Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

John William Nally

John William Nally :

John William Nally : 1914 Star

1914 Star

John was born in around July or August 1884 in Marple, Cheshire. His father was called Patrick and his mother was Mary. He was their youngest child, and had 10 older siblings that we know of: Maria, Bridget, Patrick, Catherine, Thomas, Margaret, Sarah, Agnes, Theresa and Annie. The family were Roman Catholics from Ireland. They had moved to Ludworth in Derbyshire after Margaret was born in 1875, but before 1877, when Sarah was born.

Patrick had worked as a labourer at a coal pit when John was born, and he died shortly afterwards. Mary and her children had left Ludworth by 1891 and moved to Wyre Street in Mossley, Lancashire. Several of her older children had jobs in the local cotton industry.

In 1901 Mary lived at 3 Trafalgar Square in Mossley with Annie and John, and her grandson Leonard. We don't know whose child he was. John worked as a cotton piecer in a mill. By August he was working as a printer's labourer for Mr Gartside of Messrs Gartside in Carrbrook. On the 2nd he began his military career when he joined the 3rd Battalion of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding). This was a unit of the Militia, so John kept his civilian home and job, and trained as a soldier for a short period every year.

When he enlisted John was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 108 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. He was given the service number 6588 and began his service with basic training at the Regimental Depot in Halifax, West Yorkshire. This ended on the 20th September.

Military life must have appealed to John, because on the 5th June 1902 he joined the Regular Army. He chose the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 7767. He was now an inch taller and had gained 10 pounds. His eye colour is recorded as blue.

The Manchester Regiment Depot was in Ashton-under-Lyne, near Mossley, and John trained there for just over a month. On the 11th July 1902 he was posted to the 4th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment at Kinsale in County Cork, Ireland. He served with them until the 7th February 1903, when he was posted to the 3rd Battalion and sent overseas.

The Boer War had ended in South Africa in May 1902. The British had been victorious, but were keeping large numbers of soldiers in the country to make sure peace was maintained. John joined the 3rd Battalion in Middelburg, Cape Colony (now in the Eastern Cape Province). After just 2 months he was one of 134 men sent to reinforce 2 companies of the battalion on the island of St Helena. Boer prisoners had been held here during the war, and it is possible that John helped to guard them during his time on the island. He rejoined the rest of the Battalion in Middelburg on the 6th January 1904.

John began to receive an extra 1 penny (1d) per day Good Conduct Pay on the 5th June 1904. He served in South Africa until the 15th April 1905, when he was returned to the UK. He had originally enlisted for 3 years as a Regular soldier, and this time was almost up. John was transferred to the Army Reserve on the 18th April 1905. He would be a Reservist for the next 9 years.

As a Reservist John could find a home and a job, but could be called back to the Army in an emergency. We believe he returned to Mossley. On the 7th May 1906 John married Harriet Minikin in nearby Middleton. Their first child, Mary, was born on the 17th October 1908 in Mossley. They had one other child before April 1911, but it soon died.

During 1907 John found himself in trouble with the law. On the 11th February he was convicted of drunkenness and disorderly conduct, and sentenced to 14 day's imprisonment. He was convicted of the same crime on the 4th July. This time he was imprisoned for 7 days, but had to do hard labour.

When the 1911 Census was taken John and Harriet lived at 7 Old Brow in Mossley. John was a general labourer for a contractor, and Harriet worked as a picker for a cotton waste dealer. Their son John was born just a few weeks later, on the 12th June. They had a third child, Thomas, on the 11th August 1913.

On the 25th February 1914 John decided to extend his Reserve service for a further 4 years. The First World War broke out on the 4th August, and he was called into service on the 5th, just a week before Thomas' first birthday. He would miss the birth of his daughter Theresa, on the 3rd January 1915.

After he was called up John reported to the Manchester Regiment Depot. Here he was equipped and given some refresher training. Some reservists were sent to France at the beginning of the war to help bring the 1st and 2nd Battalions up to full strength, whilst others remained in the UK to be used to replace casualties. John was kept at the Depot until the 8th November.

When John arrived in France he joined the 1st Battalion in the trenches near Neuve Chapelle. Around a month after this John and the 1st Battalion moved to Gorre in order to take part in attack on the nearby village of Givenchy.

This attack was launched on the 20th December. The 1st Battalion recaptured Givenchy and some of the trenches around it from the Germans, but were still under heavy fire from other trenches. They were ordered to capture these as well, and launched their attack at around 6am on the 21st December. It was not a success and the Battalion had to withdraw. The 1st Battalion had not been able to stop the Germans, but they had bought the rest of the British Army time to organise its defences. They suffered 66 men killed, 126 wounded and 46 missing.

After this John served in the trenches through the cold, difficult winter of 1914-15. The 1st Battalion fought at Neuve Chappelle during March 1915 and the 2nd Battle of Ypres during April. Between these two battles, on the 3rd April, John found himself in trouble. Although we don't know what he did, he was sentenced to 7 days Field Punishment Number 1. This involved doing hard labour, and being held in handcuffs or shackles. He would also be secured to a fixed object for up to 2 hours per day, on 3 days out of 4.

After Ypres the rest of 1915 was much quieter, although conditions in the trenches were still difficult and dangerous. Towards the end of November John was involved in an accident. He broke the tibia and fibula bones in his right lower leg, and had to be evacuated back to the UK.

As time passed it became clear that John would never recover enough to return to duty. He was discharged as 'no longer physically fit for war service' on the 28th December 1916 and returned to his family at 9 Trafalgar Square in Mossley. He was awarded a Silver War Badge with serial number 111690 to show that his discharge was honourable.

We don't know how badly John's injury affected the rest of his life, or what work he was able to do. He and Harriet had 4 more children: Patrick between July and September 1917, Margaret between July and September 1919, Honoria between July and September 1921 and Catherine between April and June 1927. All these children were born in the Ashton registration district, which includes Mossley.

John died in this district between April and June 1933. He was 48 years old. Harriet died between January and March 1972 in nearby Saddleworth. She was 88.

John's medal was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in March 2001. As well as his 1914 Star, John was also awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal. He may also have been eligible for the clasp '5th Aug.-22nd Nov. 1914' for his 1914 Star.

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