Michael Flynn

Name: Michael Flynn
2nd Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)
Service Number
: 15338
Date of Death:
12 April 1915
Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium

Michael Flynn’s Headstone at Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

Michael James Flynn was born in Batley on 17 December 1879. He was the son of Thomas Flynn from Carracastle, County Mayo and his wife Ellen (née Egan) from Swinford, County Mayo.

Thomas and Ellen married in 1871. According to the 1911 census the couple had seven children, five still surviving. But looking at other records I have identified eight children, three of whom had died. These eight, in addition to Michael, were John (born in 1872), Mary Ann (1873), Thomas (1875), Thomas (1877), Margaret Ann (1882), Margaret Ellen (1885) and Catherine (1889). The eldest Thomas died on 10 November 1876, and his namesake died on 5 September 1878. Margaret Ann died on the 28 May 1884. All three were one-year-old when they died.

Michael’s father was a labourer in 1881, but by 1891 he was working as a coal miner and then a pit banksman1 in 1901. By 1911 he worked for the Corporation as a night watchman.

The Flynn family had a number of addresses. In 1881 they lived at Churchfield Terrace, Batley, but the censuses from 1891 onwards record the family living in Fleming Street, Batley.

However, Michael was not in the family home in 1901. By now, working as a coal hewer, he was boarding at the home of John Thomas and Elizabeth Waters at Barugh, a village near Barnsley. The Waters family had Batley links. Also lodging with the family were three other Batley-born miners – George Taylor, Matthew McDonald and Patrick Frain.

Michael was back in Batley by March 1902 when he signed his militia attestation papers with the 3rd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. His papers describe him as 5’5½” tall and weighing 130lbs. He had a ruddy complexion, light grey eyes and dark hair. He had five scars on the small of his back down his spine, and his left little finger had been deformed as a result of an accident.

The militia was a part-time, home service local defence organisation. Michael signed on for six years, and presented himself for annual training every year until March 1908, when he was discharged as time expired.

In between his annual training Michael lived in Batley and continued working. He gave his trade or calling on his militia attestation papers as a miner. However he names his employer as David Robinson of the West End Hotel. David Robinson was a barman there and brother of the licensee Clara Ann Barber Ingham. This may have been a temporary arrangement because other records, including brushes with the law, give his occupation as a miner, and more specifically a hewer. This is his 1911 occupation. At the outbreak of war, he was employed at Howley Park Colliery.

After he left the militia, Michael retained his military link by being on the National Reserve list. These were officers and men who had no further obligation for military service, but who remained on lists ready to come forward if there was an urgent need to increase military resources.2 He was on this list at the declaration of war in August 1914.

At the end of August, the Batley National Reserve secretary, Thomas A. Rose, received a communication from York inviting those on the list to offer themselves for active service with the Army, Special Reserve or Territorials. The response was magnificent, with in excess of 40 men presenting themselves for active service by close on the 1 September 1914, keeping Mr. Rose busy preparing their papers to send on. Amongst those answering the call was Michael Flynn.

Michael arrived in France on 4 December 1914, joining the 2nd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He died of wounds on 12 April 1915.

It is not clear when he received his fatal injuries. But in the period leading up to his death, from 1– 10 April, Michael’s regiment were alternating between the support and front-line trenches in the Verbrande Molen area, south east of Ypres. On 1 April the War Diary notes that although the enemy’s artillery was active, it did little damage. This changed on 5 April when they were in the front-line trenches and “D” Company in Trench 35 were heavily shelled and bombed at intervals throughout the day. They suffered 14 casualties. The shelling and bombing continued the following day. The 2nd KOYLI received support from Belgian artillery but unfortunately one of their shells fell short landing in 36 Trench, wounding 5 men from “A” Company. They were relieved later that day and went to the support dugouts, with “D” Company returning to Ypres. But even at Ypres they were not safe, a shell hitting Battalion HQ on 7 April causing more casualties. Late on 7 April those companies in the support trenches were back in the front- line trenches, relieving the Dorsets. This was a quieter period for the 2nd KOYLIs, with heavy firing to the left of their positions. They were relieved by the Dorsets on the 10 April and returned to billets to rest.

Medical information shows Michael was treated by the 14th Field Ambulance on 11 April for a bullet wound to the head. He was then transferred to Number 3 Casualty Clearing Station at Poperinghe (now Poperinge). The town was of great importance during the First World War because, although occasionally subjected to long-range bombardment, it was the nearest place to Ypres which was both considerable in size and reasonably safe. As a result during this period it was a centre for Casualty Clearing Stations. It was here that Michael died on 12 April, in the same Casualty Clearing Station where Thomas Foley died the month before.

Michael’s last letter arrived in Batley the day he died. In it he said that they were having a rough time. Private Matthew McDonald wrote to Michael’s parents. He had been with Michael at Ypres, which he called “the death trap.” He went on to say, “It is not war, but murder, out there.

Like Thomas Foley, Michael is buried in Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery. And in another parallel with Thomas, Michael was also a member of the St Mary’s Batley Branch of the National Catholic Benefit and Thrift Society. And in a final link, both he and Thomas were members of the Batley (John Dillon) Branch of the United Irish League.

Michael was awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal. 

In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on the Batley War Memorial.

1. The man in charge on the surface, who was responsible for raising and lowering the cage.
2. In 1908 as a result of the Haldane reforms, the militia battalions were turned into Special Reserve battalions, which trained part-time just as the militia had, but would provide drafts to reinforce the regular battalions of their regiments in the event of war.

Other Sources:
1881-1911 England & Wales Censuses;
Baptism records;
• Batley Borough Court Records,
West Yorkshire Archives P11/49 and P11/51;
• Batley Cemetery Records
British Army Militial Service Records, The National Archives (TNA) WO96/893/135;
Commonwealth War Graves Commission;
First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen, Hospital Admission and Discharge Registers, TNA, MH 106/10 and MH 106/291;
GRO Indexes – Births, Marriages and Deaths;
Medal Award Rolls, TNA WO329/2761 and WO329/1457;
Medal Index Card;
• Newspapers, including: Batley Reporter 30 April 1915, Batley News 1 May 1915 and 18 March 1916;
Soldiers’ Effects Register, NAM Accession Number 1991-02-333; Record Number Ranges: 187001-188500; Reference: 77;
Soldiers Died in the Great War;
Unit War Diary, 2nd KOYLI, TNA WO 95/1558/1;
• Wakefield Prison Register, West Yorkshire Archives, C118/203 and C118/214
• Western Front Association Pension Record Cards and Ledgers, 027/0151/FLO-FOR
and 070/0328/FLO-FOL