British warrior who helped form the Irish Free State Army

Henry Kelly was a highly decorated British soldier who returned to his ancestral homeland of Ireland to help train the Irish Army during the Irish Civil War 1922-1923.

Henry Kelly was born the first of ten children to Charles and Jane Kelly (née McGarry) in Collyhurst, Manchester. Her father Charles, originally from Dublin, died in 1904, leaving Jane with ten children to raise on her own.

Kelly was educated at St. Patrick’s School and Xaverian College in Manchester. After completing his studies, he moved to Morton and worked as a postman before enlisting on September 5, 1915 at the age of 27, the very day the Battle of the Marne began, sixty kilometers northeast of Paris.

Kelly then received the Victoria cross, the highest and most prestigious bravery award that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, for an act of bravery in the Sars during the Battle of the Somme on October 4, 1916.

The quote from his Victoria Cross reads: “For outstanding bravery in an attack.” wounded and enemy reinforcements had arrived. He then brought his company sergeant-major, who had been wounded, back to our trenches, at a distance of 70 meters, and then three other soldiers. He set a fine example of bravery and endurance.

Kelly then received a Military Cross for his actions in Italy in June 1918 where he commanded a raid team from his company and two platoons from another, killing up to eighty enemies, taking thirty-one prisoners, a flamethrowers and two machine guns for the loss of one killed, eighteen wounded and three missing. He was promoted to captain in September 1918.

Kelly received a bar of his military cross for his actions at Casa Polesi on the north bank of the Piave River on October 27, 1918. There he took the Austrian positions, capturing numerous machine guns and 700 prisoners.

In 1922, Kelly traveled to his ancestral homeland to help train the new Irish Free State Army, as Major to Chief of Staff Eoin O’Duffy. During Kelly’s stay in Ireland, he studied at National University of Dublin and qualified as a Chartered Surveyor.

Kelly returned to England in 1925 and returned to the postal service and opened a few grocery stores with one of her brothers. He joined the Catholic Association, the Knights of St. Columba, and became Grand Knight of Council 105 between 1925 and 1927.

In September 1926, Kelly married Eileen Guerin, originally from Co Kerry, Manchester. Together they had two children – Eileen born in 1928 and Henry born in 1931.

In 1936, Kelly volunteered to join the International Brigades, confronting General Franco’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War as Commanding General. He was awarded the Grand Cross Laurier of San Fernando in 1937.

At the start of World War II, Kelly re-enlisted in the British Army at the age of fifty-two, serving as a lieutenant in the Cheshire Regiment. In 1944 he was court martialed and forced to resign for misrepresenting £ 2.10 travel expenses, which is astonishing given his military record.

Kelly moved to Wales with his family after his court martial, employed as an auctioneer and estate agent before moving to Manchester where he worked for the post office.

On January 18, 1960, Henry Kelly died after a long illness at Prestwich Hospital. He was buried in Southern Cemetery, Manchester, with his wife and sister.

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