2nd 6th Lancashire Fusiliers
Passchendaele France

Lawrence Dillon of Rochdale His Story

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 or two!

It is thanks to Larry Dillon's daughter and to the late Doctor Alan Stott [renowned collector of Lancashire Fusiliers Medals], that Larry's story can now be told.

I was lucky enough to purchase Sergeant L. Dillon's medal group and associated archive, when Alan's impressive collection, was dispersed by Dix Noonan Webb in 1997.
What attracted my interest amongst so many choice lots was the intriguing catalogue entry: - "Sold with a quantity of original documentation."

What can I tell you about Lawrence Dillon of the Lancashire Fusiliers? Well he was certainly courageous. Any man, who dodged Boer bullets on the killing ground of Spion Kop, is entitled to that plaudit. He was a true comrade. He was of independent mind and would stand up for what he perceived to be his due. He was intelligent. He was a loving Father. Last and not least. He had the military gene in his blood.

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 common with all good family history, our story starts not with Larry, but with his Father.

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.

Thomas was discharged in Manchester in April 1855. He had been badly wounded at the Battle of Inkermann in 1854. His right arm had been amputated. His character was noted as "good". Fortunately for him although his discharge papers stated he had been tried once by Court Martial, no account of the proceedings could be found, to put before the board! He left the army severely disabled with a Pension of one shilling a week. He settled in Rochdale, Lancashire. Why? Because he had kin there

. 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 [14], Thomas [6], Francis [4] and Patrick [1]. 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 Census!

As mentioned above, Lawrence Dillon was born in 1873. Another mouth to feed. Then the defining event happened which shattered the Dillon Family. The glue which held them together was gone.
Julia Dillon died in 1875 aged 38.

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!
This was not his first brush with Authority. His military career was shall we say - chequered. He had been treated for syphilis in 1878 and 1879, when serving in India. He had seen active service in the 2nd Afghan War [1878], earning the War Medal with clasp "Ahmed Khel." Unfortunately although his discharge papers state he was entitled to the Medal, they also state under "Medals and Decorations" the ominous comment "None." Thus suggesting the authorities took back with one hand, what they had awarded with the other. His character assessment was not surprisingly noted as -"Bad. On account of absence and drunkenness."

Yet while John was pursuing a less than distinguished military career, what was happening to his family? The Census tells us in grim detail.
John's Father [Thomas] was living in the Rochdale area with a male relative, possibly a nephew. Thomas's occupation is listed as a Commercial Traveller in Drapery. There was no mention of his sons. I eventually found Patrick and Larry, aged ten and eight on the Census Return for Dearnley Workhouse, Wardle, near Rochdale. Obviously their Father could not cope. This was not an uncommon occurrence in those hard times. Still, what a desperate situation had resulted from the untimely death of their Mother some six years earlier.

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.

Thomas Dillon died in 1886 age fifty-nine.

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.
Perhaps he hoped to find a new family in the Regiment? A more settled way of life that had been denied him in a harsh childhood?

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.

Another posed studio photograph taken at around the same time, shows Larry and three comrades' playing cards and drinking ale!

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 Fusiliers set sail for South Africa less than a month later.

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 History."
To borrow a famous phrase from the 1st World War. It should be pointed out he was not referring to the Lions, but to certain very high ranking Donkeys who led them.

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

Here it must be mentioned that the Dillon archive contains an intriguing photograph. Or rather a photograph of a well-executed sketch. A Lancashire Fusilier almost certainly Larry Dillon, is standing by a grave in the Veldt. On the ornate wooden cross is inscribed - "In memory of T. Carter. 2nd Lan. Fus. Died Nov. 10th 1900."

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. [6] Dillon's original parchment discharge certificates still survive, signed by the Major Commanding the Fusilier Depot in Bury.
A letter of recommendation on Lancashire Fusilier Notepaper, dated Bury 24th August 1902 exists. Captain C.J. Griffin Commanding "H" Company 2nd Battalion recommends the sterling qualities of Private Dillon to future employers.

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".

A few words would not go amiss at this point regarding the 6th Battalion. The Battalion left for Egypt on the 9th September 1914. The Regimental History says "300 men were unable for medical, family or business reasons to volunteer for foreign service." Dillon was amongst this number. More volunteers were flocking to the Colours. The Unit was now titled the 6th [Reserve] Battalion. By May 1915 it was renamed the 2nd/6th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers.

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.

Story written by a good friend of the Lancashire Fusiliers-Ken Marsh.

Many thanks to Medal News and Coin News of Token Publishing for permision to reproduce this story from their March 2012 edition.


241575 Private Joseph Newton 2/6th Batt Lanc Fusiliers my Great Granddad - 100 years ago this month involved in attacks around Passchendaele -
Died Tuesday, October 15, 1918

sent in by Tony Wroe

In Memoriam

Died on 11/07/1917
Private James Whitehead
2/6th Lancashire Fusiliers

Private James Whitehead, aged 20, of the Lancashire Fusiliers, was killed in action on July 11th, 1917. He resided in Cross Street, Middleton and enlisted in April 1916, going to the front in October of the same year. In January 1917, he was drafted home with trench feet and returned to the front in June. He was a piecer at the Times Mill, and was connected with Holy Trinity Church, Parkfield, as well as the Church Lads Brigade and Institute.

The 2/6th battalion history notes that the men were in the trenches at Nieuport, where heavy shelling took place on the 10th of July.
Describing the scene, a platoon sergeant had found that some acute form of sickness had affected the usual steady gait of the men. The fact afterwards leaked out that a brewery had been discovered close to the billet and it was the opinion that all the beer whether good or bad should never be left to chance destruction by shellfire So the men did the right thing!
So hopefully our Middleton man enjoyed a beer or two before his fateful day.
Private Whitehead is laid to rest at Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium

Died on 13/06/1917

Captain Edwin James Jones
Company Sergeant Major Edwin John Legg.
Lance Corporal William Taylor
Private Frank Bamford
2/6th Lancashire Fusiliers.

Two companies of the 2/6th Lancashire Fusiliers undertook a trench raid on this day, of the 25 killed, four were from Middleton.

Quite a lot to read today, but it is interesting.

William Taylor lived at 8, Booth St, Middleton, and was 26 years of age.
Frank Bamford lived at 106, Townley St, and was aged 36.
Captain Jones was born in Middleton, but resided at Cheadle Hulme.
CSM Legg, aged 24, enlisted in August 1914 with the Middleton Territorials, and was a Piecer at the Soudan Mill, and was a member of the Middleton Junction Band.

On the night he died, Captain Jones was commanding "D" Company whilst it undertook a raid on enemy trenches opposite Givenchy. The purpose was to divert the attention of the Germans from British activities further north at Messines and to inflict losses on the enemy.

The Germans then launched a counter-attack - moving up through the trench system and, also across the open ground. The Fusiliers were able to fend them off until the appointed time for return, when the Royal Engineers laid down a smokescreen to cover the withdrawal. As they did so, the Germans were able to reoccupy the front line and start firing. This is when most casualties occurred. Edwin was one of the first to be hit. Another 24 were also killed and 54 wounded.

Soon after the raiding party returned a German climbed on to his parapet and beckoned to the Englishmen who were on the look-out for stragglers. Both sides sent out small parties into No Man's Land and began to clear the dead and wounded - it being agreed that neither side would cross the half-way line between the trenches. One of the Germans knew Manchester and said he wondered what was on at The Palace that week.

And finally!

Seeing an advertisement in the personal column of the 'Manchester Guardian' asking any man who took part in the raid to communicate with a certain box office number, an N.C.O of the Battalion wrote and later received a reply from Germany from a German N.C.O. This German had in his possession certain photographs and personal belongings of several of our men who were killed in the raid. These he returned together with information which led to the findings of the graves of five of our men who, up to that time (1924) had been posted as missing.

CSM Legg and Private Bamford are still missing, and their names are on the Loos Memorial.

Captain Jones is buried at Gorre British & Indian Cemetery.
While L/Cpl Taylor is buried at Bethune Town Cemetery,

The first photo is Gorre British and Indian Cemetery, the second is Bethune British Cemetery, both of which are in France, the gentleman is William Taylor.

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.
He had previously been wounded. He was connected with the Holy Trinity, Parkfield, and was a member of the Sunday School Football and Cricket League, as well as a sergeant in the Church Lads Brigade.

Sergeant Lucas is laid to rest at Roye New British Cemetery, France.