Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Joseph Thornley

Joseph Thornley :

Joseph Thornley : (L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Relief of Ladysmith', 'Belfast'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'

(L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Relief of Ladysmith', 'Belfast'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'

Joseph was born in around July 1870 in Ashton-under Lyne, Lancashire. His father was called John and his mother was Sarah. He was their youngest child, and had 4 older siblings; James Euclid, Alice, Charles and John.

In 1871 the family lived at 67 Charles Street in Ashton. John was a cop carrier in a cotton mill. Ten years later he described himself as a 'labourer' in a cotton mill. The family now lived at 84 Hill Street in Ashton.

By the autumn of 1889 Joseph was working in a coal mine. He was also a member of the 3rd Battalion of the King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment). This was a unit of the Militia, so Joseph kept his civilian home and job and trained as a soldier for a short period every year.

We don't know how long Joseph spent in the Militia, but it was long enough for him to decide that Army life appealed to him. He joined the Regular Army on the 4th October.

Joseph chose to enlist in the Manchester Regiment. This regiment had its Depot in Ashton, but he actually joined the Army in Salford. He told the Army his name was Joseph Harropp. This was illegal, and we don't know why Joseph did it. He was given the service number 2962 and began his service with 6 weeks training in Ashton.

On the 18th November Joseph was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment at Kinsale in County Cork, Ireland.

Joseph went absent without leave on the 21st August 1890. He didn't return until the 5th September. A year later, on the 13th September 1891, he deserted. He turned himself in on the 9th October and was placed in confinement.

We don't know whether the two events were connected, but on the 6th September Joseph had married Ellen Healey in Ashton.

At his Court Martial on the 26th Joseph was found guilty and sentenced to 6 months imprisonment with hard labour. He also forfeited all his service up to that point. This meant he would be kept in the army for 2 years and 1 month longer than he would otherwise have been.

Two months of Joseph's sentence were remitted, or deducted. The rest was remitted on the 22nd February 1892 when he was sent to join the 2nd Battalion at Sialkot in India (modern Pakistan).

We don't know much about Joseph's service in India. The 2nd Battalion left Sialkot for Meerut in the modern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh during November 1892. They spent time in Chakrata in the foothills of the Himalayas, and arrived in Dinapore, now Danapur, Bihar State, in 1893.

On the 8th December 1895 Joseph again found himself in trouble. He was confined for drunkenness. He was tried by Court Martial on the 11th and sentenced to 14 days imprisonment with hard labour.

The 2nd Battalion left Dinapore and India in November 1897 and sailed to Aden, now in Yemen. After a year they returned to the UK. Joseph had originally enlisted for 7 years Regular service, to be followed by 5 in the Army Reserve. As he had been abroad he had been kept in the Regular Army for an extra 12 months; this would be subtracted from his Reserve service. He transferred to the Reserve on the 6th December 1898. He was now free to find a home and a job, but he could be called back to the Army in an emergency at any point

We don't know anything about Joseph's life as a Reservist. In 1901 Ellen was living at 31 John Street in Ashton, but we don't know how long she had been there.

On the 12th November 1899 an emergency arose and Joseph was recalled. The emergency was the British defeats and casualties in the opening weeks of the Boer War, which had begun in October 1899. Joseph spent two weeks at the Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne training and receiving equipment. He also confessed his true surname.

At the end of the month Joseph was sent to South Africa. The 1st Battalion of The Manchester Regiment had taken casualties during the early fighting and were now under siege in Ladysmith.

Joseph could not get to the 1st Battalion, so he joined other reinforcements in the 4th Provisional Battalion. This took part in the Relief of Ladysmith that broke the siege on the 28th February 1900. He then joined the 1st Battalion and fought with them during the rest of the war.

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. Joseph and the 1st Battalion 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 Joseph stayed in South Africa.

There were no battles on the same scale during the rest of the war. Joseph took part in many smaller operations intended to restrict the Boer's movements and force them to face British soldiers.

Being on active service didn't mean Joseph could avoid trouble. On the 3rd February 1902 he was placed in confinement for 'using insubordinate language to his superior officer'. He was found guilty and sentenced to 56 days Field Punishment Number 1. This involved being held in fetters or handcuffs, having to do hard labour, and being attached to a fixed object for up to 2 hours per day, on 3 days out of 4.

The British strategy was eventually successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902.

Reservists such as Joseph were quickly sent back to the UK and demobilised. He left South Africa on the 5th August and was demobilised to return home on the 26th. He returned to the Reserve until the 25th October 1903, when he was discharged.

Joseph and Ellen had one child during their marriage, but it had died by 1911. In this year the couple lived at 383 Higher King Street in the Hurst area of Ashton. Ellen was a brush maker and Joseph worked as a general labourer in a cotton spinning mill.

The rest of Joseph's life remains a mystery. By July 1935 he and Ellen lived at 55 John Street in Ashton. We know this because John wrote to the Army on this date. He believed there had been 'a clerical mistake' on his discharge papers.

As John put it: 'I am down as giving my age as 18 years 3 months instead of 19 years 3 months which stops me from claiming a Special ... Pension for 12 months.

'If I have given 18 instead of 19 that is my own look out, but lower down on my discharge paper there is (figure of woman tattooed on left forearm). I have nothing of the kind. The only tattoo marks on me are a cross, an anchor and a heart which is not on my discharge paper'.

We don't know whether this issue was ever resolved. Joseph died between July and September 1936 in Ashton. He was 66 years old. We believe Ellen died in early 1958, aged 85.

Joseph's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in early 1939.

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
Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund logo
Tameside Metropolitan Borough logo
Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund logo
Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council