Martin Cunningham

Date of birth: 1st June 1899
Place of birth: Southampton
Service No.: 4723
Rank: Private
Regiment: Hampshire
Battalion: 1st 4th (TF) Battalion
Died: 6th June 1916 aged 17 years
Death location: Mesopotamia


Before the War
Martin was the third of 10 children born to John (1875 – 21/03/1937) and Alice (nee Allen 1876 – 17/04/1943).  His parents were married in Southampton in 1895.  John passed away following a stroke, aged 64 years.  Alice was living at 9 Orchard Lane when she died, aged 67 years, as a result of falling down the stairs during a WW2 alert.

Martin’s siblings were:

Norah (27/05/1896 – 1985).  Married Charles Albert Wyeth (1894 – 1970), in Southampton in 1916.

John (1897 – 24th April 1917).  John served in the 13th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, London Regiment.  He was killed in action in France on 24th April 1917, aged 20 years.  Please select John’s name to read his story.

Charles Frederick (1904).  Married Louisa Philippa Thorne (1/06/1905 – 1994) in Southampton in 1928.

Patrick Edward ( 15th  December 1906 – 15/06/1948).  Married Francis May Blake in Southampton on 16th July 1929.

Alice Ellen (08/06/1908 – 1992).  Married Walter M Coppin (1905 – 1943) in Southampton in 1928.  Alice remarried in Southampton in 1943 to John Kilty.

George Peter (1910 – 1933).

Ellen B (1914).   Ellen married Skelton Greenwood (11/08/1903) in Southampton in 1936.  The 1939 to 1940 Southampton Street Directory shows that they were living at 44 Millbrook Road, Southampton.  There are electoral records that show that from 1948 to 1962 they were living in Shipley, West Yorkshire.  Their son Terence was born in Southampton in 1938.

Daniel Michael (1916-1928).

Douglas Albert (16/05/1918 – 1979).  Married Ivy Lawler (nee Roberts) in Southampton in 1951.

The 1901 census shows that the Martin lived at 6 Regents Court, Southampton with his parents, sister Norah and brother John.  Martin’s father was a dock labourer.  Also at the address was a boarder, William Sawyer, who was employed as a bricklayers labourer.  The Southampton Street directory for 1907 shows that the family were still living at the Regents Court address.

By the time the 1911 census was taken the family had moved to 2 Horsemans Buildings, Southampton.  Martin’s father was in the same employment and Norah was a laundry maid.


Military History
The 1/4th Battalion was a battalion of the Territorial Force and in August 1914 was based at Winchester as part of the Hampshire Brigade, Wessex Division.  Just before the war broke out the Division was gathered on Salisbury Plain for their annual summer camp.  On 3rd August the troops were moved to take up defensive positions at ports.

The division was moved back to Salisbury Plain on 10th August to prepare for service overseas.  From here they later marched to Winchester and then to Southampton.  Martin is remembered marching through Southampton in his uniform, which was about two sizes too big.

The 1/4th Battalion sailed from Southampton to India on 9th October 1914, landing at Karachi on 11th November.  Here they were attached to the 4th Rawalpindi Brigade, 2nd Division.  The battalion was sent to Basra to protect the Anglo-Persian oil pipeline which had supplied most of the Royal Navy’s fuel.

In March 1915 the 1st/4th Battalion was sent to Mesopotamia, landing at Basra on 18th March joining the 33rd Indian Brigade and remained there for the rest of the war.  On 29th April 1916 the Battalion Headquarters and one Company were captured at Kut-el-Amara, but it cannot be proven that he was involved in this.

Martin was only 15 years old when he left for India and died of enteric fever on 6th June 1916, aged 17 years.  When families realised that their under age sons had enlisted, they had to prove their sons’ birth dates to enable them to be returned home.

Conditions in Mesopotamia were awful as there were extremes of  temperature, which could rise above 120 degrees, and flooding.  The diseases from flies and mosquitoes, and problems with bad water, rapidly spread and contributed to the high casualties.

The entry in the National Roll of the Great War reads:
‘He volunteered in March 1915, and was quickly sent to Mesopotamia, where he played an important part in the campaign against the Turks.  He was taken seriously ill whilst in the East, and died on June 6th, 1916.  He was entitled to the 1914-1915 Star, and the General Service and Victory Medals.
2, Colston’s Court, Southampton’

Martin was Buried at Basra War Cemetery, grave reference V. S. 9.  The cemetery is located North West of Basra and contains 2551 burials from the First World War.   In 1935 the headstones were removed because salts in the soil were causing them to deteriorate, and the names are now recorded on a screen wall.

Sadly in recent years the cemetery has been badly vandalised.  After the British troops withdrawal from the city in 2007 it was too dangerous for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to send anyone to repair the damage.

However a Roll of Honour, which lists the all those either buried or commemorated in Iraq, is on display for the public to view, at the Commission’s Headquarters in Maidenhead.

Martin’s grave inscription read:

‘4723 Private M Cunningham

Hampshire Regiment

6th June 1916 Age 17

Lord unto Thy Hands

I commend my Spirit’

With very grateful thanks to Pat Jardine, a fellow researcher and Great Neice of Martin, for her invaluable information.


Researcher: Jackie Chandler
Published: 25th October 2015
Updated: Insert dates here

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