Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

John James MacCurdy Greer

John James MacCurdy Greer : Photograph of John MacCurdy by kind permission of Mrs Philippa Colman

Photograph of John MacCurdy by kind permission of Mrs Philippa Colman

John James MacCurdy Greer : (L to R) Military Cross; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaves; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal

(L to R) Military Cross; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaves; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal

John was born on the 8th February 1884 in Portland in the Australian State of Victoria. His father was called Samuel MacCurdy Greer and his mother was Emma.

John had an older brother called Thomas MacGregor Greer and an older sister called Eily Kathleen Hardy Greer. He also had a younger brother named Henry Little Hardy Greer. The family were Presbyterians.

Samuel and Emma both came from distinguished Irish families. They had married in Dublin in 1875. The name MacCurdy had been passed down through generations of Greers.

They sailed to Australia in around 1878 and lived in Portland, where Samuel worked as an accountant. Shortly after John was born the family returned to Ireland and lived in Lisburn, County Antrim. During 1885 John was baptised at Annahilt Presbyterian Church in Lisburn by his grandfather, Thomas Greer. The family then stayed in Ireland. In later life John never thought of himself as Australian, and his daughter described him as English.

John was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion of Princess Victoria's (Royal Irish Fusiliers) on the 9th March 1901. This was a unit of the Militia, made up of soldiers who lived as civilians for most of the year and trained for a short period annually. Although the Boer War was being fought at this time we don't believe John took part in it. He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 18th September.

Thomas was 8 years older than John, and he did fight in South Africa. He was commissioned in the 4th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in March 1898. This was also a unit of the Militia. He fought in South Africa with the 8th and 9th Battalions of the Imperial Yeomanry, and then joined the 4th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in 1902.

John resigned his commission on the 7th May 1907. On the 11th December of that year he married Elvina May Townsend in St Albans, Hertfordshire. She was originally from Adelaide, South Australia. John worked as a 'coach and motor merchant' when they married, and Elvina was a nurse. They made their home in St Albans, 'in a dear little house, two-storied'.

John and Elvina had a daughter, Eleanor Margaret MacCurdy, who was born in Brixton, south London in around September 1910. In April 1911 the family lived at 180 Brixton Hill. John worked as a travelling salesman for a firm that made coach and motor car accessories.

John had been declared bankrupt in February 1910. At the time he worked as a 'general agent and merchant'. He was released from the bankruptcy order on the 24th January 1912. His address, or the address of his business, was 443 and 444 Birkbeck Bank Chambers in London.

In around September 1911 John and his family went to live in Melbourne, Australia. Eleanor's first birthday was celebrated onboard the ship taking them there.

The First World War broke out in August 1914. John returned to the UK to 'rejoin his regiment'. It would appear, though, that he instead joined the Manchester Regiment, although we don't know when. By March 1915 he had been promoted to Captain and joined the 14th (Reserve) Battalion, based at Lichfield in Staffordshire. This was a training unit under the command of his brother Thomas.

On the 8th June John was appointed to the position of Adjutant. As the Adjutant, John was responsible for the organisation and administration of the battalion. With the large numbers of recruits constantly arriving to be trained and leaving for the front this must have been a challenging role. He held this position for 2 years. He must have been especially busy during January 1916, when the 14th Battalion moved to Brocton on Cannock Chase, near Stafford.

John was joined by Elvina and Eleanor in 1915. They sailed to the UK aboard the P&O ship RMS Mooltan. This ship would be sunk in 1917. Eleanor remembered many gatherings of officers and their wives on summer evenings in the garden of their farm house. She remembered the song 'The Rose of Picardy' playing on a gramophone. Later they lived in a 'little cottage', where she remembered the kindness of her father's batman, or servant, 'Lord'.

On the 1st September 1916 the Army decided to centralise recruit training. Reserve Battalions such as the 14th were removed from their regiments and formed into the Training Reserve. The 14th Battalion joined the 3rd Training Reserve Brigade and became the 14th Training Reserve Battalion. It is a coincidence that it was still called the 14th Battalion, the Training Reserve battalions all had unique numbers and over 100 were formed in total.

