Morgan, John Joseph Leo (John)
Mentioned in Despatches
Company Quartermaster Sergeant
No. 6668, 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
Died of wounds on Sunday 16 May 1915 (aged 31)
Bethune Town Cemetery, France (Grave II. G. 16)
Newtownards and District War Memorial
John Joseph Leo Morgan was born on 28 January 1884 in Ann Street, Newtownards and he was a son of the late Colour Sergeant John Morgan and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Morgan (nee Calwell, sometimes Caldwell, sometimes Colwell) who were married on 25 January 1880 in Newtownards Roman Catholic Church. John Morgan (aged 21), a shoemaker from Newtownards was a son of John Morgan, a weaver. Elizabeth Calwell (aged 20), a servant from Newtownards was a daughter of Samuel Calwell, a labourer.
Colour Sergeant John Morgan was Instructor of Musketry in the Royal North Downs, Newtownards – a position he held for some 23 years. In civilian life he was a shoemaker and he and Elizabeth had at least nine children:
Samuel Valentine (born 5 June 1880 in Church Street Newtownards)
Mary (May, born 30 April 1882 in Ann Street, Newtownards)
John Joseph Leo (born 28 January 1884 in Ann Street, Newtownards)
Patrick (born prematurely 22 November 1885 in Ann Street, Newtownards; died of marasmus 9 February 1886)
Margaret Bridgetta Hermione (Jetty, born 20 October 1886 in Ann Street, Newtownards)
Robert Sydney (born 9 April 1889 in Ann Street, Newtownards)
Patrick Herbert (born 26 February 1891 in Victoria Avenue, Newtownards)
Violet Robina Frances (born 3 August 1894 in Victoria Avenue, Newtownards)
Hannah Beatrice Josephine Winifred (born 16 April 1899 in Conway Square, Newtownards)
Their father, Colour Sergeant John Morgan, died on 18 December 1904 (aged 45).
John Joseph Leo Morgan received his education in the Ann Street and Model Schools in Newtownards. For about two years he was employed as a Law Clerk with John McKee, Solicitor. Around 1904 he joined the Royal Irish Rifles and served for a time on the Permanent Staff of the local Battalion before joining the Depot at Belfast. There he served as Orderly Room Sergeant for the 83rd Regimental District and as Clerk in the No.11 District Office. After Belfast he joined the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles at Dover and then the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles in India. He served for five years in India and then returned to England at the end of October 1914. He was promoted to commissioned rank on 3 November 1914 and posted to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He went to France on 28 November 1914. It was reported in the Press that in November 1914 ‘he married Miss Saintry who had been a schoolmistress at Victoria Barracks for some years’.
Percival Phillips, an eminent journalist stationed at the British Headquarters in the Field described the beginning of the Battle of Festubert: The 2nd Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers took part in the first attack at 11.30 pm on the evening of Saturday 15 May 1915. The Battalion advanced along both sides of what was known as the ‘Cinder Track’ in order to attack the German trenches which were at an angle. The Germans turned heavy and sustained machine-gun fire on the left of the Inniskilling’s line and held it back. The two Companies on the right made a successful advance across open ground and took the trench. The Battalion sustained heavy losses and was shelled all day on Sunday 16 May as it held the captured position.
After the assault, Lieutenant J.J.L. Morgan helped to reorganise his men in the captured German trenches, and he went back to his own lines repeatedly with messages and to bring up reinforcements. During one of these journeys he fell mortally wounded. Lieutenant J.J.L. Morgan was a younger brother of Lieutenant Samuel Valentine Morgan. At that time Lieutenant S.V. Morgan was Adjutant of the 3rd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles in Dublin and it was reported in the Press that ‘he had the distinction of being the only non-commissioned officer of the British Army ever appointed to an adjutancy’.
Captain C.A.M. Alexander, Adjutant 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers attached to the 5th Infantry Brigade wrote to Lieutenant S.V. Morgan: ‘Your brother died a hero. On the night of 15/16 May we made an attack on the German line commencing at 11.30 pm. Morgan’s Company was the leading Company on the right. This Company advanced with great dash and carried the German trenches. Your brother went back for reinforcements and while returning with them fell mortally wounded. He was one of the first officers to be taken away early on the morning of the 16 May by motor ambulance to the Officer’s Hospital at Bethune but he died there about mid-day. He was buried in the Town Cemetery by a military chaplain. Captain Hewitt commanding the company wrote to me to say how well Morgan had done’.
At the time of Lieutenant J.J.L Morgan’s death his widow, Mrs M.M. Morgan, lived at 37 York Road, Aldershot. Through the War Office she received an appreciative letter from the King informing her that her late husband had been Mentioned in Despatches from Field-Marshal Sir John French. The Field-Marshal’s letter to the Secretary of State for War was dated 30 November 1915 and it was published in the London Gazette on Saturday 1 January 1916.
Lieutenant John Joseph Leo Morgan was 31 when he died and he was buried in Bethune Town Cemetery, France. There is an inscription on his CWGC headstone:
O HAPPY SOUL FOR IT IS SAFE R.I.P.
Lieutenant John Joseph Leo Morgan is commemorated on Newtownards and District War Memorial.