(A few years ago, by
accident, I found out about this remarkable Fusilier. The following
is a brief summary of what I've discovered about him.)
John Lynn, who won
the VC at Ypres, May 1915, was born in Forrest Hill, South London
in 1888 and spent his early years in the area. However the only
memorial to John, in England, appears to be the one at the church
of St Mary the Virgin, Bury, Greater Manchester.
on John is sparse. His army service records do not appear to
have survived. (I cannot find trace of them amongst the 'Unburnt
Documents' held at the PRO, Kew.) The information that is readily
available tends to concentrate on the events leading to his
winning the DCM and the VC while serving with the 2nd Battalion
the Lancashire Fusiliers during WW1.
Winning the VC.
An extract from the
"London Gazette," dated 29th June 1915, records the
following: -"For most conspicuous bravery near Ypres on
2nd May 1915. When the Germans were advancing behind their wave
of asphyxiating gas, Pte. Lynn, although almost overcome by
the deadly fumes, handled his machine gun with very great effect
against the enemy, and when he could not see them he moved his
gun higher up on the parapet, which enabled him to bring even
more effective fire to bear, and eventually checked any further
advance. The great courage displayed by this soldier had a fine
effect on his comrades in the very trying circumstances. He
died from the effects of gas poisoning."
As a result of this action John also had the rare distinction
of being named in Sir John French's dispatches.
On December of the
previous year, John was also awarded the DCM for his courage
when he to quote from the Gazette of the 17th December 1914,
' For gallant conduct. Took charge of an isolated machine gun
when his Serjeant was killed, brought it out of action when
jammed and took it back again to the firing line when repaired.'
John was also awarded posthumously, on the 25th August 1915,
the Cross of St George 4th Class (Russia).
John died the day after
the action, which gained him the VC. He was buried in Vlamertinghe
Churchyard, Belgium but his grave was later destroyed by shellfire
and there is now a special memorial stone erected to him at
the Grootebeek British Cemetery.
John's name is also
listed on the WW1 memorial in St Mary's Church, Bury, Lancs.
This appears to be the only memorial to him in England.
Although John's gallant
actions are well recorded, as noted earlier, knowledge about
John, his parents and foster parents is sparse. The following
is a summary of what is known.
A recently discovered
birth certificate shows John was born on the 21st April 1888
at 6 Helvetia St, Perry Hill, Catford. London. (This differs
from other records, which give a birth year of 1987.) His mother
was a Lily Lynn and his father was unknown.
An Elizabeth Harrison, of the same address, registered John's
birth under the name John Walter Harrison Lynn.
Elizabeth and her husband,
Phillip, apparently acted as John's foster parents throughout
his childhood. What is known suggests that John may have had
a difficult childhood.
He attended Christ
Church School, Forest Hill, London, SE23 and his family home
was variously 20 Hindsley Place or 2 Church Vale, Forest Hill.
His foster mother was a laundress/ washerwoman.
For some unknown reason in1899, possibly as a result of the
death of his foster father, John came under the care of the
Lewisham Board of Governors. On the 1/9/1899, he was sent to
the North Surrey District School, Anerly, Upper Norwood, Surrey.
The school records show he ran away from the school once during
the short period he was there.
On the18/10/1899 he
was moved to the TS Exmouth, a training ship, which was moored
on the Thames at Grays, Essex. The records show that his behaviour
generally was very good and towards the end of his stay on board
the Exmouth was rated First Class on the Clarinet but only Second
Class in Seamanship and Swimming.
On the 12/01/1901 John,
with Elizabeth Harrison's approval, joined the 3rd Battalion,
Lancashire Fusiliers as a band boy. He joined under the name
of John Lynn and also appears to have been registered as Irish.
John served in the
army until 1912/13; prior to his discharge he was stationed
in Bury and met and became engaged to Alice Mason. On his discharge
he began living in Gorton, Manchester with the family of his
fiancée, Alice Mason, while working at Armstrong-Whitworth
John and Alice were
due to be married in November 1914 but unfortunately John, as
a reservist, was recalled to the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire
Fusiliers at the outbreak of war. Alice was on holiday and they
did not get a chance to say goodbye before John went with the
Battalion. John and Alice's rearranged plans for marriage unfortunately
were overtaken by his death.
In March 1916 the War Dept. sent his medals to Alice, as his
legatee. In 1955, Alice presented the medals to the Lancashire
Fusiliers Museum in Bury where they are now held.
So who was John Lynn?
We know he was a hero, but who was he? Was he a good soldier?
There are a lot more
" Who was Lily Lynn, his mother? Who was his Father?
" Who were the Harrison's, his foster parents?
" Did he have any foster brothers and sisters?
" Are there families living today who could claim a direct
link to John?
" Was he Irish? The only information, which supports this
claim, comes from a web-site www.firstfusiliers.com. Was this
a clerical error at recruitment or later, or did it link back
to his real mother or Father. (The Web-site no longer appears
to be supported but was linked to the Lancashire Fusiliers Museum
site.) The Commonwealth War Graves Commission list him as an
" Are there descendants of the Mason family still alive
in the Manchester area, who might know something about Alice?
She had 3 sisters and 2 brothers. Alice, who was born in Gorton
Manchester in 1887, does not appear to have married, but it
is known that a grand nephew, Alan Murdey lives in Essex.
If you can add anything
to this story of John Lynn, please e-mail the Editor of this
web-site or myself.