I shall return to the blog on Sunday August 7th
Hope to see you then,
Canadian Medal of
It is time I enjoyed some R&R and a long weekend...
I shall return to the blog on Sunday August 7th
Hope to see you then,
Over the past many weeks it has been difficult to get back to bringing you news updates from the international press going back to June. Others matters have resulted in these stories being put on hold. So today I want to bring you three brief mentions from some of the many stories touching on Canada, the Medal of Honor and the Victoria Cross.
Crossing the great Atlantic like so many of our ancestors did, out first story stops in Scotland.
It was there in early June that the press told of the grant of some 20,000 pounds that Museum's Galleries Scotland passed on to several organizations. The funds were to be used to aid in their attempts to preserve their military heritage.
Fifteen percent of this went to a group called the Culture North Lanarkshire who were preparing an exhibit called the "War: Exploring The Somme." The goal was to help school children learn more about the Great War and their community.
Of interest to readers of this blog is that the feature of the exhibit will be story of a piper from a place called Belshill, Scotland.
Here is that piper...
The 20 year old musician piped his unit over the top at the Regina Trench and paraded in dangerous killing fields as he inspired his comrades to push forward. Later in helping the wounded back to safety, he realized he had left his pipes behind and so headed back into no man's land to retrieve them. Again under heavy fire... that took his life.
His name was James Richardson, and he had moved to Canada in his youth, lived in the Vancouver and Chilliwack area for a time, signed up with the Canadian Expeditionary force and ended up serving with the 16th Regiment... the famed Canadian Scottish.
He was later awarded a Victoria Cross for his incredible bravery, a posthumous one at that. Please search the net to read more about him.
Our second story takes us to Northern Ireland into County Fermanagh.
Here and not far from the Castle Enniskillen, the fruits of Oliver Breen's 10 year effort have paid off. Like me, he and many others do our best to preserve the heritage of our military heroes long gone. With support of private donations and a whole lot of effort he spirited a move to create a monument in honour of 10 Victoria Cross recipients from the area.
This is Mr Breen standing beside the monument honouring the 10 Fermanagh county men awarded the VC.
While difficult to read, the second last name on the memorial is that of Frederick Harvey. Lieutenant, (later Brig. General) Harvey, VC, MM and Croix de Guerre from France, was born in Ireland but came to Canada at age 20, lived in Alberta and joined the war effort and found himself at the Western Front in 1916. Shortly after transferring to the Lord Strathcona's Horse he would earn a VC in March of 1917 for racing forward of his platoon to take out a MG nest and capture the gun. He was first awarded the DSO but later the award was upgraded to a VC. Above he is shown as a very young officer.
At the same ceremony one of the commemorative stones mentioned many times in this space, was unveiled for Captain Bell, who was also one of the ten on the memorial above.
Here you see one of the brochures that no doubt tells the story of Captain Bell's heroism.
Now crossing the Atlantic again, Many news clips told of the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador plans to make available old and new videos on the tragic story of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment on the first day of the Battle of the Somme back in 1916. In the attempt to take the French town of Beaumont Hamel, 780 men went into battle and only 68 made it to the next day's roll call.
Perhaps John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarznegger all copied some of their Hollywood rolls from this teenager who lied about his age to go to war. Claiming an age of 18, but only 15 1/2 did not stop the hero named Tommy Ricketts from earning a Victoria Cross in 1917. He's grab a machine gun to mow down the enemy, and only stopped when he ran out of ammo. So he ditched it, ran for more ammo, returned and picked up where he left off. When all was said and done this teen caused many deaths, captured five artillery pieces, an officer and even 7 other soldiers.
Eat your heart out Hollywood!
After receiving France's Croix de Guerre, King George V pinned the VC to his Tommy's chest and claimed.."this man is the youngest VC in my army." A General at the London ceremony was one of the oldest VC men still alive at the time.
