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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

John Joseph Cannon, Leinster Regiment

Years ago I came into the procession of the medals of John Joseph Cannon, a soldier of the Leinster Regiment who fought during the Great War, was taken prisoner, and had the honours of receiving his 1914 Star from the regiment’s Commander in Chief, the Prince of Wales and being part of the 2nd battalion’s colour party when the battalion surrendered its colours to King George V in 1922 at the disbandment ceremony at Windsor Castle.

Disbandment was not the end of John’s military career and he continued to service, but in another regiment, the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire regiment. While serving in this regiment, he received a Long Service & Good Conduct medal, which I was recently able to reunite with John’s Great War medals. With his medal entitlement now complete it would make for an appropriate time to recount his life’s story.

John Joseph Cannon was born in Mountmellick, Queen's County (Laois) on 29 August 1891. He was the son of Staff Sergeant George Cannon and Lizzie Cannon (née Guinan). George was from Cardiff, Wales. He joined the 109th Foot in 1879, which would later become the Leinster Regiment in 1881 after the Childers Reforms of the British Army. He married Lizzie Guinan, a labourer’s daughter from Birr, on 7 January 1885 in St. Brendan's Catholic Church. Lizzie died on the 17 July 1897 from convulsions, she had only given birth to a son, Timothy only three days beforehand. Timothy died five days later on 22 July. Both were interred in Clonoghill Cemetery. The 1901 census records John or 'Jack' as he is called living with his grandmother Bridget in 28, Military Road, Crinkill. John’s siblings were recorded as Annie, aged 15 years - a teacher in the convent school in Birr, Lottie aged 14 years, Lizze aged 12 years, May aged 12 years, Nellie aged 11 years, George aged 6 years and Joe aged 5 years.

George, their father, is missing from the census as he had been embodied for service with the militia in South Africa for active service in the Second Anglo Boer War. Prior to travelling to South Africa, Colour Sergeant Cannon formed part of the colour party that brought the colours of the battalion back to Birr, where they were placed in Sharavogue House, the home of the Earl of Huntingdon, the battalions second in command, for safe keeping. On 19 September 1905, following in his father’s footsteps, John enlisted in the Leinster Regiment at Crinkill, aged 14 years old. He joined as a drummer a roll usually given to young boys who joined (in fact John is recorded as a musician on the 1911 census). The following month George died from tuberculosis which he had been suffering from for 12 months. His obituary appeared in the King’s County Chronicle.

Military Funeral at Birr. In the course of last week Mr George Cannon, ex-Color-Sergt., the Leinster Regt., who retired on a well earned pension two or three years ago, had his last farewell amid the regrets of all who had known him both in and out of the military ; and it was only to be expected that the funeral would partake of a military character. Accordingly the full strength of the Leinster Depot was present, and the music, under Bandmaster Hoole, was solemnly played from the deceased’s late residence at Crinkle to the soldiers’ cemetery close at hand. The Rev. J. Donnellan read the burial service. This is the third military funeral within the last six months.

The 1911 census records Private Cannon with his regiment in Jullundur, Punjab, India. When the Great War broke out the 2nd Battalion was based in Cork, they arrived in France on 12 September 1914, landing at St. Nazaire. They headed to Aisne at once to help the British Expeditionary Force. On the 20 October during the Battle of Armentières Sergeant Cannon was taken as a prisoner of war (POW). He was held at Hameln POW camp in Germany for the full duration of the war.

After his release from captivity Sergeant Cannon re-joined his battalion. In February 1920 the battalion was in Colchester and received medals and awards from the Commander in Chief of the regiment, the Prince of Wales. Sergeant Cannon was presented with his 1914 Star.

Between 1921 and 1922 the 2nd Battalion, were deployed to Upper Silesia as a peace keeping force. Upon returning they were posted back in Colchester.

The regiment along with four other historic Irish regiment had already been earmarked for disbandment due to economic cuts in the British Army and in part due to the Anglo-Irish agreement. The Royal Irish Regiment, Connaught Rangers, Leinster Regiment, Royal Munster Fusiliers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers (and South Irish Horse) all surrendered their colours to King George V for safe keeping. The ceremony took place at 11:30am in St. George's Hall in Windsor Castle. During the ceremony the King made a promise to safe guard these highly prized colours. The ceremony finished with a royal salute and God Save the King played. The colour party detachments for each regiment consisted of the regiment’s commanding officer, then three officers and three non-commissioned officers (NCO) for the 1st and 2nd battalion respectively.

Following disbandment on 12 June, Sergeant Cannon transferred to the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment in order to complete a full 21 years service. He also received a Long Service & Good Conduct medal while serving with the regiment.

John married Annie Gertrude O’Hehir at Portsmouth on 5 April 1920. He died in April 1953 at Harrow.

John Cannon's grave in Pinner Cemetery, Greater London

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