b. 08/02/1918 Manchester. d. 21/11/1941 Sidi Rezegh, Libya.
John Beeley (1918-1941) was born on 8th February 1918, 9 Pendle Street, Lower Openshaw, Manchester, Lancashire, the son of William Beeley, who served in the Lancashire Fusiliers during the First World War. John had a twin brother, Arthur, who served in the Royal Marines during the Second World War. Beeley attended Wheeler Street School, Openshaw. He worked as a stonemason before joining the Army. He was married to Elisabeth Davy, who served in the ATS. They lived in Openshaw. There were no children from the marriage.
On the outbreak of World War II, John enlisted in the 1st Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps and was posted to North Africa. On the 21st November 1941, his battalion was ordered to seize some high ground overlooking Sidi Rezegh airfield, Libya. This was an important objective of Operation Crusader and was to be the scene of fierce engagements over the next few days.
The attack was launched at 0830 hours on 21st November across 2,000 yards of open airfield. Very little artillery support was available at the time. As they approached the escarpment it became apparent that it was more strongly defended than expected and they were outnumbered by about three to one. Nevertheless, the battalion pressed on with its attack.
During the attack against a strong enemy position, the company to which Rifleman Beeley belonged was pinned down by heavy fire at point-blank range from the front and flank on the flat, open ground of the aerodrome.
All the officers but one of the company and many of the other ranks had been either killed or wounded. On his own initiative, and when there was no sort of cover, Rifleman Beeley got to his feet carrying a Bren gun and ran forward towards a strong enemy post containing an anti-tank gun. The post was silenced and Rifleman Beeley’s platoon was enabled to advance, but Rifleman Beeley fell dead across his gun, hit in at least four places.
Beeley was buried with full military honours in Knightsbridge War Cemetery, Acroma, Libya. His posthumous VC was presented to his widow, Elisabeth, by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on 20th October 1942. His medal is now in the keeping of the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester, Hampshire. For some years Tom Beeley a second cousin of the late John Beeley had been trying to get recognition for John in his home town of Manchester, where he was the first Mancunian to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the Second World War.
Eventually this came about when on 3rd August 2005 a plaque was unveiled in memory of John in the newly named “John Beeley Avenue” in Openshaw’s, High Leigh Estate.
LOCATION OF MEDAL:ROYAL GREEN JACKETS MUSEUM, WINCHESTER, HAMPSHIRE.
BURIAL PLACE: KNIGHTSBRIDGE CEMETERY, ACROMA, LIBYA.
PLOT X, ROW E, GRAVE 4
Mark Sanders – Beeley VC’s grave
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map
Thomas Stewart – Medal image from the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester.