b. 22/10/1890 Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland. d. 12/04/1917 Barlin, France.
John Cunningham (1890-1917) was born at Hull Street, Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland on 22nd October 1890. His father, Joseph, was a general labourer. He married Johanna nee Smith, a domestic servant on 11th November 1889. The couple had five children including John. Sadly, they would lose two of their children in the Great War.
John was educated at the Christian Brothers School, Thurles and was then employed as a farm labourer. Having enlisted, he went to France on 19th December 1914. Prior to his VC action, nothing significant happened to John. On 12th April 1917, at Bois-en-Hache, France, he was in command of a Lewis Gun section on the most exposed flank of the attack. His section came under heavy enfilade fire and suffered severely. Although wounded he succeeded almost alone in reaching his objective with his gun, which he got into action in spite of much opposition.
When counter-attacked by a party of twenty of the enermy he exhausted his ammunition against them, then, standing in full view, he commenced throwing bombs. He was wounded again, and fell, but picked himself up and continued to fight single-handed with the enemy until his bombs were exhausted. He then made his way back to our lines with a fractured arm and other wounds. There is little doubt that the superb courage of this N.C.O. cleared up a most critical situation on the left flank of the attack. Corporal Cunningham died in hospital at Barlin from the effects of his wounds.
John was buried in Barlin Communal Cemetery, near Noeux-les-Mines, France. As he was unmarried, the VC was presented to his mother by King George V outside Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1917. In addition to the VC he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The VC was withdrawn from sale at Sotheby’s on 21st March 1979. His medals were acquired on loan by the Imperial War Museum in August 2006 and are displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IWM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: BARLIN CEMETERY, BARLIN, FRANCE.
John Cunningham's medal collection (displayed in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London - image IWM)
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT II, ROW A, GRAVE 39
War Illustrated, 30th June 1917
Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin (Brian Drummond)