John Ernest Partridge
Private, London Regiment/Royal Fusiliers
John Ernest Partridge was a student at Alleyn’s until 1916. Before the war, he lived at 83 Pendle Road, Streatham with his parents, Henry and Alice, and his brothers, Alan and Henry. He decided to join the war effort a year after leaving school in 1917. After being attested, he joined the London Regiment as a Private and was assigned to the 22nd Rifle Battalion. John remained at home with the battalion until March 1918 when he received orders to embark overseas for the Western Front. At this time, the Western Front was extremely active due to the launch of the German Spring Offensive on March 21st 1918. The strength of the German attack had taken the British by surprise and many of the Infantry Regiments already serving in France were desperate for reinforcements after suffering heavy casualties. This need for new recruits saw John transferred from the London Regiment to the Royal Fusiliers when he arrived in France. He joined his new regiment as they were defending the line near Messines in April 1918. Shortly after arriving, the German Army launched another fierce attack on the British front line. As the Fusiliers struggled to hold off the attacking German forces, John went missing in action on April 12th 1918. He was later listed as a prisoner of war by the Germans, though his exact location and camp were not disclosed. This prompted his Father to write to the Officer in Command of the Infantry Records Office on July 2nd 1918. John’s father received a reply three days later that stated no further information had been sent to the IRO regarding the location of his son. Unbeknownst to his father at the time, John had in fact been taken to Heilsberg Prisoner of War Camp in East Prussia. This was one of the most Eastern German camps in the war and held 1000 British prisoners as well as a large number of Russian prisoners. These prisoners were housed in overcrowded wooden barracks and forced to work during their time at the camp. To make matters worse, conditions at the camp were incredibly poor and rations were scarce owing to the effectiveness of the British Naval Blockade which had been restricting the supply of goods to Germany since 1914. As a result, many of the prisoners of war held at the camp died due to malnutrition and disease and John was one of these soldiers. His death was listed as being the result of ‘general weakness’, most likely due to the poor conditions and lack of food at the camp. 38 other British men and a substantial number of Russian soldiers suffered the same fate as John. The soldiers were buried by the Germans in mass graves and their names were later listed on the Malbork Commonwealth Grave Memorial.
The 39 British soldiers who lost their lives at the camp later became known as the Heilsberg 39 and these men have been the subject of recent research by the Western Front Association. More information on the 39 can be found on the Western Front Association website here.