John Robert Larner was born on 31st January 1890, the second child of Robert and Francis Larner. He was baptised soon after birth, at St James the Less church, on 20th February. The family lived at Oakenhead Wood which, at that time, would have been a relatively short walking distance from the church, down the old road which dropped onto what is now Holland Avenue, then onto Burnley Road.
Although neither Robert nor Francis were born locally themselves, they lived between Rawtenstall and Haslingden for at least the next fifteen years, before moving to Britannia, Oswaldtwistle with their six children. The 1911 census shows John living at the family home, which would probably have been near to where the Britannia Inn is on Haslingden Road, Oswaldtwistle and working as a ‘piecer’ in a local cotton mill. The family later moved into Oswaldtwistle town itself, to King Edward Street.
Upon the outbreak of war, John joined the East Lancashire Regiment, enlisting at Accrington. Two of his brothers, Edmund and Thomas, also enlisted around the same time. After training, John was posted to France where he remained until 1918. It is not clear now just when, but at some point John was transferred to the 8th Battalion of the Border Regiment.
During May and June 1918 the 8th battalion was deployed on the Western Front to the east of Paris, around Aisne and Soissons. The German army were expected to mount a heavy and concerted attack in a final attempt to advance to Paris and, when it came, such was the ferocity of their onslaught that the Border regiment, defending bridges across the river Aisne, was all but wiped out. John was one of the many casualties and, with serious injuries, he was taken to Etaples, near Calais, where a huge hospital complex had been established early on in the war.
John, sadly, died on 25th July and was buried, along with others, in the Etaples military cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in France with over 11,500 graves, including those of German dead. In 1924, being unsure of the exact location of John’s grave within the cemetery, a commemoration cross was erected to him, in a special memorial plot.
John’s brother Thomas was also lost to the war; killed in action in 1917 and his brother Edmund was discharged after serious injury in 1916. John’s remaining personal effects and a war gratuity were passed to his mother Francis on 6th December 1919 (John incorrectly named as Joseph in the register).