Photograph of Bill in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MRP/7F/056
(L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Transvaal', 'Orange Free State', 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; General Service Medal 1918-62 with clasp 'Iraq'; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal; Meritorious Service Medal
John was born in 1883 in Manchester. He was always known as Bill. We don't know anything about his early life or his family except that he had a brother named Joseph. The brothers were Roman Catholics.
By 1899 Bill had found work as a tram guard. He joined the Manchester Regiment Militia on the 9th November 1899. Bill told the Army that he was 18 years and 4 months old, and that he lived at 56 Mornington Street in Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester.
When he enlisted Bill was 5 feet 4 1/2 inches tall and weighed 119 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He joined the 4th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 6894. After training with them for 49 days he was released to return to his civilian life.
The Boer War had broken out in South Africa the month before Bill enlisted. The British suffered some significant defeats during the early part of the war, and began to send large numbers of soldiers to the country as reinforcements. As part of this effort the newly renamed 6th Battalion was called into service on the 4th May 1900.
After 3 weeks of embodied service Bill applied to join the Regular Manchester Regiment. We don't know why he chose to do this. Perhaps he discovered he enjoyed army life, or perhaps he wanted to see action sooner. Whatever the reason, he joined the Regular Army on the 26th May 1900 and was given the service number 6126.
We don't know when Bill was sent to South Africa, but we know from his 'South Africa 1901' clasp that he had arrived there before the end of that year. He joined the 2nd Battalion. During the second half of the Boer War there were few large battles, and Bill's main roles would have been to man blockhouses and take part in sweeps across the countryside in order to trap Boer guerrillas and restrict their movement. The war ended in May 1902 and by February 1903 Bill had been transferred to the 1st Battalion, who would leave South Africa for Singapore on the 11th March.
Bill married Adele Gordon Rose (we don't know her maiden name) at St Martin's Church in Guernsey on the 1st November 1906. Their daughter Gwendoline Rose was born on the 9th April 1908 in Guernsey. Whilst the family was living in Manchester Ada was born on the 7th April 1910, Adele Gordon on the 28th February 1912 and William Henry on the 31st March 1914.
We don't know anything about Bill's military career during this period. He had left the Army by 1911, and that April the family lived at 5 Hethorn Street in Newton Heath, Manchester. Bill was working as a fitter's labourer at a newspaper printer's.
In late 1912 Bill decided to rejoin the Manchester Regiment. He was given the service number 2496. We believe he served as a Drummer during this time. The First World War broke out in August 1914 and Bill was sent overseas to France on the 14th April 1915. He continued to serve in France and Flanders throughout the war. By the end of the war in 1918 Bill had reached the rank of Sergeant. Again, he had gone to war with the 2nd Battalion.
Bill's brother Joseph had also joined the Manchester Regiment, in around 1908. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal on the 3rd June 1915 for his actions on the 12th March. Joseph did not live to receive his medal; he was killed on the 26th April.
Bill was 'discharged to re-enlist' in the Army on the 2nd April 1919. This meant he would remain in the Army whilst other soldiers who had served during the war were demobilised. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion and went with them to Mesopotamia, now Iraq, in February 1920.
Between April and July the Battalion was based in Tikrit, they then moved to Hillah. Many of the soldiers in Iraq were inexperienced and were not fully trained on all the Battalion's weaponry. Many of the men who had served in the First World War had already been demobilised, so experienced soldiers such as Bill will have been invaluable.
On the 24th July 1920 the Battalion was around 20 miles outside Hillah when it was attacked by Arab tribesmen. They held off the Arabs until nightfall, and then D Company was ordered to hold position to allow the rest of the Battalion to get away. Bill was one of 79 soldiers captured by the Arabs.
The party was held for three months. They were released on the 19th October at Najaf. They had been forced to make long marches across the desert with little food or medical attention. Bill was one of the most senior soldiers in the group, along with Charles Mutters and Edward Harvey, whose medals are also both in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection, so they were looked up to by the younger prisoners.
Bill and the 2nd Battalion left Mesopotamia on Boxing Day 1920 and moved to Kamptee in India. He received a new service number at around this time: 3512500.
Bill and Adele had had another son, Joseph Charles, on the 8th May 1920, in Guernsey. Sadly he died on the 23rd October 1923, whilst the family were living in Jubbulpore, now Jabalpur.
The 2nd Battalion celebrated its centenary on the 25th March 1924. There was a full week of celebrations, which included a ceremonial parade, sports and 3 days holiday for the entire Battalion.
Walter Gordon Currie was born in Jubblepore on the 19th January 1925. Later that year Bill's service was recognised when he was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He had to have a total of 18 years in the Army to earn this award. At this time Bill was a member of C Company.
The 2nd Battalion were serving in Burma when Bill left them on the 29th November 1926. He had been transferred to the 1st Battalion, who were based in Shorncliffe, Kent. He joined A Company.
A highlight of Bill's career must have been when he was chosen to join a parade before King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 16th May 1930. The King was the new Colonel in Chief of the Manchester Regiment and this was the first opportunity he had had to meet the unit.
Bill retired from the Army during 1931. We don't know exactly when. At some point during his service he had served as a Sergeant Cook, and as Provost Sergeant responsible for enforcing discipline and detaining soldiers accused of crimes.
In retirement Bill and Adele made their home in London. They lived at 'Fleur de Lys', 3 Densworth Grove in Enfield, North London during the 1930s. Bill became a keen member of the Manchester Regiment Old Comrades Association (OCA). They lived in London throughout the bombing during the Second World War, although Adele began to suffer with rheumatoid arthritis because of it.
After the Second World War the OCA began to meet again. A London Branch was also formed. Bill became a regular fixture at their events.
During 1951 Bill and Adele moved to Guernsey. They lived in a bungalow named Beaconscot on Damouette Lane in the capital St Peter Port. There was already a thriving Manchester Regiment OCA on the island, and Bill was soon its Vice Chairman.
Adele died on the 4th July 1955, after an operation that she had seemed to be recovering from. The news shocked Bill's many friends. One of them wrote in the Regimental Gazette: 'one felt that if only there were more like her the world would be a better place in which to live'.
Bill continued to attend OCA Reunions in Guernsey, London and Manchester for the rest of his life. He would often be accompanied by his daughter Gwen. He remained fit and well into the 1970s, although he was not able to attend the 1974 Reunion. His vivid memory of his time in South Africa meant that his friends greatly enjoyed hearing his stories. His 'wonderful sense of humour' only added to their appeal. The Regimental Gazette suggested that he was 'probably the last survivor' of the Boer War era 1st Battalion.
Bill died on the 7th May 1974 in hospital in St Peter Port. He was 91 years old. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment shortly after he died. Joseph's were presented at the same time.