Above left is an image of Ricketts proudly wearing his VC on HIS right and the French Croix de Guerre on his left. And the fellow to the right is obviously not the youngest VC recipient in the King's army of the day. But about three years after the Ricketts ceremony there was another one if Washington DC that hopefully you had read about before in this space,
It told about the unveiling on Nov 11 1921 of the first ever Unknown Soldier's memorial at famed Arlington. At that ceremony Sgt George Richardson and another VC man attended the service with our then PM Robert Borden. The wreath for Canada was laid at the foot of the tomb and one of those doing the presenting was George Richardson, He was Irish born but for many years had been living in Canada at the time.
And he was the oldest living VC at the time.
So now you have it..the oldest and the youngest in King George V's army. One being a Canadian the other living in Canada. It is doubtful the two have ever before appeared in print together till now.
Cheers till next time,
Last week I introduced you to the John of many last names. Spellings that is. The proper spelling was... and is... Handran.
John signed up in the US Navy back in 1873 at Boston and upon entry was given the rank of an Ordinary Seaman. An entry level sailor in those days joined as a Landsman, suggesting that he had yet to grow and sea legs, ie basic training on the water. While the enlistment documents gave no indication of John's occupation prior to joining, the rank might suggest he had some experience on ships, merchant, fishing or whatever.
His service took him on board the USS Franklin in the North Atlantic Squadron, where his bravery was recognized at least three times for saving fellow sailors who had fallen into the waters they sailed.
Last week's blog told of his 4th such show of bravery when he dived into the waters off Lisbon, Portugal to save a crew mate from drowning. That blog told of another fellow, Edward Madden (aka Maddin,) a Canadian from Newfoundland who was involved in the very same incident that Handran was, and how Madden later got the MOH for his bravery that day.
The blog further revealed that information just came to me about a month ago that the other sailor helping Madden to rescue the fellow was in fact today's man John Handran. He would also be awarded the MOH, and in the same General Order that Madden was.
These are John's file cards listing his two terms or service from the rendezvous (reporting to a ship,) at Boston. The first being to the Franklin with three years service from late December 1873 to early December 1876. The second on the USS Enterprise starting 2 weeks after his first stint, and lasting a few months over the three year term before being released from the US Navy in May of 1880.
John was only 21 at the time and probably turned to the Haddock fisheries vessels for work around this time. He'd be following in the footsteps of his father of the same name, and brothers Mathew and William.
In late November of 1883 tragedy struck the family when many were killed in gales at sea. A city of Gloucester Massachusetts list of deaths tells some of this horror. On one page alone there are 30 men and probably boys listed. They cover just a portion of the surnames starting with the letter "f" and ending with the beginning of the "j's"
Of interest to Canadians, 8 of the 17 on this page alone, that had any indication of birthplaces show fisherman came from Canada. One was from the British Provinces, 1 from "St John NF," 1 from Cape Breton, 2 from Eli Brook NS, and three others from Canada.
These numbers clearly show, while such a small sampling of the overall deaths not shown on this page, but still... showing the extensive involvement Canadians played in the early American fisheries.
Three of the deaths that November day were John Handran Snr, and sons Mathew and William, father and brothers of Medal of Honor recipient John Handran.
No doubt the dangers of the fisheries were on John's mind when he joined the Catholic Order of Foresters and took out an insurance policy to protect his wife, a woman born in Newfoundland, and 3 children all under 3 years of age.
This family's grief was destined to continue. I'll let a West Virginia newspaper of 30 December 1885 tell you more.
The Cleopatra was one of at least 5 ships out of Gloucester involved in the fisheries that were caught up in this terrible storm.
The above story missed a most important fact. It told of the gale tossing the Cleopatra fishing vessel on its side and everyone either sliding, falling or jumping into the water, with exception of the poor fellow who died on the deck. When the vessel righted, all but three managed to climb aboard again.
And here is what was missed!
