This story of John ( Barney) Fletcher is with thanks to Michael Fletcher.
John Fletcher, (1890-
I was thirteen years old when my Grandfather, Barney Fletcher, died. I remember my father, Pat Fletcher, having to travel home to Roscrea very quickly from London, as the funeral was to take place within two days of my Grandfather’s death.
I have some memories of my Grandfather. I spent many summer holidays in Roscrea and can remember seeing him at the top of Main Street selling fish from his truck. He never said much but on seeing me he would wrap some fish, giving it to me and quietly telling me to take it home for my other Grandmother at the other end of the town, in Grove Street. I can remember being in my Grandmother’s, Nan Nan’s house in Limerick Street and my Grandfather putting some tomatoes and oranges into a brown paper bag to take back with us to Grove Street.
I have more vivid memories of my Grandmother, Nan Nan, as she lived to be nearly a hundred at the time of her death in 1992. I can recall a conversation I had with her about a very old photograph of my Grandfather, in the uniform of a British soldier that hung onthe wall of her kitchen. She was delighted to tell me she was still receiving a war pension from the British for the wounds my Grandfather suffered during the First World War. She went on to say that Barney had been gassed, survived with damaged lungs and was later blown up whilst fighting in France. I was intrigued by what Nan Nan had told me and determined to find out if the stories could possibly be verified by any records still held at the National Archives at Kew.
After some initial research and to my surprise I was able to access a very detailed, hand written record of my Grandfather’s military career from him joining the 3rd Leinster Regiment as a Special Reserve on the 15th June 1908 at Crickell Barracks in Birr to his discharge with a pension of 13 shillings and 9 pence, on 9th January 1919.
In the 1911 census John, (Barney), Fletcher was living at 33, Limerick Street, Roscrea, with his parents; John and Eliza, and 5 brothers and sisters, one of whom, Michael was his twin. His father, mother and eldest brother’s occupations were registered as fishmongers. Barney and his brother Michael were registered as Labourers; his younger sisters were in domestic service. There was no mention of him being a part time soldier; however, in his military records he had transferred from the Leinster Regiment to the Royal Irish Regiment, based in Clonmel, as a Special Reserve on the 15th February 1911. (A Special Reserve joined up for 6 years. After completing 6 months basic training they would return to civilian employment and thereafter attended 4 weeks annual training. When training, a Reserve could earn up to 3 shillings and 6 pence a week).
At the outbreak of the First World War on the 4th August 1914, my Grandfather, was quickly mobilised, first to England and then to France on the 11th September as part of the British Expeditionary Force. It was during active service that he was gassed on the 24th May 1915 during the 2nd battle of Ypres. It was on the 24th May during the battle of Bellewaarde, that the Germans first released gas on the western front. My grandfather’s records record him being admitted to a hospital in Northumberland, suffering from the effects of gas poisoning. He was discharged from the hospital on tExpeditionary Force on 29th September 1915. Barney was again in hospital in France in early 1916, suffering from I.C.T. (Inflamed Connection Tissue – Trench Foot – a medical condition caused by long periods of marching, poor weather conditions and long periods in the trenches). By the end of March he had been admitted to a convalescent depot in Rouen.
By May 1916 he was involved in the Battle of the Somme. In July/August of 1917 he was again on active service during the 3rd battle of Ypres. On 13th August his records record him being admitted to the 1st Canadian General Hospital in the military camp in Etaples, Picardy, suffering from shrapnel wounds to his right leg after being blown up and buried in a ditch. On 17th August, the records reported him as being “killed in Action”. This was later cancelled and signed by an officer in pencil. In the November of 1917 he was invalided to Canterbury War Hospital. From Canterbury he was moved to Colchester to convalesce. At the end of January 1918 to the beginning of July he was back in Ireland, at the Royal Irish Regiment Depot in Clonmel. By the end of July he was considered fit enough to be posted to Durrington Camp onSalisbury Plain ready for further active service in France. However, after further medical examination he was diagnosed with “Nervous Debility”, a continuous tremor and vertigo. He was discharged on the 9th January 1919, with a weekly pension of 13 shillings and 9 pence. His records end on 2nd March 1923 with Barney receiving a 1914 Star medal, British War medal and Victory medal.
My Grandfather must have experienced and seen many horrendous and violent sights. He must have suffered physically and mentally as he was gassed and blown up, witnessed comrades killed and badly wounded. He spent days in trenches during some of the most important battles of the First World War. Yet throughout what remained of his life in Roscrea he seemed never to have mentioned the war only discussing with Nan Nan why he was entitled to a pension from the British Government.