John Ernest Appleyard
Lieutenant, Royal Engineers
John Ernest Appleyard was born in 1897 and lived at 6 Turney Road, West Dulwich. During his school years, he was a model student, being matriculated with honours in 1913 and being appointed as Captain of the School in 1915. He excelled in mathematics, mechanics and science and also had a flair for languages, particularly French. However, John's real passion was for Art and he showed a natural talent for free-hand and model drawing throughout his time at Alleyn's.
As well as being academically gifted, John was also a talented and enthusiastic sportsman, holding the title of Athletic Champion of the School in 1914 and competing in swimming, football and gymnastics. He was equally as passionate about the activities he pursued in his spare time and was a dedicated member of the scouting movement, eventually becoming a King's Scout after the completion of a number of tough tasks and challenges.
When John left school in 1915, he decided to enlist in the British Army as an officer in the Royal Engineers. This required that he sit an Army Entrance Examination and select a preference of which Military Academy he wished to join. John requested that he enter Woolwich Military Academy if he passed the exam, though stated he would also accept Sandhurst as a point of entry into the academy. After receiving his results, and coming 5th in the Woolwich Entrance Examination, John entered Woolwich Academy to begin training as an officer. He received his commission in October 1915 and left England to serve overseas as a 2nd Lieutenant the following June. John served with the Royal Engineers in France and Flanders throughout 1916 and was awarded the Military Cross in January 1917 for his gallantry in battle against the enemy. In 1918, he was serving on the Western Front as part of 222nd Field Company and was in charge of No. 3 Section, commanding around 36 men in total. One of John's main responsibilities was getting these men safely from their positions in reserve to the frontline, an experience which he describes at length in his pocket notebook, which is held by the Archives at Alleyn's. This small red notebook contains a 19 page piece called the 'Old War and the New', describing the No. 3 Section's 6 days of travelling between April 10th and April 16th 1918. The story details the section's trip from a 'pretty little village' close to Arras to the frontline where the silence of the night was often interrupted by German shell fire. It is clear from John's writing that the front was an unpredictable place and any section could be subject to an attack or relentless shelling at any moment.
Despite the danger of the Western Front, John did not let the hardship of war stop him from pursuing his hobbies on active service. As well as writing, John kept up his passion for free-hand drawing and his small brown sketchbook is full of hand-drawn pictures of his comrades, officers and the battlefields of France and Flanders. These hand-drawn pictures, some incredibly detailed, provide a fascinating insight into what life was like on the Western Front for an officer. Indeed, 100 years later, the mud of the Western Front can still be seen dusting the edges of some of John's sketches which can be viewed in the gallery below.
John continued to serve with the Royal Engineers until 26th April 1918 when he was killed in action shortly after the start of the German Spring Offensive. His death came after the German forces began heavily shelling the billet that the Royal Engineers were occupying, leading John to quickly make the decision to clear out the men from the area. After he and his Commanding Officer, G Barry P. Thompson, had directed the majority of their troops to safety, both men began walking in what they thought was a safe direction. Unfortunately, this was not the case and little more than 20 yards in front of them, a shell exploded causing both men severe injuries. John later died from the wounds he had received and he was taken to be buried at Ebblinghem Military Cemetery shortly after his death. His CO, who survived the incident, recorded the full details of this day in a heartfelt letter to John's father on June 28th 1918. The original letter, as well as a transcript, are available to view in the gallery to the right.
After the end of the war, John's family received his British War and Victory medal, the Military Cross and the War Medallion on his behalf.
The Archive at Alleyn's holds a small collection on John Ernest Appleyard which includes, among other things, a sketchbook, a notebook, war medals and letters. A selection of these items can be viewed in the gallery above. Double click these images to enlarge them.