Sgt John Thomas Cannon of Birr

The 12 June 2020 marks the 98thanniversary of the disbandment of the historic Southern Irish infantry regiments of the British Army at Windsor Castle. Disbandment was brought on by economic cuts to the British Army and in part due to the Anglo-Irish agreement. The Royal Irish Regiment, Connaught Rangers, Leinster Regiment, Royal Munster Fusiliers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers (and South Irish Horse) all surrendered their colours to King George V for safe keeping. The ceremony took place at 11:30am in St. George’s Hall in Windsor Castle. During the ceremony the King made a promise to safe guard these highly prized colours. The ceremony finished with a royal salute and God Save the King played.

The colour party detachments for each regiment consisted of the regiment’s commanding officer, then three officers and three non-commissioned officers (NCO) for the 1stand 2ndbattalion respectively. One of the NCOs on whom this honour fell was John Thomas Cannon of the Leinster Regiment’s 2nd Battalion. This is John’s story.

Surrender of Colours to King George V, Image National Army Museum
Surrender of colours to King George V.  Courtesy National Army Museum.

John was born in Mountmellick, Queen’s County (Laois) on 29 August 1891, but was brought up in Birr, the Parsonstown, King’s County. He was the son of Staff Sergeant George Cannon and Lizzie Cannon (née Guinan). George was from Cardiff, Wales. He has joined the 109th Foot in 1879, then transferred to the Leinster Regiment upon its creation in 1881. He married Lizzie Guinan, of Birr, on 7 January 1885 in St. Brendan’s Catholic Church in Birr. John was their first son. They had several daughters previously. Lizzie died on the 17 July 1897 from convulsions. She had given birth to a son, Timothy only three days beforehand. Timothy died on 22 July. Both were interred in Clonoghill Cemetery just outside Birr.

The 1901 census records John, or ‘Jack’ as he is named, living with his mother’s sister Bridget in 28, Military Road, Crinkill. John’s siblings were recorded as Annie, aged 15 years and a teacher in the convent school in Birr, Lottie aged 14 years, Lizze aged 12 years, May aged 12 years, Nellie aged 11 years, George aged 6 years and Joe aged 5 years. Their father George is missing as he was serving in the Boer War in South Africa with the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, Leinster Regiment.

Sergeant Cannon's 1914 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.jfif
Sergeant Cannon’s 1914 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal


On 19 September 1905 John enlisted in the Leinster Regiment at Birr Barracks, just aged 14 years old. He probably joined as a drummer,  a role usually given to young boys who joined (in fact John is recorded as a musician on the 1911 census). The following month on 8 October 1905, his father, George Cannon, died from tuberculosis which he had been suffering from for 12 months. His obituary appeared in the King’s County Chronicle.

Military Funeral at Birr.
In the course of last week Mr George Cannon, ex-Color-Sergt., the Leinster Regt., who retired on a well earned pension two or three years ago, had his last farewell amid the regrets of all who had known him both in and out of the military; and it was only to be expected that the funeral would partake of a military character. Accordingly the full strength of the Leinster Depot was present, and the music, under Bandmaster Hoole, was solemnly played from the deceased’s late residence at Crinkle to the soldiers’ cemetery close at hand. The Rev. J. Donnellan read the burial service. This is the third military funeral within the last six months.


Sergean Cannon in Colchester 1920.jfif
Sgt Cannon in Colchester, 1920.

The 1911 census records Private John Thomas Cannon with his regiment in Jullundur, Punjab, India.  When the Great War broke out the 2nd Battalion was based in Cork, and they arrived in France on 12 September 1914, landing at St. Nazaire. They headed to Aisne at once to help the British Expeditionary Force. On the 20 October during the Battle of Armentières, Sergeant Cannon was taken as a prisoner of war (POW). He was held at Hameln POW camp in Germany for the duration of the war.

After his release from captivity Sergeant Cannon re-joined his battalion. In February 1920 the battalion was in Colchester and received medals and awards from the Commander in Chief of the Regiment, the Prince of Wales. Sergeant Cannon was presented with his 1914 Star. Following disbandment on 12 June, Sergeant Cannon transferred to the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment in order to complete a full 21 years service.

John Cannon's grave in Pinner Cemetery, Greater London
John Cannon’s grave in Pinner Cemetery, Greater London

John married Annie Gertrude O’Hehir at Portsmouth on 5 April 1920. He died in April 1953 at Harrow.