Private John [Mack] DRABBLE

Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
7th Battalion
(7 Platoon, 'B' Company)
Service Number:
(Formerly: 51070 London Regiment)
Date of Death:
8 August 1917 - Killed in Action
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:
Panel 22

Personal History:

John was born John Mack in the September quarter 1881, the son of Francis (Coal Miner and Grocer) and Margaret (née Mack) Drabble, of Macclesfield Old Road, Burbage, Buxton. He had two younger brothers, Thomas and Frederick, and four younger sisters, Elizabeth, Mary, Maggie and Emily. (1891 Census RG 12/2779 and 1901 Census RG 13/3271)  In the 1901 Census he is named as John Mack - working
for his father) as a "Greengrocer".

In the December quarter 1908 he married Margaret Gould, in Devon, and in 1911 (Census RG 14/21237) he was employed as an "Assistant" - perhaps still in his father's shop - and was living with his wife at 3 Hartington Place, Burbage, Buxton. They later had a son, Robert F., born March quarter 1913.
The 'Buxton Advertiser' of 25th August 1917, reporting his death, said that he was well known in Burbage and Buxton as his duties in his father's greengrocer's business brought him into contact with many people.
Military History:
John originally enlisted into the Leicestershire Regiment, in Derby, probably at Normanton Barracks in May 1916. His Service Papers have been lost (no doubt destroyed by enemy bombing in World War 2), but at some time he transferred to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and went to France in November 1916. He was killed in action on 8th August 1917. His Battalion had originally landed at Le Havre on 24th July 1916 and three days later joined the 190th Brigade, 63rd (Royal Naval) Division.

During his time with the Division John saw action at The Battle of the Ancre, a phase of the Battles of the Somme 1916 (13th -18th November 1916) and in 1917 - further Operations on the Ancre (January - March 1917); The Second Battle of the Scarpe (23rd -24th April 1917), a phase of the Arras Offensive, in which the Division captured Gavrelle, and The Battle of Arleux (28th -29th April 1917), a phase of the Arras Offensive.

The Battalion War Diary tells us that on the 1st August 1917 it had moved back to 'B' (Bivouac) Camp in the Brandhoek area, about ¾ mile [1200 m.] south-east of Vlamertinghe, because of very wet weather and lack of shelter. They stayed there until the 6th when 2nd Lieutenant T.E. Johnston, the Battalion Intelligence Officer went up to the front lines "… in the neighbourhood of the Ypres - Zonnebeke road."

When Lt. Johnstone returned about midday he had been slightly wounded and gassed and was admitted to hospital. That evening [6th] the Battalion moved out, passing through Ypres about 10.00 p.m. and proceeded to the front line to relieve the 8th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The Battalion's new trench position. According to the War Diary was: "… running roughly through Frost House, i.e. about 400 yards [366 m.] N.N.W. of Frezenberg - Low Farm - and thence to Steinbeek at a point about 150 yards [137 m.] of the southern limits of the old German strongpoint, know as Pommern Castle. ….. The Bn H.Q.s were at Square Farm, just over 500 yards [457 m.] from the crossroads at Frezenberg."

The War Diary described the ground the Battalion was covering as "… remarkably open and free from natural obstructions, hedges, trees, etc." All four of the Battalion's Companies were in the front line at this time, but the CWGC records onlt one man of the 7th Battalion, 18 year old Pt. Thomas William Read, being killed in action.

The Battalion was now located at Square Farm and at 8.55 p.m. the following day (7th August) there was "Intense artillery fire by Germans all along the British front. …. Our casualties 8 O.R.s wounded, these slight casualties being due to the enemy not having got our front line range accurately. One M/G at H.Q.'s was destroyed and two temporarily put out of action. …… The situation became normal again about 9.45 p.m." Despite this optimistic viewpoint expressed by the Diary, at some time during this bombardment John was killed in action.

The 'Buxton Advertiser' of 25th August 1917, reporting his death, quoted a letter, sent to Mrs Drabble, from his CO, 2nd Lieutenant H.V. Loway, saying:

"August 12th 1917 - Dear Mrs Drabble, I am so very, very sorry to write to you to tell you news which I am afraid brings much grief to you and his friends. Your husband, who was my servant for the last four months was hit by a shell that landed just by our Company Headquarters, and he died almost immediately, so suffered no pain, which is some comfort. He was always a very good soldier and was very brave in the trenches and we are all much grieved by it all. There are a number of friends in this Company who were transferred to this Regiment with him and I am sure they all sympathise so very much with you."

Lieutenant Thomas Herbert Shaw, of the same Battalion, also a Buxton man, was killed in action on the same day as John. The War Diary gives the following information on how he lost his life: "2nd Lieut. & A/Lieut. T.H. Shaw and Sgt. Carroll, both of 'B' Coy, during this bombardment [as described above which accounted for John Drabble's death] in moving forward to their front line of shell holes and old trenches (German) presumably lost their bearings and wandered into the German lines, where presumably they were captured."

Sadly, this was not the case; both Lieutenant Shaw and Pt. Samuel Carroll were killed that day and are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial. CWGC Records show that in total only 5 men from the 7th Battalion were killed on the 8th August. Like John none have a known grave and are commemorated alongside him on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres.

· I am very grateful to Dave Naden for the photo from the Menin Gate
· I am also grateful to 'sotonmate', via the Great War Forum, for the extracts from the Battalion War Diary.
· "The Buxton Advertiser" 25 August 1917

Link to CWGC Record
Pt Drabble's name inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial
The Menin Gate memorial