IN a corner of almost every churchyard and cemetery in the land you will come across the chalk white headstone of a soldier. sailor or airman, who served their country in times of war. But then, having returned home severely wounded, sadly died as a consequence.
This year more than ever, as we commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War, we are reflecting on the bravery of all the young men who took the King's shilling and whose self sacrifice secured a free world for future generations.
The names on the war memorials turn our thoughts to the many who forever remain in foreign fields, but the chalk white headstones of those who were brought home somehow bring the battlefield closer to our senses, and the inscriptions etched in stone can tell us such a lot about the individuals who were laid to rest.
In our efforts to mention as many of the men from the Black Country as possible who served in the First World War, our attention was drawn to the grave of TS/3698 Shoeing Smith J. Gordon of the Army Service Corps who died on January 2, 1916 aged 45 and who is buried at St. John's Church in Brockmoor.
Initial research from the War Graves website revealed he was John Gordon, formerly with the Royal Field Artillery (15826), who died of wounds (gas). He was the son of Mrs Cristiana Gordon of Brierley Hill and husband of Elizabeth Gordon of 60 Station Rd. Brockmoor.
His age suggests he was in the regular army when war broke out, or at least on the reserve list, and having served with the Royal Field Artillery, was transferred to the Army Service Corps, a very important cog in the military machine, but didn't necessarily see action at the front line. As a shoeing smith he may have been called upon to employ the skills he had learnt in civvy street, perhaps as a blacksmith, or continue to work with horses which he must have done when serving with the Royal Field Artillery.
The prefix TS of his Army No. means Transport Specials, of which the following jobs were included: drivers, saddlers, wheelers, farriers and shoeing smiths.
Members of the Army Service Corps, a company that received the Royal prefix in 1918, were the unsung heroes of the British Army during the Great War. They were nicknamed Ally Sloper's Cavalry (ASC), because soldiers at the front line couldn't fight without food, equipment and ammunition. The majority of these supplies came direct from Britain, using horses and motor vehicles, railways and waterways, and the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics, stating their claim to be one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won.
Even though John Gordon didn't serve at the Front Line, he still succumbed to a lethal weapon that was indiscriminate in nature and one of the most feared in the Great War. Whereas the exploding shell, machine gun or sniper's bullet could kill instantly, the victims of a gas attack were often left in agony for days or even weeks before finally succumbing to their injuries.
In late September, 1915, the British Expeditionary Force launched their largest offensive of that year at the Battle of Loos, using poison gas for the first time, in what was a tremendous effort by the French and British armies to break through the German defences and restore a war of movement. Prior to the attack on September 25, 140,000 kg of chlorine gas was released, but in places along the front the poisonous cloud was blown back behind British lines which led to disastrous results.
Because of low lying fog which impaired visibility and the inefficiency of the gas masks, fogged up talc eye-pieces and an inability to breathe properly, many soldiers discarded them with dire consequences.
John Gordon's situation at the Battle of Loos isn't known, his personal circumstances on that day can only be imagined, but his attendance in support of the front line soldiers, serving as he did with the Army Service Corps, is without question. He was caught up in the gas cloud, withdrawn to a field hospital, returned home to Blighty, but died of his wounds nine weeks later. He may not have been a front line soldier in the heat of battle, but his contribution was just as valuable and his sacrifice just as worthy of note.
The address in Brockmoor where John Gordon used to live no longer exists, and apart from his grave in St. John's churchyard his name would all but have been lost forever. Do you recognise John's name? Are you a relative of his and proud of his unselfish service during the Great War? If you can help in this respect and have a photograph that we can publish, please write in, give us a call, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Bugle House on 01348 567678.