John Lock, more often known as Jack, was born on 9th November 1896 in Thetford, Norfolk. He was the second of eight children, two of whom died in infancy. The family were poor and his father was a strict disciplinarian, often punishing the children. John left school at 12 with a basic education and was set to work in a variety of unskilled jobs including running errands for the butcher, helping the fishmonger and collecting horse muck for Burrels a local traction engine manufacturer.
Just before the outbreak of war in 1914, Jack joined the Territorial Army aged 17. He was keen to see action having been taught to hate the Kaiser in school. At this time he worked as a stoker at Thetford Town Gas Works and it was there that, in August, he received his call up papers. Downing tools immediately, Jack went home, collected his khakis, and with the rest of the called up men from the town, marched to the railway station as the local band played them on. He wouldn’t see Thetford again for five years.
He joined company G of the 4th Battalion Norfolk Regiment as a bugle boy and stretcher bearer. The men underwent a short period of basic training in Essex, with route marches and skirmishing exercises using wooden guns. The battalion, joined by regular army soldiers acting as NCOs, were then moved to Liverpool ready for embarkation to Gallipoli in July 1915.
It was at this time that Jack began to write the diary that is featured on this website. In it he records a graphic account of his first experiences of war. It was during the campaign that Jack suffered his first wounding from shrapnel burst. He returned to the fight after a short convalescence and lasted to the end of the operation in late 1915.
After the Gallipoli campaign, Jack's battalion spent much of 1916 in Egypt taking part in several operations protecting the Suez Canal. The battalion was small having suffered heavy losses at Gallipoli and so was merged with 54th East Anglian Division, Norfolk regiment. During this period, as for much of the war, rations were poor and Jack stole a loaf of bread for the hungry troops. He was caught and sentenced to Field Punishment No.1 where he was tied, crucifix style, to a cannon wheel in the blazing sun for 2 hours at a time.
In 1917 Jack’s regiment marched across the Sinai Peninsula and were involved in the three battles of Gaza and the battle of Jaffa. At the second battle of Gaza he was reported dead by those who saw him in the aftermath of a high explosive shell strike, but he later confirmed in a letter to his parents that he was ‘glad to say I’m far from that’ and had only been wounded. After being involved in several more battles in the Palestine Campaign, Jack was demobbed at the end of the war and made it back to England in January 1919.
He returned, but not to a hero’s welcome, instead finding unemployment and poverty. As a result he re-enlisted in the 2nd (Regular) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment and spent time in India, Peshawar, Waziristan and the Khyber Pass. He was finally discharged in 1922 with his Character Certificate reading ‘Has a very good character. A very clean, smart, strong, intelligent and hardworking soldier.’
Following re-enlistment in 1919 Jack married Annie Jackson and they had three children; Dorothy, Harold and John. After returning from his second deployment, Jack eventually found work on the Great Eastern Railway as a ganger and moved his family from Thetford to a former office building on a WW1 aerodrome in Roudham. His career on the railway would last for 39 years during which time he worked for the GER, LNER and then British Railways. He became a lineman, an acting inspector, was a strong union man, local branch chairman and shop steward.
Like his father before him, he was a real jack of all trades and he made extra money cutting hair, snobbing (mending shoes), keeping farm animals, bee keeping, poaching and mending watches, a trade taught to him by an Indian man during his second enlistment. There was nothing that he wouldn't turn his hand to and he had a famous saying: '...if I can't do it, I'll bugger it up so nobody else can!'
His interests were wide and varied. He was a strong churchman, spent time in the St John’s Ambulance brigade and sang in a choir. He also played the mouth organ, penny whistle, squeeze box and flute. He was also a generous man and gave regularly to charities for the disadvantaged.
In his later years Jack moved to a railway cottage in Wymondham right near the railway line. He became a keen gardener and kept flower beds that were impeccably tended and always a rich show of colour. He exercised daily and was always active, even riding his motorbike and sidecar well into his retirement, a hobby he had to give up after having two accidents in one day.
Following the death of his wife he spent his last years in a Royal British Legion care home in Cromer, Norfolk. In 1991, aged 94, he was invited, as one of the few surviving Gallipoli veterans, to meet Margret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street. He was thrilled as he wanted to tell her what she could do with the Poll Tax, however he was too ill to travel. He died later that year on 2nd May and had willed his body to medical research at Cambridge University, generous even in death.