The captain hoisted the distress flag and the Gough saw this and raced forward to the rescue. But then something incredible happened. Cleopatra's Captain realized that the men on the Gough would pay a deadly price. Many would die. And so he took a vote, not for the Republicans or the Democrats, but for life itself. He said to the men... should we allow those brave men from the Gough to come forward, many dying to save them from certain death, or should we just face out destiny, go down with the ship, and let the Gough's brave soles live to fish another day?
And the men then voted AND AGREED WITH THE CAPTAIN. So the distress flag was pulled!
But the Gough kept coming anyway, and rescued all but four. And one of those four was a fellow named John Handran, a Medal of Honor hero. A shipmate would later say that John..."sank after a few moments struggle."
In early 1886 a Kentucky paper brought it's readers this news. It however got the numbers a little off. In those days the $25 would have probably been equal to several months pay.
These are just a few lines from the "Ballad of the Cleopatra" about the disaster. For a penny back in 1888 you could have read the whole ballad in a Dunedin New Zealand newspaper.
Note the reference to Gloucester, where all the men were living at the time, and the reference to... Three were not..."
So by now you must be asking why is this blog interested in John Handran, other than the fact that he was with Edward Madden when both saved another sailor from drowning and were both awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery?
Because for years the documents and the net have been generally showing that John was born in Philadephia, or New York or Massachusetts. But a closer look suggests otherwise. And as they say, the smoking gun has not yet been found. But folks, the smell of gunpowder is getting clearer.
And some are now starting to look a lot closer than those of the past. And they ought to be looking at Madden's home province... Newfoundland Canada.
Madden came from St John's, and some 90 Kms south of there, along the eastern seaboard of Newfoundland and almost at its S/E corner is a small community of just a few hundred, and called Fermeuse... the probable birth place of John Handran.
Let's look at some evidence gathered so far...
This is part of an 1860 census for Essex County in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It lists the parents and 7 children. It claims that parents John and Anastatia were both born in Ireland, conflicting with later information. It also lists the first five of the children with John Jr being the youngest at only 5 yrs of age, all being born in St. Johns, again conflicting with later information. Two other children are listed as being born in Massachusetts.
Since Fermuese was only a community of a few hundred, and most likely unknown to any census taker, it was probably easiest to simply give a familiar name for place of birth, and thus St John's.
An 1853 Newburyport Mass. census lists the mother, father and 1st daughter under the surname HANDAN, and four more children, our MOH man John being the youngest, at 5, and all being born at New York. The surname given for these children was HARNDAN.
A Mass. state census 2 years later also repeats a NY birth for all above.
This marriage registry is a long form left to right, and so I chopped it in two to bring it to the blog.
This shows the marriage of John and Sarah in 1882, and living in Gloucester Mass. at the time. It also shows that his wife's parents were from Prince Edward Island, and his from Newfoundland, despite earlier claims of being from Ireland.
More curious, it also shows that his parents surname was NOT Handran but RYAN. Most curious and needing more investigation.
Perhaps the biggest smoking gun so far is the US government's naturalization card shown above. At month end in October of 1883 John appeared before an Immigration Naturalization Court and swore on oath as to details in the process of getting a US citizenship status. One in which I'd think he probably did not need if he already was BORN in the USA.
Note the above notation that he was born at Fermuse NF. This was a misspelling of Fermeuse (Newfoundland.)
After the recent death of his father and two brothers at sea, John took out an insurance policy with the Massachusetts Catholic Order of Foresters. Here is a part of that document...
Again, difficult to read but it was made out in the name of John Hindragan, possibly by others, but signed by him with the correct surname, in December of 1884. He declared being a labourer and born 29 June 1852... a year later than the earlier records show.
Note the declaration of birth at St John's New-Found-Land. After he perished the Order paid out a thousand dollar benefit to his wife.
This is where I believe John Handran was born!
And as you can see, it is more than a few miles to the north/east of were most claim he was born.
This story has many tangled twists and more work is still needed. I hope to bring even stronger evidence that John has become the 110th Medal of Honor man coming from Canada, or having connections to our great nation.
