b. 17/07/1887 Manchester. d. 18/01/1980 Prestwich, Cheshire.
Henry Kelly (1887-1980) was born at 12 Lewis Street, St George, Manchester, Lancashire on 17th July 1887. His father was Charles Kelly, a Irishman, who worked as a labourer and then gas stoker. His mother was a Londoner called Jane nee McGarry, and she married Charles in 1887 in Manchester. Henry was one of eleven children, though one didn’t survive infancy.
Henry was educated at St Patrick’s School, Manchester and the Xaverian Brothers College, Victoria Park, Manchester. He then worked as a sorting clerk at Newton Street Post Office, Manchester. When his father died in 1904, he was the sole provider for his mother and her children. He was still working as a clerk and telegraphist for the Post Office by 1911. Henry served in the East Lancashire Engineers (Territorial Force), and then enlisted in 12th Manchester on 5th September 1914.
He was quickly promoted to Lance Corporal by the end of September, then Corporal on 13th November and then unpaid Lance Sergeant by 18th November. He became Acting Sergeant in February 1915 and was commissioned in 11th (Reserve) Battalion West Riding Regiment on 12th May. He went to the Western Front in France in May 1916 and joined 10th Battalion. He was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant on 11th September 1916 and was appointed Acting Captain from October to December 1916 while commanding a company.
On 4th October 1916, at Le Sars, France, he twice rallied his company under the heaviest fire, and finally led the only three available men into the enemy trench, and there remained bombing until two of them had become casualties and enemy reinforcements had arrived. He then carried his Company Sergeant Major, who had been wounded, back to our trenches, a distance of 70 yards, and subsequently three other soldiers. He set a fine example of gallantry and endurance.
The VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 14th February 1917, and was promoted to Temporary Captain between September and December 1917 whilst commanding a company. His battalion was then posted to Italy in November 1917, and was made acting Captain in March 1918.
He was then awarded the Military Cross for his actions at South Avenue, 1000 yards south of Asiago, Italy on 21st-22nd June 1918; he commanded a raiding party of his company and two platoons of another, killing up to eighty enemy, taking thirty-one prisoners, a flamethrower and two machine guns for the loss of one killed, eighteen wounded and three missing. He then received a promotion to Captain on 21st September 1918.
He was then awarded a Bar to his Military Cross for his actions near Casa Polesi, near Vazzola, on the north bank of the Piave River, on 27th October 1918; he took all objectives in an attack across the Piave against Austrian positions, capturing many machine-guns and several hundred prisoners.
He was demobilised on 7th January 1920 and returned to the Post Office. In 1922 he went to Ireland and took part in the Civil War, serving as a Major for the General Chief of Staff for Operations in the Irish Free State Army. While in Ireland, he studied at the National University, Dublin and qualified as a chartered surveyor (BA & BSc). He returned to England and the Post Office again until 1925, when he opened a number of grocery shops with his brothers on Rochdale Road and Upper Charlton Road. He also joined the Catholic Association, the Knights of St Columba, and became the first Grand Knight of Council 105, 1925-1927.
Henry married Eileen Guerin of Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland in Manchester in September 1926. They went on to have two children – Eileen (born in 1928) and Henry (born in 1931). Sadly, competition in the grocery trade caused Henry to go bankrupt in 1931, and he decided to go into the licensed victualler business, keeping various hotels in Manchester, including the Crown Hotel. In 1932 he moved to North Wales and continued in the licensed trade. Henry then volunteered and fought in the Spanish Civil War as Commandante Generale International Brigade against the Facists 1936-1938. He was awarded the Royal and Military Order of Saint Ferdinand in 1937.
On 13th December 1940 he was commissioned in the East Surrey Regiment as a Lieutenant. He was promoted to Captain in December 1940 and transferred to Pioneer Corps. He transferred to the Cheshire Regiment on 6th October 1941 and worked as District Claims Officer, Curzon Street, London District. He was accused of making fraudulent claims for travel expenses in the period October 1943 to February 1944 and was tried by General Court Martial at Chelsea on 5th October 1944; he denied the charges. He was found guilty and severely reprimanded, and resigned his commission on 30th November 1944.
Henry returned to North Wales and worked as an auctioneer, valuer and estate agent for a few years before retiring and moving back to Manchester. Henry died at Prestwich Hospital, Manchester on 18th January 1960 and is buried in the RC Section of Southern Cemetery, Wythenshawe, Manchester with his wife and sister. In addition to his VC and MC & Bar, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and the Spanish Royal and Military Order of Saint Ferdinand. The VC is held by the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment Museum, Bankfield Museum, Halifax, Yorkshire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: DUKE OF WELLINGTON RGT MUSEUM, HALIFAX.
BURIAL PLACE: SOUTHERN CEMETERY, MANCHESTER.
Henry Kelly VC is buried in RC Section I, Grave 372
Kevin Brazier (June 2016)
Manchester Cenotaph (courtesy of Steve Hoar)