Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Francis Kirkham

Francis Kirkham :

Francis Kirkham : Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Transvaal', 'South Africa 1902'

Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Transvaal', 'South Africa 1902'

Francis was born between January and March 1882 in Lower Broughton, part of Salford, Lancashire. His father was called Robert and his mother was Sarah. Francis was their eldest child; his siblings were called John, Hannah, Arthur, Elsie and Ernest. The family were members of the Church of England.

Robert worked as a cooper, he made barrels. In 1881 he and Sarah had lived with another family at 7 Thompson Lane in Broughton, but by 1891 they had their own home at 24 New Bridge Lane in St Mary's, Stockport. Ten years later in 1901 the family lived at 1 Hardwick Street in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. Francis had a job by this time; he was a brass moulder. John and Hannah both worked in a cotton mill.

As well as being a brass moulder Francis joined the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a unit of the Volunteer Force based in Ashton. Volunteers kept their civilian homes and jobs, and trained during evenings and weekends. They would also go on an annual training camp lasting around 2 weeks. We don't know when Francis joined this unit.

The Boer War had been raging in South Africa since October 1899. It had broken out because of tensions between British and Boer settlers in the country.

The British Army suffered some serious defeats during the early months of the war and began to send reinforcements to the country. The Volunteer Force was not organised or trained to fight abroad, but units were asked to form Volunteer Service Companies (VSC) that could be sent to South Africa and attached to Regular Army battalions.

Three VSCs had already been formed by the Manchester Regiment and had served in South Africa by the time Francis volunteered on the 1st March 1902. He was accepted into the 4th VSC and given the service number 8458. When he enlisted Francis was 5 feet 5 1/2 inches tall and weighed 115 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair.

The 4th VSC sailed for South Africa on the 15th March. It joined the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. By this time the main role of the 1st Battalion was to man blockhouses and take part in sweeps across the countryside. This was aimed at restricting the movements of Boer fighters and forcing them to face the British. The strategy was successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902.

Francis and the rest of the 4th VSC returned to the UK on the 12th July. He was demobilised on the 6th August and returned to Ashton.

Between October and December 1902 Francis married Clara Hartley in Ashton. We don't know where they lived at first. In April 1907 they lived at 8 Clifton Street, and by 1911 they were at 68 Katherine Street in Ashton. Francis still worked as a brassmoulder, and he was now a foreman. They also ran a sweet and ice cream shop from their home; Clara worked in this, as did William Wrigley. He was an ice cream maker who lived with the family.

Francis and Clara had 3 children that we know of. Lena was born on the 6th March 1907 and baptised on the 17th April. Olive was born on the 2nd March 1912 and baptised on the 27th. At this time her parents lived at 82 Minto Street. Both girls were baptised at St Peter's Church in Ashton. Francis junior was born between April and June 1914, but sadly died during the same period.

In later life Francis worked for the Ashton National Gas Company as the foreman of their brass foundry. We don't know whether he had been employed by this company for his entire career. He retired aged 65. The family also continued to run their sweet and ice cream shop. This was eventually located on Penny Meadow in Ashton town centre.

Clara died aged 59 between April and June 1944. By 1951 Francis had moved to 78 Minto Street. He died there on the 9th January. He was 70 years old. Lena and Olive both married. Lena died in Blackpool in around April 1976 aged 69, and Olive died almost exactly 20 years later in Tameside. She was 84. Francis' medal was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in September 2006.

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