When I began 17 yrs ago that number stood at 54.
Stay tuned for more on this story as it develops.
In the mean time, this one is for you John Handran.
Please turn on the speakers and go here, and enjoy Jimmy Dean from back in 1961.
It's been too nice a day to be inside all day, blog started but not finished. Hope to post Monday..or Tuesday at latest.
hope to see you then..
John only stood 5 ft 3 inches, unless you want to also count that last 1/2 inch. But John was taller than most men I have ever met. And weighing in at a slight 132 pounds never held him back either. John was a hero. And I had never heard of him till a few weeks ago when friends in the world of hero researchers gave me some tidbits that have now been expanded on and show how little so many knew about him. And that was... and is a terrible shame!
While many questions still remain unanswered, it is known that John Handran and others used various spellings for his surname. Some documents are hard to read and so mis spellings were the order of the day in the mid to late 1800's. Some doing the recording may have misunderstood the name given, could not spell or, like me, had terrible scribbling habits. Others may have simply guessed. And there are no shortage of stories about service men who gave fake names or spellings for an endless list of reasons.
Regardless, I'm sticking with HANDRAN.
The records show Handran, with various spellings, parents and several siblings in the Newburyport area of Massachusetts in the mid 1850's. John's date of birth is listed as being on 29 June 1851 or 1852. Some say he was born in New York. Others claim Massachusetts.
More research is needed about his time in Massachusetts but it is known from the above document that in 1873, and at about 22 yrs of age John joined the US Navy as a seaman and signed up for three years service. The actual enlistment document, shown above is difficult to read. The form is a long one left to right, and so I chopped it in two.
A careful read shows Handran's enlistment at Boston, on 5 December 1873. It does not show any previous service in the navy, a place of birth or occupation prior to enlisting.
The second name listed was cut and pasted from the original document. It shows the enlistment of a Canadian... Edward Madden who was a Medal of Honor recipient and whom I have written about in the past in these blogs. Both men seem to have started their navy careers with this enlistment. On this same document, but not shown above, are several of Madden's fellow Canadians who also signed up for service at that time.
There have been several warships named after Ben Franklin, America's 6th President. This is the 4th and after a short decommissioning was recommissioned at Norfolk.
Among its first to then serve would be Newfoundland Medal of Honor hero Edward Madden and the above noted John Handran.
For the next several months the Franklin would sail with the North Atlantic Squadron under command of Rear Admiral William Radford. (A decade earlier this officer was commanding the USS Cumberland when it fell victim in the slaughter caused by the CSS VIrginia in the famous battle of the CSS Virginia, (AKA Merrimack,) and the USS Monitor. Radford was away from the ship on other duties that day.)
The officer left in charge of the Cumberland that day was an officer named SR Franklin. The USS Cumberland (with Canadians on board) and the famous battle have been oft noted in this space.
Jump ahead again to 1873 and SR Franklin is now a naval Captain and commander of the above pictured ship of same name. On her crew were Madden and Handran.
When Atlantic Squadron duties ended, the ship sailed off to Europe and joined the squadron as its new flagship. And it would be while on these duty at Lisbon Portugal when we catch up with Handran again.
It was on a Sunday... the day of rest... and would have become an eternal rest for fellow sailor Henry O'Neil had it not been for Handran, Madden and a third sailor.
The New York Herald told the story about a month later and here it is, word for word...
When I learned about the Handran story I was stunned to learn that his bravery occurred during the exact event that Canadian Edward Madden was awarded a Medal of Honor for. Handran was awarded a Medal of Honor as well and is even mentioned in the very General Order announcing the Madden medal. Obviously the President of the day who made the award, knew something about bravery. He was none other than famed Civil War General US Grant.
In June of that year the Boston Humane Society gave Handran an award for his gallantry in saving O'Neil from a horrible drowning. No mention if Madden also got one.
