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John B Townell

Date of birth: 1892
Date of death: 07.07.1916
Area: Outwood, Wakefield
Regiment: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
Family information: Son of Joseph and Maud Emily Townell
Rank: Lance Corporal
Service number: 200531 (2536)

War Service

On 4th September 1914 he enlisted in the Territorials, joining the 4th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. On joining the battalion as a Private soldier he was allocated the Serial Number 2536. The 4th KOYLI, later to become the 1/4th KOYLI, was part of the 1st West Riding Brigade, 1st West Riding Division, which assembled at Doncaster during August 1914. They later moved to Sandbeck Park and to Gainsborough, from where they had a short spell of coastal defence work. On 26th February the battalion moved to York, where it stayed until proceeding overseas to join the British Expeditionary Force.
Private Townell left York by train, on 13th April 1915, along with the 1/4th Battalion, KOYLI, bound for Folkestone, where ships were boarded for passage to Boulogne. On the 14th April, after linking up with the transports, the battalion, in Brigade, moved from Merville to Doulieu. In this area the Brigade received two weeks trench warfare familiarisation training, before being deployed in the Bois Grenier Sector. Shortly afterwards the 1st West Riding Brigade was designated 148th Infantry Brigade, 49th (West Riding) Division.
On 9th July 1915 the 49th Division moved into the sector between Ypres and Boesinghe, which was the left flank of the British Army line in Flanders. Throughout the summer the 49th Division was engaged in constructing and repairing trenches and strong points, which were constantly shelled by the enemy artillery. After rain the ground became a quagmire and, as winter approached, trench foot became a problem for the troops. After the gas attack of 19th December 1915, the 1/4th KOYLI, in Brigade, was withdrawn from this sector.
During the spring of 1916 the 1/4th KOYLI was used by the 112th Railway Construction Company near Acheux. This was followed by training near Villers-Bocage, for the forthcoming battle.
On the 1st July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, the 49th (West Riding) Division was in reserve. However the 1/4th and 1/5th KOYLI battalions were placed at the disposal of the 96th Infantry Brigade. On the evening of 2nd July the two battalions relieved units in the Thiepval sub-sector, taking over trenches captured the previous day. At dawn, on 3rd July, the 1/4th KOYLI position was bombarded for two hours, the enemy using high explosive and shrapnel shells. On the 5th July companies from the 1/4th KOYLI were in support of an unsuccessful attack by the 1/5th KOYLI, when that battalion attempted to extend their positions in the “A” Line trenches.
On the 6th July 1/4th KOYLI relieved the 1/5th KOYLI in the “A” Line trenches. At 02.00 hrs on the 7th July the enemy opened an intense bombardment on the 1/4th KOYLI positions in the “A” Line and along the original British front line, resulting in numerous casualties. At 02.50 hrs enemy bombers attacked and there was heavy fighting with bombs until 06.30 hrs, at which time the forward companies, with no bombs left, were forced to retire to the original British front line. At 09.30 hrs the battalion was ordered to move back to their assembly trenches in Thiepval Wood. Later, during the evening, the 1/4th KOYLI moved back to Martinsart for rest, before moving on to Hedauville.
Between the 4th to 8th July 1916 the 1/4th KOYLI casualties included 48 men killed or died from wounds. One of these casualties was Lance Corporal John Townell, a member of the machine gun company, who was shot by a sniper on 7th July. His body was likely to have been buried by the Germans, who overran his position, but was never identified. His name is therefore inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial, which bears the names of over 72,000 men who died on the Somme sector and who have no known grave.

Family Life

John Brook Townell was born in 1892, the eldest son of Joseph and Maud Emily Townell, grocer and provision merchants of Normanton. The family lived in Normanton until after the birth of their second son, Joseph, who was born in 1894. About this time the family moved to Calverley, where their daughter Doris was born. In 1901 the family was living at Park Terrace, Outwood, where they remained for several years. At the time war was declared John Brook Townell was employed at Lofthouse Colliery. He was also a member of the Wakefield Salvation Army Band.

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