b. 11/06/1823 Dean Prior, Devon. d. 20/01/1887 Chorlton-on-Medlock, Lancashire.
John Prettyjohns (1823-1887) was born at Dean Prior, Buckfastleigh, near Ashburton, Devon on 11th June 1823, and was baptised at the local church of St George’s on 9th December 1827.
He worked as an agricultural labourer until the day prior to his 21st birthday, when he journeyed to Plymouth and enlisted for unlimited service in the Royal Marines; collecting his 2/6d for attestation and bounty of £3.17/6d when he took the oath the following day – his 21st birthday.
He was now a Private in the 59th Company, Plymouth Division – at which rank he would stay for over 7 years. He was based at Stonehouse Barracks until 22nd March 1845 when he embarked on HMS Melampus for the south-east coast of America, and later the East Indies. After 4 years at sea, he returned to Chatham Docks in Kent on 23rd August 1849. After 14 months back on dry land, he returned to sea on HMS Bellerophon on 7th November 1850, though it mostly stayed in home waters, until it sailed for the Mediterranean in January 1852, when he was promoted to Corporal.
On the outbreak of the Crimean conflict in 1854, the HMS Bellerophon was part of the Anglo-French fleet off the Russian port of Sebastopol. It took part in the first bombardment of Sebastopol on 17th October. Shortly afterwards, Lord Raglan requested a Royal Marines Battalion to relieve the Army units on the eastern heights overlooking Balaklava harbour against any flanking manoeuvre by the Russians. Around 1,200 Marines including Prettyjohns were selected under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hurdle.
On 5th November 1854 at the Battle of Inkerman, the Inkerman caves were full of sharpshooters who were picking off officers and gunners. The caves were ordered to be cleared and the Marines were selected for the task. A division under Sergeant Richards and Corporal Prettyjohns was tasked to do the job. Richards and Prettyjohns managed to clear the caves but the ammunition was almost spent, and the enemy began to creep back up the hillside to re-take the caves. In a report by Sergeant Turner, RM, the following then happened….
“Prettyjohns, a muscular West Countryman, said, ‘Well lads, we are just in for a warming, and it will be every man for himself in a few minutes. Look alive, my hearties, and collect all the stones handy, and pile them on the ridge in front of you. When I grip the front man you let go the biggest stones upon those fellows behind’.
As soon as the first man stood on the level, Prettyjohns gripped him and gave him a Westcountry buttock, threw him over upon the men following, and a shower of stones from the others knocked the leaders over. Away they went, tumbling one over the other, down the incline; we gave them a parting volley, and retired out of sight to load; they made off and left us, although there was sufficient to have eaten us up.”
Prettyjohns was awarded the VC for his actions (24th February 1857) and following Inkerman, he spent three months in the trenches and lines at Sebastopol. Upon returning the UK from the Crimea he was promoted to Sergeant in January 1856 and embarked on HMS Sanspareil on 12th March 1857 sailing for Hong Kong. Not long after its arrival, news was brought of the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny, and a detachment of Royal Marines and the 90th Regiment were transferred to HMS Shannon and sailed for Calcutta.
Prettyjohns then served at Fort William, Calcutta until joining HMS Assistance and returning to China and was involved in the Second China War. On 29th April 1857 he was promoted to Colour Sergeant, and on the 26th June that year his VC was sent to the Admiralty and despatched to China for presentation. On 28th and 29th December 1857 he was involved in the capture of Canton. He then served aboard HMS Tribune in Canada before he was discharged from service on 16th June 1865 after 21 years of service.
Prettyjohn returned to the UK and retired to the Greater Manchester area. He became a golf club steward at Whalley Range Bowling Club in Withington. He died on Thursday, 20th January 1887 at the age of 63 in Chorlton upon Medlock. He was buried on 26th January 1887 at the Southern Cemetery, Manchester. His wife Elizabeth and two daughters Bessie and Alice survived him.
LOCATION OF MEDAL:ROYAL MARINES MUSEUM, SOUTHSEA, HANTS.
BURIAL PLACE: SOUTHERN CEMETERY, MANCHESTER, LANCASHIRE. SECTION L, G. 642
Kevin Brazier – Image of the Prettyjohns VC Grave in Southern Cemetery, Manchester.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the Prettyjohns VC Medal Group in the Royal Marines Museum, Southsea.