(L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Elandslaagte', 'Defence of Ladysmith', 'Belfast'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'
John was born between January and March 1872 in Eccles in Salford. He was baptised on the 7th April at St Mary's Parish Church in Eccles. His father was called Thomas and his mother was Mary Ann. He had 4 older siblings; Sarah, Archibald, Alice and Elizabeth, and 3 younger, Robert, Richard and Phoebe. The family were members of the Church of England.
Thomas raised his family at 2 James Terrace in Eccles. In 1881 he worked as a labourer. By 1891 he had become a slater. He held this job for the rest of his life. In 1891 he and Mary also shared their home with 3 grandchildren; Thomas, Elizabeth Ellen and William Alfred. We don't know whose children they were.
By 1894 John was working as a weaver. On the 12th June he joined the Army. He enlisted in the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 4236. John told them that his surname was spelt Rowbottom.
When he enlisted John was 5 feet 5 3/4 inches tall and weighed 132 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, light brown eyes and brown hair. He had dots tattooed on the 'three outer fingers left hand'.
After training at the Manchester Regiment Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, John was posted to the 1st Battalion at Preston in Lancashire on the 28th August. John served in G Company of the battalion. They moved to Aldershot in Hampshire in November 1895.
A month after he moved to Aldershot, John left the 1st Battalion and the UK. He was posted to the 2nd Battalion. They were stationed at Dinapore, now Danapur, in India. He began to receive an extra 1 penny (1d) per day Good Conduct Pay on the 12th June 1896.
John's time in India was short. The 2nd Battalion left Dinapore in November 1897 and sailed to Aden, now in Yemen. John left them there and sailed to Gibraltar to rejoin the 1st Battalion.
Here, on the 29th April 1898, John found himself in trouble. He was found to be drunk on duty, and resisted arrest. This was considered 'conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline'. He was tried by Court Martial on the 13th May and sentenced to 28 days imprisonment with hard labour. He also forfeited his Good Conduct Pay, although it was restored on the 9th December.
During 1899 tensions between British and Boer settlers in South Africa were rising, and that August the British Government decided to send the 1st Battalion to South Africa in case war broke out. John sailed to Durban and was stationed in the small town of Ladysmith in Natal when war was declared on the 11th October.
John was present at the battle of Elandslaagte on 21st October. This was the first battle of the war in which the Manchesters took part. Although a victory it had no strategic or tactical importance and by the 30th Ladysmith was under siege.
John and the 1st Battalion fought hard to stop Boer attempts to take the town, and would attack Boer artillery to stop it from shelling their positions. By the end of the siege food was in short supply and disease was widespread. The British relief force reached Ladysmith on the 28th February 1900.
After Ladysmith the British Army tried to force the Boers to face it in battle. They succeeded on the 21st August 1900 at the Battle of Belfast, or Bergendal. John took part in this battle, which lasted until the 27th and ended with the defeat of Boer forces and the capture of their temporary capital, Machadodorp (today called eNtokozweni). The Boers did not surrender; they fought on as guerrillas in small units, so John stayed in South Africa.
There were no battles on the same scale as Belfast during the rest of the war. John took part in many smaller operations intended to restrict the Boer's movements and force them to face British soldiers. This strategy was eventually successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902. His Good Conduct Pay had been increased to 2d per day on the 9th December 1900.
The 1st Battalion stayed in South Africa until March 1903, when it sailed to Singapore. John left them on the 26th September 1902 and returned to the Regimental Depot in Ashton. He had originally enlisted for 7 years in the Regular Army, to be followed by 5 in the Army Reserve. As he had spent more than 7 years as a Regular, he would serve less than 5 years in the Reserve.
John was transferred to the Reserve on the 26th October 1902. He was now free to find a home and a job, but he could be called back to the Army in an emergency. His service was due to end on the 12th June 1906, but John extended it for 4 more years, until the 11th June 1910.
When he became a Reservist John had gone back to live with his parents at 2 James Terrace. By early 1904 he was working as a labourer. On the 16th January of that year he married Alice Harrison at St Mary's Church in Eccles. By the time John was discharged in 1910 they had moved to number 6.
John and Alice had a daughter named Mary Elizabeth in around 1905. They had no other children by 1911, but we don't know if they ever did. By this time John worked as a stationary boiler fireman at a bleach works. His job was to feed coal into the boiler to keep it alight.
The First World War broke out in August 1914 and John rejoined the Army in around May 1915. He chose to join The King's (Liverpool Regiment) and was given the service number 28904.
The Army must have decided that John was too old or unfit for frontline service. He was posted to the 1st Garrison Battalion of The King's. Garrison Battalions were made up of men who, like John, were not fit enough for the front. They were sent to British colonies and used to guard against unrest in the native population.
The 1st Garrison Battalion was sent to Egypt in September 1915. It served there for the rest of the war until it was disbanded in 1919 or 1920. There is nothing to suggest that John left them before then.
After the war John returned to Alice and Mary. The rest of his life remains a mystery. He died in September 1945 in the Salford area. He was 73 years old. Alice was 79 when she died in September 1964.
John's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in February 1987. As well as his Boer War medals, John was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal for his service during the First World War.