Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

John Frederick Fitzgerald

John Frederick Fitzgerald :

John Frederick Fitzgerald : (L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Elandslaagte', 'Defence of Ladysmith', 'Belfast'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; 1914 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal

(L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Elandslaagte', 'Defence of Ladysmith', 'Belfast'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; 1914 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal

John was born in around 1879 in Cannanore (now Kannur) in southern India. He was named after his father. We don't know anything else about his family or early life. He was a member of the Church of England.

By the time he was 17 John lived in Portsmouth, Hampshire and worked as a labourer for Mr Broadbent. On the 16th March 1897 he joined the 3rd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. This was a unit of the Militia, so John would live as a civilian for most of the year and train as a soldier for a short period.

When he enlisted John was 5 feet 3 1/2 inches tall and weighed 111 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He also had a small scar under his chin, and one on the back of his neck. John was accepted into the Militia and given the service number 8032.

After his initial training John must have taken to military life because he joined the Regular Army on the 25th August. Still in Portsmouth, he left his job as a porter and joined the Manchester Regiment. He was given the service number 5224. He had a 'ring' tattoo on the back of his left forearm.

John senior lived at 66 Cumberland Street in Portsmouth when his son enlisted. He joined the 1st Battalion based in Aldershot, Hampshire.

After 3 months John left the UK with the 1st Battalion. They moved to Gibraltar on the 17th November. At some point during his time there John contracted gonorrhoea. He was treated for this condition between the 21st September and the 28th October 1898, then again between the 6th and the 14th August 1899.

John recovered just in time. On the 28th August the British Government decided to send the 1st Battalion to South Africa in case war broke out between British and Boer settlers. John sailed to Durban and was stationed in the small town of Ladysmith in Natal when war was declared on the 11th October.

The British tried to stop the Boers from capturing Ladysmith. John was present at the battle of Elandslaagte on 21st October. This was the first battle of the war in which the Manchesters took part. Although a victory it had no strategic or tactical importance and by the 30th Ladysmith was under siege.

John and the 1st Battalion fought hard to stop Boer attempts to take the town, and would attack Boer artillery to stop it from shelling their positions. By the end of the siege food was in short supply and disease was widespread. The British relief force reached Ladysmith on the 28th February 1900.

John began to receive an extra 1 penny (1d) per day Good Conduct Pay on the 21st May.

After Ladysmith the British Army tried to force the Boers to face it in battle. They succeeded on the 21st August 1900 at the Battle of Belfast, or Bergendal. John took part in this battle, which lasted until the 27th and ended with the defeat of Boer forces and the capture of their temporary capital, Machadodorp (today called eNtokozweni). The Boers did not surrender; they fought on as guerrillas in small units, so John stayed in South Africa.

There were no battles on the same scale during the rest of the war. John served with the 1st Battalion in many smaller operations intended to restrict the Boer's movements and force them to face British soldiers. This strategy was eventually successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902.

The 1st Battalion left South Africa for Singapore on the 10th March 1903. His Good Conduct Pay was increased to 2d per day on the 21st August 1903. Whilst he was in the Straits Settlements, as they were then known, John struggled with the climate. As a result he was hospitalised with malarial fever for most of January and between the 18th and 25th October 1904.

On the 29th December 1904 John returned to the UK and transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in Guernsey. He would serve with them for the rest of his Army career. John had decided to make this career last longer; he extended his Army service to 12 years on the 21st August 1905. At around the same time John was one of 12 members of E Company to qualify for a Marksman's Badge.

John was a member of the Officer's Mess Staff for the 2nd Battalion. We don't know when he began this job, but we know he held it 'for many years'. It could have involved one or more of a variety of responsibilities, including waiting at tables, cleaning the mess and serving drinks.

He re-engaged to complete 21 years Army service in Portsmouth on the 18th June 1909, and gained his 2nd Class Army Certificate of Education on the 15th November, at Mullingar in County Westmeath, Ireland.

On the 10th May 1912 John was promoted to Lance Corporal. He was still a member of E Company on the 22nd January 1913 when he married Lillian M. Cherryman at Willingdon Parish Church in Sussex.

The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 meant that the 2nd Battalion needed to increase its numbers. As part of this process John was promoted to Corporal on the 8th August. He travelled with the battalion from the Curragh Camp in Ireland to France, arriving on the 15th August.

John served with the 2nd Battalion throughout the war. We have no record of him being wounded, despite the many fierce battles the battalion was involved in, including Le Cateau, Ypres, the Somme, Passchendaele, the German Spring Offensive and the Hundred Days Offensive. John was promoted to Sergeant on the 19th November 1916, and went on leave for the first time one week later. He returned to the 2nd Battalion on the 6th December.

John's 18 years of Army service were recognised in October 1917 when he was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. In the same month he took another period of leave, between the 4th and the 17th.

Just over a year later, after much hard fighting, John went on leave again. His war ended when this leave began on the 24th October. The 2nd Battalion left the front line on the 6th November, the day before John rejoined them, and would remain in the rear until the fighting stopped on the 11th.

Soon after this John returned to the UK for discharge. After a time at the Crystal Palace Dispersal Centre in London, he left the Army on the 16th January 1919. He had served 6 months longer than the 21 years he had agreed to.

In 1920 John and Lillian went to work for Lieutenant Colonel Henry Theobald. He had been a member of the 2nd Battalion from 1903 until he was wounded at Le Cateau on the 26th August 1914. John and Henry will have known each other from the 2nd Battalion Officer's Mess.

John and Lillian 'devotedly looked after' Henry and his houses in Bath and Guildford, Surrey until John died on the 23rd March 1948, aged 70. Henry died in January 1952 and Lillian attended his funeral. Then she lived at 59 Byrefield Road in the town. She died in Colchester, Essex between July and September 1959, at the age of 75.

John's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in February 1952, shortly before Henry Theobald's were donated.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council