Medals from the Museum - James Curran DCM
In our latest highlight we are exploring the story behind one of the fantastic medal groups in the Museum collection, those of Squadron Sergeant Major James Curran DCM. He was born into the 14th Hussars and followed his father into the Army, serving with two predecessors of The King’s Royal Hussars, and culminating in being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
James Curran was born on 12 March 1882 in Dublin. His father was Sergeant James Curran who reportedly served 18 years with the 14th Hussars. The young James was admitted the Royal Hibernian Military School (RHMS) in Phoenix Park, Dublin on 2 January 1891, aged 8 years and 9 months. The RHMS was originally founded in 1769 to educate the orphans and children of soldiers.
In both 1895 and 1896, having scored the highest marks in his class during examinations, he was awarded a first prize at the annual Crimean Banquet Fund prize-giving. Elsewhere it is reported that he passed courses in gunnery and signalling instruction.
In May 1897, now aged 15, he enlisted into the Royal Irish Fusiliers at Cork. Joining as a Boy, and with his trade as Musician, he was briefly appointed as a Drummer but chose to revert to Boy after just a few months.
He served with 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers and was stationed at Alexandria in Egypt in September 1899 when the Battalion was warned to embark for South Africa. The Battalion disembarked at Durban on 12 October 1899 as the Second Anglo-Boer War began.
By this time his older brother, William, was serving in the 14th Hussars and in December 1901 James was able to transfer into the regiment to join him. He remained with the 14th through the rest of the war and was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with 3 clasps: Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal and the King’s South Africa Medal with both clasps.
He steadily rose through the ranks, being promoted to Sergeant on 21 November 1911. But his career was not without the odd incident. Notably in January 1912, while the the Fourteenth were stationed at Mhow in India and just over a month after his promotion, he was severely reprimanded for ‘causing a disturbance in the Sergeant’s Mess’!
In late 1912 he returned to England from India and on 13 December 1912 he transferred into the 20th Hussars.
We know only a little of his experiences during the First World War but he is mentioned briefly in Major John Darling’s regimental history, ‘20th Hussars in the Great War’, which mentions a daylight trench raid while the regiment was in the trenches east of Zillebeke in February 1915:
‘The trenches were really breastworks, and were in a wood east of Zillebeke. The German trenches were from forty to a hundred yards away. The intervening space was covered with a mass of fallen trees, and would have been very difficult to attack over. Being in a wood, neither side could shell the front line of the other, consequently the sector was of necessity a quiet one….
‘We tried to liven things up with a little sniping, but did not often get a target. One morning, in broad daylight, Sergeants Gray and Curran of “B” Squadron, did a raid on their own, got behind the German lines, and shot a Boche. “Paddy” Curran then began to “see red” so Ned Gray got him back to our lines as best he could. The Boche retaliated with a bit of sniping, but inflicted no casualties.’
On 15 May 1915, he was wounded in the left shoulder and admitted to No.11 General Hospital at Boulogne before returning to England for convalescence. From his records, it appears he spent time at a Cambridge hospital. While in England he was posted to The 13th Reserve Cavalry Regiment until ready to return overseas.
Once fit, he returned overseas in September 1916 and re-joined the 20th Hussars in the field. After some time as an Acting Squadron Sergeant Major on 29 May 1918 he was promoted to Warrant Officer Class II and appointed a Squadron Sergeant Major.
He was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in recognition of his service throughout the war, the award being promulgated in the London Gazette Supplement of 3 June 1919. His was just one of ten awarded to the 20th Hussars for the First World War.
His citation reads:
‘For continuous good service throughout the whole campaign. He has shown marked gallantry in action at all times, especially in October 1918 near Montbrehain, when he was sent out with a patrol to clear up an obscure situation. Despite severe shell fire he made his way through the village, and the information gained by him was of the greatest importance’ [Edinburgh Gazette, 15 March 1920]
James Curran was discharged on 3 July 1919 having completed 22 years service. Just three years later his former regiment, the 14th Hussars, would amalgamate with the 20th Hussars would amalgamate to form The 14th/20th Hussars.
The Museum holds not only his medals, but the fantastic archives and photographs shown which help build a picture of his life. We hope you have enjoyed this brief overview of one of our Hussars and if you have any more information on Sergeant James Curran please get in touch!