Maltby Military Medal hero remembered 100 years on

John Bolam received the Military Medal for his First World War deeds.
John Bolam received the Military Medal for his First World War deeds.

The family of a Maltby war hero will remember his service this week, on the centenary of the moment which earned his highest military honour.

John Bolam of the Northumberland Fusiliers was awarded the Military Medal after his act of bravery on June 22, 1917, during a defensive operation following the Battle of Arras .

On that day, he was stationed at Cuthbert trench to the east of Arras just, outside a village called Roeux.

The German forces had the advantage of high ground from which they shelled British trenches with mustard gas shells.

John was boxed in with his comrades suffering from gas effects but still held the position and kept the German advance at bay.

It was two days before the regiment could get him out and offer medical attention, and he returned to the front just days later.

His great grandson Nick Dwyer said: “As a soldier, I have served in Afghanistan, Kosovo twice and Northern Ireland but my experiences will never be as bad as John’s during the First World War.”

The military report on the incident gives an indication of what John endured.

It said: “The shells now were carrying a new and particularly offensive chemical charge of what was known as mustard gas. It blistered the skin and caused painful irritation of eyes and nose, throat and lungs.

“It temporarily disabled far more than it either killed or permanently invalided, but its most detestable quality was that wherever it was successfully discharged it remained a source of danger and trouble for many days.”

The report added: “It hung about in dugouts, cellars and even shelters above ground. It often soaked into men’s clothing, and loosed off again its exhalations in sunlight or by a fire.

“It saturated patches of ground so that men were gassed as they dug them. Its victims hardly appreciated the suggestion that as the percentage of fatal results was not high it was, after all, a ‘humane intervention.’”

The First World War saw the first large scale use of chemical weapons.

While they continued to be used after the war’s end, by 1925 public opinion had turned, leading to prohibitions in the Geneva Protocol.

The incident came a year after John had married his sweetheart Jessie while on leave, and his service in the Battle of the Somme.

In 1918 he was shot, and his injuries led to him being discharged from the army.

In the 1920s, he and Jessie moved to Maltby and, when the Second World War broke out, he served in the town’s Home Guard. He died aged 80 in 1971.

Nick said: “They had quite a few children, then grandchildren, and now Bolam is a well-known name in Maltby.

“I don’t know every member of the family but I hope they will know what John did.”