Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

John Hamer

John Hamer :

John Hamer : (L to R) King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; British War Medal

(L to R) King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; British War Medal

John was born in around 1873 in Hulme, Manchester. We don't know anything about his early life or family.

John joined the Army in around mid February 1891. He enlisted in the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 3125. We don't know anything about his service until 1899, when he was serving with the 1st Battalion in Gibraltar.

Tensions between British and Boer settlers in South Africa were rising, and that August the British Government decided to send the 1st Battalion to South Africa in case war broke out. John sailed to Durban and was stationed in the small town of Ladysmith in Natal when war was declared on the 11th October. The war began badly for the British and by the 30th Ladysmith was under siege.

Although the 1st Battalion was trapped in Ladysmith, John was not. He was assigned to a different unit, but unfortunately we don't know which. For this reason we don't know what he did until February 1900.

Between the 14th and the 27th John took part in the Battle of Tugela Heights. This was a series of attacks on Boer positions located on hills overlooking the Tugela River. Once they had been taken the British could safely cross the river and move towards Ladysmith.

The British were successful, although they took many casualties. The siege of Ladysmith was lifted on the 28th.

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. By this time John had rejoined the 1st Battalion. They 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 took part 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.

By the 30th June 1903 John had been returned to the UK and transferred to the Army Reserve. As a Reservist he could find a home and a job, although we don't know anything about where he lived or what he did. His life until 1914 is a mystery.

The First World War broke out on the 4th August 1914 and John rejoined the Manchester Regiment on the 15th. He was assigned to the new 11th Battalion and given the service number 2543.

The 11th Battalion trained at the Manchester Regiment Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne, then moved to Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire. By April 1915 they had moved to an area of Surrey near the villages of Witley and Frensham. After a final inspection they set sail for Gallipoli on the 30th June.

John and the 11th Battalion took part in the landing at Suvla Bay which began on the 6th August. This was intended to support the British forces already fighting at Cape Helles in Gallipoli by diverting Turkish soldiers to deal with this new threat. At some point John was promoted to Sergeant, and given his military experience it would not be surprising if this had already happened by the time he went into action.

The landings did not go well. Inexperienced soldiers were coming ashore in darkness and under Turkish fire. This was made worse by poor leadership, meaning that by the 9th August the British had suffered many casualties and had not captured the high ground from the Turks.

John and the 11th Battalion endured 4 months of stifling heat, lack of water and poor health. The British were not able to advance; instead they held their trenches under heavy shell and rifle fire. The campaign had been a failure and the 11th Battalion was evacuated to Egypt in mid December.

By mid 1917 John had returned to the UK and been assigned to the 4th Battalion of the Royal Defence Corps. This unit was based near Grimsby in Lincolnshire and was responsible for the defence of vulnerable points such as railways and ports. It was made up of soldiers who were not fit enough to serve overseas. We don't know when John was removed from the front lines and sent home.

By April 1918 John was increasingly unwell. He was finally discharged as 'no longer physically fit for war service' due to illness on the 10th. John was given a Silver War Badge, serial number 403593, to show that his discharge was honourable.

The rest of John's life remains a mystery. As well as his King's South Africa Medal and British War Medal, John was also awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Belfast', 'Tugela Heights' and 'Relief of Ladysmith', the 1914-15 Star and the Allied Victory Medal for his Army service.

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