John Clayton Spraggon was born in York on 13 May 1896, the only son of John Spraggon of Shotley Bridge, Durham, a gardener, and Annie Elizabeth Spraggon (née Umpleby) of Kippax, Yorkshire. The family later moved to New Brancepeth, Durham, where John attended New Brancepeth Council School before enrolling in Durham Johnston School in 1908.
In 1914 Spraggon entered Bede College. He took the first year examination for the Archbishop’s Certificate, but was unable to complete the examination in the second year as he had enlisted as a rifleman with the 21st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on 13 December 1915.
The 21st Battalion sailed from Southampton to Havre on the S.S. Marguerite, disembarking on 6th May 1916 to take part in the offensive on the Somme. After months of training and conducting smoke and gas operations against the enemy, the battalion fought in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on the morning of 15 September 1916. Some of Spraggon’s fellow riflemen that day were also Bede men, and one of those who survived, James Proctor, gave two accounts of this battle in The Bede magazine in 1918, and which are quoted in full in the biography of Joseph Neall, who was killed on the same day.
They went over the top very early that morning and advanced towards Flers. Though they captured many prisoners and some ground, including Flers itself, the battalion also suffered heavy casualties as the village was strongly defended. The battalion’s war diary also notes some casualties from the creeping allied barrage as well. Spraggon and a fellow Bede man, Joseph Neall, were acting as bombers and were killed in the advance: “Spraggon was the first to be killed. … a shell burst near him, killing him instantly”. While the mission to capture Flers was successful, the writer asks “but at what price, we had already lost five hundred men” (The Bede magazine, April 1918, p.21).
John Spraggon’s body was never identified, and his sacrifice is therefore commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France. He is also remembered on the Durham Johnston School war memorial plaque, the New Brancepeth monument, and the Bede College 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour.