Friday, 17 July 2009

Military Medal

In my blog on Robert James McIlhagga I mentioned that he had a younger brother John, who was born 3rd February 1888. He joined the Merchant Navy on the ship Caledonia on 24th September 1903. He would have been 15 years old. After three years as a Machine Boy, he joined up on a 12 year contract on his eighteenth birthday. His attestation document records his height as 5'4". He had brown hair, grey eyes, a fresh complexion and had a tattoo of an anchor and the letters JMC on his right forearm. He had served on six ships with a 'Very Good' character. Unfortunately this dropped to only 'Fair' over the next twelve months and he had two short periods 'in the cells', the second one apparently for 'leave breaking in aggravated circumstances'. He was given a discharge, 'services no longer required' on 23rd November 1908.

What went wrong we do not know, but it was not long before John was to redeem himself. He joined up to serve in The First World War. He enrolled in the First Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers with the Regimental Number 10814 using the name John McFarlane. Perhaps he decided to use a pseudonim in order to avoid comparison with his earlier Naval record. Although technically he remained a Private, in practice he rose to the rank of Acting Serjeant. Sadly he was killed in action on 8th July 1916. And the circumstances on this occasion were far from being 'aggravated'. On the contrary they must have been of considerable bravery for posthumously he was awarded the Military Medal. His name is recorded on page 9209 of the Supplement to the London Gazette on 21st September 1916. He is listed there as Cpl. J. McFarlane, Late Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Although I have tried to obtain the wording of a citation to tell us why he was awarded the honour, this does not seem to exist. It may be possible to discover the circumstances from a reference to the date of his death in a history of his Battalion.

John is buried in a Military grave at Doullens Communal Cemetery, Extension No.1. Doullens is a town in the Department of the Somme, approximately 30 kms. north of Amiens on the N25 road to Arras. The Communal Cemetery and Extensions lie on the eastern side of the town, about 270 meters south-east of the road to Arras. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his memory on a Certificate as follows:

In memory of
10814, 1st Bn., Royal Dublin Fusiliers
who died age 30
on 08 July 1916
(Served as McFarlane), Son of Margaret McElhagga, of 5
Azamar St., Shankhill Rd., Belfast.
Remembered with honour

Not only are there some spelling mistakes: McIlhagga, Azamor, Shankill, but John's age is two years out. Perhaps he said he was younger than he really was when he joined up.

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