John Hedley Richards, who was the youngest of ten siblings, was born in Woodland View, Great Consols, Tavistock, Devon, on 4th November 1885 to Jane Richards [née Cock] and her husband Thomas Richards, who by profession was a Mining Engineer.
When his occupation took Thomas Richards to India at the end of the 19th century it was decided that John or ‘Jack’ as he was known in the family, and one of his brothers, Harry Chynoweth Richards, should remain in England to receive their education.
It is believed that Wellington College1 was selected on the basis that Mary, one of his mother’s sisters was married to Samuel Langdon, a Wesleyan Minister. He had been posted to Hadley, a few miles from Wellington in 1897.
Not long after completing their education at Wellington College, Harry and Jack took the decision to leave England and head to the USA and Canada as there were perceived to be greater opportunities for employment over there. As the whole family had lived all over the world at one time or other this was not deemed unusual. [Harry spent time in the USA and Canada but later returned to England.]
Having arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 27th March 1905 he tried to enter the USA via Detroit, Michigan in September but was ‘debarred’ with his application rejected on the basis of ‘not properly presented’, which most likely related to the paperwork as opposed to his appearance! Jack made a second attempt to enter the USA, again via Detroit, the following month and this time was successful: he could now travel freely between the US and Canada.
On 7th April 1907 Jack married Myrtle Edith Thornton in Winsor, Essex County, Ontario, Canada with their son Charles Leonard Richards being born in 1908 in Detroit, where they continued to live for a couple of years or so. A daughter, Jessie Marion Richards was born in 1912 in Toronto but she sadly died six years later on 25th Feb 1918.
Jack and his young family were back living in Canada in 1915 when on 29th July that year he enlisted with the 84th Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force [CEF] in Toronto where he was working as a baker.
He left Canada for England on 18th June 1916. Not long after his Battalion arrived its personnel were absorbed by 73rd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), CEF and the 75th Battalion (Mississauga), CEF, so as to provide reinforcements for the Canadian Corps already in theatre, with Jack joining the latter unit. As soon as preparations were complete the 75th embarked for France where it arrived on 12th August 1916 in Le Havre.
On the evening of 8th September 1916 a raid was made on the enemies lines, being sent over when it was dark and the moon had gone down, with the patrol leaving in the early hours on the 9th at around 2.20am. At about 3.50am several members of the patrol returned and reported that there had been a number of casualties.
At around 1.00pm on the 9th September an attempt was made to try and locate two officers who had been reported missing following the previous days early morning raid on the enemy lines. A barrage was laid down by the artillery on the German lines and 5 men, including Private Jack Richards went over the top and across to the German wire. Despite a careful search for the officers no trace was found except a service cap & revolver. The patrol returned without casualties. One member of the patrol received a bar to his Distinguished Conduct Medal, [DCM] and the four others an immediate award of the Military Medal [MM], one of whom was Jack Richards, which was presented to him in the field on 16th September.
Jack wrote to his wife back in Canada.
The field service post-card I sent you was written in the front line trenches just as I was going out on a raid on the German trenches about eleven o’clock one night. I am sorry that we lost two officers (Devlin & Howard) that night.
The next morning about seven I went out on my own to see if I could locate them. I got up by crawling from one shell hole to another to just about fifteen yards from Fritz’s front barbed wire where I was seen by a couple of Fritzs and about [???]. I dropped down as they fired and the bullets whistled by just over my head. Saw it was no good so about turned and crawled back as best I could. I saw a couple more on my way back, but whether they fired at me or not I couldn’t say. Everything seemed like a dream. Got tangled up in some barbed wire, but managed to tear myself loose and finally got back safely.
That afternoon our artillery put over a heavy barrage of fire on the German front line, and five of us carrying two stretchers doubled over from our trenches up to the German front line trench but the officers were gone. I got one of their revolvers and one cap and the corporal who was with me got the other officer’s cap. It was a hot ten minutes all right. Our own shells were falling all around us, to say nothing of rifle fire. One shell landed about a yard and a half from where Corporal Bullen and myself were sitting absolutely out of breath on the German’s front trench. Fortunately it didn’t explode, that is, it was what we call a ‘dud’. The other two fellows were blown right off their feet by one which dropped behind them. Fortunately they were not hurt, but got up laughing. We all got back safely.
For this little piece of work and for staying behind the night before I have been given the Military Medal. In fact seven of us got it at the same time, the five who were over in the afternoon and two who stayed back with the officers at night. I was mentioned twice inside of twelve hours in despatches, which is rather quick work for a small boy.
Lieut Joe Clark, who swore me in when I first joined up at Pearl has been very good to me on many occasions. We are many miles from Belgium and are Somme-where in France. I have gone all to pieces with my nerves all shot. Lieut Clark is very kindly letting me get all the rest I can. It is very cold and wet now and half the time we are wet to the skin and can get no change of clothing. We have been sleeping in dug-outs and all kinds of strange places. At present six of us are camped in an old wine cellar under a house in the town. The front line is awful, mud up to your knees and no place to lie down except in the mud and wet. We have had many casualties and I should think we are about half strength now.