John Kennelly was my paternal 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’(1), and that his year of birth was ‘1882’(2). Those two statements are correct only if John’s Date of Birth lay between 3 November and 2 December 1882(3), but John knew both statements were untrue, as the following will prove.
First, throughout his life, John had always told his own wife and family that when he joined up he had, in his own words, ‘added a couple of years to his age’. Second, when John enlisted, the Boer War was still ongoing, and the Army needed more recruits to fight in South Africa. However, enlistees under the age of 19 could not be posted abroad, even if they had enlisted for that very purpose. Nevertheless, enlistees who claimed to be 19, and who could pass themselves off as such, were generally accepted without demur or further investigation by senior officers.
The foregoing were 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’. Apparently this was a stock phrase used in these circumstances. For more on this issue, see the excellent research done by Richard Van Emden(4).
Actually, neither John, nor his wife, Euphemia, knew with any certainty his actual date of birth. Throughout his life, they simply celebrated his birthday in the first week of February, as John never knew if he was born on the 4th or 6th of that month. They ignored the fiction in John’s Army papers(1,2) as they knew it to be untrue.
Whilst John Kennelly’s date of birth, and the exact whereabouts thereof, are unknown(5,6), he told his family that he was born in Killorglin, County Kerry, Ireland, the home of the famous Puck Fair(7). John’s claim has been impossible to verify, as there is no record in the Irish National Archives(5a) of a John Kennelly being born in Killorglin within 10 years on either side of 1882, John’s alleged year of birth. More on this subject appears below, but suffice to say here that neither the Irish civil(5) nor church(6) authorities has a record of his birth or baptism.
John was born into a devout Roman Catholic family. John’s Father, named ‘John Kinnelly‘ in my Grandfather’s Marriage Certificate(8), is described in the same document as a ‘Farmer’. My Grandfather said that the farming life was not for him, though his Army Employment Sheet, Army Form B.2066(9), dated 12 September 1913, states that his ‘Trade or calling before enlistment: Clerk’, which is somewhat puzzling if not downright contradictory. Nevertheless, John left home and 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’(1).
After enlistment, John was attested as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Regiment (RGA) with the No. ‘9541/RGA’(1) and formally joined the Regiment at the Citadel, Plymouth, England, on 7 December 1901(1) where he served in 1 Depot(1) and, on re-organisation, in 3 Depot on 1 January 1902(1). John was not sent to South Africa, whether it had been his wish to serve there or not, but was subsequently posted as a Gunner to 21 Company RGA at Leith Fort, Scotland, on 23 January 1902(1). Whilst in 21 Company, John obtained his ‘Third Class Certificate of Education’ on 24 February 1902(1) and his ‘Second Class Certificate’ on 24 March 1903(1).
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(8).
Their marriage is described on the Marriage Certificate(8) 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. But that was not their only concern, as explained below.
The Marriage Certificate(8) 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(3), if his Marriage Certificate(8) was to be in accordance with his Army papers(1,2). However, as stated previously, both John and Euphemia believed that John’s Birthday was in February, although they were unsure as to whether it was on the 4th or the 6th of that month, so John’s age stated on the Marriage Certificate(8) is as unreliable as his age stated in his Army Papers(1,2).
The unreliability of the ages stated for John and Euphemia in their Marriage Certificate(8) is proven beyond any doubt by the age it gives for Euphemia. Her Certificate of Birth(10) shows that she was born on 24 August 1879 at East Port, Falkland, Fife, so she would have been 24 years old on 24 August 1903(3), i.e. more than 2 months prior to her marriage. However, the Marriage Certificate(8) states that she was ‘Age 20’ at the time of their marriage, and this is demonstrably untrue according to her Certificate of Birth(10).
John and Euphemia subsequently explained this discrepancy to the family. 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, he suggested that they use the same subterfuge on their Marriage Certificate(8), but in Euphemia’s case, to make her younger than she really was. They both joked many times about having done this in later years. This subterfuge would have been easy to get away with in an Irregular Marriage, as the documentary requirements were less onerous than those required for a Regular Marriage, as the following will demonstrate.
There are three other notable entries on that Marriage Certificate(8). The first is that John’s own name appears as ‘John Kinnelly’, which is obviously a transcription error as his Army papers(1,2) show that he enlisted with the name of ‘John Kennelly’, which he always maintained was his real and only name. The second and third, respectively, 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(5,5a) or church records(6) from 1850 onwards, so the entries would also appear to be transcription errors.
