2nd 6th Lancashire
When we buy a group of medals, we usually
get the bare minimum of information on the recipient. This is the
accepted way of things. After all the joy of the hobby is in the research.
However sometimes we are extremely fortunate to acquire not just the
medals, but original documents and wonder of wonders, even a photograph
How do I know these claims
are true? Why from the documents lovingly preserved by his daughter
for posterity. Plus some persevering research at the National Archives
In the town of Athy on the 9th August 1847 [at 3pm!] twenty-one year old Thomas Dillon, from the Parish of Arranmore, near Galway, enlisted for H.M. 6th Regiment of Foot. What prompted him to enlist? Certainly the Irish famine must have played its grim part.
In 1845 half the expected annual potato crop was ruined by blight. In the next two years nearly all the potato crops were ruined. By 1847 Ireland faced starvation. Small wonder Thomas chose the relative security of army life.
In 1850 Number 3307 Private Dillon blotted his copybook and was sentenced to 40 days imprisonment. This rebellion against authority would become a family trait, at least with one of Thomas' sons.
In 1852 he was transferred to the 88th Regiment - the Connaught Rangers. The 6th Foot may have been glad to see the back of him. He would go on to serve with the Rangers in the Crimean campaign.
. Then Thomas' life took a turn for the better. He must have been a charming fellow to persuade a girl eleven years younger, to take a chance on a one-armed Chelsea Pensioner!
It was hard enough for an able-bodied man to keep the wolf from the door and feed his family. In any event Thomas married and before long, he had a large family. The 1871 Rochdale Census shows Thomas, his wife Julia and four boys, John , Thomas , Francis  and Patrick . Larry Dillon would not be born for another two years yet. Thomas Senior was marked down as a Chelsea Pensioner. His wife as a Cotton Reeler.
My first thought was - where on earth is the money coming from to support the family?
Certainly not from the less-than-generous
Army Pension. Thomas must have been earning in ways not recorded in
The following year the eldest son John enlisted into the Army. His Father was left with four young sons to feed and clothe.
The next port of call was the 1881 Census. This was very revealing.
Twenty-three year old Private
John Dillon of H.M. 59th Foot was languishing in a Military Prison!
Yet while John was pursuing
a less than distinguished military career, what was happening to his
family? The Census tells us in grim detail.
Private John Dillon was discharged to the Army Reserve and returned Home. His propensity for getting into trouble had not left him. He was imprisoned by the Civil Authorities on two occasions for five months and one month, in 1882 and 1883.
He leaves the area soon after.
In November 1890 when he had
turned eighteen Lawrence Dillon enlisted into the Lancashire Fusiliers.
No surprise. There was little left to keep him in Rochdale. He gave
his next of kin as his brother Patrick.
The Dillon archive has two
excellent photographs of the young Larry at this exciting time. He and
a friend have engaged a local photographer to mark the momentous occasion.
Both young men are togged out in their new Regimentals, looking as proud
as punch. There is reason to believe the friend is Private T. Carter.
Of whom more follows.
Larry Dillon's world now abruptly changed from the grim Mills of Rochdale to vistas he could hardly imagine. He served in India for five years, from 1892 to 1898. Then in quick succession Egypt, Crete and Malta. He saw active service with the 2nd Battalion at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898, earning the Queen's Sudan and Khedive's Sudan Medals.
By 1899 the Second Battalion was home again. Yet not for long. The long expected war with the Boers had erupted and the Fusiliers were awaiting orders to depart.
Still the time back in Rochdale
was well-spent for 3504 Private L. Dillon. On the 11th November 1899
he married Margaret Ann Clarke at St. Patrick's Church, Rochdale. The
newly-weds would not be fated to spend much time together.
The momentous battle of Spion
Kop in January 1900 is too well reported to bear much repetition here.
A modern Regimental chronicler has labelled it "one of the worst
stories of gross mismanagement and unsoldierly conduct in the Army's
To reinforce his argument the same author points out "the British Soldier had shown himself mentally and physically capable of anything-when properly trained and properly led."
The 2nd Battalion after the
disaster was effectively crippled for the foreseeable future. Private
Dillon survived the experience of Spion Kop. He was like his comrades
to spend the next two dreary years on Blockhouse Duties. After all someone
had to guard the Railway Lines against the marauding Boer Commandos
Dillon obviously treasured this poignant memento. The Lancashire Fusiliers Annual for 1902 records that 1147 Private Thomas Carter of Rochdale, died at Dundee, South Africa, on November 9th 1900 from Fever. It's hard to escape the conclusion that the second individual shown with Larry on the previously mentioned photographs must have been Thomas Carter.
The Battalion finally returned
home in October 1902 after a traumatic absence of nearly three years.
Private Dillon had earned himself the Queen's South Africa Medal with
clasps Tugela Heights, Orange Free State, Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal
and Laing's Nek. Also the King's South Africa Medal with clasps South
Africa 1901 and 1902. His papers record that he was "Discharged
in termination of Engagement" on the 3rd November 1902.  Dillon's
original parchment discharge certificates still survive, signed by the
Major Commanding the Fusilier Depot in Bury.
Griffin a genial optimistic Irishman and a professionally superb soldier would command the 2nd Battalion on mobilisation in August 1914.
Thirty year old Larry would now finally see the wife he had not seen for three long years. She had been living with her Mother. We are not vouchsafed a record of the reunion, yet it is perhaps significant that their first child was not born until 1905.
Life prior to the 1st World War for the Dillon's was inevitably hard. Larry had no trade except soldiering and there was no call for that. What we can say with certainty was that by 1911, he was working as a Labourer in that ever-present Rochdale standby, the Cotton Mills. They were living at 3 Howe Street, Rochdale. A two roomed house. The Census Return entered in his own hand states he was 38. His wife Margaret was 38. They had three children. Thomas age 6, Julia 2 and Agnes 10 months. It should be remembered that Larry's Mother was called Julia. The Census also states that although the Dillon's had three surviving children, three others had died young. A sad reminder of the ever-present high mortality rate amongst the young.
The "War to end all Wars" was declared in August 1914. On the 14th September 1914, forty-one year old Larry attested for his local Battalion. The 6th Territorial Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. On the 17th September, the ever careful Dillon went to the Town Register Office. He ordered a Certificate detailing the entries for his marriage to Margaret in 1899. Plus the births of their children. It would be used to claim his due allowances from His Majesty's Military Purse. The Certificate survives as a testimony to his foresight. The Fee was one shilling. Money well spent.
Number 9980 Private Dillon's
military abilities were soon recognised. We are fortunate to still have
his 1st World War papers. They tell us he was quickly promoted Corporal
on 2nd January 1915. Then someone in authority must have intervened.
For within two days he had received another promotion to Lance Sergeant!
The bad news was that it was unpaid! He did not have too long to wait
for his next jump. By the 22nd February he was officially promoted Sergeant,
with the pay to match his rank. We also learn he was appointed Signalling
Instructor, with the terse comment - "Paid".
Meanwhile its postings took it first to Billets in Southport. The training of Recruits however still continued at Rochdale Drill Hall. I wonder if Dillon was stationed at home in this latter enterprise? It would make sense.
In August 1915 the 2/6th left Lancashire for Maidstone, then Colchester. Finally on the 26th February 1917, orders came to embark for France. Dillon's papers have a notation that his Rank as Sergeant was finally confirmed on the same date!
Sergeant Dillon would serve with the 2/6th Battalion for eight harrowing months on the Western Front. The Battalion was a component of the 66th [East Lancashire] Division. These eight months would encompass the bloody battle of Passchendaele in October 1917.
Sergeant Dillon's 1st World War discharge certificate states he is not entitled to any wound stripes. However it is plain the unrelenting strain of trench warfare played havoc with his health. He was just not up to the physical demands. On the 18th October 1917, 44 year old Dillon was transferred to the Labour Corps The Dillon archive has two more fascinating letters at this time. One was written by his eight year old daughter Julia. It has been later endorsed in pencil "September 1917." It is a very touching letter from a young child to "Dear Daddy. From your loving daughter."
