Medal group of Sgt James O’Neill
Medal group of Sgt James O’Neill. He served in the Crimea and Canada with the Rifle Brigade but ended his service career as a Sergeant-Instructor with the 1st Volunteer Battalion the Suffolk Regiment (Framlingham Company).
These medals form one of the more unusual groups in the Suffolk Regiment Museum. They are (from left to right):
- Crimean War Medal with clasps for ‘Alma’, ‘Inkerman’ and ‘Sebastopol’
- Canadian General Service Medal with clasp ‘Fenian Raid 1866’
- Regular Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal
- Volunteer Long Service and Good Conduct Medal
- Meritorious Service Medal
- Turkish Crimean War Medal
- French Legion d’Honneur
James O’Neill was born on 27 April 1832 in Clone, co Clare in Ireland, the son of Patrick and Onora O’Neill. He enlisted in the 41st Regiment of Foot in 1849 (no. 2730). He served with them in the Ionian Islands and Malta then in the Crimean War. He was present at the Battle of the Alma on 20 April 1854, in the sortie on the Inkerman Heights on 26 October 1854 and at the Battle of Inkerman on 5 November 1854, when he was slightly wounded. He was one of the storming party at the Redan Battery before Sebastopol and was severely wounded by a musket shot through his right arm. He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur for distinguished conduct in the field and general gallant conduct in the trenches.
After service in the Jamaica he was discharged in the rank of Sergeant in June 1859. On 17 August 1859 he reenlisted in the Rifle Brigade (no. 304) as a Private but soon worked his way back up to Sergeant. He spent six years in Canada, taking part in 1866 in the defence against raids by the Fenians (Irish Republicans based in the USA). He was for a time a Sergeant-Instructor to the Montreal Drill Association.. While in Canada he married his wife Margaret (nee O’Neill) of Dundas on 12 May 1864 at St Mary’s Cathedral, Hamilton.
He was discharged from the Army with a pension on 17 May 1870 but reenlisted in the 1st London Rifle Volunteer Brigade as a Sergeant Major, later a Sergeant Instructor. He was discharged on 14 May 1878 on the reduction in the Establishment, being the most junior of the Sergeants.
Unable to settle to civilian life on 10 September 1878 he moved to Suffolk to take up a position as Colour Sergeant Instructor of Musketry with ‘D’ (Framlingham) Company of the 1st Volunteer Battalion the Suffolk Regiment, retiring in February 1893. He was presented on his retirement with a clock as a mark of the Company’s appreciation of his service and a new ribbon for his Legion d’Honneur, the original being ‘much battered and knocked about’. He said at the time that the proudest moment of his life had been when the Queen pinned the Legion d’Honneur and medals on his breast.
He and his wife moved to Bury St Edmunds in 1907, living at 25 West Road. He died there in 1913 and was buried with full military honours.
O’Neill had six children; two of his sons also served in the Suffolk Regiment in the second South African War.
His Army LSGC Medal represented 18 years unblemished service although in fact he appeared three times in the regimental defaulters book and was court-martialled twice (for unspecified offences). His Volunteer LSGC medal was awarded for 20 years’ service.