The Life of an Ordinary/Extraordinary Man

September 23, 2011 at 11:58 am 5 comments

This is the Great-Grandfather of my wife.

Joseph Hoolahan (1877 – 1915)

Joseph Hoolahan, my wife’s great-grandfather, was an ordinary man who lived an ordinary life. He died in France in the Great War. Let us remember him.

Joseph Hoolahan was born in Droylsden, Lancashire some 22 miles from Hadfield, Glossop on 27 Mar 1877. As such, he was the first generation of Hoolahan’s born in England. Droylsden had seen an influx of Irish immigrants from the mid-1800s following the development of the cotton mills and of the Ashton and Peak Forrest canals. It would seem that the Hoolahans came to England around 1876.

According to his military recorda, Joseph had brown hair and brown eyes, and, at the time of joining the army in 1914 aged thirty seven, was healthy, five foot three inches tall and weighed one hundred and twenty five lbs, with a chest size of thirty seven and a half inches. He was not a big man.

In 1881, aged 4, Joseph was living in his father’s house at 15 Mill End, Hadfield, Glossop, together with his mother and father (Margaret 38, William, 39) and four brothers and sisters (Mary Ann 18, James 12, John 10, and Thomas 8). They seem to have shared the house with 4 lodgers – Catherine Neill (30) and her son Thomas (11), and, Mary Ann Jackson (27) and her son, James (15). Both Catherine and Mary Ann were Cotton Winders, likely to be working with Joseph’s mother, then a Cotton Weaver. The house would have been crowded. Very crowded.

Ten years later in 1891 the family had moved to 3 Mill Bank Place, Hadfield, Glossop. Aged, 14, Joseph, now working as a Cotton Operative, probably at Thomas Rhodes Mill in Padfields.

Joseph shared the house with his mother and father (Margaret 50, William 47), two brothers (John 19, and Thomas 16), and one Patrick Lewry aged 36. His sister, Mary Ann and brother James had left home. We know that in October 1885 James signed up with the Royal Irish Regiment and was already living in Ashton-under-Lyne at that time. Where did Mary Ann go?

By 1901 John has also left home and was living with his wife, Maria, at 45 Bankbottom in Hadfield. Joseph was living in his father’s house (now called 3 Mill End Place) with his mother (Margaret 62), and father ( William 60), and brother Thomas. Joseph was now working as a General Labourer.

Joseph married Anastasia Kane on 29 Feb 1908 at St Charles RC in Hadfield, Glossop. They seem to have started married life in a new home at 3 Waterside, Hadfield, Glossop. By 1911 they had moved down the road to number 62 Waterside, their own home, where they were living with five children, Mary (7), Winifred (4), William (2), Ellen (1) and the newly widowed Margaret aged 70. There were no lodgers with them at this time.

Joseph and Anastasia had six children in total, although there is some doubt that Joseph was the father of the first two, Mary and Winifred. Mary and Winifred may have been born out of wedlock, or, indeed, Joseph may not have been their real father. In the 1911 census, Mary and Winifred are shown as Kanes, but when Joseph joined the army in 1914, he lists them as his children and the girls have his surname. Certainly, the army sought confirmation that Joseph was their father following his death. Evidence was provided in the form of birth certificates, but it is interesting to note that, in the case of Mary at least, Joseph’s name was added as father only in 1914 and after Joseph had signed up. This may have been a “scam” to ensure that Anastasia received a pension for the two children in the event of Joseph being killed. In any case, the Registrar seems to have been content to have confirmed the records as legitimate.

Mary was born on 3 Aug 1903, Winifred on 22 Apr 1906, William on 19 Aug 1908, Ellen on 24 Nov 1909, Margaret (Maggie) on 18 Apr 1912, and John on 12 Jan 1914 just eight months before Joseph left home to join the army.

According to Anastasia, in the newspaper report of her husband’s death, Joseph had also served in the 2nd Boer War in South Africa in 1900, possibly with his elder brother, James, but this is not recorded in his subsequent military history. James’ military record showed that he spent a lot of time in hospital recovering from sexually transmitted diseases.

At the time the First World War broke out Joseph was working as a labourer. Joseph Hoolahan, Private 14111, served in the 3rd Company of the 2nd Cheshire Regiment in WW1.

Joseph joined up with his older brother Thomas, for a three year period on the 2 Sep 1914 in Glossop. On 20 Oct 1914, Joseph was transferred from the 2nd Cheshire Battalion to the 3rd Cheshire Battalion together with (his brother?) Thomas Hoolahan. The 3rd battalion was a training unit based in Birkenhead.

He joined the British Expeditionary Force in France on 6 Mar 1915, embarking at Southampton and rejoined his Battalion, the 2nd Cheshire Battalion, on 11 Mar 1915. It seems that Thomas Hoolahan did not travel with him. He remained with the 3rd Battalion, going absent on several occasions, and suffering from chronic bronchitis, for which he was eventually discharged in 1916.