The second is written "In the Field France" on 6th November 1917. It is a very detailed chatty letter to "My Dear Old Pal Larry" from "Your Old Pal Dave, Sergeant Lewis." Lewis goes into great detail mentioning a number of mutual friends and tells Dillon what has happened to them. I have listed the names that can be identified in a separate table. It will be noted that all the casualties were inflicted on the 9th October 1917. This was at the time of the Divisional attack in the hideous mud across the Frezenberg Ridge towards Passchendaele.
It has not been possible to trace the full name and number of all the individuals concerned, from the Medal Index Cards. However I hope the above-mentioned table will be of interest. Lewis has obviously gone to some trouble to provide Larry with a detailed list of the whereabouts of all his former chums. He mentions the gallantry awards and talks of "the good work done by your old pals." Then asks with pride - "Are you not proud to have belonged to us?"
241085 Sergeant David Lewis was killed in action on the 15th November 1917.
His letter has been treasured by Larry ever since.
Sergeant Dillon may have been considered not fit enough for front-line trench duty, but life in the Labour Corps was certainly no sinecure. The next year saw him posted from one Labour Company to another. In March 1919 he volunteered for one year's extended service. There was a sound reason for this. His papers have a comment stating "Rate of Pay most advantageous!" Yet eventually he had to take a compulsory Discharge on the 4th October 1919.
His British War Medal and Victory Medals were forwarded to him on the 28th January 1922.
Like all who served, the Great War left its mark on Larry in more ways than one. He was diagnosed as suffering from Myalgia. The Dictionary definition states this is "pain or tenderness in a muscle or group of muscles."
On the 23rd May 1921 he became a cleaner at the Rochdale Post Office. His Certificate of Employment still survives. His wages were 28 shillings a week.
On the 21st February 1922 he joined what my Dad called the "Poor Man's Masons!" The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. Larry's Certificate is in the Dillon archive. This paternal comment should not be taken as a criticism, since my Father was also a member of the Buffaloes!
The Dillon archive also contains one last letter. It is dated September 26th 1935.
We do not know to whom it was
addressed, but it is written "as one soldier to another" asking
for help to redress grievances. It is an intelligent letter from the
63 year old Dillon, stating he had received no Compassionate Gratuity
when he ceased Employment after 13 years at Rochdale Post Office. He
was discharged in March 1934 "through age and sickness". He
could get "No Pay from the Labour Exchange" as "I had
not paid Unemployment while working at the G.P.O." His income was
now reduced to 10s /6d a week Disability and 7s/6d Insurance. His wife
was unemployed. His family was also in dire straits. "I reckon
it takes them all their time to keep themselves, never mind us."
He also details a long-held complaint relating to his health.
On leaving the army he went before a Medical Board. His papers were endorsed that he was suffering from Myalgia. When in fact the more dangerous source of his constant ill-health then and ever since was "Chronic Bronchitis." This was accepted by the Board, who sent him to Hospital for Myalgia and to his own Doctor for Bronchitis. He states the Bronchitis "has been the cause of all my sickness ever since."
Some good must have come from this heartfelt well-expressed plea, since Lawrence Dillon was admitted as a Chelsea Out-Pensioner on 23rd December 1937, receiving 14s a week.
Pensioner Dillon died on the 14th March 1943 from Acute Bronchitis and Myocardial Degeneration age 70. His beloved daughter Julia was present.
Larry Dillon did not receive any medals for gallantry in his army service. He like all his generation would no doubt say that he was "only doing his bit." Yet I hope this telling of his and his family's story, may prompt the thought that he really was a gallant man.
Many thanks to Medal News and Coin News of Token Publishing for permision to reproduce this story from their March 2012 edition.
Sergeant James Lucas
2/6th Lancashire Fusiliers
Sergeant James C. Lucas, of
the Lancashire Fusiliers, son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Lucas, Booth Street,
Middleton, died from wounds in France in 1918. This soldier who was
25 years of age, was employed by the Moston Spinning Company, and joined
up immediately on the outbreak of war.
Sergeant Lucas is laid to rest at Roye New British Cemetery, France.