Photograph of John in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR4/20/101
(L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; India General Service Medal with clasp 'Burma 1930-32'; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal
John was born on the 20th October 1877 in Galway, Ireland. His father was called Thomas, he had a sister named Mary and they were Roman Catholics, but we don't know anything else about his early life or family.
When John was 18 he joined the Army. We don't know what civilian job he left in order to do this. He enlisted into the Connaught Rangers on the 19th October 1895 and was given the service number 5515.
After training at the Regimental Depot in Galway, John joined the 1st Battalion on the 28th November. He served with them in Sheffield, Yorkshire until mid 1897, then at the Curragh and Athlone in Ireland until December.
John left the UK for India on the 28th December 1897. He joined the 2nd Battalion in Meerut. They would be based there until shortly before John returned to the UK in November 1903.
We don't know anything about John's service during this time. The 2nd Battalion did not take part in any campaigns during his service, and they remained in India throughout the Boer War in South Africa. John became a Drummer on the 3rd September 1901 and held this position until the 19th September 1903. He returned to the UK on the 26th November of that year and was transferred to the Army Reserve.
As a Reservist John could find a home and a job. We believe he returned to Galway and became a labourer. His reserve service ended on the 18th October 1907. By 1915 he was working on a farm and lived with his father in Frenchfort. This is a small community on the outskirts of Galway.
The First World War broke out in August 1914 and John rejoined the Connaught Rangers on the 25th April 1915. He joined the 3rd Battalion, a training unit, in Kinsale, County Cork and was given the service number 5699.
John was posted to the 5th Battalion, who were serving in Gallipoli. He joined them there on the 21st September, but will not have seen much of the area. The 5th Battalion were withdrawn on the 29th and set sail for Salonika in Greece. They arrived in early October 1915.
The original aim of sending troops to Salonika was to support the Serbian Army, but it had been defeated before they arrived. The force was kept there anyway. Men stationed in Salonika spent most of their time building defensive positions, and did very little major fighting. The main threat they faced was not the Bulgarians or the Austrians but disease. Malaria was rampant, and other diseases would sometimes sweep through the force.
The Allied forces in Salonika began an attack on Bulgarian and Austrian positions in early October 1916. The 5th Battalion took part in the attack on the village of Yenikoi on the 3rd, and during this operation John was shot in the left breast. He was evacuated to the 81st Field Ambulance and after further treatment sailed back to the UK in late December.
John remained in the UK recovering until the 4th September 1917 when he crossed to France. After just over a week at the 16th Infantry Base Depot in Etaples, John joined the 6th Battalion of the Connaught Rangers. We don't know much about where John served with them.
On the 21st March 1918 the German Army launched a huge offensive against the British and French Armies. They hoped to win the war before too many American troops could arrive to fight them. At first the attack was extremely successful. Many Allied units were cut off, and thousands of soldiers were killed or captured. The 6th Battalion lost around 2/3 of its men. John appears to have avoided being injured, but the battalion could not continue. On the 18th April it was disbanded. John and his fellow survivors joined the 2nd Battalion of The Prince of Wales's Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians). John was given the service number 18067.
During June John contracted influenza. He was one of the victims of the flu pandemic that spread around the globe during this period. It is estimated to have infected up to 1/3 of the world's population and killed between 20 and 50 million people. Young, fit adults such as John were most vulnerable to this outbreak.
John needed hospital treatment for the next 4 months, mostly in Boulogne. He recovered and was discharged on the 21st October. He rejoined the 2nd Battalion on the 1st November, 10 days before the end of the war.
On the 12th John was allowed to return to the UK on leave. He was there for 2 weeks, but did not rejoin the 2nd Battalion until the 20th December. Soon afterwards he went to work at II Corps Demobilisation Camp, helping other soldiers leave the Army. John's turn came on the 20th April 1919.
John's time as a civilian was short. He had been 'discharged to re-enlist', and did so on the 12th September 1919. He rejoined the Connaught Rangers and was assigned to the 1st Battalion at Jullundur in India. His new service number was 32532. During June 1920 some members of the 1st Battalion mutinied in protest at the violence of the Anglo-Irish War. We don't know whether or not John agreed with their views, but there is no evidence to suggest that he was involved.
