Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Bernard McGuinness

Bernard McGuinness :

Bernard McGuinness : (L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; Médaille Commémorative des Batailles de la Somme

(L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; Médaille Commémorative des Batailles de la Somme

Bernard was born on the 5th April 1895 in West Gorton in Manchester. His father was called Hugh and his mother was Margaret. He was their oldest child, and had a sister named Sarah and a brother called John. The family were Roman Catholics.

In 1901 the family lived at 6 Railway Avenue in Reddish, Manchester. Hugh worked as an iron turner and fitter. Ten years later they had moved to 239 Clowes Street in West Gorton. Hugh was now a wheel borer for a railway carriage and wagon builder. Bernard worked as a billiard marker at a political club.

By the time the First World War broke out in August 1914 the family had moved to 23 Brunswick Street in West Gorton. Bernard had worked as a Shipping Clerk for Lloyd's Packing Warehouses on Albert Square in Manchester since 1912. On the 16th November he left this job to join the Army, and enlisted in Manchester's 5th City Battalion. The City Battalions were 'Pals' units, formed to allow men from the same area and background to serve together.

The 5th City Battalion became the 20th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, and Bernard was assigned to XIV Platoon in D Company. His service number was 17967.

When Bernard enlisted he was 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall. He had a 'fresh, slightly freckled' complexion with blue eyes and light brown hair. He had a birthmark; 2 'light purple marks' at the base of one of his thumbs. Some documents say this was on his left thumb, others his right.

The 20th Battalion began life at Belle Vue in Manchester. They soon moved to nearby Heaton Park, then to Morecambe on the Lancashire coast in April 1915. They spent 17 weeks there before moving again to Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire. By September they were at Larkhill in Wiltshire. On the 9th November Bernard and the 20th Battalion crossed to France.

Later in November Bernard served in the trenches for the first time. In February 1916 the battalion moved to the Fricourt area. They spent time in the front line at Fricourt and in the rear around Morlancourt. During June they began training to take part in the Somme Offensive.

The Somme Offensive began on the 1st July. Bernard and the 20th Battalion attacked towards Fricourt during the afternoon. The attack was unsuccessful and the 20th Battalion lost around 140 men, with another 171 wounded.

The battalion was pulled out of the front line on the 3rd. They returned to the fighting on the 14th July at Bazentin Wood. The battalion's attack on this day was successful, but it again took heavy casualties. Afterwards they again went into reserve. Their next attack was on the 4th September towards the village of Ginchy. By this time the battalion only contained around 130 original members.

Although we can't be sure, we believe Bernard was wounded during this attack, or in the days around it. Hugh and Margaret must not have heard from him for some time, as they wrote a letter to his battalion asking if they had any news of him. This reply was written in 'September 1916':

Dear Mr and Mrs McGuinness,

I have made what enquiries I can concerning your son, but as there are no officers of his company left the information is not very much. He wrote to a friend in the Battalion the other day from Number 9 General Hospital, Rouen, France so it is quite likely that he is still there but on the other hand he may quite easily be on his way to England. In the letter he wrote to his friend he gave the impression he was not seriously wounded + appeared to be getting on quite well.

I hope this letter may do something to relieve your anxiety but I quite expect you will have heard from him yourself by now.

I am, Yours Sincerely

Godfrey Giffard, Signalling Officer.

Bernard did write to his family from Number 9 General Hospital, although the letter was undated:

Dear Father, Mother, Sister + Brother,

Just a few lines to let you know they have moved me a bit nearer to England but it will be a long time before I get there. All last week I had a very bad time, my right knee is badly wounded + I have got two pieces in the bottom of my stomach. Hoping this finds you all well at home.

I remain, your loving son,

Bernard xxxx

In fact Bernard had been shot in the right knee, as well as being wounded by shrapnel. We don't know when he was returned to the UK. He was posted to the Manchester Regiment Depot on the 7th January 1917, which suggests he had been discharged from hospital by then.

As time passed it became clear that Bernard would never be fit enough to return to duty. He was discharged as 'no longer fit for war service' on the 21st July 1917. He was awarded a Silver War Badge, with serial number 219660, to show that his discharge was honourable.

Bernard was described as 'a most reliable man' when he was discharged. By 1922 he lived at 13 Inglewood Grove off Dover Street in Chorlton, Manchester. In March of that year he was assessed by a medical board to see whether he was eligible for a pension. They decided he was 50% disabled and awarded him 20 shillings, or £1, per week.

During the Second World War Bernard joined the Local Defence Volunteers to help protect the UK from invasion, along with many other veterans of the First World War. On the 21st October 1940 he was enrolled as a member of the Hazel Grove Company of the Hazel Grove and Bramhall Local Defence Volunteers. This force would soon be renamed the Home Guard.

The rest of Bernard's life remains a mystery. We know he married, but not his wife's name or whether they had any children. We know he attended the Service of Remembrance at the Manchester Regiment Chapel in Manchester Cathedral on the 11th November 1966.

Bernard also joined the Association known as 'Ceux de la Somme', which was only open to veterans of the fighting there in 1916. He either purchased or was presented with the ' Médaille Commémorative des Batailles de la Somme' as a result. The organisation was formed for the 40th Anniversary in 1956, although we don't know when Bernard received the medal.

Bernard died in the Honiton area of Devon in July 1985, aged 90. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in December 1987.

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