Killed in action
Regiment: Leicestershire Regiment
Battalion: 2nd Battalion
Service Number: 1889
Date of Death: 23rd April 1917
Age when killed: 29
Cemetery: Basra Memorial (panel 12)
Parents: William & Mary Elizabeth Ward of Hoby
John Ward was born in Hoby in 1888. His father was William Ward, the carter who provided the village with a weekly service carrying goods to and from Leicester. He was 5 ft. 7 inches tall with brown hair and eyes and, before joining the army, had worked as a labourer. He enlisted in the Leicestershire Regiment on 5th March 1906 and was subsequently posted to the 2nd Battalion, based in India, where he arrived on 6th November 1907.
At the outbreak of war, the 2nd Battalion was at Ranikhet, a remote hill station north east of Delhi. After receiving mobilisation orders on 9th August, the Battalion travelled to Karachi where John Ward embarked on a troop ship on 16th September, reaching Marseilles on 12th October. Having travelled north, his Battalion joined the B.E.F. as part of the 7th (Meerut) Division and went into the trenches at Calonne, near Bethune in the Pas-de-Calais, on 28th October. Between then and 22nd November, when it was relieved, the 2nd Leicesters suffered 90 casualties, of whom 15 were killed.
The next notable action in which they were involved was at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle from 10th – 13th March 1915 when the British broke through the German lines but were unable to exploit their advantage. They also took part in a night attack during the Battle of Festubert on 15th May.
After a relatively quiet summer, they went over the top at 6a.m. on 25th September, at the beginning of what became known as the Battle of Loos. This proved to be a disastrous day for the 2nd Battalion, as it was for many other British units. As its Lieutenant George Grossmith wrote at the time: My battalion, as such, no longer exists; it was decimated along with nearly all the other regiments of the Meerut Division of our Indian Corps. There are only two officers and a few men who were not killed or wounded. John was one of the casualties on that day, sustaining a severe gunshot injury to his head and face.
Having received hospital treatment in Boulogne, he re-joined his unit on 17th October. Two weeks later what remained of the Meerut Division, with its principally Indian soldiers, was ordered to Mesopotamia where Britain was fighting Turkish forces allied with Germany. John Ward was among the troops who embarked from Marseilles on 10th November, reaching Alexandria a week later. On 23rd November he embarked on the SS Janus from Port Suez, at the southern end of the Suez Canal, reaching Basra on 8th December. From there he travelled by boat up the River Tigris to Ali Gharbi , 150 miles south east of Baghdad, where the Leicesters arrived on 13th December 1915.
In December 1915 and January 1916 the days there were hot and humid, with freezing temperatures overnight, but conditions worsened with the onset of summer when temperatures often reached 50 °C. Medical facilities were inadequate with wounded men spending up to two weeks on boats before reaching any kind of hospital. Death and illness from heat-stroke were common and dysentery, malaria and other tropical diseases were endemic. John Ward was among those who fell ill later in the year and he was hospitalised before being discharged on 15th July. He was then allowed a few weeks’ convalescence in India before returning to his unit in October.
In Mesopotamia the 2nd Leicesters formed part of the 28th Infantry Brigade, fighting alongside two Sikh battalions and the 56th Rifles. The Brigades initial objective was to relieve the 9,000 British and Empire troops who were reported to be surrounded by 22,000 Turks at Kut-al-Amara, which lay further upstream on the Tigris in the direction of Baghdad. With this in mind, the 2nd Leicesters attacked Turkish positions at Shaik Saad on 6th and 7th January killing 300 Turks and taking 600 prisoners. However, they suffered over 300 casualties of their own in this attack and were to suffer many more a week later when they attacked, over ground which offered no cover, the excellent defensive position to which the Turks had retreated from Shaik Saad.
A further unsuccessful attempt was made to break through the Turkish lines in March after which neither side was in a position to mount offensive operations during the remainder of 1916. John Ward will therefore have seen a great deal of action even before he fell ill. Following his return from India, the British resumed their offensive on 13th December, making inroads into the Turkish defences trench by trench.
From then on they made steady progress, reaching Baghdad on 11th March 1917 when the Leicesters had the distinction of being the first to enter the city following its fall. Operations then continued further north with the aim of seizing the town of Samarrah and its strategically important railroad. It was during these operations that John Ward was killed on 21st April when the Leicesters were attacking Turkish positions on the right bank of the Tigris among the ruins of the ancient city of Istabulat. This became known as the Battle of the Istabulat Mounds. Samarrah itself fell two days later but the so-called Samarrah Offensive is said to have cost 18,000 casualties during the previous six weeks.
John Ward was survived by his parents, William and Mary, and his brother, Thomas, who did not serve in the war. They had not seen John since he sailed for India 10 years earlier. He was awarded the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.