b. 17/05/1891 Stoke, Staffordshire. d. 27/11/1917 Fontaine Notre Dame, France.
John Harold Rhodes (1891-1917) was born at Mellor Street, Packmoor, near Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire on 17th May 1891. His father, Ernest Rhodes, enlisted in the 38th Regiment (South Staffordshire Regiment from 1881) on 18th January 1878 and joined at Dublin on 25th January. He transferred to 2/21st Regiment on 17th February 1879. He went to South Africa on 22nd February 1879 and served there during the Zulu War and First Boer War. He then served in the East Indies and was awarded a certificate of education on 10th March 1882. He served in Britain between 1884 and 1890. He then became a coal hewer and had married Sarah Hanford on 13th May 1886. She was a Wesleyan Methodist and a servant. Ernest did enlist during the Great War but was discharged as unfit after a year. John was one of thirteen children, of whom only ten survived infancy.
John was educated at Church Schools, Newchapel near Packmoor. He was a bit of a daredevil and one night, he and his brothers, Bill and Jabez, climbed through the back bedroom window, slid down the roof and went across the street to a farmyard. They took two horses and rode them through the streets before putting them back. He was employed as a miner until he enlisted in the Grenadier Guards on 17th February 1911. He trained at the Guards Depot, Caterham, Surrey and served with the 3rd Battalion until transferring to the Reserve in February 1914. He then returned to mining at Chatterley-Whitfield Colliery, Tunstall, Stoke on Trent.
He was recalled on the outbreak of war to 5th (Reserve) Battalion at Windsor and was assigned to 2nd Battalion. He went to France on 13th August 1914 and took part in the retreat from Mons, including the actions at Landrecies and Villers Cotterets. During the Battle of the Aisne in September he narrowly escaped death when a comrade stepped in front of him and was shot in the heart. At Ypres a shell fragment cut a tree he was chopping down to construct a dugout just above his head. On Christmas Eve, he was caught in a barrage, and partially buried, but his comrades dug him out. He was promoted to Lance Corporal in January 1915.
John was awarded the DCM for his actions at Rue du Bois, France on 18th May 1915 when he successfully conducted a patrol for a considerable distance to the front bringing back valuable information and subsequently twice volunteered to bring in wounded under heavy fire, which on each occasion wounded one of the men accompanying him. John married Elizabeth Meir on 11th December 1915 and they lived at 27 New Street, Pitts Hill, Tunstall, Stoke on Trent, her parents’ former home. She was a warehousewoman living with her widowed mother. They had a son, John, born on 13th May 1917.
John was promoted to Corporal. He was then awarded a Bar to the DCM for his actions at Givenchy, France on 6th August 1915 – when the sap heads and front line trench in the orchard near the shrine were blown in by a mine, he and Private Barton displayed great coolness and bravery in running forward and continuing to dig out the wounded until both were wounded. John was evacuated to England with a wound to the right shoulder and was hospitalised for four months. He was presented with a purse of gold and a marble timepiece following the award of the DCM. On recovering he served as a Lance Sergeant instructor with 5th Reserve Battalion for a year.
He returned to France on 19th January 1917, four months before the birth of his son. On 9th October 1917, near Houthulst Forest, Belgium, he was in charge of a Lewis gun section covering the consolidation of the right front company. He accounted for several enemy with hisrifle as well as by Lewis gun fire, and, upon seeing three enemy leave a “pill-box”, he went out single-handed through our own barrage and hostile machine-gun fire, and effected an entry into the “pill-box”. He there captured nine enemy, including a forward observation officer connected by telephone with his battery. These prisoners he brought back with him, together with valuable information.
John was mortally wounded on 27th November and died of his wounds at No 48 Casualty Clearing Station, Ytres, France. He was buried in Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt. His Commanding Officer, Lt Colonel Andrew Thorne DSO, made an attempt to notify him that he had been awarded the VC, but he arrived too late.
The VC was presented to his wife at her home on 15th July 1918. She never remarried. In addition to his VC and DCM and Bar, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. John is the most highly decorated non-commissioned officer in the history of the Grenadier Guards. His VC group is held by the Grenadier Guards.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: GRENADIER GUARDS RHQ, WELLINGTON BARRACKS, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ROCQUIGNY-EQUANCOURT CEMETERY, MANANCOURT, FRANCE.
PLOT III, ROW E, GRAVE 1.
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.