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Archives provinciales du Nouveau-Brunswick

Les soldats de la Grande Guerre : Projet de biographies historiques sur les soldats de Fredericton

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Connolly, John E.

Sergeant 478055
Royal Canadian Regiment

Background

Sergeant John E. Connolly was born June 11, 1891 in Liverpool, England to Joseph and Margaret Connolly. According to the 1901 England census, John was the oldest of five children including a younger brother Joseph and three sisters named Mary, Margaret and Francis. While little is known about his early life in England with his family, documents obtained from Library and Archives Canada suggest that John may have come to Canada as part of the British Home Child program. Records reveal that by October of 1903, John had arrived to Quebec City on his way to Montreal aboard the ship Bavarian through the Catholic Emigration Association. Arriving with ten other boys from Liverpool, England on October 23, 1903, the young 13 year old was likely sent to Canada for work or simply for opportunities that many believed existed in Canada at the time.

Over the next ten years, John would make his way from Montreal, Quebec to New Brunswick where he would meet Grace Smith, the daughter of Robert W. Smith, and sister of Archibald Smith, who would pay the ultimate sacrifice during the Great War. Few details exist regarding how they met, however, on October 24, 1913, John and Grace, both 23 years of age, married one another in Fredericton. By this time, John had been serving with the Royal Canadian Regiment when it was stationed in Fredericton and he was also was working as a wool puller in Fredericton. John and Grace were living at 270 Saint John Street, but early on in the war Sergeant Connolly left for Bermuda with his unit for garrison duty before returning to Canada and leaving for England in the fall of 1915. John formally enlisted for service enlisted in England at Shorncliffe Camp on October 5, 1915. His attestation papers describe him as standing five feet eight inches tall, with hazel coloured eyes, light brown hair, and a fresh complexion. John also had distinct tattoo markings on his right and left forearms. Sergeant Connolly was 25 years old at the time and records do not reveal whether he and Grace had any children together at the time.

Wartime Experience

Sergeant Connolly’s record of service shows that he arrived with the RCR on November 11, 1915 at Boulogne, France, only a month after formally signing up for service. He would spend all of 1916 with the RCR, active in key battles his unit was a part of during that time. By October, 1916 Sergeant Connolly’s active service record reveals him losing 8 days of pay for being “late falling in on parade” and for “drunkenness while on parade”. However, given the conditions many Canadians were experiencing at the time, especially being away from loved ones, John’s discipline violations could be forgiven.

After being granted a ten day leave of absence in late 1916, John would return and receive three successive promotions over a span of four months, being promoted from Lance Corporal to Corporal, and finally to Sergeant by May, 1917. Remarkably, Sergeant Connolly would have no reported illnesses or injuries during his period of service. By July 1917, after Canadian successes during the battle of Vimy Ridge and other key fights that followed, Sergeant John Connolly was awarded the Military Medal, recommended by his commanding officer for bravery while in the field with his unit (London Gazette, 30172, July, 7, 1917). By the fall of 1917, Sergeant Connolly was in Belgium with the RCR active in engagements in and around Ypres and Passchendaele. The battle of Passchendaele, known for its difficult conditions for fighting, was eventually won by Canadians and over by early November. However, for many dangers always would be present. On November 15, 1917, John’s circumstances of death report reveals that in the early morning hours, approximately 8 a.m., he was instantly killed by an enemy shell while with his company in the support line at Passchendaele. His body would never be recovered. Sergeant John Connolly was 27 years of age, leaving his wife, Grace, a widow.

News of his death in Fredericton was met with initial confusion because the telegram received by his wife showed another soldier’s regimental number, and for a time there was hope that he was still alive. However, by December 3, Grace, now living at 643 Charlotte Street, finally received official notification that it was her husband who had died.

Lest we forget

Sergeant John E. Connolly is remembered with honour at the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial in Belgium. His name is engraved on panel 10. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Menin Gate Memorial is situated at the eastern side of Ypres and it bears the names of 55,000 soldiers whose bodies were never recovered during the defense of the Ypres salient in the First World War.

*This biography was researched and written by Danielle Brideau, Grade 8 student (2015-2016) at George Street Middle School located in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

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