b. 05/1817 Liverpool. d. 31/12/1891 Liverpool.
William Connolly (1817-1891) was born in May 1817 in Liverpool. Little is known of his early life in Liverpool, prior to enlisting in the armed services. He enlisted with the Bengal Horse Artillery (later Royal Artillery) and became a Gunner. He was posted to India, and spent most of his time in the Bengal Horse Artillery stationed there. By the time, he was 40, he became involved in the Indian Mutiny which broke out in Meerut.
On 7th July 1857, at Jhelum (now in Pakistan), Connolly was acting as second sponge man, a vital role in clearing away smouldering fragments from a recently fired gun to prevent premature explosions while it was being reloaded. The danger in this role was extreme: this type of artillery needed to be positioned close to the enemy to be effective. The firing procedure was also very risky and complicated. Connolly had assisted in two reloads of the gun, when a musket ball tore through his left thigh and knocked him down. Despite the loss of blood and pain, he resumed his post and refused treatment.
At 11 o’clock, the guns were still in action when Connolly was hit for a second time, this time a musket ball to the hip, which knocked him to the ground, and made him pass out for a short period of time. His commanding officer ordered that he should be removed from his post, but Connolly staggered to his feet and is quoted as saying “I’ll not go there, whilst I can work here”. He then returned to his post.
Later in the afternoon, the guns had been moved within 100 yards of the village, and Gunner Connolly, despite his two wounds, was still performing his duties as spongeman. Suddenly, a musket ball tore through his right leg, and Connolly again got to his feet, and aided in the reloading of the gun six times, before he finally collapsed from the loss of blood and pain of his three wounds. He was taken from the action unconscious.
Connolly recovered from his wounds, and was gazetted for the Victoria Cross on 3rd September 1858, and he received his medal in India in February 1859. Sadly, William’s later years were less glorious. When he left the Army, he returned to England and his native Liverpool. He fell into extreme poverty and was forced to beg for food. On 9th February 1886, Connolly was forced to sell his Victoria Cross at auction to help him survive. It was purchased for £10 by Mr Charles Winter, the new Head of the Medal Department at Spinks. Connolly died five years later at his home, 14 Westminster Road, Kirkdale, Liverpool on New Years Eve, 1891 aged 74. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in common ground at Kirkdale Cemetery. His grave remained unmarked until the 1990s, when a headstone was placed in the cemetery though not on the exact location. Connolly’s medal is now held by the British in India Museum, Nelson, Lancashire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: BRITISH IN INDIA MUSEUM, NELSON, LANCASHIRE.
BURIAL PLACE: KIRKDALE CEMETERY, LIVERPOOL. SECTION 17, GRAVE 220
Kevin Brazier – Image of Connolly VC’s grave and Cemetery Plan.