There is much more to tell you about Handran, but other duties take me away now. I will return with more next week,
Friday and Saturday news across the country brought you many a story about festivities from coast to coast to coast in celebration of our nation's birth so many years ago.
As many also brought your thoughts back to the horrors of the Great War and of course the beginning of the horrors we now know as the 4 month Battle of the Somme. By the time it was over the Allies would have suffered some 650,000 casualties with almost a third of heroes killed. Of these, 24,000 came from Canada and were wounded, killed or missing in action.
The very first day of the horrendous campaign saw 100,000 climb out of their trenches and move forward across no-man's land. Soon 20,000 lay dead on the battlefield... the worst day in Britain's military history.
Much has already been said in the press about this so I will talk briefly about another battle also of considerable historic importance. This was fought not in Europe but in North America.
On land, much of it owned by Sam who left Ireland due to persecution by the British. A few years after setting up in the United States Sam's land would become known as Marsh Creek.
Even though thousands died on that land and its surrounds, you still probably never heard of it.
His son would soon sell off land in a few hundred parcels and it became known as a burgh. And it would be named after the family who's surname was Gettys.
Now you've heard of it!
It was 157 years ago today that 150 Confederate cannons battled it out for about 2 hours with 100 Union cannons in the grandest battery every amassed anywhere on the continent before...or since.
Then the mile long line of Southern troops struggled through the infantry fire less than a mile in front and advanced in nothing short of a suicide mission as the Union continued with the cannon fire as well as having four lines of troops firing at the enemy. As one fired he went to the back of the line to reload. Number 2 would step up then # 3 and 4 and back to #1 in a continuous slaughter.
When that portion of the battle came to a horrific end less than an hour later over 7,500 men... and a few women disguised as men... would lay dead or dying and so mangled that they probably wished they were dead.
The first 5 pages... or 50 hits, in a Google search yesterday produced dozens of stories on topic and handful not. But not one of them mentioned the word Canada, despite the fact that Canadians, possibly as high as 700 as noted in an earlier blog here, fought in that very battle. Many were wounded and died that day, and to this day remain buried under known... and "unknown" marked graves in Gettysburg.
A Pro Quest similar search covering the same time period produced THREE stories in the Canadian press. All three simply noted that...on this day... the battle was fought, Again no mention of Canadians! (Gettysburg has been mentioned close to 50 times..if not more... in this space over the past 3 years)
Moving on... here is a picture of a true Canadian hero. Actually he was Irish but came to Canada as a teen, joined the military and went off to serve in the Great War. He would be awarded the Military Medal at Passchendaele, and the Victoria Cross during the Battle of the Canal Du Nord in France just about a month before Armistice Day.
Sgt Merrifield is wearing his MM on the right, as you look at the picture and his VC on the left. While he passed away many years ago, his story came back to life a few days ago.
As is often the case, it almost completely missed any press coverage whatsoever. And that is a shame.
It was on, what else... Canada Day, when one or more misfits decided to damage the monument erected in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario in his honor. The culprit(s) toppled the top portion resulting in damage that will costs thousands to repair. While a plea went out for public donations, I can see only one paper that has carried the story... twice. Google the hero's name and you will find it.
This hero was so important that there was a time when a Royal Train stopped to allow his entry. He has met many members of Royalty in his day, and the respect he got in his own home town by the culprits is disgusting.
Apparently one has been caught and charged with breach of probation and mischief. The later calls for a fine NOT LESS than $1,000 and a possibility of jail time for upwards of ten years.
One can only hope that the judge is having a less than perfect day when he or she appears in court. Perhaps the culprit(s) should be forced to write a speech about their misdeed, and noting the possibility of criminal conviction consequences and delivering that speech IN PERSON to several schools in the area where the misdeed was performed.
It is covered under section 430 (4.11) on the Criminal Code for those wishing more night time reading.
On a more positive note, next week I hope to be able to bring you the story of the latest addition to my ever expanding list of Canadian Medal of honor recipients. A list not duplicated ANYWHERE on the net.
Hope to see you then,