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BSM John Kennelly DCM MSM, RGA

IN MEMORIAM: BSM JOHN KENNELLY DCM MSM, ROYAL GARRISON ARTILLERY

     This website is intended to be a permanent and definitive archive in commemoration of BSM John Kennelly DCM MSM, RGA, who served the guns for 21 years, and also to correct errors about him elsewhere on the web in some military and genealogical sites. However, I am happy to include contributions from others regarding the contents of this site per se, or who had a relative who served in the RGA at any time. Anyone who wishes to contact me may do so via THIS LINK.

     Whilst the contents of this site are copyrighted by me, I am happy for anyone to use any of the material herein for non-commercial use, providing that I am given proper recognition and cited as the source.

      John Kennelly was my Grandfather. At his enlistment in the British Army in 1901 it was recorded by the military authorities that his age was ‘19 years and nil months’ (3), and that his year of birth was ‘1882(4). Those two statements are true only if John’s Date of Birth lay between 3 November and 2 December 1882, otherwise the date on his enlistment papers is a fabrication.

     When John enlisted, the Boer War was still ongoing. The Army needed more recruits. Enlistees under the age of 19 could not be posted abroad, even if they had enlisted for that very purpose. Whilst underage enlistees who claimed to be 18 years old could be subject to further investigation, there were few checks on those who claimed to be 19 and who could pass themselves off as such.

     The foregoing were two good reasons why an enlistee and a Recruiting Sergeant would be willing to conspire, tacitly or otherwise, and record the enlistee’s age in the enlistment documents as ’19 years and nil months’. This was a stock phrase used in these circumstances. For more on this issue, see the excellent research done by Richard Van Emden (32).

     Actually, neither John, nor his wife, knew with any certainty his actual date of birth. They celebrated it in the first week of February, as neither of them knew if he was born on the 4th or 6th of that month. They ignored the fiction in John’s Army papers (3) (4) as they knew it to be untrue.

     Whilst John Kennelly’s date of birth, and the exact whereabouts thereof, are unknown (1) (31), he claimed he was born in Killorglin, County Kerry, the home of the famous Puck Fair (33). John’s claim has been impossible to verify. Neither the Irish civil (1) nor church (31) authorities have a record of his birth or baptism.

     Suffice to say that John was born into a devout Roman Catholic family. John’s Father, named ‘John Kinnelly‘ in John’s Marriage Certificate(5), is described in the same document as a ‘Farmer’. John said that the farming life was not for him, so he enlisted in the British Army on 2 December 1901 at Cork, Ireland. He enlisted initially for ‘7 years’ service and 5 years in the reserve(3).

     After enlistment, John’s was attested as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Regiment (RGA) with the No. 9541/RGA and formally joined the Regiment at the Citadel, Plymouth, England, where he served in 1 Depot(3). Subsequently, he was posted as a Gunner to 21 Company RGA at Leith Fort, Scotland, on 23 January 1902, where he obtained his ‘Third Class Certificate of Education’ on 24 February 1902 and his ‘Second Class Certificate’ on 24 March 1903(3).

     Soon after John Kennelly’s posting to Leith Fort, he met the woman who would subsequently become his wife and lifelong companion, Euphemia Page Green. On 7 November 1903 they married by Warrant of the Sheriff Substitute of the Lothians and Peebles in the Register Office, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh(5).

     Their marriage is described on the Marriage Certificate(5) as an ‘Irregular Marriage’, otherwise known as a ‘Marriage by Declaration’, because it was performed before two witnesses, one of whom was a Sheriff’s Officer in John and Euphemia’s case,  and it was conducted in front of a Registrar, who duly recorded it.

     An ‘Irregular Marriage’ was distinguished from a ‘Regular Marriage’, because the latter applied only to a marriage conducted by an ordained Minister of Religion, but only after the official Banns had been read out in their church for 3 weeks prior to the ceremony. The churches in Scotland disagreed with irregular marriages on principle, but accepted them on the grounds that to do otherwise would encourage couples to ‘live in sin’. ‘Irregular marriages’ were made illegal in Scotland after 1 July 1940.

