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.