RACE John William 1893 – 1916


23842 Lance Corporal John William Race, 2nd Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment was killed in action 23 October 1916, aged 23.  He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France[1] and the Witton Park war memorials.

Family Details

John William Race was born 27 November 1893,[2] at Lynesack, the son of Thomas William and Elizabeth Louisa Race.  There were at least 9 children:[3]

  • John William born 1893 at Lynesack
  • Maurice bc1896 at Lynesack
  • Robert Thomas bc.1897 at Lynesack
  • Mary Elizabeth bc.1899 at Woodland
  • Lily bc.1903 at Barnard Castle
  • Florence bc.1905 at Hamsterley
  • Joseph bc.1906 at Hamsterley
  • Gladys bc.1909 at Hamsterley
  • Dorothy bc1910 at Hamsterely

In 1891, the family lived at Woodland and Thomas worked as a coke drawer.[4]  In 1911, the family lived at Black Hill Top, Hamsterley and Thomas worked as a coke drawer and 17 years old John William as a coal miner, putter.[5]  Later the family lived at Queen Street, Witton Park[6] and Copley Lane, Butterknowle.[7]

Service Details

The service details of Private, later Lance Corporal, John W. Race have not been researched.  He enlisted at Darlington into the Durham Light Infantry being given the service number 19844.[8]  It is recorded that he served with the Army Cyclists Corps and was given the service number 7179 and later was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, the East Lancashire Regiment, being given the new number 23842.[9]  The date when Private John W. Race was transferred from the DLI to the ACC and finally to 2/East Lancs. has not been traced. 

The Army Cyclist Corps were formed for the Territorial Force in 1908 and an example is the 1/1st Northern Cyclist Battalion which had its HQ at the Drill Hall, Sandyford Road, Newcastle.  The battalion mobilised in early August 1914 to Morpeth and by 1916, moved to Alnwick where it remained as part of the Tyne Garrison.[10]  In addition, Army Orders 477 & 488, of 1914 authorised the formation of the Army Cyclist Corps.   One cyclist company was formed for each infantry division and all divisions raised by Kitchener’s instruction included a cyclist company.[11]

25 August 1915, Private John W. Race entered France with the Army Cyclist Corps.[12]  After which he joined the 2nd Battalion, the East Lancashire Regiment.  This battalion was a regular army unit which entered France in November 1914, originally under the command of 24th Brigade, 8th Division.  After a period with the 23rd Division, the brigade returned to the 8th Division in October 1915.[13]  By 1916, the 24th Brigade consisted of the following units:

  • 1st Bn., the Worcester Regiment
  • 2nd Bn., the East Lancashire Regiment
  • 1st Bn., the Sherwood Foresters
  • 2nd Bn., the Northampton Regiment
  • 24th Machine Gun Company, 19 January 1916 to 20 January 1918
  • 24th Trench Mortar Battery formed January 1916

The Divisional Mounted Troops included the 8th Divisional Cyclist Company, Army Cyclist Corps.[14] The primary roles of the cyclists were reconnaissance and communications (message taking).  They were armed as infantry and could provide mobile firepower if required.

The 8th Division was involved at the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Albert between 1 and 13 July 1916. 

The Battle of the Somme 1 July – 18 November 1916 [15]

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, 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.

Lance Corporal John W. Race was killed in action, 23 October 1916 therefore he died not in a major engagement but in the closing stages of the battle as the killing continued before the winter break.  Another attack was planned for 23 October with the 8th Division to the north of the 4th Division, attacking towards Beaulencourt and Le Transloy.  The 24th Brigade was on the left, the 25th in the centre and the 23rd to the left moving forward.  It was a dull and misty morning and because of the weather conditions zero hour was changed from 11.30am to 2.30pm.  24 Brigade leading with 2nd Bn., East Lancs. took most of Mild Trench and consolidated the flanks where they repulsed bombing attacks. [16]  

Between 23 and 25 October 1916, 2/East Lancs. lost 3 officers and 58 other ranks, killed in action or died of wounds.[17] 

Awards and Medals

Lance Corporal John W. Race was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victor and British War medals.[18]

Medal Roll Card Index

Effects and Pension

John’s father and mother received his effects and pension.[19]  They lived at 15 Queen Street, Witton Park[20] and later at 11 Copley Lane, Butterknowle, County Durham.[21]


23842 Lance Corporal John William Race, 2nd Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment was killed in action 23 October 1916, aged 23.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme


John William Race was born at Lynesack, the son of Thomas and Elizabeth and the family lived at Woodland, Hamsterley and Queen Street, Witton Park.  John worked as a coal miner.  He enlisted at Darlington, date unknown and he joined the Durham Light Infantry before being transferred to the Army Cyclist Corps.  He entered France in August 1915.  He was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, the East Lancashire Regiment and was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme, 23 October 1916, aged 23.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, France.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

[2] England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975 film no.1894229 and England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.249 Auckland 1893 Q4

[3] 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Dependant’s Pension card index

[7] CWGC

[8] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[9] Medal Roll card index

[10] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/cyclist-battalions-of-the-territorial-force-infantry/

[11] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/army-cyclist-corps/

[12] Medal Roll card index and Roll dated 28 May 1920

[13] https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/east-lancashire-regiment/

[14] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/8th-division/

[15] Various sources – “The Somme” P. Hart,  www.cwgc/somme, “The Somme: the day by day account” C. McCarthy

[16] “The Somme Day by Day Account” 1993 Chris McCarthy p.141 Note: The War Diary for the 2 East Lancs. has not been traced.

[17] Officers Died in the Great War (ODGW) & SDGW

[18] Medal Roll card index and Rolls dated 20 February 1920 and 28 May 1920.

[19] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.373830

[20] Dependant’s Pension card index

[21] CWGC