     The reason John and Euphemia did not adopt the ‘Regular Marriage’ procedure was because John was a Roman Catholic but Euphemia was a Protestant, and neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the Church of Scotland would agree to marry them unless one of them renounced their faith and took instruction in the other.

     The Marriage Certificate (5) states that both John and Euphemia were ‘Age 20’ at the time of their marriage. In John’s case, his age at the date of his marriage could have been 20 only if he had been born on or between 9 November and 2 December 1882 inclusive (10), if his Marriage Certificate(5) was to be in accordance with his Army papers(3) (4). However, that is clearly not the case, because both John and Euphemia believed that John’s Birthday was in February, but they were unsure as to whether it was on the 4th or the 6th of the month.

     On the other hand, the age stated on the Marriage Certificate (5) was never true for Euphemia. Her Certificate of Birth (2) shows that she was born on 24 August 1979 at East Port, Falkland, Fife, so she would have been 24 years old on 24 August 1903(10), i.e. more than 2 months prior to her marriage.

     John and Euphemia explained this. Euphemia was older than John. She felt it reflected poorly on her that she was marrying a man much younger than herself. As John had already falsified his age to join the Army, they decided to use the same subterfuge on their Marriage Certificate (5). They both joked about having done this in later years.

     There are three other notable entries on that Marriage Certificate (5). The first is that John’s own name appears as ‘John Kinnelly’, which is obviously a transcription error as his Army papers (3) (4) show that he enlisted with the surname of ‘John Kennelly’. The second and third are that John’s Father is stated to be ‘John Kinnelly’, whilst his Mother appears as ‘Bridget Kinnelly M.S. Morarty’. Neither such person appears in the Irish civil or church records from 1850 onwards, so the entries would also appear to be transcription errors.

     Furthermore, neither the Irish civil nor church authorities have a record of a marriage between a ‘John Kinnelly’ and a ‘Bridget Morarty’, but they do record a marriage on 5 March 1886 between a ‘John Kennelly’ and a ‘Bridget Moriarty’, both of Knocknaboola, a small hamlet just over 2 miles from Killorglin. This is the only recorded marriage of a couple with similar names to those persons named in John Kennelly’s Marriage Certificate (5) living in the area of Killorglin and this also suggests that the names of his parents were transcribed incorrectly on that Certificate.

     Under these circumstances, it would be easy to assume that this couple were John Kennelly’s parents. For that to be true, they would have to have given birth to John 4 years before their marriage, according to his year of birth as stated in his Army papers(3)(4). Whilst a spokesperson for the Diocese of Killorglin confirms that this couple were married in their jurisdiction, it goes on to say, ‘I doubt that John [Kennelly] and Bridget [Moriarty] are [John Kennelly’s] parents…a child might be born out of wedlock but [the parents] would get married at an early date after the birth – a gap of 4 years seems too long (31).

     The ‘gap of 4 years’ referred to above is the difference between John Kennelly’s year of birth stated on his Army papers (3)(4), i.e. 1882, and the year of marriage of  the Knocknaboola couple, i.e. 1886, so the statement from the Diocese does not in itself categorically rule them out as his parents. Nevertheless, it is known that John Kennelly lied about his age to join the Army, that his age as stated in his Army papers (3) (4) is likely to be false, so it is likely that the gap is less than 4 years and may even be no more than a year or less, which could have made John Kennelly 15 or 16 when he enlisted if the Knocknaboola couple were his parents. However, the Diocese has baptismal records for the children of that couple, none of whom were named John, which supports the evidence that this Knocknaboola couple were not John Kennelly’s parents.

