Private John Sherman

Co. 46

This is the story of a man whose name you have never heard before. Most people will probably never hear it. This man was John Sherman. An ordinary man; John traveled from his home in the streets of Dublin to the front lines in Belgium. He won none of the glory or honour he was promised, and died, nobody knowing his name or story. 

I want to tell the story of a brave man, who, aged twenty-four, signed away his life to fight for his country. He sacrificed himself in the hope that the rest of us could live a normal life and never see war again. If even one person can take something away from John's story, I would like to think John's death was not futile and he helped contribute towards our society.

May he and all who fell victim to war's destruction rest in peace


Early Life



John Sherman was born to John Sherman and Julia Sherman (née Murphy) sometime around 1891. 

Unfortunately, I was unable to find any document with John's date of birth so we may never know his actual date of birth.

John was born in 18 Ardee Street. This was a tenement house (as were all of his families houses) and shows that the Sherman family were your standard working class inner city family of early twentieth century Dublin.


John's first family home on Ardee Street.


Sometime during the mid to late 1890's, John's family made the move to 12 Mill Street, just around the corner from Ardee Street.

Unfortunately, Mill Street is now an area of factories, industrial projects, and apartment blocks

This is where the Sherman family home on Mill Street once stood.



At the time of John's birth, his family consisted of his two elder two brothers, and two sisters, mother, and father. John and Julia would later have two more girls. John's father worked as a slater. They lived in an area of Dublin known as "The Tenters", a standard working class area.

  • The eldest child, James was born in 1883. At the age of 18, he began working along his father as a slater, a job he maintained until his death. In 1940, aged just 57, James died a childless bachelor, having never married. He never left the final family home in Cow Parlour.
  • Elizabeth, also known as Eliza, was born in December 1883. In 1901, according to the census she was studying. In February 1910, she married Michael Donnelly, a butcher from Drury Street. In 1911, they were living in Thomas Street. Eliza completed her studies and began working as a teacher. 
  • Andrew, born in 1885, was the family's third child. He, like James, worked as a slater his entire life. He died aged 75 in 1960 of a lung abscess in 20 Madde Road. He was also a bachelor.
  • In 1886, Julia was born. In 1901 at the age of 14, she was working as a seamstress. In 1911, she was working as a machinist. In 1914, she married Owen Byrne of Gray Street. They had at least one child together, Annie, in 1914, who died at the age of one-month-old.
  • Mary was born after John in 1892. She went on to marry John Joseph O'Neill in 1924 at the age of 31. At the time she was living in their house in Cow Parlour. Her younger sister was her maid of honour.
  • John and Julia's youngest child has been referred to as Catherine and Kathleen depending on several legal documents. Every document she is named on her name is different. She married a printer, Richard Reddy, in September 1923, aged just 26. She worked as a confectioner. They had at least two children together, Eithne Mary who was born in 1924 and died just two months old, and Richard J. Reddy born in June 1928.


Between 1910 and 1913, John's father was admitted to Richmond District Lunatic (RDL) Asylum. This would later go on to become known infamously as Grangegorman Asylum.

After his father's death, the family moved into a smaller home in Cow Parlour, which was located a 5 minute walk away from his two previous homes.

Life Before The War

John attended school until he was at least age ten. According to the 1911 Census, he was single at the age of seventeen. This meant that he would never go on to marry or have children as his mother is listed as his next of kin on his Soldier's Will. As James and Andrew were also bachelors when they died. the name Sherman would presumably die out. 

John worked in Jacob's Biscuit Factory as a baker. Jacob's was located on Bishop Street in Dublin, where DIT and the National Archives currently stand. This broke the tradition of working as a slater in the family. John is mentioned in the Jacob's Role of Honour. It was very interesting to think about the position of time as only two months after John left for the front lines, his place of work became central to the Easter Rising. It is strange to think which cause John would have chosen if he had of stayed in Dublin just a little while longer.

The bricks from the original Jacob's Factory, which was demolished.

Army Life

The 9th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers began their service in December of 1915. For his own reasons, John chose to join the war effort, enlisting in Sutton Barracks to join the 9th Battalion as a private. He signed his Soldier's Will on February 14th, 1916. He was given the service number 23540. Unfortunately, John's enlistment papers appear to have been destroyed during the Blitz, where sixty-percent of all war documents were lost during the bombings.  

The Loos Salient

  • Just before Easter 1916, a German deserter indicated a gas attack was imminent .
  • The first gas attack was in December 1915 and the Second Battle of the Ypres.
  • The 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers were among the support at their stations in Hulluch.
  • German shelling started on April 26th.

