Black Country Muse

Subtitle

John C Reynolds. A Man of Mystery.

 

From a simple request for help, sometimes come a few unexpected twists and turns. This is one of those times, when you suddenly realise, you are not just researching one man, not two, but maybe three, the story of each, intermingled with the other through a mistake, and some truely appalling assumptions, that they are all the same man. From Blackheath, Liverpool, Shropshire and Ireland, all connected to the name Reynolds, and a Medal Index Card that could belong to any of them. What also came to light, is the fact that sometime in the distant past, two of the mens families came from the same place, around Church Stretton, in Shropshire, to be precise, and a bit of research will reveal that they were blood related. Coincidences in life are fairly common, and there are quite a few in this story, but there comes a point, when the true story of each man becomes apparent. To seperate it all out, for there are a lot of families with the same surname, the story will have to begin with the early years of two men, and I will start with a man who was born in Biddulph, Staffordshire, in 1894, John Simpson Reynolds.

 

John Simpson Reynold's father, also John, was born in Weston-under-Lizard, in 1870. Not seeing much future in agriculture, he joined the Staffordshire County Police Force sometime prior to 1891, for by that date, he was a Constable, stationed in Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent. Around this time, he married Emma Simpson, for their first two children, Samuel Thomas, and Thomas, ( twin, died ) were born in 1892. As with all policemen, John moved on, this time to Biddulph, Staffordshire, where John Simpson, 1894, and Edward,1895 his brother were born. Sometime after 1901, John was promoted to Sergeant, and moved to Tettenhall, just outside Wolverhampton, where he was to spend the rest of his career. As is the way of these things, one of his sons followed his father into the Police force, this being John, but his brothers both changed direction, one became a Teacher. We next come across John Simpson Reynolds, as a Constable in the Birmingham City Police. In the Army enlistment records for 1915, he is now married, and living at No 9, Norfolk Buildings, Water Works Road, Edgbaston. A brief word about the system in use at the time, will explain what happened next. On the day he enlisted he was put into the Army reserve with the number P8331, and listed in a Military Mounted Police unit. This reserve system allowed the man to carry out his normal job, while under training for when he was required to be posted, so, on the 10th December,1915, he went into reserve until 13th May,1917. According to the records, he had four children, Muriel born in Wolverhampton in1914, ( prior to his transfer from the Stafford Police ) Margaret, born in Kings Norton, in 1916, Joyce, born in the same place in 1917, and Sybil, born in Wolverhampton, in June 1921. These births reflect the places that John served as a policeman, except for the last one, which may be part of another picture. On the 14th May,1917, John Simpson Reynolds was posted to Belgium and France as part of the Army's Military Foot Police, and returned to England on 18th September,1917. By now he was a Lance Corporal, and his short service terms expired on the 1st May,1918, so under normal circumstances, he would have been sent into the Class R reserves, but he may have accepted an offer, that was hard to refuse, the chance of a Commission, that would raise him to 2nd Lieutenant, and a job in the training reserve, with the 3rd Training Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, at Forest Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The reason he is in the story at all, is that the  John C Reynolds, who appears in some Irish records, gave his middle name as Shaw, and then Sean, at a subsequent trial of Cattle fraud, as pointed out by the contributor of the piece. It's also been included, as an example of how easy it can be, to jump to the wrong conclusion, that a change of a middle intial in a name can produce. 

 

This next piece of the puzzle, will be the same for each of the two men, or for that matter of a third man. So, If this is the same man, who took an active part on both sides of the conflict in Ireland, then his promotion was confirmed on the Army list of the18th November,1918, and his rank was increased to acting temporary Captain on 18th September 1919, when he was stationed at the Sniggery Army Camp, Hightown, near Liverpool. This area of the country, had, and still does, very strong connections with Ireland, and over several years, trouble flared. Property damage and arson were the stock in trade for those who wished to support, and publicise the cause for Irish independance. The need for Army Reserve training, with the war over, was fast disappearing, and John C Reynolds time in the Army was rapidly running out, speeded up no doubt, by the lack of confirmation on his role as acting Captain, to full Captain. There are no records on the date he was finally discharged, or indeed resigned the post, but one interesting fact did emerge. In March, 1920, someone using the name of John C Reynolds, married one Jane Winifred Appleton, at West Darby, near Liverpool. She was pregnant when they married, and a son, Thomas William Reynolds, was born in February,1921. He had also, in September, 1920, joined the Auxiliary Division, Royal Irish Constabulary, as a Temporary Cadet, ( ADRIC ) with the number 584, and listed on the RICs roll as number 73542. I should point out here, that at no stage during the next 30 years, is there any mention, that his middle initial stood for Charles. Nor is there any further mention, until 1939, of the fate of his wife, who sued him for divorce in London. ( Decree absolute, June 24th,1940.) Indeed, there are times, when apparently the same man is named as John L Reynolds, David Reynolds, Commandant Reynolds, Section Leader Reynolds, Major Reynolds, Colonel Reynolds, and during the phase when he is said to have sold information to Michael Collins, just plain " Reynolds ". During his appearance at a trial, in the 1920s, he stated that his name was John Shaw Reynolds, and that he came from Birmingham, which was also later reported as John Sean Reynolds. And as the records show, if this is the same John S Reynolds, he was still married to the former Bertha Lockett, who would have been in happy ignorance of this, back in Wolverhampton. Very unlikely, and from this point, John Simpson Reynolds is ruled out of the equation. The next part of this story begins with a Government appeal, for at the end of the War, the situation in Ireland, had conciderably worsened.

