Wigan First World War soldier's heroism finally recognised

Descendants of a Wigan war hero have spoken of their delight that his supreme courage is finally being recognised by his home town.

By Charles Graham
Saturday, 18th June 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 9:17 am

Cpl John Donnelly won the distinguished conduct medal 106 years ago for two acts of bravery just days apart during World War One.

But while his name appears along hundreds of fallen comrades on cenotaphs at both Wigan parish church and Ince-in-Makerfield cemetery, acknowledgement of that medal – second only in importance to the Victoria Cross – had hitherto been lacking.

But all that has changed following a campaign by family and the intervention of Wigan Armed Forces Hub.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The war memorial, at Ince-in-Makerfield cemetery

And so the letters DCM have now been inscribed – kindly free of charge by stonemasons H&S Fishwick of Aspull – on the Ince monument.

Relatives are delighted and fully accept practical reasons why a similar engraving cannot be made on the Wigan cenotaph.

Read More

Read More
One in eight Wigan adults still unvaccinated against Covid-19

Wigan born and bred, Cpl Donnelly, of 68 Hardybutts, took the King’s shilling and went to fight on mainland Europe with the Lancashire Fusiliers, 2nd battalion.

David Roberts from Standish, with information of unsung Wigan war hero John Donnelly, a WW1 veteran.

There, he performed two acts of bravery, one on October 12 1916, when his batallion were buried by a shell explosion in the trenches.

Donnelly freed himself, despite being partially buried and also under heavy shell fire, and went to the aid of comrades and led them to safety.

His second deed happened just two days later when he entered “no-man’s land” under heavy fire, to rescue a wounded British soldier caught-up in German barbed-wire.

David and Georgina Roberts from Standish took up the fight for recognition after Georgina’s cousin, Sue Davies, brought it to their attention that they had a hero in their family history.

The letters DCM have been added after the name of local war hero John Donnelly on Ince cenotaph

Mr Roberts said: “Sue had tried several years ago to get the memorials altered but it didn’t get anywhere.

"We gave it a go and happily the Armed Forces Hub had by then been established, and with the help of (armed forces keyworker) Gill Burchall, it has happened.

"We couldn’t be happier – he has finally got the recognition he deserves.”

Mr Roberts explained there had been fears that the brass plaque bearing Copl Donnelly’s name on the Wigan cenotaph would be so fragile after more than a century that it might shatter if anyone tried to engrave anything new onto it, and the family perfectly understood and accepted that.

Cpl Donnelly was just 22 years old when his DCM was announced in the London Gazzette dated December 11, 1916.

A DCM is the oldest British award for gallantry and was a second level military decoration, ranking below the Victoria Cross (which is the highest), until its discontinuation in 1993 when it was replaced by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.

In his own word at the time, Cpl Donnelly who was, “deeply touched by the reception he received and by the words of the Mayor”, said: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am very proud to come here and to have received this medal at your hands.

"I feel that what I did was but what any other Wigan lad would have done, and what Wigan lads are doing, and every one of whom deserves the DCM or the VC I thank you, gentlemen.”

Tragically John Donnelly died of wounds on March 21 1918, shortly before the war ended, at the age of just 24.

Wigan Council’s lead member for the armed forces, Coun Yvonne Klieve, said: “Honouring the legacy of our veterans is really important to us here at Wigan Council.

“We are really pleased that our bereavement services were able to arrange this inscription at Ince Cenotaph following a request from the family of the late John Donnelly DCM earlier this year.

“The kind contribution of local Aspull-based stonemason, H&S Fishwick, who completed the work free of charge is also gratefully appreciated and brilliantly illustrates Wigan Borough’s community spirit.”