  • At 4:35 A.M on April 27th, the Germans attempted to lure the Irish from their trenches.
  • When they suspected the Irish soldiers to be manning the trench line, they released a highly concentrated combination of chlorine and phosgene gas shortly after 5 A.M.

  • The 9th Battalion and John stayed in support in the trenches until 3 P.M on April 28th, when relief was brought.
  • Five-hundred and seventy men were killed and a over one thousand four-hundred injured.
  • This was the first use of the M2 gas mask.
  • These horrifying conditions were John's first experience of war.

The Battle of Ginchy

  • The Ginchy offensive took place on the 9th of September 1916.
  • The battle was actually a part of the Battle of the Somme.
  • In the early hours of the Saturday morning, the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers launched an attack on the German occupied French town of Ginchy.

  • John and his battalion dug a support trench where they were stationed with machine guns.
  • Shortly after 5 o'clock that evening, the 9th Battalion (who were serving as the left battalion) rushed into Ginchy for the second objective.
  • On their way into the town, their commander, Captain W.J Murphy was killed.


During the war, the Irish Times regularly published a list of soldiers wounded, killed, or missing during the war. On Monday, 6th of November 1916, John Sherman was listed as one of the wounded soldiers. This is likely from his time fighting in the Battle of Ginchy.

The FInal Battle

  • In the run up to the assault on Langemarck, the 9th Battalion was chosen (along with the 7th Irish Rifles) to take the left attack on the other side of the 48th Brigade.
  • This would be the first time the 9th Battalion would be one of the leading battalions in battle.
  • The attack began at 4:45 A.M on the 16th of August 1917.
  • The Battalion was met with heavy gunfire and suffered heavy losses.
  • Everywhere the turned they were met with blasts of machine gunfire.
  • Miraculously, they made it to the first point (the Green Line), however, the German machine-gunners came into their pill boxes and fired back at the 9th Dublins.
  • Two officers and ten men from the battalion kept up the advance with the courageous few reaching the final objective. 

  • John fell on August 16th 1917.
  • He was killed due to the heavy German shelling and it is quite likely he only made it a few meters into battle before being killed.
  • Fifteen out of the seventeen officers of the Battalion were killed.

  • Sixty-six percent of the 9th Battalion's men were killed in the Battle of Langemarck.
  • After the battle, with barely anybody left in the 9th Battalion, they amalgamated with the 8th Battalion to form the 8th/9th Battalion.
  • They died with no hope, in fields the same consistency as porridge, after serving nearly two years, never living to see the end of the war.


It is unknown what happened to John's body immediately after his death. He would later be brought to his final resting place in Poelcapelle British Cemetery, where he is buried in LX D 4. Originally, his body is recorded on his returns as "unknown soldier". His body was found with two metal ribands, clothes and boots. He was also believed to have been a member of the 4th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers when his body was found. His mother, Julia, was sent out thirteen shillings and sixpence.


After his death, John's family received two medals for his service.

  • The British War Medal: this medal was sent out to everybody who fought for the British between August 1914 and November 1918.
  • The British Victory Medal: this medal was sent out also to everybody that served in the British army.

British War Medal (left), British Victory Medal (right)

John's Medal Index Card

Informal War Office Will

John's Soldier's Will and signature.

In Memory of John

I may never get to meet John's relatives, or see his face, or learn the full extent of his story. But I know his name, I know as much of his story as possible, I know his struggles. You too now know about John, and that is why it has been such a pleasure for me to tell his story. Thank you for taking the time to read John's story.

About Me

At the time of applying for the trip, I was in 5th year in St. Kevin's College in Ballygall, Dublin. I've always been interested in history, with my interest coming (oddly enough) from seeing the movie "Titanic" as a child. From then on I have been fascinated in the past and all the astounding, wonderful, yet horrific and tragic events that have led us as a society to where we are. In second year English, my teacher introduced me to war poetry with the writings of Wilfred Owen, particularly "Anthem for Doomed Youth" and "Dulce Et Decorum Est", starting my infatuation with war poetry.

During a free trial on Ancestry searching through family records, I discovered my grandmother had some very interesting uncles. Two of my great-grand uncles, Mortimer and Timothy McCarthy, from Kinsale, travelled with Ernest Shackleton on two seperate missions of Antartic exploration. Timothy then went on to join the Royal Navy during World War One and was killed when his ship was torpedoed in the Western Approaches on March 16th 1917. Their brother John, also joined the 2nd Cantebury Regiment and was killed in the Battle of the Somme on September 20th 1916. This was when my interest in the First World war became so important to me because I now had a personal connection.

