Private Joseph Michael Rooney

Sherwood_Foresters_BadgePrivate Joseph Rooney   (a.k.a. Ruane)

2/6th Bn., Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derbys Regiment) who died on 4th November 1918, aged 23

Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Staveley Cemetery

JOSEPH MICHAEL ROONEY was born at Barrow Hill in 1895, the son of coal miner, Austin Joseph Rooney, and his wife Margaret.  Austin originally hailed from Ireland and Margaret from Staffordshire and the couple had lived at 194, Barrow Hill on the Long Row since at least 1881. Joseph was the 9th of 10 children born to the couple.

Although his older brothers all worked as coal miners for the Staveley Coal and Iron Company, Joseph himself was employed, in 1911 at the age of 16, as a Grocer’s Assistant.

Joseph enlisted as Private 241717 in the 178th Brigade, 2/6th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derbys) Regiment in the 59th Brigade, 2nd North Midland Division at Chesterfield on 11th December 1915, aged 20 years and 210 days. He was mobilised on 29th January 1916 as part of a “Home-Service Only” reserve unit which was to replace the regular army units in guarding the country from invasion.  Joseph was described in his records as 5’ 8 ½“ tall, weighing 135lbs with medium brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion.

The units of the ‘second line’, the 2nd North Midland Division, remained at home for some time. Along with other ‘second line’ Divisions it suffered greatly from lack of equipment of all sorts, and training was inevitably affected

In April 1916 the Division was hurriedly ordered to Ireland to assist in quelling the Easter Rising; troubles that broke out in Dublin and elsewhere.

The Division returned to England in January 1917 and was based at Fovant by the end of the month. Orders were received to the effect that it would soon depart for France. Joseph left Southampton on 24th February, arriving in Le Havre on 26th February. Reports said that the Division could not be considered properly trained (largely as it had been split up in Ireland) but it did not have any opportunity to add to its training before it was thrown into the front line south of the Somme, near Estrees.

“June 1917: Relieved and moved for rest at Barastre. A lengthy spell here, being “fattened up” for the Flanders offensive (3rd Battle of Ypres). Received orders to move in late August and thence by train from Acheux to Winnezeele, arriving 1st September.

The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge (23-25 September): On 20 September 1917, the Division’s role was to relieve the 55th (West Lancashire) Division after it had made an attack in the area of Gravenstafel. The Lancashires succeeded in capturing all objectives and the 59th duly moved to relieve them. Assembling around Goldfish Chateau, just outside Ypres, the Division moved up into the salient on the night of 23/24 September and completed the move into battle positions during 25 and 26th.

Rooney War 2The Battle of Polygon Wood (26-30 September): The Division attacked as part of the British force that made an assault early on 26 September. Using 177th and 178th Brigades in front, the Division captured all of its objectives and then held on against German counter attack. Divisional HQ, finding its canal position to be very near some heavy artillery, moved back a way to Mersey Camp Wood but were there bombed by enemy aircraft at night. The Division suffered 2000 casualties while in the salient.” Source

Rooney War

Joseph was wounded in action on 29th September at the Battle of Polygon Wood, just 8 months after arriving in France. According to his medical records, he suffered “Aeroplane bomb wounds with fractures of both bones of both legs, arm, [and] ankle joint. [He was] Four times under anaesthesia for sequestrectomy, drainage and ? of fragments.”

His wounds were treated in the field before he was sent back to England and admitted to the 1st London General Hospital on 27th October 1917. He was moved to Brondesbury Park Military Hospital on 21st February 1918 and re-admitted to the 1st London General Hospital on 6th August 1918 where he stayed until the 30th. His medical assessment in August 1918 states that, although his general condition was good, Joseph was 100% permanently disabled; his “wounds of legs healed with considerable deformities” and that he “hobbles about with a stick.”

Joseph was discharged from the army on medical grounds on 17th September 1918 aged 23 years and 4 months. His military character was described as “good” and it was noted that he was “sober and trustworthy.” Joseph was also awarded the Silver War Badge to show that he had served in the forces and a 100% pension from 18th September 1918.

The 1918 flu pandemic was one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history, killing almost 5% of the world population. Joseph died on the 4th November 1918. His death certificate records that 23 year old Joseph Michael Rooney (otherwise Ruane), Ex-Private Notts and Derbyshire Regiment army pensioner; died of (1) Influenza (2) Pneumonia. His father, Austin Ruane, was present at the death.



Joseph was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal but the Medal Roll Index shows that these were returned after his death. If the medals were unable to be delivered, possibly because the family had moved, they were then returned and melted down.

Joseph did not qualify for a Commonwealth War Grave as he was no longer a serving soldier and his death could not be attributed to his military service. He is buried in an unmarked plot in the Roman Catholic section of Staveley Cemetery and remembered with honour on the Barrow Hill and Staveley Parish memorials.

© Ann Lucas