Joseph died just four weeks later on the 4 Apr 1915 as a result of shrapnel wounds to his head.

Joseph was part of an 800 strong reinforcement of the regiment which joined up with the Battalion at Bailleul on 11th Mar 1915 and was immediately ordered into the attack. The attack failed but with only light casualties (3 killed, 11 wounded and 1 missing) and Joseph was ordered to retreat to Bailleul. Over the next couple of days, Joseph’s Battalion moved to Bailleul Petit Port, Romarin, Ploegsteert, before returning to Bailleul on 17th March. On the 19th, they relieved the South Lancashire regiment, with 1 killed and 2 wounded, and established a new HQ at Chalet Kemmel. After his first combat, Joseph’s mood may have improved with the arrival of the ration convoy on the 20th March and a visit from the Brigadier General.

At Chalet Kemmel, Joseph was clearly in the front line, with light casualties being sustained on a daily basis until they were relieved by the Suffolk regiment and moved on to Dranoutre where they were billeted in relative comfort in huts and farms and where a cafe was opened. On 28th Mar, however, they moved to Chalet Lindnhoek and were back in the trenches on the front line. On 1st April the Battalion moved back to Dranoutre and then to Bailleul on the 3rd. Joseph died on 4th Apr. It is likely that he had been wounded on 1st April when 6 men were reported as having been wounded by shell fire.

Anastasia had clearly heard of Joseph’s death prior to receiving the official telegram. Joseph will have been serving alongside neighbours, friends, and other relatives who will have conveyed the bad news. There is a record dated 14 Apr 1915 of a request for information from Anastasia regarding the news that her husband had been killed. A telegram was duly sent on 16 Apr 1915. Anastasia had already lost her brother, John William Kane, on the 12th March 1915. He too was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment.

Joseph was buried in a communal cemetery at Bailleul, France.

It seems that after his death, the Army inquired as to whether Mary and Winifred were indeed Joseph’s children, asking Anastasia to confirm and forward their birth certificates. Positive responses were given to both these requests, to the Army’s satisfaction. This would seem to confirm suspicions that Mary and Winifred were born out of wedlock. However, close scrutiny of Mary’s birth certificate might indicate that Joseph’s name was added at a later date. However, following the War Office investigation, Anastasia was awarded a widow’s pension of 26/6 a week for herself and the six children, effective 18th October 1915.

Anastasia received a memorial plaque and scroll together with a message from the King in commemoration of Joseph. Joseph was posthumously awarded the 1914 – 15 Star and the British Victory Medal 1914 – 1920.

Anastasia soon remarried to a neighbour, George Robinson, in March 1916. She may already have been pregnant with Elizabeth Lilian, and went on to have a further three children with her new husband.

Joseph was just a normal working class, second generation immigrant who answered the call for arms to defend his country and made the ultimate sacrifice. Like millions of others.


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Air Con Those Pesky Mices!

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Chatterton  |  November 12, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Joseph Hoolahan was my granddfather. Somewhere at home I have a very similar photograph to yours.
    My Mum’s only memory of her father, Joseph, was being asked to look after “his chair” until he returned: for years afterwards people had to ask before sitting there.
    Throughout her life she regretted having no-one to call “Daddy”, she was already calling the neighbour Mester Robinson before her mother remarried. Her younger brother, John, was an infant when Joseph went to war and grew up calling him Daddy.
    Mary later married Ernie, Mr Robinson’s son from his first marriage: again, my Mother remembered being teased at school that “Your sister married your brother.”
    Ernie was killed in WWII when (I believe) the minesweeper on which he was (Chief) Petty Officer was lost with all hands.
    John and George, the youngest child, we’re both missing for a time in WWII but managed to return to their units from behind enemy lines.
    My Mum was called out of the mill with the dreaded telegram, reporting my father was wounded and not expected to survive, but fortunately for Mum it turned out to be another soldier of the same name but different number.
    (This is the family story, I have never tried to check the documentary evidence.)


  • 2. Middle Man  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    John thanks very much for this. I am David, Pat’s son-in-law, married to Catherine. We have met a couple of times. I enjoyed your story very much. Would you mind if I posted it on


  • 3. Lisa Caton  |  August 3, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    I’m so glad I found your story, I think I can help with your question regarding Mary Ann.
    I believe Mary Ann Hoolahan was my husband’s great grandmother. although this is based on research rather than family memories.
    Mary Ann married Denis O’Donnell (originally from Portlaw, Co Waterford) in Glossop 1884. In 1891 they were living in Hadfield with their daughters Mary Ellen, Margaret, May and son Thomas.
    By 1901 they had moved to Littleborough and went on to have a further five children including my husbands grandmother Annie.
    Mary Ann died in Littleborough in 1939.
    I hope this helps.


  • 5. Middle Man  |  November 5, 2016 at 10:45 am

    Reblogged this on Middle Man and commented:

    There is just a week to go until Remembrance Day. This is just one story of one ordinary man who served and died. Lest we forget….



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