Private 15/1281, 15th Battalion The West Yorkshire Regiment, 1st Leeds Pals

John Hayhurst was born in Leeds in September 1895, the only son of John James Hayhurst and Sarah Elizabeth Pickles, who had married in Burnley in September 1890. He had an older sister Doris, born in March 1892, also in Leeds.
John James was a watchmaker and jeweller and John followed his father’s trade, working at Pearce’s Jewellers, Leeds.
On the 1901 Census the family was living at 51 Otley Road, and on the 1911 Census at Denton Avenue, Gledhow. When John enlisted in the Leeds Pals, probably around the middle of 1915, they were living at Winterthur, The Drive, Roundhay. (1901 & 1911 Censuses)

John’s Service record has not survived, but he would have gone with the Pals to Egypt in December 1915, returning to France in March 1916, where he was killed two months later, on the night of 22nd May 1916, while part of a working party. This is almost certainly the action described by Laurie Milner.

Extract from Milner, p.127:
Monday 22 May was cooler. It rained a little towards the end of the afternoon, and in the evening work on the barbed wire was resumed. Men from Nos.7 and 8 Platoons went out with a covering party and these too were attacked by a German patrol, whose members threw bombs which killed Corporal Herbert Rhodes and Lance-Corporal Harry Watson, and fatally wounded Privates Ernest Walker and John Sheard. The Germans then tried to get into the Pals’ trenches, but were driven off by Lieutenant Valentine Oland, who gathered together a bombing party, rallied the wiring party and counter-attacked, driving the Germans into the sights of one of the battalion’s Lewis guns.

“22 May 1916 – Set off for wiring at 7.30pm. Got coils of wire and took equipment off. Took bandolier, gas helmet and rifle only. Everything quiet. No firing from enemy as all first part got out. Heard a few bombs burst on A Coy’s section, then suddenly was plastered(?) out in bottom of trench…gradually got covered with dirt and then whole sandbags. Heard chap behind me yell out that his arm was off.* He crawled over top of us and left trenches. Things quietened down in about 40 minutes so worked myself loose and got up. Got hold of rifle with a fixed bayonet and manned parapet ready for attack. Opened rapid and machine-gun fire.”
15/1253 Private Bernard Gill, B Company
*(Possibly Private Edward Hopkin)

At about 10.30pm, shortly after the fight in no man’s land, the German artillery opened up again and shrapnel rained down on the men who were trying to rescue the wounded members of the wiring party.

“22 May 1916 – A terrible night. Front trenches shelled for over hour. Bat. suffers greatest loss so far – about 50 casualties. Bombardment took place about 10.30. An unforgettable experience.”
15/231 Private George W Cosby, B Company

Day broke, and with it came the full realisation of what had happened. This was the Leeds Pals’ first close encounter with the enemy, and although they had responded with speed and courage, they had lost some fifteen men killed, and thirty-four wounded, with another three missing. Among the dead was Sergeant Kerton, whose body could be seen hanging on the barbed wire as day broke. Also killed was Private Jogendra Sen of D Company, ‘the best-educated man in the battalion’. (Milner: Leeds Pals, 1991)

According to ‘Leeds in the Great War’ the working party was from C Company. (Scott p.116)

John is buried in Sucrerie Military Cemetery, Colincamps, France.
He was awarded the Victory and British War Medals. (Medal Card)

Researcher: Peter Taylor

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  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
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