John Cunningham

Date of birth: 1897
Place of birth: Southampton
Service No.: 51617
Rank: Private
Regiment: Royal Fusiliers / London Regiment
Battalion: 13th Battalion
Died: 24th April 1917 aged 20 years
Death location: France


Before the War
John was the second of 10 children born to John (1875 – 21/03/1937) and Alice (nee Allen 1876 – 17/04/1943).  His parents were married in Southampton in 1895.  John senior passed away following a stroke, aged 64 years.  Alice was living at 9 Orchard Lane when she died, aged 67 years, as a result of falling down the stairs during a WW2 alert.

John’s siblings were:

Norah (27/05/1896 – 1985).  Married Charles Albert Wyeth (1894 – 1970), in Southampton in 1916.

Martin (01/06/1899 – 06/06/1916).  Martin served in the 1st 4th (T.F.) Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment in WW1.  He was killed in action in Mesopotamia on 6th June 1916, aged 17 years.  Please select Martin’s name to read his story.

Charles Frederick (1904).  Married Louisa Philippa Thorne (1/06/1905 – 1994) in Southampton in 1928.

Patrick Edward ( 15th  December 1906 – 15/06/1948).  Married Francis May Blake in Southampton on 16th July 1929.

Alice Ellen (08/06/1908 – 1992).  Married Walter M Coppin (1905 – 1943)  in Southampton in 1928.  Alice remarried in Southampton in 1943 to John Kilty.

George Peter (1910 – 1933).

Ellen B (1914).  Married Skelton Greenwood (11/08/1903) in Southampton in 1936.  The 1939 to 1940 Southampton Street Directory shows that they were living at 44 Millbrook Road, Southampton.  There are electoral records that show that from 1948 to 1962 they were living in Shipley, West Yorkshire.  Their son Terence was born in Southampton in 1938.

Daniel Michael (1916-1928).

Douglas Albert (16/05/1918 – 1979).  Married Ivy Lawler (nee Roberts) in Southampton in 1951.

The 1901 census shows that John lived at 6 Regents Court, Southampton with his parents, sister Norah and brother Martin.  John’s father was a dock labourer.  Also at the address was a boarder, William Sawyer, who was employed as a bricklayers labourer.  The Southampton Street directory for 1907 shows that the family were still living at the Regents Court address.

By the time the 1911 census was taken the family had moved to 2 Horsemans Buildings, Southampton.  John’s father was in the same employment and Norah was a laundry maid.


Military History
John served in the 13th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, London Regiment.  The Royal Fusiliers raised no fewer than 47 battalions and the 13th (Service) Battalions was raised as part of K3, Kitchener’s recruitment drive, in Hounslow on 13th September 1914.  The battalion came under the command of 111th Brigade in 37th Division in March 1915 and in July of this year they arrived at Boulogne.

John was killed in action on 24th April 1917 during the Battle of Arras, which began on 9th April 1917 and ended on 16th May.

With a combination of The British Army and Commonwealth Forces, the battle began in a snow storm.   It was hoped that the much awaited breakthrough might be made here, and the Cavalry were kept on hand and used on one occasion.  The key purpose of the offensive was to tie down the German army with a joint effort with the French, who were simultaneously attacking on the Chemin des Dames.  The latter offensive was complete and costly failure – resulting in mutinies among French divisions.  The battle slogged on until mid-May 1917 and it became the greatest killing battle of the War, with a daily casualty rate even higher than the Somme.  In 39 days of fighting casualties’ were 159,000 a daily rate of 4,076.and seemed to epitomise the futility of trench warfare.  Soldiers killed between 1916 -1917 became known as “the lost generation”.

An extract from the War Diary of the 13th Battalion, for 20th to 25th April 1917  read:

 20th – Marched from Agnez Le Doisans to railway cutting.  Received details of attack which will take place on 23. 4. 17. Weather warm and fine. 

21st – Remained in railway cutting.

22nd – Still in railway cutting – a draft of 90 men arrived. 

The Battalion reached the assembly position for the attack on the night of 22nd April.  The attack was launched at dawn, our companies being right up to the enemy wire in front of the black line when our barrage came down.  The enemy barrage was put down immediately afterwards & continue with some severity for two hours. 

During the night of 23/24th April there was very heavy artillery activity on both sides from 9pm to 9.30pm, but no counter attack developed.  The next four days, April 24,25,26 & 27th, was spent in consolidating the position.  During this period no counter attack developed on our front, though there was severe fighting North and South of our position’

John had been sent out on a night patrol, but he never returned and his body was never found.

The entry in the National Roll of the Great War reads:
‘He joined in November 1916, and was soon sent to the Western Front.  He took a prominent part in the fighting and was killed in action on April 24th, 1917.   He was entitled to the General Service and Victory Medals.
2, Colston’s Court, Southampton’

John is remembered with honour on the Arras Memorial.  Panel reference: Bay 3.   The memorial is in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery and commemorates servicemen from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and South Africa who died in the Arras sector between 1916 and 7th August 1918, and have no known graves.

It is a fortunate coincidence that the cemetery and memorial which commemorates John and his comrades was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens who also designed the Cenotaph in the city of John’s birth which also bears John’s name.

With very grateful thanks to Pat Jardine, a fellow researcher and Great Neice of John, for her invaluable information.


Researcher: Jackie Chandler
Published: 25th October 2015
Updated: Insert dates here

If you have any additional information about the person named above please complete the Comments section below.