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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

The Story behind a Silver War Badge - Joseph Newell

Recently, I came across the following badge, known as a Silver War Badge (or often incorrectly as the Silver Wound Badge), the badge was issued to soldiers of the Great War who had been discharged as a result of wounds or illness. The badge was worn on civilian clothes to identify the wearer as having served and to stop accusations of cowardice. As the badges are numbered and the owners can be traced, they can often reveal interesting stories, this particular badge belonged to Joseph Newell, this is his story.

Joseph was born in Philipstown, King’s County on 18 August 1870. Philipstown named after King Philip of Spain. He was the son of Anthony Newell and Biddy Newell (Nee Mullen). Anthony was a labourer.

In April 1888 Joseph attested at Mullingar for the 9th (militia) Battalion, Rifle Brigade. Upon attesting Joseph was recorded as residing in Rahugh, County Westmeath. He was recorded as being 5 foot 5 inches tall and as having grey coloured eyes and black hair.

Joseph was present at each of the annual militia training camps right up until 1899. The same year he was transferred to the 3rd (militia) Battalion, Leinster Regiment. Joseph’s militia paper briefly note he was living at Clara at one point.

On 9 February 1891, Joseph married Margaret Gavin in Philipstown Catholic church. Joseph’s profession was listed as labourer. They had several children together – the 1911 census later notes that they had 7 with only 5 still living.

With the outbreak of the Second Anglo Boer War, the 3rd Leinster Regiment volunteered for service in the conflict, Joseph was sent to South Africa with his battalion. Perhaps at this point in his life, the furthest he had been away from home was the next county, so South Africa would have been quite the surprise for him and most of his comrades.

The 1901 census records the Newell family on Main Street, Philipstown. Margaret is listed with their four children; Ellen, Bridget, John and Joseph. Their father Joseph missing as he was in South Africa. Joseph returned from South Africa probably around 1901, for his service he was entitled to the Queen’s South Africa medal with the clasps “Cape Colony” and “Orange Free State”. His lack of King’s South Africa medal shows how was back before the medals qualifying date of 1 January 1902.

The 1911 census shows Joseph, Margarent and their children; Ellen, John, Martin and Katie now living at 81 Harbour Street, Mountmellick, Queen’s County. Joseph now being incorrectly being recorded as from Queen’s County.

With the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, perhaps it was the push for recruits with experience, we’ll never know, but Joseph enlisted for service in the newly formed 7th (service) battalion, Leinster Regiment. Enlisting at Maryborough on 10 February 1915. Joseph wasn’t the only Newell to join up, son John had been transferred to the 1st Battalion, Leinster Regiment from the 4th (special reserve) battalion. Unfortunately John would later be killed in action on 20 June 1915 at Le Bizet, Belgium.

Joseph served in France, later being transferring to the Labour Corps. He was discharged at King George V Hospital, Dublin, in May 1918 due to illness and being no longer physically fit for military service. At the time of his discharge his character was described as being very good. For his service in the Great War, Joseph received the 1915 Star, British War medal, Victory medal and Silver War Badge.

After returning home, Joseph lived on Foundry Street, Mountmellick. where he received a pension for his war service. He died at Emmett Terrace, Mountmellick on 2 August 1951 from myocarditis.

John’s name is commemorated on the Leinster Regiment memorial in Portlaoise and the WW1 memorial in Mountmellick, the latter erected in recent years.

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