John Readitt was born in Clayton, Manchester on the 19th of January 1897 and lived there for the majority of his life. He was the middle child of John and Hannah Readitt.
By the time John was 14 he was an assistant Clogger in his father’s shoe business. They lived above the shop on Ashton New Road, Clayton. John was a keen footballer, playing in the Manchester Sunday School League, and he must have been thrilled when his father told him that the business had signed a contract with Manchester United that meant for the next ten years they would make and repair their players boots.
When John enlisted on the 12th April 1915, aged 18, his profession was listed as Bootmaker so he had progressed further in the family business. He was assigned to the 6th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment. His Battalion moved to Egypt in February 1916 and then to Mesopotamia. On the 25th of February 1917 at the Second Battle of Kut, he won the Regiment’s second Victoria Cross of the War.
The London Gazette of the 5th July 1917 told the tale of how he won the prestigious honour:
‘For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when working down a broad, deep water-course. Five times he went forward in the face of very heavy machine-gun fire at very close range, being the sole survivor on each occasion. These advances drove back the enemy machine guns, and about 300 yards of water-course was made good in an hour. After his officer had been killed Private Readitt, on his own initiative, organised and made several more advances. On reaching the enemy barricade, he was forced by a counter-attack to retire, giving ground slowly and continuing to throw bombs. On supports reaching him, he held a forward bend by bombing until the position was consolidated. The action of this gallant soldier saved the left flank and enabled his Battalion to maintain its position.’
His heroics were also described in the Empire News dated 8th July 1917 in less formal and rigid language:
‘Here the enemy counter-attacked, but in spite of the fact that the enemy concentrated on him a deadly fire and every sniper in the Turkish ranks seemed to be shooting at him, Readitt never abandoned his so-as-you-please style of retirement. Whenever the enemy pressed him too closely he would just turn and let them have a bomb, which scattered them in all directions. Finally he was joined by another bombing party and then he made his most determined stand. Under his leadership, the bombers drove the enemy back once more, and after a fierce fight the whole position was captured and consolidated. The Turkish commander whom we captured later in the day, said he had never seen anything finer than the way that stripling (Readitt is only 20 years of age) had stood up to a whole army.’
As a result of his bravery he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and officially received his Victoria Cross from George V on November 26th 1919 at Buckingham Palace.
After the war John spent some time in the Horton War Hospital in Epsom suffering from influenza as part of the wider Spanish flu pandemic that infected 500 million people across the world between 1918 and 1920, thankfully John survived and returned to Manchester and started working for the family business again. He was a modest man and rarely talked of his bravery but he did visit Hyde Park in 1956 for the event to mark the Centenary of the Victoria Cross. He died in 1964 and is buried in Gorton Cemetery.
Lancashire Infantry Museum
The London Gazette 5th July 1917
Empire News 8th July 1917