It was in December 2016 that my history teacher, Mr. Foley, came to me and asked if I would like to write an essay to be in with the chance of researching a soldier and visiting their grave in the Ypres region of Belgium. I jumped at the chance and was delighted when I heard I had been given a place on the trip the following month.

It was not just my familial connection to the war that made me so interested in the project, but the idea behind it. No matter the timeframe, the war, the winners, there is always the little people involved. Most of the time these are statistics. I however, now had the opportunity to bring history to life, find the names of these soldiers and tell their story. 

History, in my eyes, is like a cycle. It is so prone to repeating itself, and only through learning from our mistakes and correcting history, can we be smarter than it. Now, we can all have the chance to break the vicious cycle.


First Meeting in Collins Barracks


Going into Collins Barracks on Saturday, February 4th, I had no idea what to expect. I was on my way to find out who my soldier was, meet the organisers of the project and most importantly, the other students I would be spending four days with in Belgium. Nervous would have been an understatement... 


My nerves were settled as soon as I got in and met the teachers and other students. Everyone was so nice and I could not have asked for a better first experience. Getting my soldier's name put me straight into work mode and I was so anxious to find out everything possible about this man.



After leaving the meeting, I wanted to get straight into my research. I used several online researches such as, FindMyPast, Forces War Records, and Irish Genealogy. 

However I got some amazing help off some amazing people. I would like to say a special thank you to Conor Dodd, resident historian in Glasnevin Cemetery, along with resident genealogist Lynn Brady, the Genealogy Department in the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street, and the librarians in the Reading Room in Pearse Street Library. Without these people, I would not have been able to bring proper closure to John's story and tell his story.


Second Meeting in Collins Barracks

Coming back to Collins Barracks felt like a completely different world. I had my research on my soldier completed, I had gotten to know some of the students through our group chat and talking to them through Snapchat, and I was no longer nervous. I was honoured to have been asked to present a PowerPoint on my soldier. For the first time, people would hear John's story. I was marking the beginning of getting his name out to the masses. 

Now that I was getting to see other people's work and research, I was in genuine awe at the passion and commitment everyone in the room had towards the project. It was May and Belgium was only one short month away.


Day One in Belgium

Arriving in Dublin Airport on Tuesday June 24th was the culmination of this trip. The beginning of the end. My ambitions of going to John's grave were about to come true. I was going to a country I had never been in before, with people I didn't know. Under any other circumstances you might find such an experience daunting. Under mine, it was exciting. 

On our first full day in Belgium we were taken around the historic Belgian town of Leuven. After our short tour we met the German students. It was great to finally put the names to the faces and meet such an integral part of the trip. I thought it was a amazing to have the German's view added into the trip because we would both be getting the other side of the war's perspective. As G.K Chesterton once said "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.", and we would be able to see through to this.

Day Two in Belgium

Looking back, our second day feels like a blur! We visited so many amazing places and I made so many memories. 

Our first stop was the European Parliament, where we met with Irish MEP Marian Harkin and German MEP Gesine Meißner. Both women spoke of the importance in remembering why we need to remember war, and spoke about the pivotal role the European Union has had in Europe since its establishment.

The second day included us travelling to so many memorable places, such as the Island of Island Peace Park, and the Pool of Peace where fifty thousand German soldiers were killed when the British set off landmines under their trenches.

The Pool of Peace is now a series of lakes where people come to commemorate huge German casualties.

"Trust is hard to come by. That's why I keep my circle small and tight" ~ Eminem

One of the most memorable parts of the trip in my eyes had to be Bayernwald German Trenches, which were carefully restored to resemble German trenches from 1916. It was so heart wrenching to walk through history. Trench warfare is something I had only ever read about, but I could not help remember walking through these trenches, that soldiers my own age who walked through these trenches to their deaths. The last lines of Wilfred Owen's Dulce Et Decorum Est were all that came to mind:

"My friend, you would not tell with such high zest,

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie" Dulce est decorum est

Pro patria mori"

One of the most evocative moments of the trip came when visiting the Death Cells in Poperinge. Seeing the post where Commonwealth soldiers were shot at dawn for desertion and cowardice was such a haunting image to remind us all of the dark nature of war. As Josh's soldier was also shot here, I thought it was quite an emotional journey and something I will never forget. You can read more about this in Josh's archive.