     Undeterred about the mystery surrounding his past, John Kennelly continued to serve in 21 Company RGA at Leith Fort. He was granted ‘Good Conduct Pay of 1 [Old] Penny per day’ on 2 December 1903, extended his service to complete 8 years with the colours on 17 March 1904, ‘Elects(sic) Service Pay Class 1 Rate of 6 [Old] Pence per day’ on 1 April 1904, appointed Acting Bombardier on 7 November 1903, then granted his second ‘Good Conduct Badge’ and ‘Service Pay Class 1 of 7 [Old] Pence per day’ on 2 December 1906(3)

    On 15 September 1908 John was posted as an Acting Bombardier to 78 Company RGA and left for their base in Singapore on the same day. He was subsequently promoted to Bombardier on 28 January 1909(3).

     John’s marriage to Euphemia was recorded in the RGA records on 28 December 1908(8), by which time they already had two children, a son, John Edward, born at No. 5 Argyle Street, Leith on 18 April 1905(6), and a daughter, Bridget Norah, born at No. 16 Hamilton Crescent, Leith on 1 March 1908(7).

     John’s wife, Euphemia, and their two children, John Edward and Bridget Norah, also went to Singapore with him. They appear in the 1911 Census Return as living in the Barracks or Quarters in the Straights Settlements there (12).

     During his 3 years plus in Singapore (3), John played football for his Regimental team and on 2 occasions, namely 1909 and 1910, the team was runners up in the Singapore Football Association Cup Competition (9) and the members were awarded silver medals by the SFA.

78 Coy RGA Football Team 3

                                John Kennelly is the player in second row, second from left.

     On 19 February 1909, John ‘Extended [his] service to complete 12 years with the colours(3) and on 18 December 1911 he was posted as a Bombardier back to 21 Company RGA at Leith Fort(3). He was accompanied by his family. They took up residence back at 16 Hamilton Crescent, Leith, just round the corner from Leith Fort where John was stationed. John was subsequently promoted to Corporal on 28 December 1912(3).

21 Coy RGA Xmas 2013 #1

                                            Corporal John Kennelly, standing second row, second from left. Christmas 1913.

     Subsequently, Corporal John Kennelly ‘Re-engaged at Leith Fort to complete 21 years (sic) service’ on 16 August 1913 and was promoted to Sergeant on 8 October 1914(3).

J Kennelly Silver Snuffbox presentation
  • Silver and gilt snuffbox. Presentation to Sergeant John Kennelly From Captain E C Moubray, 21 Coy. RGA, January 1915.

     John and Euphemia had a third child, a son, George Charles, born at 16 Hamilton Crescent, Leith, on 22 July 1916(11). George subsequently married my Mother, Eliza, who gave birth to me in due course.

     When the 293 Siege Battery RGA (293 SB) was formed at Leith Fort on 1 November 1916(13), John was posted to it as a Sergeant on 9 November 1916(3). More detailed history of 293 SB and those who served in it are available on the excellent website by Sean Page (13) and in the Battery’s War Diary (14).

Full complement of 293SB at Ewshot_Page_1

Sergeant John Kennelly sitting in front row immediately to the right of the group of officers. The photograph is the full complement of 293 Siege Battery, RGA, taken at Ewshott, Hants, in 1917. Prior to embarkation to France.

     On 30 March 1917 the 293 SB embarked for France to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) there, and my Grandfather went along with it (3). Sergeant John Kennelly was subsequently promoted to Battery Sergeant Major (BSM) in the 293 SB on 17 September 1917(3).

NCOs taken in France

BSM John Kennelly, standing, on right with 3 other NCOs.

Believed to be in France 1917. 293 Siege Battery.

     John served with 293 SB for just over 10 months, during which time he was involved in the Battle of Messines (13), from 7 to 30 June, and the Third Battle of Ypres/ Battle of Passchendaele (13), from 31 July 1917 to 20 November 1917. Approximately mid-way through the latter battle, John was posted to the 194 Siege Battery (194 SB) on 23 September 1917(3) but for those who want more information on the specific battles mentioned, Sean Page’s website(13) is an excellent place to start, as is the 293 SB’s War Diary(14).

     During his service in 293 SB, BSM John Kennelly was recommended for the DCM, which was subsequently awarded (19). His citation reads ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has rendered continuous good service and has done his work with a thoroughness and attention to detail beyond all praise. In addition to his other duties, he acted as No. 1 of a gun, and during that period made his detachment highly efficient. He has always shown the greatest coolness and contempt of danger (20).

     BSM John Kennelly served in 194 SB until 14 May 1919(3) and much of the background can be gleaned from the relevant War Diary (15).  During this period, the German’s initiated their notorious Spring Offensive, also known as the Ludendorff Offensive (16), which commenced on 21 March 1918. It succeeded in pushing the Allies back for a while. How this affected the 194 SB can be gleaned from the relevant War Diary (15), but official war diaries are impersonal and are short on subjective material.  I am fortunate in that I can remember much of what my Grandfather told me about his experiences during those terrible days.

     The official War Diary(15) shows that on 1 March 1918 194 SB was part of 87 Brigade RGA, Fifth Army,  The Battery was situated at Courcelles Le Comte, to the West of Cambrai,  where the British Lines were at their weakest point and where a heavy German offensive was expected. 194 SB, along with 156 Heavy Battery (156 HB) and 219 SB, kept up day and night harassing fire on German positions from 8th to 20th March, firing hundreds of shells, and the War Diary states that ‘many enemy dumps were blown up by our fire(15).

Battery Fire - Beforeand After 1MAY1917_Page_1

     Typical before and after aerial intelligence for battery commanders. This report refers to a shoot by 194 SB.

     The War Diary (15) also states that on the 21 March at ‘5.00 AM [the] German attack opened’.  According to C N Trueman, ‘In just first five hours, the Germans had fired one million artillery shells at the British lines…The bombardment was followed by an attack by elite storm troopers…21,000 British soldiers had been taken prisoner by the end of that day and the Germans had made great advances through the lines of the Fifth Army, which was ordered to withdraw. The German attack was the biggest breakthrough in three years of warfare on the Western Front (17).

     The War Diary states, with classic understatement, that at 0400 hours on 22 March, ‘after close fighting and many casualties (15), 194 SB together with 154 HB were withdrawn via Fremicourt to Avesnes lès Baupames. BSM John Kennelly’s Captain at the time in 194 SB subsequently stated in a private letter to him, ‘I shall never forget the evening of Mar. 22nd. I shall always regret losing those two guns, we certainly might have done them in much better than we did’. (18)  The letter goes on to say that the Captain had ‘met General Geddes shortly before he died and he told me that the battery covered itself with glory. I am very glad that you got the M.S.M. and a mention, it was considerably less than you deserved…As a matter of fact I recommended you for the M.C. at the same time as Bdr. Thorne (the signaller) the two cooks and the other Bdr. They all got M.Ms if you remember (18).

     The mention of the loss of ‘two guns’ and the ‘two cooks’ in the letter quoted above reminds me of the story my Grandfather told me about the night in question. There was only 1 gun remaining in action in his battery and so many of the gun crew had been killed or injured that he had had to get the cooks to help him man it so that it could remain firing.

     In addition to having been recommended for the MC for his actions during 21 -22 March 1918(18), BSM Kennelly was also recommended for the French Médaille d’Honneur by Major C E Morris, OC 194 SB(21) for his actions on those days.

     Subsequent to the German breakthrough, there were a lot of movements back and forth in the fronts. The 194 SB moved around quite a bit and saw plenty of action. On one occasion, the War Diary (15) notes that on 11 May between the hours of 1900 to 0400 next day, near the village of Foncquevillers, 194 SB and 219 SB were gassed as the Germans fired 10,000 gas shells into the village.

     BSM John Kennelly remained with 194 SB until he was repatriated on 13 May 1919(3), after the Armistice.

Piccie 2 - 194SB - Full1

194 SB, full complement, Belgium, January 1918. BSM John Kennelly seated, front row, second from left. 

The guns are 6” howitzers which fire a 100lb shell over 3 miles. They are in camouflage paint.

Piccie 1 - 194 SB - New

BSM John Kennelly, centre, holding a captured Mauser Tankgewehr M1918 13.2mm anti-tank rifle. Photo taken after the Armistice, probably in Belgium.

 On his return to the UK, BSM John Kennelly was posted on 14 May 1919 to 1 Depot, and subsequently to ‘A’ Battery 19 Fire Command from 12 November 1919 until 1 September 1920(3) – where he carried out the duties of a 3rd Class Master Gunner (without extra pay)(24) - then posted to ‘A’ Coastal Battery RGA at Gullane when it was formed on 1 September 1920, and finally to RGA HQ & DE Forth Fire Command RGA, Leith Fort(27), where he completed his 21 years’ service and retired from military service on 1 December 1922(3).

After Armistice 194SB Part

BSM John Kennelly, seated, front row, third from right.

Believed to be the Officers & NCOs of 194 SB after the Armistice.

After Armistice Whereabouts Unknown

BSM John Kennelly, seated, front row, third from left. Unit unknown but obviously after returning home in 1919.

After Retirement

John Kennelly, seated centre, after retirement from RGA.

In August 1920, Army Numbers of serving troops were changed (26). BSM John Kennelly, formerly number 9541/RGA became 1400989 and this is the number shown on his Discharge Certificate (4) and Character Certificate (28).

During John Kennelly’s posting to ‘A’ Battery 19 Fire Command, he performed the duties of loading and firing the One O’Clock Gun, then a 32-pound breech-loader from the Half Moon Battery in Edinburgh Castle (24). This was used as a time-signal for ships in Leith harbour and out in the Firth of Forth (25) but note that the modern ceremony (which the link in the References page takes one to) is a completely different gun and it is fired from a different battery to the originals when BSM John Kennelly carried out those duties.

In total, my Grandfather, BSM John Kennelly DCM, MSM was recommended on five occasions, namely MC, DCM, MSM (Twice) and the French Médaille d’Honneur(22). He was also Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the Oak Leaf emblem (23) to adorn his medal group.

Subsequent to his retirement from the Army, John Kennelly became a Chief Clerk in the Ministry of Defence in Edinburgh. He died on 8 August 1973 in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Edinburgh. His Death Certificate (29) states that his Date of Birth was ‘4 February 1882’ and that he was ‘Age 91 years’ when he died, but it was my Father, George Charles Kennelly, who provided the Registrar with this information.  However, as explained above, if anyone at all knew the precise details of his birth it was John Kennelly himself, so Euphemia told my Father to use the earlier of the two dates in February that she thought it might have been. As for John’s alleged year of birth, that was simply copied from his Discharge Certificate(4). After all, those details had been sufficient for the Department of Social Security, as it then was, to pay John’s National Insurance Retirement Pension, i.e. his ‘State Pension’, for nearly 30 years up to the time of his death.

John Kennelly was survived by Euphemia. Both had become infirm and unable to cope for themselves. For the last few years of their respective lives, John and Euphemia were cared for exclusively by my Father and Mother, George and Eliza Kennelly, until they had to go into hospital to end their final days. Subsequently, George paid at his own expense for the funerals of John and Euphemia, and he was accompanied to them only by Eliza and me.

Finally, and out of respect for what one of the many unsung heroes who served the guns did, in this case my Grandfather, John Kennelly, I append a photograph of his medal group (30). From left to right these comprise, Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-18 War Medal, 1914-1918 Victory Medal with Mentioned in Dispatches Oak Leaf emblem on the ribbon, Long Service & Good Conduct Medal, and Meritorious Service Medal:

Grandads Medals

Copyright © 2020 Liam ÒCionnfhaolaidh

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