Lance Corporal John William Sutton

John William Sutton was born in 1881 in Leicester, England. He was the son of Joseph Alfred Sutton, a proprietor, and Mary Ann Sutton. He was the eldest of four brothers (Percy, Ernest and Albert) and a sister (Eva). John William probably received little more than primary school education. In 1898 he began an apprenticeship with a Leicester carpenter. He served for four years in the territorial branch of the army in Leicester.

In December 1901, John William married Elizabeth May Knight of Nuneaton, England. In 1902 a daughter, Eva May Sutton was born. In 1903 a son, Charles William Sutton was born.

In 1903, John William, his parents and siblings immigrated to Canada. He helped build his parents a home at 27 Devon Road in East Toronto. In 1904, his wife and children emigrated to begin a new life with him as Canadians. After their arrival he built a home for his own family at 18 Devon Road, Toronto. From 1904 to 1915, John William worked in Toronto as a carpenter and then as a Toronto Railway Constable.

In 1915, he joined the Canadian army and was assigned as a Private in the 109th regiment, 84th Battalion, Machine Gun Section. He was sworn in for active service in August 1915 and was assigned to sail with the Canadian Expeditionary Force after training. He took first training in Niagara-on-the-lake Ontario, followed by training at Brantford Ontario where he remained until April 1916.

In May 1916 John William Sutton shipped to England and received further military training at Camp Borden in Liverpool England. There, he was hospitalized briefly with injuries or illness during training. Around this time, his battalion was dispersed into other battalions to make up for their casualties. In July 1916 he switched to the 75th Battalion to join his brother Percy Frederick Sutton and army pal William Peter Hopkins.

In August 1916, John William and the 75th Battalion entered the war in Flanders. In September 1916, John William and his battalion moved into the lines at the Somme to relieve exhausted troops and to take part in a planned assault on September 15th in and around Courcelette, France. He then endured months of violent trench warfare. It was an unbelievable ordeal of thigh-deep mud, bitter cold, hunger, and murderous enemy resistance. In October 1916, he was seriously injured by shrapnel but was treated at the front and quickly returned to battle. In notes to his family he disguised his misery with up-beat progress reports like: "we was up to our thighs in water for 48 hours. We have them high rubber shoes now."

During these weeks, John William became acting Lance Corporal of his battalion, probably to replace a Lance Corporal who had been killed or wounded. Despite exhaustion, high losses and an almost impenetrable curtain of enemy fire, John William's division managed to capture Regina Trench in early November. By that time, it had been reduced to a mere depression in the chalky soil. It is hard to imagine how in these circumstances John William kept up his correspondence home, but he continued to pen short notes and postcards to his wife and children from the front. Please see below, Letters Home.

On November 18, 1916, in the driving snow, John William and his battalion were ordered to capture Desire Trench. It ran east and west across the Miraumont roads, 200 meters north of what is now the Adanac cemetery. His battalion attacked from west to east along a front of two kilometers. The attack went well except that the British relief flank was held up. His division captured Desire Trench and its support trench and entered Grandcourt Trench, 400 meters distant, however, unsupported, they were forced to withdraw.

John William Sutton was killed during this action on November 18, 1916. He was 36 years old. It is not known whether it was in the attack or the withdrawal that he perished. He and hundreds of his comrades who died with him were buried in the fields where they fell in marked and unmarked graves, shell holes, collapsed dugouts or obliterated trenches. His personal effects were never recovered. After this battle, the few soldiers remaining in the 75th battalion pulled out of the Somme and joined the Corps at Vimy Ridge.

In 1920, John William Sutton's body was exhumed from the battlefield and he was re-buried, by all reports, with every reverence and measured care. He is buried in Adanac Military Cemetery, Plot 1, Row D, Grave 31, 6.25 miles North-East of Albert, France.

John William's brother Percy Frederick Sutton survived the Battle of the Somme, as did his army buddy, William Peter Hopkins. Both went on to serve in other battles. After the war Peter Hopkins married John William's sister Eva and moved to California. Percy survived the war but died later of related wounds. The youngest brother, Albert Edgar Sutton enlisted in January 1917 and was assigned to the 256th Railway Construction Battalion. His battalion repaired railway lines as the German's retreated and as the Allied forces advanced from the Ypres salient. Albert Sutton survived the war.

This account was written by John William Sutton's great-granddaughter, Virginia Margaret Brown (Steffler).


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