John William Ormsby VC MM

b. 10/01/1881 Dewsbury, Yorkshire. d. 20/07/1952 Dewsbury, Yorkshire.

John William Ormsby (1881-1952) was born at 14 Tunnacliffe Yard, Old Westgate, Dewsbury, Yorkshire on 11th January 1881. His father, William, was a peddler or licensed hawker. He later worked as a night watchman for the Dewsbury Corporation. His mother was Caroline nee Brook. William and Caroline had seventeen children in all, though tragically only three of them including John survived to adulthood.

John W Ormsby VC MM

John was educated at St Paulinus Catholic Primary School, Dewsbury, but when he enlisted he was almost illiterate. He was employed as a labourer until enlisting in the Northumberland Fusiliers on 16th October 1899 as John Willie Ormsby. He was posted to 2nd Battalion on 22nd December 1899 and 3rd Battalion on 12th February 1900. On 25th April 1900, he was sentenced to eight days detention with hard labour for absence. He was in trouble again in 1902, when he was sentenced to fourteen days detention with hard labour for conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. He served in the West Indies from 30th April 1902 and South Africa from 23rd July. He was posted to 1st Battalion in Mauritius on 12th December 1903 and served there until 8th February 1906 and then in India until 8th November 1907. He was discharged from the Reserve on 15th October 1911.

John married Catherine “Kate” nee Burns on 26th October 1908. She was a rag sorter for Mr Thomas Graham at Hoyle Head Mill, Dewsbury. They had four children between 1909 and 1917. Sadly, there two youngest children died as infants. John served a sentence of 7 days hard labour for assault in August 1909. When war broke out in August 1914, he immediately re-enlisted and went to France on 11th November 1914. He was awarded the Military Medal almost certainly for his actions during the Battle of the Somme during the summer of 1916.

On 14th April 1917 at Favet, France, during operations which culminated in the capture of an important position, Sergeant Ormsby, acting as company sergeant-major showed complete indifference to the heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and set a fine example. After clearing a village he pushed on and drove out many snipers from localities further forward. When the only surviving officer was wounded he took command of the company and led them forward under heavy fire for 400 yards to a new position, holding it until relieved.

The VC ribbon was presented to him by Major General AR Montagu-Stuart-Wortley, GOC 32nd Division, on 11th June 1917. The VC was then presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 30th June 1917. When he returned to Dewsbury a large crowd gathered in the Market Place before the Town Hall. The crowd was estimated at around 20,000. John was discharged on 16th April 1919 and was presented with a horse and cart and £500 to start a green-grocery business, but he used it as a general carrier and marine stores dealer. The business was not a success and he was later employed by Dewsbury Corporation Highways Department for thirty years.

John formed the “Ormsby Boxing Troupe”, training young boys to box and play rugby. One of his boxers, Paddy Lyons, a middleweight, was active from 1939 to 1945 and had 33 professional fights, winning a number of championships. He was also very active in the Keighley British Legion and the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Regimental Association. He served in the Home Guard or civil defence in the Second World War, as he was awarded the Defence Medal. He was presented to the future Queen, Princess Elizabeth, on 31st October 1951 in York as Colonel-in-Chief of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

John died at the home of his son at 28 Low Road, Dewsbury on 29th July 1952. A full military funeral was followed by burial in Dewsbury Cemetery. A headstone was erected in the 1980s organized by local resident Albert Mercer and paid for by the Regiment. The year of birth was shown incorrectly and this was corrected in 2008. In addition to the VC and MM, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, George V Jubilee Medal 1935 and George VI Coronation Medal 1937. The VC was presented to the Regiment by his son, John William Ormsby, but the other medals remain with the family. The VC is held by the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Museum, Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery.





Terry Hissey – Image of the Ormsby VC Medal Group at the KOYLI Museum, Doncaster.