John left the 14th Battalion and the UK in April 1917. He was sent to the 18th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, which was serving in the Arras area of France. He arrived in early May and was given command of A Company. We don't know much about what John did during this time, but when he joined them the 18th Battalion had just moved to the Ypres area of Belgium. It would take part in the Passchendaele Offensive. This attack began on the 31st July when the 18th Battalion attacked the Germans in Sanctuary Wood.

The conditions during this attack were terrible. There was heavy rain from around mid-day onwards which turned the ground to mud, and the German resistance was strong. The 18th Battalion lost around 400 men killed, wounded or missing that day.

This was the worst day of the Offensive for the battalion. They continued to take their turns in the front lines and in the rear until the end of 1917.

John appears to have stayed with the 18th Battalion until it was disbanded. This happened because of a reorganisation of the Army that aimed to have more soldiers in fewer battalions, rather than fewer soldiers in more battalions. It took place on the 19th February 1918.

We don't know what John did between then and the 23rd May 1918. On this day he joined the 1/5th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. They had been involved in defeating the German Spring Offensive during March and April, which had forced the Allies to retreat and led to the death and capture of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. The Allies began their own advance on the 8th August, and the 1/5th Battalion was involved in a great deal of fighting.

On the 2nd September 1918 John took part in an attack around Villers au Flos; part of the Second Battle of Bapaume. He was in command of the leading Company of the 1/5th Battalion. The company was on the right hand edge of the battalion's advance, and had no British forces protecting their flank. This made them vulnerable to a German counterattack. During the attack John showed 'great initiative, complete disregard of danger and exceptional powers of leadership'.

For his bravery that day, he was awarded the Military Cross. His citation was published in the London Gazette on the 2nd December:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. It was entirely owing to him that the attack on the right, exposed to heavy enfilade fire from machine gun nests, was successfully pushed onto the objective. He led his company through a heavy barrage of high-explosive and machine gun fire, and was mainly instrumental in organising the consolidation of the objective on the front of the battalion and in straightening out the front line companies. He displayed fine courage and leadership.

John was wounded during this fighting and forced to leave the 1/5th Battalion for treatment. We don't believe he returned to them before the end of the war on the 11th November.

On the 12th April 1919 John was presented with his Military Cross at Buckingham Palace by King George V. In May he took command of the Humber Defences in North East England. He relinquished his commission on the 9th January 1920.

Unfortunately, John and Elvina's marriage broke down during the war. We don't know for certain why. Elvina worked as a nurse during the war, and she and Eleanor visited John in hospital after he was wounded, but in 1920 they returned to Australia, living in Sydney. Eleanor and John never saw each other again. Although they were separated, Elvina and John never divorced.

In Stafford Eleanor had attended a boarding school run by the Catholic St Joseph of Cluny religious order. In Sydney she spent some time at a school named Shirley. Later she was sent to St Mary's Dominican Convent in Maitland, New South Wales, around 100 miles north of Sydney. She spent 5 years there between 1922 and 1928. Despite this, and despite writing the school song, Eleanor was not a Catholic and never became one!

In November 1920 John told the Army that his address was changing. He had moved to 24 Cavendish Street in All Saints, Manchester. We believe he may have worked for Lever Brothers, a soap manufacturer which later became Unilever.

In around 1924 John travelled to Australia and asked to see Eleanor at St Mary's. She refused to see him, which her daughter believes was 'out of shock'.

The Second World War broke out in September 1939 and John rejoined the Army that December. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps on the 29th. Unfortunately we don't know anything about where he served or what he did. He had been promoted to Captain by May 1940, but he was not considered fit enough to remain in the Army. He was forced to relinquish his commission 'due to disability' on the 18th.

The rest of John's life is a mystery. By the early 1950s he lived in Matlock, Derbyshire. He was taken ill with heart trouble in late June 1954 and was admitted to Derbyshire Royal Infirmary. After a 3 week illness he died on the 18th July. He was 70 years old.

John's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in September 1963.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
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Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council