Chorley woman writes book about her grandad's heroic efforts in the Battle of Shaikh Sa'aad in the First World War

John Thompson Wright
John Thompson Wright
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A Chorley woman is determined not to let people forget the heroic efforts of her grandad in saving a platoon of soldiers by immortalising his bravery in a book.


Sylvia Collins has penned A Flash of Steel, detailing John Thompson Wright’s life as a soldier, and in particular, his role in ‘flushing out’ the enemy at the Battle of Shaikh Sa’aad on January 8 1916, which saved his comrades’ lives.
For this he was offered a Victoria Cross, but turned it down for a lower distinction - the Distinguished Conduct Medal - in order to support his family through more benefits offered to him.

Sylvia Collins and her younger brother Arthur

Sylvia Collins and her younger brother Arthur

Although her grandad rarely spoke of his time in the First World War, she cleverly used her time gardening with him to gather small pockets of information, which she wrote in her exercise book.
Now, at the age of 76, Sylvia decided to put it all together in a book, with the help of Chorley and District Writers Club.
The book is self published through Quadruped Publishing and proceeds will go towards the Royal British Legion.

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She said: “My grandad joined the army in 1898, aged 21. He was in the 4th Hussars, as Squadron Sergeant Major. He was sent to South Africa to fight in the Boer War and then came back. In 1906 he was sent to India to keep the peace, taking my grandma, Alice. Whilst there, their four children were born. When he got called up for the First World War, we were all sent back to England.

“He fought in the Mesopotamia Theatre of War in 1914 and was with the Ottoman Empire.
“It was here that he performed his most heroic act. During the Battle of Shaikh Sa’aad he became aware that a platoon of enemy men were due to arrive where his Ottoman troops were. Without any orders, my grandad, armed with only a revolver, went to noman’s land to face the enemy. The Turks knew all the hiding places and he knew he had to flush them out.

His actions saved his platoon from a high death toll.
“There were two other heroes Sergeant Farrier Hubert Woodroffe and Sergeant Alfred Hancock who were involved in this, but they had never been mentioned before. I managed to trace their families to ensure they got a mention.”

The book cover

The book cover

Sylvia, who has one son and two grandchildren, added John was awarded eight medals during his service, including the Queen Victoria South Africa, the War Medal 1914 to 1920 and the Long Service Good Conduct Medal.

On leaving the army, he worked for Shell Refinery and also worked part time as a commissionaire, where he met royal dignitaries.
Sylvia added: “I was born in 1942 and my brother, Arthur, was born four years later. We both moved to my grandparents around 1950. I used to enjoy waiting for my grandad to come home so I could hear stories of who he met that day.”
John, who lived in Ellesmere Port, retired in 1957, at the age of 81 and died a year later.

The book is available to order through Waterstones and Foyles Bookshop.
She is also selling the book, at £12.99, at a pop-up shop run by the Royal British Legion in Market Walk, Chorley, today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday).