Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

James Kirwan

James Kirwan :

James Kirwan : India General Service Medal (1854) with clasp 'Samana 1891'

India General Service Medal (1854) with clasp 'Samana 1891'

We don't know anything about James' family or early life.

He joined the Manchester Regiment in around mid 1883 and was given the service number 580. We don't know anything about his service until mid 1891. By this time he was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment at Sialkot in what is now Pakistan.

During 1891 the 2nd Battalion was one of the units ordered to put down a rebellion in the Miranzai Valley on the North West Frontier with Afghanistan. William was one of the 300 Manchester Regiment soldiers who took part in this campaign, called the Miranzai Expedition. It lasted from the 3rd to the 25th May. Samana is the name of the mountain range that rises out of the Miranzai Valley. The British fought hard to capture it.

After this the 2nd Battalion moved to Dinapore, now Danapur in eastern India. They stayed there until 1897, when they left India. After spending around a year in Aden, now in Yemen, they returned to the UK. We don't know whether James served with them for all this time, or whether he left them at any point.

In early 1900 James was a member of C Company of the 2nd Battalion. This unit was ordered to sail to South Africa and join the Boer War. It arrived on the 6th April 1900. James and the 2nd Battalion were present at the fighting around Wittebergen in July, and then spent most of the rest of the war taking part in long patrols intended to find and pin down the Boers, who fought in small groups as guerrillas. This was difficult, tiring work, but there were few large battles.

The Boers tried to avoid standing and fighting against the British, but they could still be dangerous when they had the advantage. On the 24th July 1901 the 2nd Battalion was camped near Vrede in what is now the Free State. There was a dense fog that night, which allowed around 40 Boers to creep into C Company's position. They captured James and 3 of his comrades. The Boers had no camps or other ways to confine prisoners, so after 'a few days' the 4 were released 'near Kroonstad', around 120 miles to the west.

As well as patrolling the 2nd Battalion also served as guards in the blockhouses and fence lines that restricted the Boer's movements. This strategy eventually proved successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902.

By March 1903 James had left the 2nd Battalion and the Army. The rest of his life is a mystery. His medal came to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment during the Second World War.

As well as his India General Service Medal, James was also awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Transvaal' and 'Wittebergen', and the King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901' and 'South Africa 1902' 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