John Fishbourne from Dublin Ireland 1864-1917 A Soldier's tale
by Sylvia Chaplin
St. Lambert Soldiers Memorial circa 1960
A Memorial to Fallen Soldiers
In a ceremony on the afternoon of Sunday 9th July 1922 General Sir Arthur Currie unveiled the City of St Lambert's Soldiers Memorial. Among the names of the ‘fallen’, the men of St Lambert who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War, is that of John Fishbourne.
John Fishbourne's Origins
John Fishbourne was born in Dublin in the parish of St Mary’s on July 5th 1864, the first child of Robert Henry Fishbourne and Elizabeth Wilmot who had married on the 29th September 1862 at St Catherine’s Anglican Church, Dublin. On the marriage record, Elizabeth was a ‘minor’ (under 21) and the daughter of William Wilmot, a printer. Robert was of full age, a bachelor and a coach painter. The records of Irish Business Directories reveal the extent of the Fishbourne family’s estates and their substantial coaching business in Carlow, Dublin and Cork. The family’s origins probably lie within the Protestant force that accompanied Oliver Cromwell in his campaign in Ireland in the 17th Century.
When John was just three years old in March 1867, his mother Elizabeth died shortly after giving birth to John’s sister, Frances. Four months later on the 28th July 1867, his father married Margaret Jane McManus at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Dublin. John’s first half-brother, Peter Henry, was born on 3rd July 1868 and his second half-brother, William Charles, on 8th October 1871. On Christmas Day 1871, Robert Henry Fishbourne died: he was a victim of one of the last major epidemics of smallpox in Ireland. How Margaret coped under these circumstances is not documented but the children were not lodged in an institution. For certain, John and his half-brother Peter Henry worked in the family coaching business in Dublin before they sought careers in the army. Their wealth of experience with horses through the family coaching business provided all three brothers with skills in riding, driving and horse husbandry that opened careers for John and Peter Henry in the army (horse artillery) and after discharge in occupations such as coachman and groom and in William Charles’s case as farrier.
John Fishbourne's Military Experience
On the 4th March 1879, in Dublin John enlisted in the Royal Artillery at the age of 15 years 7 months. He was described as being 5 feet 53/4 inches tall, with a fresh complexion, light grey eyes, brown hair with an anchor tattooed on his left forearm and a sword on his right forearm. He stated his religious denomination was Church of Ireland. His army papers in the National Archives at Kew, England reveal that in March 1883 he boarded HMS Serapis
en route to India where he was stationed in Bangalore. For the next 10 years he served in India at various stations including St Thomas’s Mount, Madras (Chinnai) where on the 11th December 1890 he was reengaged to complete 21 years. In 1891 he was based in Kamptee (Kampthi) and in 1893 he boarded HMS Euphrates
for the passage home. He was discharged from the 20 Field Royal Artillary, in Sheffield, England on the 14th July 1893 after 14 years 132 days service. During this period Peter Henry followed in John’s footsteps by enlisting in the Royal Artillery at the age of 18 years and being posted to India whilst William Charles emigrated to Montreal, Canada on the 28th September 1889 aboard the SS Polynesian
On November 15th 1894, John, (aged 30) married Mary Elizabeth Buckby (aged 29) in her home village of Mowsley, Leicestershire. The marriage certificate records John’s occupation as a ‘coachbuilder’. No records exist to show how the couple met. However, from an early age Mary Elizabeth worked away from home in service so it is quite possible that the couple met at a place where she was serving as a maid and he as groom. Four years later, in Mowsley, John is a witness at the marriage of his half-brother Peter Henry to his wife’s younger sister Martha Buckby.
The last official record of John living with his wife in England is the English 1901 census which records the couple as living in Mowsley, in the house of Mary Elizabeth’s parents. The other people present in the house are John’s sister-in-law Martha Fishbourne and her children. In the same year, the Canadian census records William Charles Fishbourne (aged 29) working as a farrier living in the sub-district of Sault-au-Recollet in the Laval District of Montreal with Margaret Fishbourne, nee Doyle (born in Scotland in 1880, emigrated in 1884) who William married in 1899.
