CWGC records 10 men with the name John Atherton who were killed in WW2. One of these is an Australian. Of the remaining 9, quite astonishingly three are cousins, all called John, and have local connections. The man named on the Lostock Hall Memorial was in the King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster).
3713675 Private JOHN ATHERTON, King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster)
John Atherton was born on 20 April 1918 in Bamber Bridge. His father was Thomas Atherton (b. 1884 in Walton Le Dale), a cotton spinner. The 1911 Census says that Thomas (then 27) was a widower. He married again in the autumn of that year, and his second wife was Mary Farrell (b. 1888 in Lenvenshulme, Manchester). Tom and Mary had several children, of whom four survived: Alice (b. 1916), then John, then Elizabeth (b. 1919) and Thomasina (b. 1924). Thomas died in 1924, at which time the family was living at 217 Station Road, Bamber Bridge. By 1939, Mary and her children had moved to 13 Highfield Avenue, off Todd Lane, Lostock Hall. John was working as a general labourer.
John joined the Army and served as a Private in the King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster). Four battalions (6th, 7th, 8th and 9th) of the KORR were formed in 1940 for the duration of the conflict and they immediately joined the British Expeditionary Force for the defence of Belgium and France. The Germans invaded Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France on 10 May 1940. British, French and Belgian troops were forced back to the Channel coast and were evacuated from Dunkirk between 26 May and 4 June 1940. John Atherton was killed during the Blitzkrieg on 27 May 1940. We don’t know precisely where but a newspaper article from July that year gives some further details:
“Private Atherton was detailed, with others, to guard a bridgehead when they were surprised by enemy tanks and infantry. When the order was given he dashed through a hail of machine-gun bullets to man an anti-tank gun across the road. He managed to load the gun but before he could fire it a shell burst upon it.”
John was 22 years old.
Service Number: 3713675
Unit/Regiment: King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster)
Date of death: 27 May 1940
Cemetery: MERVILLE COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION
Cemetery/Memorial Reference: Plot 2. Row C. Grave 31.
Additional Information: Son of Thomas and Mary Atherton, of Blackburn, Lancashire.
So Thomas Atherton, John’s father, was from a large family who lived at Albert Terrace in Walton Le Dale, on the main road at the bottom of Kittlingborne Brow. His sister Margaret and his brother Edward both had sons whom they named John. There was also another brother John who was killed on the Somme in 1916, so the name John may have been used so often in the next generation out of respect for his sacrifice.
D/MX 64422 Cook JOHN ATHERTON, Royal Navy
There’s a further problem with this John Atherton in that CWGC records his age as 28 (and therefore born in 1914) whereas his naval records give his date of birth as 12 September 1921 (and therefore 20 when he died). I believe this later date is correct, as it also ties in with a birth civil registration giving his mother’s surname.
So this John Atherton was born on 12 September 1921 in Higher Walton. His mother was not married. She was Margaret Atherton (b. 1894 in Higher Walton). In 1925, Margaret married William Rumney (b. 1894, location not known), so William may be John’s father, but he used his mother’s name. William died in 1936, and in 1939, Margaret was living at 123 Blackpool Road, Preston, with a second son, William Locker Rumney (b. 1933).
John joined the Navy as a cook and was posted to HMS Anking. HMS Anking was a 3,470 tonne Base and Accommodation or ‘Depot Ship’, previously SS Anking, a merchant vessel requisitioned by the Navy in 1941. She sailed in a small convoy from Tandjong Priok, Jakarta, Java, on 28 February 1942, heading for Freemantle in Western Australia. The convoy was overrun by a far superior Japanese force about 200 miles east of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean on 3 March and was sunk on 4 March 1942 with the loss of one officer and 25 ratings. John was lost at sea; he was 20 years old.
57 survivors were picked up by a Dutch vessel, Talawi, and a further 16 spent three weeks of extreme privation in two open boats before just twelve of them were finally swept ashore in Java and looked after by the local Dutch magistrate and Javanese natives for six weeks before becoming prisoners of war in Japanese hands.
Rank: Assistant Cook
Service Number: D/MX 64422
Unit/Regiment: Royal Navy, HMS Anking
Date of death: 04/03/1942
Commemorated at: PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL
Memorial Reference: Panel 72, Column 1.
Additional Information: Son of Margaret Atherton, of Higher Walton, Lancashire.
11423404 Gunner JOHN ATHERTON, Royal Artillery
Margaret Atherton (mother of the John Atherton above) was one of 11 children. She had an older brother, Edward, who had a son, John, who was also killed in the War. So this John Atherton was born in the summer of 1920 in Walton Le Dale. His father Edward (b. 1889) was a cotton mill worker. His mother was Ann Hardacre (b. 1890 in Walton Le Dale). The family lived at Albert Terrace, on the main road at the bottom of Kittlingborne Brow. I don’t know what John did for a living before joining the Army.
John enlisted in the Royal Artillery and served with 3rd Maritime Regiment. This Regiment was established in March 1943 following a reorganisation of various sections of the Royal Artillery who were involved in the defence of ports and maritime shipping. Since the beginning of the War, merchant vessels had been armed and their guns manned by gunners from the Royal Navy and the Royal Artillery. In response, the Germans declared that all merchant vessels would be treated as warships. HQ of 3rd Maritime Regiment was at North Shields and they were designated to protect shipping in the Tyne area. There are no records of how John met his death, we know only that he died at sea, and no other men from his regiment died the same day, suggesting perhaps illness or accident as the cause of death. John was 23 years old.
Service Number: 11423404
Unit/Regiment: Royal Artillery, 3rd Maritime Regiment
Date of death: 02/12/1943
Commemorated at: CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL
Memorial Reference: Panel 74, Column 1.
Additional Information: Son of Edward and Ann Atherton, of Preston, Lancashire.
3408 Private JOHN ATHERTON, King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment)
Margaret and Edward Atherton had a brother, John (therefore uncle of the three Johns above), who was killed on the Somme in 1916. So this John Atherton was born in 1892. Before the War (WW1), he was a piecer in a cotton mill. He enlisted in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) in 1914 or early 1915; he was assigned service number 3408 and posted to 1st/4th Battalion, who came under orders of 55th (West Lancashire) Division. 55th Division began to move to France in March 1915, but John didn’t join them until December that year. 55th Division took part in a number of skirmishes and small scale trench warfare operations near Arras in the first half of 1916, but in July they were moved south to take up positions in the defence of Guillemont, on the Somme. They fought in the Battle of Guillemont (4-6 September) and the Battle of Ginchy (9 September). John was wounded in action, and died of his wounds at 21 Casualty Clearing Station on 15 September 1916. He was 24 years old.
Service Number: 3408
Unit/Regiment: King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), 1st/4th Battalion
Date of death: 15/09/1916
Cemetery/Memorial: LA NEUVILLE BRITISH CEMETERY, CORBIE
Cemetery/Memorial Reference: II. E. 25.
Additional Information: Son of George and Jane Atherton, of Preston.