John Howard PotterBorn July-September 1894 - Killed in Action 18th August 1916
John Howard Potter was the eldest son of John James and Maud Maria Potter of Hope House, Forest Rise, Walthamstow. John’s father was a higher grade 2nd division clerk in the civil service and the family included John’s younger brother Harold who also went to Bancrofts and younger siblings Margaret and Charles. Both of the Potter boys were active in the life of the school and John in his last year 1912 became one of that cadre of monitors that features so many of our boys.
Jerry Wright, Ferdie Higson, Benjamin Andrews all for school house, Sydney Stranger Chaplin for East and John Potter and Tom Roper for West.
John applied himself diligently to his sutides and as his father had done before him passed the Senior School Examination and was a prizewinner:
John’s forte was in the field of science. With the outbreak of war both John and his younger brother Harold were in the first cohort of those to enlist. John enlisted with the Royal Engineers and his younger brother would later be a Lieutenant in the Gloucester Regiment.
At the outbreak of war the Royal Engineers were required for a multiplicity of tasks notably bridge and road construction, water supply and motorised transport.
The German offensive within the Second Battle of Ypres however changed the role of the Royal Engineers in one significant aspect. The deployment of poison gas in April 1915 around Ypres had great shock value and within the month Lord Kitchener had authorised the British Army’s development of its own offensive capability using this tactic. Special companies of technically skilled men were formed with a base at Helfaut.
It was to here that John following his basic training was posted on the 17th July 1915. He was 21 years of age. By September at Loos the British army was deploying gas offensively in the Loos battle. At first this was by releasing it from cylinders to form a cloud that would, wind permitting roll across no man’s land. Later both sides would include gas shells for artillery use.
The spring and early summer of 1916 saw massive preparations for the great allied offensive on the Somme. John was by then a Corporal in the 2nd Battalion of the Special Brigade of the Royal Engineers.
The role of the Special Brigade was to conduct the gas offensives. The gas used codenamed ‘White Star’ was phosgene mixed with chlorine. It was odourless and without taste and could be inhaled by its victims for a considerable time without being noticed.
It would then produced serious or fatal inflammation of the lungs.
The battle of the Somme saw the allied armies’ deployment of 1,120 tons of the gas in 98 separate attacks between July and November.
John’s unit was part of the Fourth Army operations straddling the Albert-Bapaume road.
The opening days of July saw the collapse of most of the attacks north of the road around Ovilliers and Thiepval. The progress would be slow and murderous.
Somewhere amongst this slaughter John was killed. It is likely this was by artillery. His body has never been recovered and he is commemorated on the THIEPVAL MEMORIAL.
John’s younger brother Lieutenant Harold Potter, though seriously wounded survived the war.