Our People - John McNamara VC
16 October 1918
#28939 Corporal John McNamara VC
9th (Service) Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
72nd Brigade, 24th Division
Formerly 25097 Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
Killed in action 16 October 1918
Romeries Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France. Ref: IV. D. 17
Son of John and Margaret McNamara; husband of Mary Ann Mitchell (formerly McNamara), of 82, Stone Row, School Lane, Preston.
INSCRIPTION: "THY WILL BE DONE"
John McNamara VC is arguably the most famous of all the soldiers, sailors and airmen from the South Ribble area, and one of the few to have his own memorial which stands nearby his old house.
John was born in 1887 to John Thomas McNamara and Margaret McNamara (nee Kelly) in Walton-le-Dale. His parental heritage was Irish, his grandfather (also John) was born in Ireland about 1842. In 1911, John was living with his uncle, John Eckersley at 6 Charnley Fold, Bamber Bridge and was working as a ring jobber at A. S. Orr's cotton mill. 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 10th Loyals to the 9th East Surreys under Lieutenant Colonel Ewen Cameron to reconstitute that battalion after their horrendous losses during the German Spring offensive. He is famous for the gallant action that won him the British Army's highest award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. All VC awards are published in the London Gazette, the official public record. The edition dated 15 November 1918 reads as follows:
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.
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 was increasingly becoming a mobile war as the German army began to crack. He is buried at the Romeries Communal Cemetery near the town of Solesmes. He is remembered by a plaque on an earth bank where his house used to stand in School Lane, Bamber Bridge, and his is one of the names on the Brownedge St. Mary R.C. Memorial at Brownedge Green, Bamber Bridge.
On 22 November 1918, John's C.O., Lieutenant Colonel Ewen A. Cameron wrote to his widow offering to accompany her to receive the Victoria Cross (see image). The medal was presented 27 February 1920 by King George VI at Buckingham Palace.
For many years John’s VC was housed in the East Surrey Museum based in the stately Clandon House in Surrey. In 2015 a catastrophic electrical fire took hold and completely destroyed the interior of the building. It was thought that the VC and other priceless artifacts of the regiment were lost. Miraculously, the VC survived in a bank vault along with other medals and papers belonging to the regiment.
As a community we are proud of John’s actions. 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 and that the following morning they returned for the dead to give them a proper burial. His was and still is a great example to everyone.
John was also awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal. His name appears on the Bamber Bridge St. Mary's R.C. War Memorial and his own memorial nearby his old house on School Lane, Bamber Bridge.
John McNamara in uniform. Photograph in the public domain
Click on any image to enlarge
In July 2014, "Forward" newspaper produced a piece on John McNamara and the centenary of the Great War. The article(s) are reproduced as above. Click on any image to enlarge