In September 1921 John agreed to extend his Army service to 12 years, and the next month he again became a Drummer. At some point he was given a new service number: 7144016.
The Anglo-Irish War ended in December 1921 with the Anglo-Irish Treaty. An independent Irish Free State would be formed in one year's time. As part of this process the 5 Infantry Regiments of the British Army that traditionally recruited in this part of Ireland would be disbanded. The Connaught Rangers was one of these Regiments. The others were The Royal Dublin Fusiliers, The Royal Irish Regiment, The Royal Munster Fusiliers and John's former unit The Prince of Wales's Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians).
Around 25 soldiers and officers, including John, transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in Kamptee on the 15th March 1922. One man who transferred with John was Denis Hogan. His medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.
John became a Drummer again just over a year later in June 1923. The 2nd Battalion moved to Jubbulpore, now Jabalpur, during this year. It celebrated its centenary there on the 25th March 1924 with a week of celebrations, including 3 days holiday for the entire battalion.
After serving in Jubbulpore the 2nd Battalion moved to Rangoon in Burma during 1925. After 3 years there John and the 2nd Battalion moved to Maymyo in the Burmese jungle during early 1928. They reached their new station by sailing up the Irrawaddy River. In November 1929 the 2nd Battalion returned to India, being based at Secunderabad.
In December 1930 a rebellion broke out in several regions of Burma. The authorities requested more troops from India to help restore control, so John and the 2nd Battalion returned to the country in June 1931. They took part in patrols of the jungle and villages in their allotted area until the rebellion was brought to an end by early 1932. John returned to Secunderabad in early February. He had extended his service to 21 years in November 1930.
John's annual assessments show us how highly regarded he was by his officers in the 2nd Battalion. In 1925 he was described as 'An old soldier of the right type. Reliable and hardworking'. He maintained this standard throughout his service, and for several years his assessment simply read 'As above'.
In 1933 John was 'the best performer on the flute' of all the Drummers. He was setting 'a good example to the other drummers' the next year. John's 18 years in the Army were recognised in May 1934 when he was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. 'I am sorry there are not more like him' was his officer's opinion in 1935.
The 2nd Battalion had moved to Khartoum in Sudan during October 1932, and returned to the UK on the 13th December 1933. They were then stationed in Strensall, Yorkshire until 1938. In 1936 the 2nd Battalion was chosen to convert from an infantry unit to a mechanised machine gun battalion. This led to a busy time for John and his comrades, as they needed to be trained in driving, vehicle maintenance and Vickers Machine Gun shooting.
When the Second World War broke out in September 1939 the 2nd Battalion were in Aldershot in Hampshire. They began preparing to go overseas, but John would not be going with them. On the 5th October he was posted to the Machine Gun Training Centre based in Chester. He would now be involved in training new recruits for all the Army's machine gun battalions.
We don't know much about John's service during the war. He moved to the Manchester Regiment Depot in June 1943, but returned to the 24th Machine Gun Training Centre (MGTC) in September 1945, after the end of the war.
In November 1946 John joined the 63rd Primary Training Centre (PTC) at Dunham Park in Altrincham, Cheshire. This was the training centre for Manchester Regiment recruits. Soon after he arrived there John was interviewed by the Manchester Guardian newspaper. At the time John was serving as Batman, or servant, to the Depot Commanding Officer. He was 'known as the Regiment's mascot'. John summed up his service in his own words:
I think I must be the oldest serving soldier in the British Army...I have served in three wars and been under the reigns of Queen Victoria and the last four kings. The Army has changed a great deal since I joined, and conditions are much improved. My advice to young boys joining the Army is that they should put their backs into everything they do and they will get ahead...The Army is a great life and I would not change it for anything.'
Denis Hogan also served at the 63rd PTC during this period. It was closed and training moved back to Ladysmith Barracks in Ashton-under-Lyne during 1948. Later that year, on the 27th August, John and Denis were both discharged from the Army.
After some time as a Reservist, John finally became a civilian on the 7th November 1951. He had served for a total of 43 years.
We don't know anything about the rest of John's life, although we believe he was married. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in September 1950. John was also awarded the 1939-45 Defence Medal and the 1939-45 War Medal for his Army service.