Traveling to Canada
On August 17th 1905, John, aged 40, is recorded as a passenger aboard HMS Kensington
, travelling from Liverpool to Montreal, Quebec: ‘Army’ is his stated occupation. John and Mary Elizabeth had no children. No family or official records have been found so far that give a reason for his leaving other than the supposition that it was to find employment and that his wife would follow when he was established. Similarly there are no records of his life or occupation when he first arrived in Canada however the assumption is that he joined his half brother, William, and that they remained in close contact. This assumption is borne out by evidence contained within his Canadian army records. In 1908 Peter Henry followed John by travelling to Canada. Peter Henry settled in Toronto but died of TB and a brain haemorrhage in June 1911.
No family records or correspondence exists to show what contact existed between husbands in Canada and wives in England at this time. After the death of Peter Henry, Mary Elizabeth set up a home with Martha and her children in Twickenham, Middlesex and this is recorded in the 1911 English census. In Canada at this time the 1911 census records William C and Margaret living in the district of St Antoine with their children William Albert aged 11; Thomas Amos aged 5 ; Grace aged 3 and Norman M aged 9 months. No census records have been found for John.
Military Service in The Great War
On August 21st 1916 John joined many men from St Lambert by volunteering for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In his Attestation Paper his address is recorded as 461 Merton Avenue, Saint-Lambert, Montreal. This was the address of his declared next of kin, his half-brother William Charles Fishbourne. His occupation is recorded as shipping clerk. His date of birth is recorded as July 5th 1873, making him 42, but his true age was 52 years making him one of the oldest men to fight on the front line. His height was recorded as being 5ft 6¾ inches, his girth as 37 inches, his complexion medium, his eyes blue grey and his hair black. He had a coat of arms tattooed on his right forearm and on his left forearm an anchor and heart. His medical examination declared him fit for army service. In his service records he leaves, in the event of his death, all his pay to his brother and his nephew William Albert. He is shipped to England, to Shorncliffe Camp in November 1916 and to the ‘field’ in May 1917. He is posted to 5th Brigade C.F.A at the front on the 23rd September 1917.
On the 1st November 1917, at No.17 Casualty Clearing Station No 349279 Gunner John Fishbourne of the 5th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery “C” battery died of wounds received in action. The ‘nature of casualty’ report within his service records identifies his wound as ‘S W Rt leg’. He was admitted on the 1st November and died the same day.
5th Canadian Field Artillery at Passchendaele
The action of the men at the front during the 3rd Battle of Ypres, The Battle of Passchendaele, can be traced through the War Diary (Volume 22) of the 5th Canadian Field Artillery (CFA) Brigade. www.data2.collectionscanada.gc/ca. The fatal action that John was involved in on the 31st October and possibly the 1st November is described graphically in the 5th Brigade’s entries for these dates. He was evacuated to the No 17 Casualty Clearing Station at Remy Sidings (Lijssenthoek). The War Diaries of the Medical Corps document the treatment of casualties first at regimental first aid posts then at advanced dressing stations serving sections of the front line. Field ambulances brought the wounded from the advance dressing stations to Casualty Clearing Stations for more advanced treatment and, if they showed improvement, dispatch them by rail to base hospitals in the evacuation zone.
John Fishbourne is buried in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium. His grave is XXI.CC.13.
A Widow's Pension
Following John’s death, his wife Mary Elizabeth was awarded a pension from the Canadian Government. Mary Elizabeth died on the 15th March 1932. She is buried in Twickenham Cemetery and her headstone is a Cornish Grey Maltese Cross similar to the artefact held in the family archives that is the Canadian Memorial Cross sent to her after his death.
The only other artefact that was in the possession of the family was John's WW1 Memorial Plaque. The family donated this plaque in 2012 to the museum at Talbot House, Poperinghe, Belgium a short distance from the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery together with all the documentary evidence assimilated through research so that his army service and ultimate sacrifice will be remembered by future generations.