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Whelan family


The Whelan family were a Roman Catholic family from Bamber Bridge, several of whom served in the army.  One of them, Joseph, was awarded the Military Medal.


The father of the family was Patrick Whelan.  Patrick was born on 12 May 1868 in Athlone, Co. Westmeath, Ireland, although in 1911 he claimed to have been born in Bamber Bridge.  I don’t know when or how Patrick came to Lancashire but in 1889 he married Mary Ellen Waterhouse in Bamber Bridge.  Mary Ellen was born in Bamber Bridge in 1868.  They had 10 children but lost 3 in infancy.  The survivors were: Mary (b. 1890), Richard (b. 1891), Joseph (b. 1892), Catherine (b. 1897), Patrick (b. 1900), William (b. 1902) and finally Rachel (b. 1906).  The family lived at 17 School Street, School Lane, and Patrick was a labourer in Eccles’ cotton mill across the road. 


Quite astonishingly, Patrick enlisted in the army on 19 July 1915 – he was 47 years old but told the recruiting officer that he was 39.  He joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with service number 21555, and passed the medical 10 days later.  He also lied about the date of his marriage, stating he was married in 1899 (it was 1889), but he didn’t need to lie about his children – the first four were over 18 so weren’t classed as dependants, so he only had to declare the youngest 3.  A few weeks after enlisting, Patrick was posted to 1st Garrison Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, with a new service number, 29090.  He was then posted to Gibraltar where he was stationed for the rest of the War.  He blotted an otherwise good service record by being involved in a fight and causing a disturbance in his barracks in February 1917, for which he was punished with three days confined to barracks.  He left Gibraltar for demobilisation on 21 February 1919.  Patrick came back to School Street and went to work at the Leyland Rubber Works.  He died in 1942.


Richard Whelan was born in 1891 and he was a cotton weaver.  He was 680104 BQMS R. WHELAN, of the Royal Field Artillery.  He had enlisted in the Territorials before the War, and had previously had service number 979.


Joseph Whelan was born on Christmas Day 1892 and he was a spinner.  He was 680159 SGT. J. WHELAN, R.F.A.  He enlisted in the Territorials in June 1912 and was assigned service number 1112.


Both Richard and Joseph were in 276 Brigade.  Joe was in “B” Battery but I don’t know which battery his brother was in, but the pair of them landed together in France on 30 September 1915.  Joe was wounded in action several times: a gunshot wound to the chest on 27 July 1917, and a further wound to the head on 31 July, after which he spent a couple of weeks in no. 22 General Hospital before returning to duty on 26 August.  On 9 November 1917 he was promoted to Bombardier and then he was promoted to Sergeant on 11 December 1917, after the previous incumbent, 680061 Sgt Balderbank, was killed in action (at Cambrai).


Joe was granted a month’s leave in February 1918 in recognition of the extension of his service and while he was on leave he married Elizabeth Jackson at Brownedge St Mary’s on 23 February 1918.  He suffered multiple gunshot wounds (probably shrapnel) on 21-22 September 1918 and he was then in a Field Ambulance and then no. 13 General Hospital before being transferred to hospital in England on 9 October 1918.  Joe was discharged on 29 November 1918, on account of his wounds – as well as the shrapnel wounds he had also had a thumb amputated.


Joe’s Military Medal was announced in the London Gazette on 4 October 1918.


276 Brigade was part of the Divisional Artillery for 55th (West Lancashire) Division.  In 1916 they saw action during the Battle of the Somme, at Guillemont (4-6 September) and Ginchy (9 September); then after a short period of rest they were back in action at Flers-Courcelette (17-22 September) and Morval (25-28 September).  At the end of the year, they moved to the Ypres salient which at the time was considered a ‘quieter’ sector.


In 1917, at the opening of the Third Battle of Ypres, 55th Division led an attack on three farms, Spree, Pond and Shuler Farms, south of Frezenberg (31 July – 2 August).  They made little progress but suffered heavy losses.  Joe was wounded by shrapnel in the artillery exchanges preceding the opening of the infantry attack.  They were then withdrawn from the fighting, only to return to almost exactly the same spot two months later, where this time they succeeded in taking their objectives but again suffered heavy losses.  55th Division’s darkest hour came in November 1917 when they faced the German counter-attack at Cambrai.  The defensive line effectively collapsed and allowed the Germans to make a rapid and bewildering advance.  The reputation of the Division fell sharply in the eyes of military command and they were withdrawn for intensive training.  It was just after this that Joe was promoted to Sergeant to replace the previous Sergeant who was killed at Cambrai.


In 1918, the Division was in the line near Givenchy when on 9 April the Germans launched the second phase of their Spring Offensive – Operation Georgette or the Battle of the Lys.  This time, the Division held the line staunchly and the defence of Givenchy effectively prevented the German operation succeeding.  276 Brigade was in action for the whole month of April and it’s most likely that it was for bravery during this action that Joe was awarded the Military Medal. They were still in this area in September, supporting the infantry with harassing fire, when Joe was wounded again.  Joe was taken back to hospital in England, but Richard served out the rest of the War and would have been demobbed in the Spring of 1919.


Joe came back to live at 10 Brown Street, Bamber Bridge and he worked at the Leyland Rubber Works.  He and Elizabeth had four children, and Joe died in 1964.


I have found no records for Richard other than his medal records but he was engaged in all the same action as his brother.  He was Battery Quartermaster Sergeant and therefore responsible for supplies and stores, rather than actually firing the guns, but headquarters and batteries were both targeted by enemy artillery.  He survived the War but I don’t know what happened to him after the end of the War.

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