Just off Bamber Bridge high street a memorial garden has been created to commemorate the heroism of John McNamara, who was awarded a Victoria Cross in the First World War. John lived at School Lane with his wife Mary and their four children. He worked in A.S. Orr’s cotton mill.
John enlisted with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment as Private 25097. However, his part of the regiment was transferred on 9th April 1918 to the 9th East Surrey Regiment. This was to reconstitute the East Surreys after their huge losses during the German Spring Offensive (known as the Kaiser’s Battle). The Spring Offensive was a huge attack that the Germans undertook when they realised that their only hope of victory was to defeat the allies before the USA (who had recently joined the war) could deploy their full military might.
On the 3rd September that year, north-west of Lens in France, John was deployed as the telephone operator in a captured German trench. He realised that an enemy counterattack had begun and raced to the nearest post to begin firing. Initially he used a revolver taken from a wounded officer. He then took control of a Lewis automatic machine gun, and kept firing until it jammed. He was now completely alone, and after destroying the telephone he joined the next nearest post. He again took up a Lewis gun, discharging it until reinforcements arrived. While under hostile attack, he and an officer evacuated the wounded soldiers. The next morning they returned to gather their dead comrades.
It was for this action he was awarded the Victoria Cross, but he never knew that he had received the medal. Just 43 days later he was engaged in a battle in and around the town of Haussy when he was killed.
On the 15th November his citation was published in the London Gazette. The piece began: “For conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty” .There then followed a description of his heroic actions, before concluding with “..it was undoubtedly due to the magnificent courage and determination of Pte. McNamara that the other posts were enabled to hold on, and his fine example of devotion is worthy of the highest praise” (Authors Note: although he is referred to as Private(Pte) McNamara here, this must be an error as he was a corporal and is referred to as Cpl. John McNamara at the start of the citation).
On 22nd November his Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Ewan Cameron wrote to John’s widow Mary. Of John he said “He was just one of the most gallant fellows I have ever seen and he richly deserves the V.C. which has just been awarded him…I will esteem it an honour when the time comes, and if it can be arranged, you will allow me to take you personally to his majesty the King to receive the V.C.”. John was buried at Romeries Communal Cemetery in Solesmes and Mary received the medal from George V in February 1920.
John McNamara’s house that stood in School Lane is no longer there, but a plaque has been placed close to where it was. This can be seen in the grass bank on the left hand side of the entrance to Old Mill Industrial Estate. It states “Cpl John McNamara V.C. (1887-1918) 9th Bn. The East Surrey Regt. “The Gallants” was born, lived and worked in this community. “
His name is also on the Brownedge St Mary’s memorial at Brownedge Green in Bamber Bridge, and the new South Ribble Memorial at the edge of St Catherine’s Park.
Most recently in September 2018, just off the high street at Bamber Bridge a memorial garden has been dedicated to him (SEE PHOTO BELOW LEFT). This has a boulder stone which displays a plaque with an inscribed Victoria Cross set into it. It states “John McNamara East Surrey Regiment 2nd-3rd September 1918” There is also an information board which features a photograph of John. Three generations of his family saw the plaque unveiled and two of his grandchildren (now elderly themselves) laid a wreath at the ceremony.
The Victoria Cross was not John McNamara’s only medal, he was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal 1914-20 and the Victory Medal 1914-19. These were donated to the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Museum at Clandon Park Surrey. The museum suffered a devastating fire in 2015, but fortunately his medals were safely stored in a vault. Steve Johnson, the manager of the museum, has stated that all the Victoria Crosses survived and will be at the heart of their rebuilt collection.
To see the monuments:
The plaque that marks the spot where the McNamara house was is on School Lane which has on-street parking. The plaque lies in the earth bank on the left hand side of the entrance to Old Mill Industrial Estate.
The John McNamara Memorial Garden is next to Morrisons supermarket off the Bamber Bridge high street. Park in Morrisons car park (which is also the car park for the town).
South Ribble War Memorial is in St Catherine’s Park. Park at the free car park on Todd Lane South.
Brown Edge War Memorial is on Brown Edge Road. There is parking for it on the adjoining Duddle Lane.
ABOVE: Just off Bamber Bridge high street is a memorial garden
BELOW: A plaque placed close to where John McNamara's house once stood on School Lane.