Furthermore, neither the Irish civil(5) nor church authorities(6) has 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(8) living in the area of Killorglin, the town where John maintained he was born, and this also suggests that the names of his parents were transcribed incorrectly on that Marriage Certificate(8).
In view of the above, it would be easy to assume that this Knocknaboola couple were John Kennelly’s parents. However, for that to be true, they would have to have given birth to John up to 4 years before their marriage, according to his year of birth as stated in his Army papers(1,2). Whilst a spokesperson for the Diocese of Killorglin confirms that this couple were married in their jurisdiction in 1886, they go 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’(6).
The gap of 4 years referred to above is the difference between John Kennelly’s year of birth stated on his Army papers(1,2), 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 by claiming to be older than he was, and that his age as stated in his Army papers(1,2) is false. Therefore, this Knocknaboola couple could be John’s parents even if the gap between his actual year of birth and their marriage was less than 4 years, and may even be no more than a year or less.
For the foregoing to be true, it could have made John Kennelly no older than 15 or 16 when he enlisted in the Army if the Knocknaboola couple were to be his parents. Furthermore, even if John had been that young on enlistment, he would have to be able to pass himself off as a nineteen year old in front of the Recruiting Sergeant and any officers he subsequently encountered if he wanted to serve abroad. Whilst that could be true, it is unlikely because the Diocese has full baptismal records for the children of John and Bridget Kennelly, none of whom was named John(6), which supports the other evidence that this Knocknaboola couple were not John Kennelly’s parents.
In view of all the above, there has always been a mystery surrounding John Kennelly’s date and place of birth, and also who his parents really were. So much so that the Irish civil authorities are not prepared to grant an Irish Passport to John Kennelly’s Grandchildren on the grounds that there is insufficient evidence to prove his place and date of birth. Nevertheless, the mystery surrounding John Kennelly’s date and place of birth, or who his parents were, does not detract from the fact that he served his country well - Ireland was part of the United Kingdom until 1922 - and that he did so courageously.
I have gone on about John Kennelly’s parents and his date and place of birth at some length, because I know that some people, including distant relations, have put up family trees on genealogical sites which make inaccurate claims about his background and life. Furthermore, I am the only living descendant of my Grandfather, John Kennelly, who had anything to do with him for many years, up to and including his death, and also I have the originals of all the documents and other artefacts cited or included in this memorandum, as these were passed down to me and remain in my sole possession. No other living person has had access to these.
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(1).
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(1).
John’s marriage to Euphemia was recorded in the RGA records on 28 December 1908(1), by which time they already had two children, a son, John Edward, born at No. 5 Argyle Street, Leith on 18 April 1905(11), and a daughter, Bridget Norah, born at No. 16 Hamilton Crescent, Leith on 1 March 1908.(12)
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.(13)
During his 3 years plus in Singapore(1), 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 and the team members were awarded silver medals by the SFA.(13a) A photograph of one of the teams John served in can be seen HERE.
On 19 February 1909, John ‘Extended [his] service to complete 12 years with the colours’(1) and on 18 December 1911 he was posted as a Bombardier back to 21 Company RGA at Leith Fort(1). John 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(1). A photograph of 21 Coy’s, NCOs can be seen HERE.
Subsequently, Corporal John Kennelly ‘Re-engaged at Leith Fort to complete 21 years [sic] service’ on 16 August 1913(1).
On 3 August 1914 Germany invaded Belgium because it had refused free passage of German troops so they could pass through to attack France. Belgium immediately invoked the 1839 Treaty of London and consequently Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August of that year.
Corporal John Kennelly was promoted to Sergeant in 21 Coy., on 8 October 1914(1). His immediate Commanding Officer, Captain E C Moubray presented him with a silver-gilt snuffbox in appreciation for the work he had done in the Company. A photograph of the snuffbox can be seen HERE
Britain was now engaged in a war of attrition with Germany on the Western Front, but life for Sergeant John Kennelly must have carried on much as usual in 21 Coy., RGA at Leith Fort, although he must have worried for his pregnant wife and 2 children when Leith was bombed by enemy zeppelins on 2 April 1916. Nevertheless, John and Euphemia subsequently had a healthy third child, a son, George Charles, born at 16 Hamilton Crescent, Leith, on 22 July 1916(14), but all this was soon to change in November 1916, and for details of those changes, please visit the following pages, starting with ‘293 Siege Battery’.