2ND LT. J. RIBGY. S.STAFFS.R.
John Rigby was born in the first quarter of 1897 in Lostock Hall. His father was also John Rigby (b. 1843 in Croston), a cloth-looker in the cotton mill and later coal bagger. His mother was Catherine Almond (b. 1847 in Preston). John and Catherine were married in Croston in 1867 and they had 10 children, but 5 died in infancy. The survivors were: Alice (b. 1871), Thomas (b. 1873), Robert (b. 1877), James (b. 1880) and finally John. In 1911, John and Catherine and their daughter Alice were living at Woodcock Hall. By this time, John (jnr) had married Margaret Alice Wilson (b. 1887 in Chorley). They married in 1908 and had a son, John Wilson Rigby, in 1909. In 1911, they were living at 89 Watkin Lane, Lostock Hall, and John was working as under-foreman in the moulding department of the Leyland and Birmingham Rubber Company. From the newspaper article published at the time of his death we learn that he enlisted in the Army Ordnance Corps in 1914. He was subsequently sent for officer training and was commissioned and posted to the South Staffordshire Regiment, 6thBattalion, on 31 October 1917.
2/6Bn, South Staffordshire Regiment, came under orders of 176th Brigade in 59th (2nd North Midland) Division. It seems likely that John joined his Battalion when they moved from Lens to Bapaume on 17 November 1917. After moving on 23 November to Étricourt, preparatory to taking over the line at Gouzeaucourt, orders were received for the Division to switch to the northern flank of this operation, to relieve the Guards Division at Bourlon Wood. This took place on 29 November, with Divisional HQ going into huts at Trescault. On 1 December, many casualties were sustained from German shellfire which preceded an enemy infantry counter attack. This was beaten off by the Division. During the day, 470 Field Company RE, which was marching to the area of Gouzeaucourt, found itself caught up in the German advance in that area. Fighting as infantry, it assisted in the defence of the area until the Guards Division counter attacked and retook Gouzeaucourt. 59th Division was ordered to withdraw from Bourlon, which it did successfully, taking up a position at Flesquières. On 16 December, Divisional HQ moved to Ytres. They then moved out for rest at Le Cauroy, where Chistmas and all of January 1918 was spent.
After a long period of rest and training, the Division took over the front line at Bullecourt on 11 February 1918, with HQ being established at Behagnies. Much work was done of strengthening the line for defence against expected enemy attack.
The Battle of St Quentin (21-23 March)
After suffering heavy casualties from German shellfire on 21 March, the enemy infantry succeeded in breaking through the Division’s position where it met that of 6th Division in the valley of the River Hirondelle. Parties held on and continued to resist but were gradually destroyed and “mopped up”. Fewer than 100 men of the 176th and 178th Brigades which had been holding the front line before the attack were assembled at roll call. Two battalion commanding officers were killed in action. At 7pm, the Division was officially relieved but 177th Brigade and various parties of ancillary units remained to take part in the continued defence.
From Wikipedia: 21 March 1918. The artillery bombardment began at 04:35 when an intensive German barrage opened on British positions south west of St. Quentin for a depth of 4–6 km (2.5–3.7 mi). At 04:40 a heavy German barrage began along a 60 km (40 mi) front. Trench mortars, mustard gas, chlorine gas, tear gas and smoke canisters were concentrated on the forward trenches, while heavy artillery bombarded rear areas to destroy Allied artillery and supply lines. Over 3,500,000 shells were fired in five hours, hitting targets over an area of 400 km2 (150 sq mi) in the biggest barrage of the war, against the Fifth Army, most of the front of Third Army and some of the front of the First Army to the north. The front line was badly damaged and communications were cut with the Rear Zone, which was severely disrupted.
When the infantry assault began at 09:40, the German infantry had mixed success; the German 17th and 2nd Armies were unable to penetrate the Battle Zone on the first day but the 18th Army advanced further and reached its objectives. Dawn broke to reveal a heavy morning mist. By 05:00, visibility was barely 10 m (10 yd) in places and the fog was extremely slow to dissipate throughout the morning. The fog and smoke from the bombardment made visibility poor throughout the day, allowing the German infantry to infiltrate deep behind the British front positions undetected. Much of the Forward Zone fell during the morning as communication failed; telephone wires were cut and runners struggled to find their way through the dense fog and heavy shelling. Headquarters were cut off and unable to influence the battle.
John Rigby was killed on 21 March 1918, along with 106 other officers and men from 2/6Bn South Staffs. He was 31 years old.
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Date of Death: 21/03/1918
Regiment/Service: South Staffordshire Regiment, 6th Bn.
Panel Reference: Bay 6.
Memorial: ARRAS MEMORIAL
Additional Information: Husband of Margaret Alice Charles (formerly Rigby), of St. Andrews Rd. South, Lytham St. Annes.