Memorials - John McNamara Gardens & the VC Paving Stone
On 2nd September 2018, on the eve of the one-hundredth anniversary of the events that were to win him the Victoria Cross, the Corporal John McNamara Victoria Cross paving stone was unveiled in his home village of Bamber Bridge (‘Brig’) near Preston, Lancashire. The paving stone has been mounted on a rough hewn stone and forms the centrepiece of a community garden that honours ‘Briggers’ past and present. Along with the stone is a handsome information board put together using research conducted by Charles O’Donnell of WFA Leyland and Central Lancashire.
Dignitaries including the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Lancashire, Colonel Alan Jolley OBE TD DL, Nigel Evans MP (Ribble Valley), Seema Kennedy MP (South Ribble) were present along with members of the McNamara family and local clergy. Stan Grosvenor MA and Charles O’Donnell were there for our WFA branch and Steve Johnson came all the way up north to represent the Surrey Infantry Museum.
John McNamara was born in 1887 to John Thomas McNamara and Margaret McNamara (nee Kelly) in Walton-le-Dale. He spent much of his life in the School Lane area of Bamber Bridge and worked as a ring-jobber (machine maintenance) at the Cotton Mill of J.S. Orr. He was courting his future wife Mary Ann Atkinson of Higher Walton and they married in 1912 at the Preston register office. They would go on to have four children together.
John's service record does not survive but we know from various records that he at first enlisted as Private #25097 in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and transferred 9 April 1918 along with the entire 10/Loyal NL to the 9/East Surreys under Lieutenant Colonel Ewen Cameron to reconstitute that battalion after their horrendous losses during the German Spring Offensive (or Kaiser’s Battle). He is famous for the gallant action that won him the British Army's highest award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. His citation was published in the edition of the London Gazette dated 15 November.
“No. 28939 Cpl. John McNamara, E. Surr. R. (Preston). For conspicuous bravery, initiative, and devotion to duty. When operating a telephone in evacuated enemy trenches occupied by his battalion, Cpl. McNamara realised that a determined enemy counter-attack was gaining ground. Rushing to join the nearest post, he made the most effective use of a revolver taken from a wounded officer. Then seizing a Lewis gun, he continued to fire it till it jammed. By this time he was alone in the post. Having destroyed his telephone, he joined the nearest post, and again displayed great courage and initiative in maintaining Lewis gun fire until reinforcements arrived. It is undoubtedly due to the magnificent courage and determination of Pte. McNamara that the other posts were enabled to hold on, and his fine example of devotion is worthy of the highest praise.”
His VC citation is brief and does not mention the fact that John also helped evacuate the wounded from the action together with an officer still under enemy fire and that the following morning they returned for the dead to give them a proper burial. This has since been revealed in his letters home.
The VC award was made posthumously. John was killed in action 16 October 1918 in fighting in and around the town of Haussy where the East Surreys were pushing the Germans back in what had once again become a mobile war. John was buried at the Romeries Communal Cemetery near the town of Solesmes and he is also remembered by a plaque on an earth bank where his house used to stand in School Lane, Bamber Bridge.
On 22 November 1918 the Commanding Officer of the 9/East Surreys, Lieutenant Colonel Ewen A. Cameron, wrote to Margaret McNamara offering to accompany her to receive John’s Victoria Cross. The medal was presented 27 February 1920 by King George VI at Buckingham Palace.
Charles O’Donnell. Secretary, Leyland & Central Lancashire Branch
As Manager of the Surrey Infantry Museum, responsible for preserving the history of the East Surrey Regiment, I was honoured to be invited to participate in the Bamber Bridge ceremony. Fourteen Victoria Crosses were awarded to the men of the East and West Surrey Regiments during the Great War and we are fortunate to hold seven of the original medal groups including those of John McNamara, together with his Memorial Plaque. Although the majority of the Museum’s inventory was destroyed or badly damaged in a catastrophic fire in April 2015, the VCs survived and will be at the heart of a collection rebuilt from restored salvaged items supplemented by newly-donated material.
Vel exuviae triumphans. (Even in defeat there can be triumph)
Steve Johnson. Manager, Surrey Infantry Museum
Charles O'Donnell 2018
The great great great Grandson of John McNamara salutes by the John McNamara VC Paving Stone.
Photograph courtesy of South Ribble Borough Council
Images © Charles O'Donnell, WFA Leyland & Central Lancashire