51962, Pte John Thomas Dixon Steer, East Lancs Regt

I believe that the body was exhumed at the same time as George Motley who was re-buried 18 Jan 1928 was John Steer and not George Steer or John Stay. The newspaper report enables one to pinpoint the correct family. Although there is some confusion in whether it was John or George who was buried, it seems clear that it was John - the youngest of the 3 sons who joined up - Robert (b1894 ) Henry (b 14 Aug 1899) John Thomas Dixon (b1902) (the implication being that George and James who were younger than these 3, did not join up)

1901 census before his birth the family are at 46, James Street, Oswaldtwistle

1902 Jul/Sep Born Blackburn John Thomas Dixon Steer

1910 Dec 6. London Gazette shows his father went bankrupt. In July 1911 the London Gazette reports a first and final dividend of 2shillings and 4d in the pound.

1911 census at 46 James St Oswaldtwistle

1918 Nov The press report from the funeral says that he enlisted in East Lancs Regt around the date of the Armistice. He would have been only 16 if that is correct, rather than 19.

1919 Apr 7 Enlisted from Regimental Records which is the correct version.

1921 Apr 10. Steer was reported missing in Ireland together with George Motley. The Regimental records record him as being a "deserter". What is strange is that they were, I know from IRA reports, picked up within a mile of Headford Junction. Now there had been a major ambush at Headford Junction three weeks previously on 21 March 1921 in which 8 British soldiers, 2 IRA men and 3 civilians died at Headford Junction Station when their train was fired on by an IRA column. My personal view is that the men had rather stupidly gone to look at the ambush scene. I would very much doubt that the British would have used a couple of 18 year olds to spy for them, and there is no evidence that they were trying to desert. The regimental records are merely noting the fact that they left barracks and did not return, therefore they deserted.

The local Guarda Report by Sgt James Crehan who found the bodies in 1926, says that the information given to him indicated that the 2 men " either deserted or wandered away from their post in Killarney and came on to Barraduff where they were taken prisoner by a party of the Irish Forces. They were kept prisoner in several farmhouses around the townlands of Anablaha, Raheen, Maughantoorig, Gneeveguilla for a period of about 6 months and they were eventually shot and buried in Anablaha Bog.

Jeremiah Murphy in his memoir of Kerry 1902-1925 "When Youth was Mine" does say that several spies were apprehended in the spring and early summer of 1921 "Some of these pulled the old trick of pretending to be deserters. How they expected to get away with such a slim veneer baffles me. The authorities were desperate for information, or these fellows must have been overtly anxious to serve in that capacity. Either way it was suicide. Two of these strangers were seen riding on bicycle along the main road to Killarney. They were overtaken by Danny Reen and others from the Rathmore Company (IRA) and taken along for further investigation. They readily admitted being deserters. No charges could be held against them, but they were held and moved about from one company to another for some weeks afterwards. By this time they had become acquainted with a lot of places and people. The IRA reasoned that this might be their intended strategy. A little later they helped convict another spy and this only served to thicken the plot. They were you care-free, intelligent - typical middle class English. .... This sudden rush of deserters implied to the IRA that there was going to be a big anti-IRA operation coming up, and that the British were gathering intelligence in advance of it "Otherwise why should so many deserters show up in this part of the country?" Eventually information on a large scale round-up reached the local IRA Our two young English "Gentlemen deserters" who had been arrested about a month before were now shot as spies. They were buried in a lonely bog, but their remains were given to their relatives by the Free State authorities. A rather tragic end to a mission which must have appealed to them when they took it on. Well someone had to get information but it is too bad when someone gets caught at it. I think that this refers to Motley and Steer. In fact they were held for perhaps up to 6 months before being executed by an IRA group that included Humphrey Sullivan of Headford.

1921 May 3. Tans, Terror and Troubles, T Ryle Dwyer, tells that two British deserters confirmed to the IRA that Thomas O'Sullivan (Old Tom), an 80 year old tramp, was a frequent visitor to the police. Old Tom was tried and shot by the IRA as a spy, with little against him other than he had been known to talk to the police. He was shot on May 3rd 1921 on the bog road just outside Rathmore, and his body used as a trap to lure the police. 8 RIC men died in the IRA ambush when they came to check the body. "The two deserters were subsequently shot after they were handed over to the IRA in Cork" In fact they were shot in Kerry by local IRA men.

Gerald Murphy in The Year of the Disappearance says that over 100 soldiers appear in correspondence lists from British, but these lists were never made public, but are available in the archives. The Irish government appear to have established that only 5 were deserters. 26 of these soldiers were in Cork

1926 Jan 15. The local Guarda find the bodies of Steer and Motley in Anablaha bog on the basis of "information received" but for various reasons they were not recovered until early 1927, when it was returned to Yorkshire for burial. Nothing about the discovery of his body appears in Irish papers

1927 Apr 7. The body of a British soldier Private G. Steer (Sic), East Lancs Regiment killed during the Anglo-lrish War (1921) was transferred on board the S.S. Kenmare from Cork for burial at Accrington England. It was not possible to ascertain where the remains were exhumed. They were brought under a Guard of Honour of Free State soldiers to the quay side and handed over to a party of British military from Spike Island. Irish Independent 7th April 1927

The Anglo-Irish war was recalled in Cork last evening when the body of a British soldier who was shot in 1921 was transferred, on board the SS Kenmare, on the way to England for burial. It is not known where the remains were exhumed but it is believed to have been from bogs between counties Cork and Kerry. The body is that of George Steer (Sic) of the East Lancashire Regiment, a native of Accrington. A guard of honour of Irish Free State troops handed the remains over to a party of British military at the boat.- The Irish News 7 April 1927

The Manchester Guardian also had a short piece

1927 Apr 9. Accrington Observer reports the re-burial. His parents address was give as 12 Ernest St, Church (Church is a suburb of Accrington, about a mile from the city centre)

Buried at Immanuel Church, The Accrington Library have a transcript of the monumental inscriptions at Immanuel church, Oswaldtwistle. The Monumental Inscription on the Steer grave at Immanuel just lists these names (no dates etc): John Thomas Dixon Steer, John Thomas Steer (must be his father) , Margaret Steer (and this must be his mother), Elizabeth Wright. Another grave mentions Lily Steer, beloved wife of George and a dear mother and grandma 1912 - 1979. The burial register for Immanuel might give the correct name and age of the person buried in 1927. It is kept at the Lancashire Record Office in Preston, where staff may be willing to check the entry if you email them.


British Soldiers killed in Ireland