John Henry Ward was born in Derbyshire in 1889, the only son of Henry Thornton and Maud Mary Ward, he had three sisters Mabel, Kate and Henrietta. His father Henry Ward was a colliery clerk. At the age of 22 John was working as a Colliery Shot Firer. A Shot Firer was a miner who tested for gas and then fired explosive charges. John’s father died in 1903 aged 44 and his mother Maud remarried in 1909 and moved to Worksop to live with her new husband Arthur Stinson. Arthur was a well known Worksop Jeweller.
It was reported in Doncaster Gazette in August 1916 that John was educated at Worksop Grammar School and that ‘after a successful course of technical study at Sheffield University, came to the Yorkshire Main Colliery.’ John was a deputy at the colliery in Edlington when war broke out. A deputy was an underground official responsible for the management and safety of a district (area) in the pit. John joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in September 1914, enlisting the day after he got married to Grace Eva Tooley. He had rapidly gained promotion and by the time his battalion left for France the following year he had attained the rank of Company Sergeant-Major. At the time of his death John was Acting Regimental Sergeant-Major.
In the Doncaster Gazette 28th July 1916 it was reported that John Henry’s wife was “anxiously awaiting official news” of her husband who had “been missing since the early days of the big advance.” The only information they had from a regimental source was that John had not returned from a charge in which he had led the men of his company. A later search of “No Man’s Land” found no trace of him. A soldier from another regiment had found John’s pay book on the battlefield and returned it to his wife, who appealed for any information that would help to solve the mystery of her husbands disappearance. In the following weeks Gazette it was reported that after seeing this report a ‘Miss Amy Jeffs of Nottingham, daughter of a Refuge Assurance superintendent at Doncaster’ contacted Grace Ward. Having read Grace’s anxious plea in the Gazette, a copy of which they had sent to them every week, Amy was able to give Grace the information she had been so anxiously waiting for, it was not good news.
The report in the Doncaster Gazette from 4th August 1916 explained that John, Amy’s brother ‘Billy’ Jeffs and a third young man named Mason, a school teacher from Bentley, were best friends and had all enlisted together and were all in the same battalion. They had been involved in the ‘Big Push at Thiepval Wood’ and after the battle was over Billy had sent a letter to his family giving a detailed account that Amy said was ‘terrible to read’. Amy said ‘It is with the very deepest regret that I would tell you that he has ‘Gone West’, as the lads themselves term it.’ John had been killed on July 1st, the first day of the battle of the Somme.
John is remembered with a special memorial at the Gordon Dump Cemetery, Ovillers – La Boiselle.