Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Joseph Lemon

Joseph Lemon : Photograph of Joseph in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference: MRP/3C/034

Photograph of Joseph in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MRP/3C/034

Joseph Lemon : (L to R) Distinguished Conduct Medal; 1914 Star with clasp '5th Aug.-22nd Nov. 1914'; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; Meritorious Service Medal; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal

(L to R) Distinguished Conduct Medal; 1914 Star with clasp '5th Aug.-22nd Nov. 1914'; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; Meritorious Service Medal; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal

Joseph was born on the 31st October 1883 in Portland, Dorset. His father was called James and his mother was Emma. He came from a large family, he had 4 older siblings: Margaret, James, Emma and Mary J., and 3 younger: Henry, Philip and Martha Alice. He had one other, older brother, but we don't know his name. The family were members of the Church of England.

James was a soldier, so the family moved around the country quite often. Joseph's siblings had been born in Aldershot in Hampshire, Ireland, the Channel Island of Guernsey and Macclesfield, Cheshire. James had enlisted in the 1st Battalion of the 22nd Regiment of Foot in 1867. This became the 1st Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment in 1881, and by 1891 he was a Quartermaster Sergeant on the Permanent Staff of the 4th Battalion. This was a Militia unit, made up of men who trained for a short period every year and lived as civilians for the rest of the time. The Permanent Staff ran the battalion the rest of the year and organised the training for the Militiamen. James and his family lived in the married quarters on Barracks Square in Macclesfield.

James left the Army in May 1897. We don't know where he or his family lived after this. In April 1902 Joseph was working as a labourer. He decided to follow in his father's footsteps though, and joined the Manchester Regiment in Belfast, Ireland on the 15th. We don't know whether he was living there at the time. He was given the service number 7657.

During the early part of his service Joseph served with the 1st Battalion. They were based in South Africa until March 1903 then Singapore until December 1904. They then moved to Secunderabad in India. By 1907 Joseph had transferred to the 2nd Battalion in the UK. We know this because in that year he was a member of this battalion's tug-of-war team. This was when the photograph of Joseph was taken.

The 2nd Battalion moved to Ireland in 1909, and stayed there until the outbreak of war in August 1914. By 1913 Joseph had reached the rank of Sergeant, and was a member of D Company. He had taken to Army life, and on the 4th March he extended his service to 21 years. Between the 7th and the 31st May 1913 he was sent to the School of Musketry in Hythe, Kent, for a Rifle Qualifying Course.

The First World War broke out in early August 1914, and by the 15th the 2nd Battalion had been mobilised and set sail for France. They first saw combat at Le Cateau on the 26th, when around 350 members of the battalion were killed or wounded. Joseph was one of those injured in this battle. We don't know how serious his injury was, or whether he had to be evacuated from the front for a period.

After Le Cateau the British Army was forced to retreat by the Germans. The retreat was ended by the Battle of the Marne, fought between the 5th and 12th September. The battalion spent the rest of 1914 in the trenches around Messines and La Bassee.

By early 1915 Joseph was a Company Sergeant Major (CSM). He helped lead his Company during the 2nd Battle of Ypres, fought in Belgium between late April and late May. During fighting on the 10th May Joseph was shot in the head. He had to be evacuated to the UK for treatment.

Joseph's conduct and bravery during 1915 were recognised when he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in the London Gazette of the 23rd June. This is his citation:

For conspicuous devotion to duty during the campaign. His coolness and resource under fire, set a fine example to his subordinates.

After hospital treatment Joseph was assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire whilst he completed his recovery. This unit was used for training and for holding men like Joseph before they returned to the front. He married Winifred Vivian in nearby Grimsby on the 6th January 1916.

On the night of the 1st April 1916 Cleethorpes was bombed by a German Zeppelin airship, number L21. One of the bombs hit the Baptist Chapel on Alexandra Road, where a number of members of the 3rd Battalion were sleeping. The bomb demolished the building and killed 31 soldiers. Joseph was one of ten people who were 'particularly commended' for their part in rescuing the survivors. At the time he was Company Sergeant Major of A Company.