Day Three in Belgium

Day Three brought some incredible highlights of the trip. It was phenomenal to visit the two German cemeteries and see the comparison to the Commonwealth Graves. Us Irish students were so emotional during our visit to Vladsto German Cemetery. An experience I will never forget was when a group of us Irish students walked around to clean leaves and twigs off the headstones of the German soldiers. We felt that it was important as they to not have the same funding as the Commonwealth Graves Commission have to keep their graveyards as well kept as they are. 

On that Friday, June 23rd, I got to visit my soldier, Private John Sherman's grave. John's final resting place is in Poelcappelle British Cemetery. 

To say it was an honour to research this man is an understatement. It was as if through my months of research that I came to know John as if he were a distant friend. I was the first person, to my knowledge, to go to his grave. I brought soil from the grave of his mother, father, two brothers and niece that died in infancy to place on his grave as a piece of home. I would like to think that in doing so, I could bring John's story to a close, as in a way, he was finally reunited with the family he left in Dublin. Just shy of the centenary of his death, a part of home would be able to come to see him off. It was a truly wonderful and sorrowful experience. When I set out researching John's life, my one goal was to go to his final place of rest and tell his story. I did. And I could not be happier I got to sit at his graveside.

Memorial Wall in Tyne Cot Cemetery.

Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery.

A mass grave in Langemark German Cemetery. 

I was so fortunate to go to the Menin Gate with Ciara, to experience it myself before the Last Post Ceremony and be there with her for such an emotional experience of seeing her great-grand uncle's name on the walls of the Menin Gate. It was such a shock to see so many names covering every inch of the Menin Gate and served as a stark reminder of the futility of war. I would highly advise you read Ciara's archive for a better insight. 

We then attended the Last Post Ceremony, where Ciara and Yassin laid a wreath to remember all the soldiers that lost their lives so that people in their countries may live to see a better day, without war. Gerry Moore, the organiser of the trip, also read the Exhortation, taken from Laurence Binyon's For the Fallen.

The Final Day

There was not a dry eye as we set off to return to Dublin Airport. Following a bus ride from Leuven to Amsterdam and a flight home, we all said our teary goodbyes as we went our separate ways on June 24th.

I had an amazing four days in Belgium, with the most wonderful people, which I will truly never forget.

Dead Men Rising

He is long dead,

His nation does not know his name,

He died for them.

Some live in arrogance,

Consumed by hostility,

Is this what they wanted?

Is this what he wanted?

He died for them,

For us.

The War to End All Wars.

They went to war for us!

For their country!

So that we wouldn't have to.

Yet we live on, 

Ignorance is bliss,

And they lie in Belgian fields,



But there is some,

Who will always remember them,

Whom pay their respects,

Weep at their graves,

Their stories live on, 

Through us.

Heed their message, 

Learn the lessons of our past,

Or history will repeat itself,

And crush us all.

Fear not soldiers of yesteryear!

You did not die in vain,

You died so we would live to see a better day.

 Shane Macken

My Adopted Friend

The time has come,

I am finally here,

To say my first hello, and final goodbye.

As I walk through their white rows, 

Their echoes whisper throughout the world,

I hear their gratitude,

Someone has finally come to see them home.

I find his grave, 

Never touched by another hand,

I don't know what to do,

How do I justify this man's life?

How do I pay the respects of a family that never said goodbye?

I carry my soil, 

A heavy burden, for I, I am the first, and the last, to see him off.

This soil is home,

This soil was a life,

Long gone. 

Long forgotten.

Yet here it is.

Here I am.

Standing under the Belgian sun, 

A life of pain, a life of war,

And I have come to bid farewell. 

Sleep tight, for you,

You are in a place of peace,

You are at eternal rest.

Shane Macken

When I put my name forward for this trip last year, I did not know what impact it would have on me. Looking back on four wonderful days, I am delighted to say that this trip would be one of the defining moments in my life. I saw so much, learnt so much and got to tell the story of a man whose name was left to rot in the vaults of time. But most importantly, I made some amazing friends. There are simply no words to express the outrageous love I have for the people I met on the trip. I would like to thank Gerry and the entire team from the bottom of my heart for this amazing opportunity. I cannot express the gratitude I have for Eileen Magnier and Brian McVeigh from RTÉ for travelling with us to document this trip and giving us all an amazing "Nationwide" documentary we will always cherish. I guess you could say Summer 2017 was unforgettable!

Please email me if you have any queries about my research or the project: