John Victor Kershaw, DSO

Accrington Pals researchers have found Kershaw to be the mystery man of the Accrington Pals: wins the DSO for his successful Oppy Wood operation, gains the OBE after the war- and yet he hardly appears in any of the books on the battalion, which is very well documented, and no-one seems to know much about him.

His medals were auctioned in 2015


1887 Mar 18. Born born at Heywood, Lancs, the son of John Edward and Myfanwy Kershaw,

1891 census

1891 census Son of an Ironmonger John Kewshaw at 11 Benfield St, Heywood, Lancs

1901 census

1901 census living at 60 St James St, Burnley. His father is now carrying on the trade of Licensed Victualler

1911 census

1911 census living at 77 Manchester Road Hapton. It would appear that his mother remarried in 1907. John Victor is working on his own account as an Architect and Surveyor

1914 Sep 17. Appointed 2/Lt. 17th September 1914 in the Accrington Pals , and was then posted to the 11th Service Battalion - Accrington Pals, East Lancashire Regiment, which was to become arguably the most well known of all of Kitchener’s Pals Battalions. Kershaw would serve with the Accrington Pals for the duration of the war, being present on the 1st July 1916 when he was wounded in action when serving with ‘Y’ Company.

The Accrington Pals is probably the best remembered of the battalions raised in the early months of the First World War in response to Kitchener's call for a volunteer army. Groups of friends from all walks of life in Accrington and its neighbouring towns enlisted together to form a battalion with a distinctively local identity. In its first major action, the battalion suffered devastating losses in the attack on Serre on 1st July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. The losses were hard to bear in a community where nearly everyone had a relative or friend who had been killed or wounded. Although the battalion was to fight again, its Pals character had been irretrievably lost.

Recruitment began in Accrington and district at 2pm on Monday 14th September. A large crowd of applicants was reported at Willow Street School, which was the Accrington recruiting station. A total of 104 men were accepted in the first three hours, a creditable number given that many others were turned away for being below the minimum height and chest measurements of 5ft 6in (1.68m) and 35½in (90cm) respectively. Captain Harwood again telegraphed the War Office, and was given permission to reduce the minimum standards to 5ft 3in (1.60m) and 34in (86cm) in order to speed up recruitment.

In the meantime, the battalion's officers were being recruited from prominent local men and their families. On the evening of Thursday the 17th, the following were recommended for commissions, to join Col. Richard Sharples (Commanding Officer), Capt. George Slinger (Adjutant), Capt. Philip Broadley (Company Commander), Capt. James Milton (Chorley Company Commander), Capt. Raymond Ross (Burnley Company Commander) and Dr. Gordon Watson (Surgeon): Harry Bury, Walter Cheney, Sydney Haywood, Thomas Harwood (grandson of the Mayor), Frederick Heys, John Kershaw, Harry Livesey, Anton Peltzer, James Ramsbottom, Thomas Rawcliffe, Walter Roberts and Arnold Tough.

By the end of Friday the 18th, recruitment was almost half-completed with 508 men having enlisted, 250 of whom were from Accrington alone. The next two days of recruitment saw a further 276 men enlist and by Thursday the 24th the target of a full battalion of 1,100 men had almost been reached.

Throughout the early months of the battalion's existence the men trained and drilled in and around their home towns.

1915 Feb The battalion was given a magnificent send-off as it left Accrington for training at Caernarvon.

1915 May the battalion moved from Caernarvon to Penkridge Bank Camp near Rugeley where it joined the 12th, 13th and 14th Battalions of the York & Lancaster Regiment to form the 94th Brigade, 31st Division. The battalion made further moves in July and September 1915, first to Ripon and then to Hurdcott Camp near Salisbury

1915 May 5. East Lancashire Regiment. 11th Battalion (Accrington) The undermentioned temporary Second Lieutenants to be temporary Lieutenants

1915 Jun 20. aptd. Capt.

1915 Dec 18 The battalion marched out of Hurdcott Camp near Salisbury on their journey to Egypt. They sailed the next day. The Battalion consisting of 29 Officers (including 1 R.A.M.C. and 1 R.C. Chaplain) and 956 Other Ranks embarked on board the T.S.S. Ionic, and sailed the same day, under escort of 1 Destroyer.

1916 Jan 1. Arrived at Alexandria, after an eventfull journey in which they survived a torpedo attack by a German Uboat. They moved to Port Said and spend their time in Egypt at various positions guarding the Suez Canal

1916 Feb the 31st Division was ordered to France, to take part in the joint British-French attack on the Somme.

1916 Mar 2. Battalion proceeds to Port Said and embarks on board Llandovery Castle. bound for France

1916 Mar 8. They arrive in Marseilles. Kershaw is shown as being in Y Company (commanded then by Major Milton) in a handwritten list of the officers made by Rickman, probably around the time of the battalion's arrival in France

1916 Jul 1 The battalion suffer heavy losses at Serre. In the early evening of 30th June, the 11th East Lancashires left their camp at Warnimont Wood for a 7 mile march to the trenches in front of Serre. At 2.40am on Saturday 1st July, the leading companies of the battalion reached the front line trenches to find them already heavily shell-damaged. As daylight broke, the forward lines were again pounded by enemy shellfire. At 6.30am, the British artillery commenced its final bombardment of the German front line. At 7.20am, Captain Tough led the first of the battalion's four waves 100 yds into No Man's Land under the cover of artillery and mortar fire. A few minutes later, the second wave followed led by Captain Livesey. As shells continued to burst on the German front trench, the men of the 3rd and 4th Companies scrambled from their underground shelters bringing machine guns, rifles and grenades to bear on the attacking troops. At 7.30am, the bombardment was lifted from the German front line and the leading waves rose and walked in line towards the German positions. Machine gun- and rifle fire immediately tore into the advancing lines of infantry. One British observer likened the lines of dead to "swathes of cut corn at harvest time". Groups of Pals defied the machine gun fire, threaded their way through the barbed wire and dropped into the German front line. All was in vain. Behind, the third and fourth waves suffered dreadful losses before even reaching No Man's Land. Some of the Pals - their officers killed or wounded - pressed on towards Serre, never to be seen again. The remaining survivors in the German front line - bereft of reinforcements - were forced to withdraw. By 8am, the battle for Serre was effectively over.

"The History of the East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War" records that out of some 720 Accrington Pals who took part in the attack, 584 were killed, wounded or missing. Rickman was invalided home, and returned to resume command of the Pals only on 31st May 1917.

1916 Aug 2. E. Lan. R. Temp. Capt. J. V. Kershaw to be acting Maj. whilst 2nd in comd. of a Bn. 2 Aug. 1916. He briefly commanded the battalion at some time when Colonel Rickman was ill.

1916 Oct/Dec married to Elizabeth L Johnson in Burnley Reg District

1917 Feb 3. Temp Capt (acting Major) J V Kershaw to be Temp Major.

1917 Jun 28 the battalion take part in a successful attack at Oppy-Gavrelle, on the day it was commanded by Maj. John Kershaw, Rickman having been detailed to be one of the reserve commanding officers. Kershaw received the DSO for his part in Oppy Wood raid. The local newspaper (the Burnley Express) carries is a report of him being congratulated through the paper, by the parish council of Hapton, on gaining the DSO

1917 Dec. Mentioned in Despatches

1918 Jan 1. 11th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment. Awarded the D.S.O. in the London Gazette of 1 January 1918.

1920 Aug 18 Promoted Major. I assume this is when he arrived in Ireland

1920 May 3 Serving in Clare

1921 Mar 17 Headquarters of Admin Servs and Depts. The undermentioned relinqiuish their temp, appts.: Spec. Appts., Class G.G.Temp. Maj. J. V. Kershaw, D.S.O., Serv. Bn., E. Lan. R. LG 20-5-1921

1921 Mar 17. E. Lan. R. Temp. Maj. J. V. Kershaw, D..S.O., relinquishes his commission on completion of service, and retains the rank of Maj

1922 Feb 28 Joined British Gendarmerie in Palestine as a Major.Appointed as a Company Commander to partake in the formation of the British Gendarmerie in Palestine, what would later become known as the Palestine Police, and was posted to Nablas. Many men of the Black and Tans would volunteer for service with the British Gendarmerie in Palestine. He saw service in armoured cars on patrols, and was involved in the first ever presence of this force on the streets of Jerusalem.

Kershaw commanded Gendarmerie detachments in Jerusalem and Nablas, ‘both difficult places with complete success’. He acted for the Deputy Commissioner of Police Nablas District ‘for several months during the absence on leave of the latter, and was successful in the breaking up of several notorious bands of highway robbers.’ With the reduction of the establishment, Kershaw then applied for service with the Sudan Government and as his letter of recommendation stated: ‘he has considerable experience of intelligence work having been employed in that branch in Ireland during the rebellion’.

1923 Jan 1 he gets OBE in New Year Honours list. This list is mainly for Irish undercover men

1925. Apr 2 E. Lan. R.—Maj. John Victor Kershaw, D.S.O., O.B.E., late Serv. Bns., to be Maj., 2nd Apr. 1925, with seniority 18th Aug. 1920.

1928 Feb 18 Minor motor accident reported in local press

1937 Having reached the age limit ceases to be on Reserve of Officers

However with the outbreak of the Second World War he was appointed to a commission in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 26th June 1941, as well as seeing service with the Home Guard

1939 Register, Living at 16 Highfield Road , Coulsdon and Purley U.D., Surrey, with wife Elizabeth (same woman he married in 1916). He is a "Salesman for Built in Furniture"

1941 Apr 23 Home Guard Certificate of Service issued to John Victor Kershaw, confirming his period of service with the Home Guard as being from 23rd April 1941 to 31st December 1944. 

1961 Apr 23. Died Bromley, Kent

1961 Jul/Sep. His wife Elizabeth died Bromley , Kent

2008 Bonhams sell A Great War D.S.O. and Interwar O.B.E. group of four to Major J.V.Kershaw, East Lancashire Regiment for £3643. Disinguished Service Order, G.V.R., in silver-gilt and enamel; The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, O.B.E., Civil Division, 1st type; British War and Victory Medal with MID Oakleaf (Major J.V.Kershaw.). The last two mounted as worn. With corresponding miniatures. Very fine.

2015 Medals on sale again at £6900

British Intelligence at Dublin Castle