917.  He spent 10 days in isolation hospital at a convalescence depot suffering from diarrhoea.[18]

The 5th Division, 13th Brigade and 2/KOSB continued its wars as follows:


The Battle of Arras in phases

  • 9 – 14 April: The Battle of Vimy
  • 23 April: The Attack on La Coulotte
  • 3 – 4 May: The Third Battle of the Scarpe

The 1/KOSB came under the orders of the 87th Brigade, 29th Division together with:[19]

  • 2nd Bn., the South Wales Borderers
  • 1st Bn., The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
  • 1st Bn., The Border Regiment
  • 87th Machine Gun Company, between February 1916 and February 1918
  • 87th Trench Mortar Battery from April 1916

In 1917, the 29th Division saw action as follows:[20]

The Battle of Arras

  • 9 – 14 April: The First Battle of the Scarpe
  • 23 – 24 April: The Second Battle of the Scarpe
  • 3 – 4 May: The Third Battle of the Scarpe

It is evident that both the 5th and 29th Divisions were involved at the Third Battle of the Scarpe, 3 and 4 May but it remains unknown whether Private J. Guy saw action there.  A letter dated 1 May 1917 stated that his address was 21st Infantry Depot (K.O.S.B. Lines) Section 17, A.S.C.[21] This infers that he was attached to the 21st Division, possibly in the Army Service Corps.[22]  There were no KOSB battalions in 21 Division.  Regardless of this source of information, since it is known that Private J. Guy was killed in action whilst serving with 1/KOSB.  It must be assumed that he was posted to this unit later in the month.  Private J. Guy was killed in action on 17 May 1917. [23]  Later research records that between 10 and 20 May, 1/KOSB, lost 1 officers and 15 ORs, killed in action or died of wounds.[24]  Only one man was killed on the 17th, Private J. Guy.  In the absence of specific information, [25] it is to be assumed that since their deaths were outside the period of a major engagement, these men died as a result of the usual violence of warfare, sniper fire or shelling.    

Medals and Awards

Private John Guy was awarded the 1914 Star, the Victory and British war medals.[26]

Burial [27]

5871 Private John Guy, 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, is buried at grave reference IV.D.29, Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines.  His body was originally buried at Maison Rouge and it was exhumed and reburied when graves were concentrated.[28]

Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines


Mrs. Isabella Guy, Main Street, Witton Park was named as John Guy’s next of kin and received his pension and John Guy, his father received his effects.[29]


Private John Guy was a pre-war regular soldier who probably served with the 2nd Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers (2/KOSB) and saw action from November 1914 until September 1916 when he was wounded.  It is likely that upon recovery, he joined 1/KOSB and again he saw action at the Battle of Arras including the Third Battle of the Scarpe, 3 – 4 May 1917.  He was killed in action 2 weeks later 17 May 1917, aged 36. He is buried in Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines, France.  


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.198 Auckland 1881 Q2

[3] 1891 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Passenger Lists leaving UK 1890-1960 Transcription

[7] Attestation Paper dated 18 September 1914

[8] Forces War Record Index No. of Admission 4242 dated March 1917 – 7 years’ service but the 1911 census records him living with the family at Fore Bondgate, Bishop Auckland.

[9] The Roll for Individuals entitled to the Victory and British War medals dated 17 February 1920



[12] Medal Roll card index

[13] Various sources including “The Somme” Hart and “The First World War” Keegan

[14] Hart p.334

[15] “The Somme: The Day by Day Account” 1993 Chris McCarthy p.88 & 89

[16] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great WAR

[17] Forces War Records DT06091916

[18] Forces War Records Index No.4242 and confirmed by a personal Field Service Postcard to his mother



[21] Letter to Elle Guy dated 1 May 1917 on Y.M.C.A. note paper


[23] Army Form B.104-82 dated 5 June 1917

[24] ODGW & SDGW

[25] 1/KOSB War Diary has not been examined

[26] Medal Roll card index &

[27] CWGC

[28] CWGC Burial Return dated 18 August 1919

[29] Pension Claimant card index and UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.542512