We don't know when Joseph returned to France and the 2nd Battalion. They were involved in the Somme Offensive that began in July and lasted until mid November 1916. Again, Joseph was a Company Sergeant Major, although we don't know which Company he was a member of.

During early 1917 the 2nd Battalion fought around the town of St Quentin. On the 2nd April near Francilly-Selency C Company and part of B Company captured a battery of German 77mm artillery guns after a fierce fight. Joseph was CSM of one of these companies, but he did not take part in the attack. He was kept behind the lines in charge of a group of reinforcements for the battalion.

At some point during 1917 Joseph served as Acting Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM). This was largely the same job as CSM, except for the entire battalion. He had to give up this position after he fell sick. We don't know when this was, or when he recovered and returned to the Battalion.

The 2nd Battalion spent the rest of 1917 in Belgium, and then moved south to Ayette near Arras during March 1918. They helped to defeat the German Spring Offensive, which began on the 21st, and then took part in the final Allied offensive of the war, which began on the 8th August and lasted until the end of the war on the 11th November.

On the 18th January 1919 Joseph was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. This was awarded to recognise his service over the course of the war, not just for one particular incident.

At some point during 1919 Joseph left the 2nd Battalion in France and returned to the UK. He had been promoted to RSM of the Regimental Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. His family came to Ashton with him. A daughter, Winifred, had been born in Grimsby on the 26th October 1916, and another girl, Vivian, was born in Ashton on the 14th November 1920.

The Depot was where new recruits to the Manchester Regiment were trained, and as RSM Joseph was responsible for discipline and standards amongst all the soldiers stationed there. One of his first acts as RSM was to order 'everyone out on the Tennis Ground for intensive digging etc'. Soon they were in a fit state for playing tennis.

During 1922 Joseph was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. This recognised his 18 years of service in the Army.

Joseph had signed on for 21 years service back in 1913, and this came to an end on the 14th April 1923. His comrades in the Sergeant's Mess held a farewell concert for him on the 17th. His conduct had been 'exemplary'. He was replaced as RSM of the Depot by Charles Mutters, whose medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.

We don't know where Joseph lived after he left the Army. We know the family stayed in the Ashton area for a time, because their third daughter, Jean, was born there between October and December 1926. Shortly after he left the Army Joseph became an attendant at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. After 3 years he changed jobs and became a Commissionaire at the Refuge Assurance Company. This meant he was a doorman and security guard at their headquarters on Oxford Street in Manchester. In 2013 this building is the Palace Hotel.

Joseph held this job for 22 years. He retired in 1949. At some point he and Winifred moved to 2 Park Rise in Romiley, Cheshire. This later became part of Stockport.

Joseph was a keen member of the Manchester Regiment Old Comrade's Association and attended many of their reunions over the years. After the Second World War it was decided to start an Ashton Branch, and Joseph attended their first meeting on the 12th March 1948. He had moved to Romiley by this time; his friends thanked the 'bracing air' there for keeping him 'just as fit and well as ever'.

Unfortunately the air could not keep Joseph healthy. In early 1949 he was taken ill. He was forced to miss that year's reunion, but by May he was 'getting on very nicely just now', and his friends all wished him 'a speedy recovery so as to see their cheery faces at our Meeting again soon' (The other person they were wishing well was Charles Mutters).

Later that year Joseph was still 'very ill'. He had seemed 'a little better' when a friend visited him, and 'since then I hear that he is able to sit up a bit'. He recovered slowly, and in early 1950 he was 'mending very nicely but is not allowed out yet'. This meant he had to miss the 1950 reunion.

The reassuring 'Never mind Joe, we shall be holding another one in 1951' from his friends proved to be too optimistic. Joseph died on the 12th August 1950 aged 66. His passing was 'keenly felt by all who knew him'. Joseph's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment later that month.

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