John Woodall-Marshall was awarded the Military Cross in May 1916. He died less than six weeks later on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. He was 24. John was a pupil at Oakham School between 1906 and 1910 and then went on to train to be a lawyer. His home was in South Shields, the son of Dr Thomas and Rebecca Marshall who lived in St Michael's Terrace, Westoe. When the First World War broke out, he joined the 27th Battalion (4th Tyneside Irish) Northumberland Fusiliers. An obituary in The Tablet Catholic newspaper of 5 August 1916 says John spent time in the French Foreign Legion before transferring to the British Army. His MC was announced in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 16 May 1916, saying he showed conspicuous gallantry while the battalion was on general trench duty before the Somme battle: "He went to the assistance of a NCO wounded on patrol and carried him into safety under heavy fire." By July he was a Lieutenant and his battalion, part of 103rd Brigade, was destined to take part in the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. The plan was to closely follow the Royal Scots in the initial assault and if all went well, to push on to Contalmaison and secure an important German communication trench south of the village. The Fusiliers formed up on the Usna Tara line, right in the centre of the British attack near the Roman Road between Albert and Bapaume. After an intensive artillery barrage, the attack began. To begin with, things went well and there were few casualties as the battalion advanced to Chapes Spur. At that point, according to the battalion war diary: "Heavy machine guns caused numbers to drop." The Fusiliers continued to advance while the battalion to their left suffered 70 percent casualties before the German front trench was reached. "This trench was still in the hands of the Germans because the Royal Scots had not left sufficient men to 'mop up' the garrison," said the war diary. A handful of Fusiliers managed to continue the advance and reach Contalmaison "but had to retire to join the survivors of rear companies ... who at 10am were holding Shelter Wood," approximately halfway to their ultimate objective. Five officers, including John, were killed that day along with 99 other ranks. The battalion also suffered 373 wounded and 58 missing. The attack had only achieved limited success. At the end of the day, Contalmaison was still in German hands. But unlike so many who died that day, John at least has a marked grave. He is buried in Gordon Dump Cemetery, grave IX.B.2, with the words Law Student above a family inscription, and is remembered in Oakham School Chapel.
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