India General Service Medal (1854) with clasp 'Samana 1891'
George Mansel was not this man's real name. He was called John Murphy. For this reason we don't know anything about his early life, or whether any of the details he gave the Army when he enlisted are true.
John joined the Manchester Regiment on the 7th December 1887. He told the Army that he had been born in Preston, Lancashire and that he was 21 years old. He said he was working as a labourer, and that his mother, Catherine, lived at 60 St Joseph's Street in Salford.
John couldn't lie about his physical dimensions. When he enlisted he was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 121 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. There was a tattoo of the 'Prince of Wales' feathers' on his right forearm. He told the Army he was a Roman Catholic. He was given the service number 2081.He
John's military career began with training at the Regimental Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. After a little under 2 months he deserted on the 29th January 1888. He returned on the 2nd April, and was tried by Court Martial on the 6th. He was convicted of being 'absent without leave' and sentenced to 28 days imprisonment with hard labour. He returned to his training on the 5th May.
Two weeks later John's training came to an end and he was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, based in Aldershot, Hampshire. He served with them until September 1889. John found himself in trouble on the 9th February when he was placed in confinement. He was court-martialled on the 12th and sentenced to 21 days imprisonment with hard labour. Unfortunately we don't know what crime he had committed.
John was sent to India after he left the 1st Battalion, and joined the 2nd Battalion in Agra near Delhi. They moved to Sialkot in what is now Pakistan during April 1890.
The next year John went to war. The 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment was one of the units ordered to put down a rebellion in the Miranzai Valley on the North West Frontier with Afghanistan. John 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 1891. Samana is the name of the mountain range that rises out of the Miranzai Valley. The British fought hard to capture it.
After this John rejoined the rest of the 2nd Battalion at Sialkot. He began to receive an extra 1 penny (1d) per day Good Conduct Pay on the 5th September. Just over a month later he was promoted to Lance Corporal, and a month after this, on the 28th November, he obtained his 3rd Class Army Certificate of Education. At around this time John and the 2nd Battalion moved to Dinapore (now Danapur) in eastern India. This would be John's home until he returned to the UK.
In March 1892 John found himself in trouble again. He was placed in confinement on the 12th, and tried by court martial on the 16th. He was sentenced to 21 days imprisonment with hard labour, although again we don't know what he had done. This meant he forfeited his Good Conduct Pay until the 1st April 1893.
John's Good Conduct Pay was forfeited twice more, between the 3rd March and the 3rd August 1894, and between the 26th December 1894 and the 5th December 1895. He was also imprisoned with hard labour for 7 days on the 29th May 1895.
When he enlisted John had agreed to serve for 7 years in the Regular Army, followed by 5 in the Army Reserve. He was returned to the UK on the 3rd January 1896 and transferred to the Reserve on the 9th. The extra time he had served as a Regular would be deducted from his Reserve service.
As a Reservist John was able to find a home and a job. He could be called back to the Army in an emergency, although none arose and he was discharged on the 6th December 1899.
The Army was at war when John was discharged. The Boer War had broken out between British and Boer settlers in South Africa that October. The British suffered some stunning defeats early in the war, and soon began sending as many soldiers as they could to South Africa.
John was willing to fight, and on the 30th January 1900 he rejoined the Army Reserve. We don't know when he was called up for active service, but he sailed to South Africa with the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in April 1900.
The 2nd Battalion would remain in South Africa for the rest of the war. John was 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 battalion also served as guards in blockhouses and fence lines that restricted the Boer's movements. This strategy eventually proved successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902.
We don't know when John returned to the UK, but he was discharged from the Reserve on the 11th August 1902. His conduct had been 'very good'. He served in South Africa as John Murphy, meaning that at some point during his service he had confessed to enlisting under a false name.
The rest of John's life remains a mystery. His medal was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in August 1949. As well as his India General Service Medal, awarded to George Mansel, John 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' in his own name.