Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Joseph Harrison Kershaw

Joseph Harrison Kershaw :

Joseph Harrison Kershaw : (L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Orange Free State'; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

(L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Orange Free State'; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

Joseph was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, between October and December 1878. His father was called James Dunkerley and his mother was Lucy A. He had an older sister named Mary Edith and a younger sister called Lucy Beatrice. The family were members of the Church of England.

James worked as an accountant and agent. In 1881 the family lived on Hey New Road in the Cross Bank area of Ashton. Ten years later they had moved to 6 Chambres Road in Southport, Lancashire. They were well off enough to be able to employ a domestic servant in both years. By 1901 James was an oil merchant and the family lived at 5 Firs Road in Failsworth, Oldham.

Joseph had found work as a traveller by 1900. He had also joined the Oldham Troop of the Duke of Lancaster's Own Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry. This was made up of men who kept their civilian jobs and homes, and trained as soldiers during their spare time. As cavalrymen, they were all able to ride horses.

The Boer War broke out in South Africa in October 1899. The British Army suffered some stunning defeats during the early part of the war and by December it was sending as many units as it could to the country. Due to the size of South Africa cavalry units were in great demand, and members of the Yeomanry were invited to volunteer for a new force called the Imperial Yeomanry. This was being formed to fight in South Africa.

Out of around 60 men in the Oldham Troop, 17 were chosen and enlisted into the Imperial Yeomanry on the 8th January 1900. Joseph was one of them. He was 5 feet 11 1/2 inches tall and weighed 145 1/2 pounds. He had a 'rosy' complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He was given the service number 2712. Like the rest of the Oldham men, he was assigned to the 23rd Company, part of the 8th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry.

Joseph set sail for South Africa in early February. We don't know much about what he did during his time there. The Boers had begun to fight in small groups as guerrillas, rather than standing and fighting larger British units. The Yeomanry made great use of their horses to move quickly across the South African countryside and try and catch them. They saw very little fighting though, and morale began to fall.

Joseph had enlisted for the duration of the war, but during spring 1901 he requested to leave the Army. Many other members of the Imperial Yeomanry did the same, to try and escape the boredom and disease they were suffering from. Joseph was returned to the UK in early May and left the 23rd Company on the 7th June. We don't know whether he stayed in the Oldham Troop or for how long. The Boer War ended in May 1902.

Between July and September 1902 Joseph married Bertha Walker in Prestwich, Manchester. They had 3 children: Edith in around 1903, James in around 1908 and Kathleen in around July 1910. By 1911 the family lived at 32 Moston Avenue in New Moston, Manchester. We don't know how long they had lived there, but all 3 children were born in Moston. They employed a domestic servant called Mary Jane Wilson.

Joseph still worked as a traveller. In 1911 he was employed by a firm that manufactured lubricating oil. We don't know whether this was the same company that his father owned, or whether it was the same company he had worked for before he joined the Imperial Yeomanry.

The First World War broke out in August 1914. We don't know when Joseph joined the Army, or if he had ever left it. Early in the war he was an Acting Colour Sergeant in the Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry. He had the service number 10423.

Joseph was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 10th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the 10th February 1915. They were based in Egypt at this time. We don't know when he joined them. The 10th Battalion took part in the invasion of Gallipoli during early May. Joseph had definitely joined them by early August. He may have taken part in the fighting between the 6th and the 9th August that tried to distract the Turks from the landings at Suvla Bay.

On the 16th August Joseph fell sick and was admitted to hospital. We don't know what was wrong with him. He returned to duty on the 27th September, but after just 4 days he was taken to hospital again. This time he was suffering from rheumatism, or joint pain. The British had hospitals on several nearby islands, including Lemnos and Malta. We don't know where Joseph was treated.

Joseph left hospital on the 26th November. The 10th Battalion was evacuated from Gallipoli in mid December and returned to Egypt. Joseph's health was still bad; he was sent to Malta on the 4th January 1916 and then returned to the UK on the 21st February.

We don't know anything about Joseph's time in the UK. He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 1st June. By September he had recovered enough to rejoin the 10th Battalion. He arrived in Egypt on the 9th September. He was attached to a Rest Camp at Port Said between the 11th and the 13th. We don't know whether he was working there or a patient.

After spending just a week with the 10th Battalion Joseph was admitted to hospital again on the 20th September. He was not discharged until the 13th December. He was clearly not well enough to serve with an infantry battalion like the 10th, so on the 6th January 1917 he joined the 1st Garrison Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment) at a Prisoner of War Camp.

Garrison battalions were made up of men like Joseph, who were too unfit or unwell for front line service, but could be used to guard areas such as Prisoner of War camps, headquarters and supply dumps. They could also guard against unrest in the native population.

The 1st Garrison Battalion was based in and around Kantara, a city on the banks of the Suez Canal. Its modern name is Al Qantarah El Sharqiyya. The British had established a massive supply depot and hospital there. We don't know exactly what Joseph did, but he was based there for the rest of the war.

Fighting ended on the 11th November 1918 and Joseph was still in Kantara 10 months later. We don't know why. He was taken ill with appendicitis during September 1919 and died on the 16th. He was 41 years old. Joseph is buried in Kantara War Memorial Cemetery with 1617 other men. His grave reference is B. 97.

Joseph's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in 1981. He was also entitled to the 'South Africa 1901' clasp on his Queen's South Africa Medal.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council