John (who his family believe used the name Louis) was born on 6th November 1896 to Frederick, a pork butcher, and Barbara Sieber. He was of German ancestry, his parents emigrating to South Shields in the early 1890s. He was educated at South Shields High School for Boys from September 1908, and then Armstrong College from 1913.
According to family members, Louis' family were forced to leave South Shields during the pork shop riots and saw out the war in Grasmere, where they were to spend their holidays after the war. The 'pork shop riots' refer to an outbreak of spy fever precipitated by the shelling of Hartlepool and Whitby in December 1914 and also probably influenced by the sinking of the Lusitania which provoked widespread rioting in Britain.
Our original sources indicated that Louis' 13 year old cousin was visiting Germany when war broke out and became stranded, where she was forced to report to the local police station twice a day and denied rations and education. However this may not be correct, family members believe that it was actually John's younger sister who became stranded in Germany at this time.
6th (Service) Battalion, The East Yorkshire Regiment was raised at Beverley on 27 August 1914 as part of Kitchener's First New Army, later becoming the Pioneer Battalion to the 11th Division. They sailed for Gallipoli from Avonmouth via Mudros on the 1st of July 1915. They landed near Lala Baba at Suvla Bay on the 7th of August. On the 19th and 20th of December 1915 the Division was withdrawn from Gallipoli, moving to Imbros then to Egypt at the end of January. They concentrated at Sidi Bishr and took over a section of the Suez canal defences on the 19th of February. On the 17th of June 1916 the Division was ordered to France to reinforce Third Army on The Somme. They departed from Alexandria and landed at Marseilles on the 10 July 1916. By the 27th July, they were in the front line on the Somme and took part in The capture of the Wundt-Werk, The Battle of Flers-Courcelette and The Battle of Thiepval. Louis died aged 19 on 4th October 1916, from wounds received on the Western Front.
According to the war diary of the 6th (Pioneer) Battalion: "C Company were employed digging CT (communication trench] from Mouquet Road west of Mouquet Farm along midway line to Hessian French. No 16.. Lt Coultas could not start work owing to Mouquet Farm being held by the enemy. He therefore attacked the farm in order to try and ….them out. Eventually after about 4 hours and smoke bombs had been thrown down the entrances of the passages of the farm 1 of[ficer] and 35 OR [other ranks] gave themselves up. Lt Coultas was killed whilst leading his platoon to the attack…. Casualties: 24 OR killed, wounded OR 52."
Louis was at this point one of the men wounded. The rest of the story makes for fairly harrowing reading. Louis suffered gunshot wounds to his lower back, buttock and groin. He was admitted to OC 14 General Hospital, in or near Boulogne, on 27 September and noted on 29 September to be ‘dangerously ill’, a message being sent to his home address in South Shields to the effect that he could be visited. Whether that was in any circumstances an offer that could practically be taken up one has to doubt. On 5 October a telegraph was sent reporting that he had died at 11.30 pm on 4 October.