(L to R) Distinguished Conduct Medal; Africa General Service Medal with clasp 'West Africa 1909-10; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaves; Meritorious Service Medal; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal
John was born in around 1880 in Rochdale, Lancashire. His father was called Dominic and his mother was Annie. He was their eldest child. Of his siblings, we know the names of Margaret, Dennis, Thomas, Mary, James, Kate, Alfred and Dominic. The family were Roman Catholic.
In 1881 Dominic worked as a cotton piecer. The family lived at 2 Back Ash Street Cellar in Rawtenstall in Rossendale.
By 1901 they had moved to 3 Cawl Top in Rawtenstall. Dominic was now a labourer for a bricklayer and John had the same role at the Townsend Fold Chemical Works. He began his military career on the 29th July 1901 when he joined the 6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a unit of the Militia, so John kept his home and job, and trained as a soldier for a short period every year.
When he enlisted John was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 109 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, brown eyes and dark hair. He was given the service number 8072 and began his service with 49 days of training.
This experience of military life must have appealed to John, because on the 11th September he enlisted in the Regular Army, again choosing the Manchester Regiment. He had put on a little weight and now weighed 116 pounds, although he was measured at 5 feet 4 1/8 inches. His service number became 6879.
After a short period of training at the Manchester Regiment Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne, John was posted to the 3rd Battalion at Aldershot in Hampshire. He spent around 9 months here. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on the 28th February 1902 and to Corporal on the 28th July. On the same day the battalion set sail for the island of St Helena. John had obtained his 3rd Class Army Certificate of Education on the 23rd June.
John spent 4 1/2 months on St Helena. The battalion then set sail for South Africa, arriving on the 31st December. The Boer War had ended just 7 months earlier, so the British were keeping large numbers of soldiers in the country. It is very likely that John had helped guard Boer prisoners of war during his time in St Helena.
The 3rd Battalion was based in and around Middelburg in the Cape Colony (the modern Eastern Cape Province) for most of its time in South Africa. John was promoted again on the 22nd October 1903, to Lance Sergeant. He obtained his 2nd Class Certificate of Education on the 21st December 1903 and became a Sergeant on the 30th March 1904.
The 3rd Battalion moved from Middelburg, Cape Colony to Middelburg, Transvaal (now Mpumalanga Province) in January 1906. John returned to the UK that November and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, which was split between the Channel Islands of Alderney and Guernsey. The 3rd Battalion had been disbanded by the end of the month.
Home service must not have suited John, because after less than a year he applied to transfer to the Southern Nigeria Regiment, part of the Royal West African Frontier Force. This unit was made up of African soldiers from the British Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, led by British officers and Non Commissioned Officers. John was accepted and set sail for Nigeria on the 19th October 1907.
John would be a member of the Southern Nigeria Regiment until January 1914. He was promoted to Colour Sergeant on the 19th June 1909. He kept a detailed record of his movements between Africa and the UK, which reveals that he spent just over a year at a time in Africa, before sailing home (a 2 week journey). He then spent around 4 months in the UK followed by a voyage back to Africa.
Between November 1909 and May 1910 John was involved in operations around the town of Ogwashi-Uku. The aim was to 'punish disaffected natives in the area who were stopping trade by blocking roads...and destroying government buildings'. Only around 300 soldiers took part in this campaign, which was small, but quite violent, with difficult fighting taking place in the 'very dense' bush.
Shortly after this John's year in Nigeria ended. He sailed back to the UK, arriving on the 15th July 1910. On the 28th September he married Harriet Carter in Cloughfold, Lancashire. We don't know whether Harriet was able to accompany her new husband when he returned to Nigeria on the 16th November.
John had repeated his sequence of 1 year's service followed by 4 months in the UK 4 times when he returned to Africa on the 24th October 1913. On the 1st January 1914 the colonies of Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria merged to form Nigeria. Their military units did the same, so John became a member of the Nigeria Regiment.
The First World War broke out that August, and soon spread to Africa. The German colony of Kamerun bordered Nigeria, and by the 25th August the British had invaded. John was a member of the force under the command of Brigadier General Frederick Cunliffe. This force played a major role in the capture of the northern part of Kamerun between August 1914 and February 1916.
By August 1915 John was a Colour Sergeant in the 3rd Battalion of the Nigeria Regiment. We don't know exactly where he served, but we know he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in the London Gazette of the 19th August 1916. This is his citation:
For conspicuous gallantry during an action. He drew heavy fire on himself in order to save others from being exposed to it.
John was also Mentioned in Despatches by Frederick Cunliffe, who noted he had given 'distinguished and meritorious service' during the campaign. With the Germans defeated, John set sail for the UK on the 28th February 1916. The war had kept him in Africa for 2 years 127 days.
John's movement record tells us that he spent the rest of the war in the UK. We don't know anything about what he did. Harriet lived at 'The Lodge' in Springhill, Cloughfold during this period.
The First World War ended on the 11th November 1918 and after 10 months John returned to Nigeria on the 13th August 1919. He served one final year in the country and arrived home on the 23rd September 1920.
By this time John had been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, which recognised his 18 years of service in the Army. Also, in the London Gazette of the 3rd June 1919 he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal 'for valuable services rendered in connection with the war'.
John left the Army on the 21st June 1921, with the rank of Company Sergeant Major. His conduct had been 'exemplary'. We don't know anything about what he did after this.
In 1931 John joined the Manchester Regiment Old Comrade's Association. By this time he and Harriet had moved to 18 Halifax Street in Blackpool, Lancashire. He attended the 1932 Reunion, and later that year upgraded his membership to become a life member.
We don't believe Harriet and John had any children. They lived at 18 Halifax Street until John died on the 21st January 1945. He was 65 years old. Harriet was still living there when she died aged 76 on the 30th January 1966.
John had wanted his medals to be donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment, and they were given to the museum in May 1958.