 

The Royal Irish Constabulary, which had suffered badly during the early armed struggle for Irish Independence, now desperately needed shoring up. The influx of more troops would have made the situation far worse, so the Government, already having to deal with the worsening employment problem, proposed to enlist ex-Army Officers, of proven ability, to serve in what became known as the Auxiliary Division, Royal Irish Constabulary ( ADRIC ). The idea was that the Division would act as the intelligence branch, and supply information on those plotting or acting against the state. This auxiliary force, unlike the prevous one, was recruited solely from men of experienced ex-Army Officer rank, and they were all given the title " Temporary Cadets ". The higher Officer Command structure, came from senior government appointed Army Officers, who received their orders from Whitehall. Recruiting started in 1920, and included a 2nd Lt John C Reynolds, again, with the rank of Temporary Cadet. From the start, it quickly became apparent, that things were going wrong. Senior Officers failed to enforce any discipline in some companies, not surprising really, for they were not in any army, nor were there any laid down rules and regulations. Alongside this Division, and also recruited, but the year before, were over 9,500 ex-soldiers, to act as the muscle of the RIC, and these men were given the title of Temporary Constables. 2,500 of these were eventually sent to Palestine, where they did sterling service, and although 7,000 were planned to be deployed in Ireland, only about a half were actually used. Due to shortages of a suitable uniform, they wore a mismatch of trousers and jackets, and thus was born a name, which would be forever associated with unspeakable horrors, " The Black and Tans ". In truth, there were some men within the two organisations who displayed an appalling lack of any discipline, (about 10% according to some figures) murders and assassinations were fairly common, as the struggle for Irish Independence continued. Acts, which should be noted, that spilled over into the Civil War that followed, resulting in " death squads ", such as the notorious " Cairo Gang ", attributed to Michael Collins. From the start, this John C Reynolds was in the thick of it, although there's no evidence, that he ever condoned, or took part in the brutality that followed, he never seems to have raised any objection either. The name that appears in some Irish records, shows a different middle initial, no initial, or simply the rank, such as Commandant Reynolds. There is a marriage, in 1920,of a John C Reynolds, in Wallasey, Liverpool, and the same name is listed, as a section leader, F. Company, ADRIC, No. 594, and this appears in the Royal Irish Constabulary records. Most of the recruits were warned to take great care to hide where they came from, as the IRA had sent out an order to find out and note this information. Reprisals were already being planned. What again is a further indication that things were not as they seemed, was his appearance in a court during the truce that was called, in 1921. He is reported as stating, that his name was John Shaw Reynolds, and this was later reported as John Sean Reynolds, but this may be down to poor reporting. In any case, he was at the time, under arrest, and facing charges of Treason, after a Machine Gun went missing. He was thought to have connived in it's disappearence. Now why would he do that I wonder? either he is John C Reynolds, an English man from Wallasey in Cheshire, or some other Reynolds, which would explain why he would change his initial several times afterwards?. This John C Reynolds had nothing to hide at this stage, apart from the fact that he appears to have committed treason and supplied, or as stated elsewhere, " sold " information to the IRA.  The only information regarding this, appears to be the use of the name " Reynolds " several times, but no first name or initials. The claim for another man, who seems to fit the bill, is not only unconvincing, and in parts, a bit mis-guided, so lets have a look at the second contender in the saga.

 

John Charles Reynolds, born on 19th March, 1899, was the third, and youngest son of Thomas Benjamin Reynolds, who was born in 1857, in Ogley Hay, a little hamlet near Hammerwich in Staffordshire. He was a long serving Police Officer, who lived in Hawes Lane Rowley Village, although he was actually stationed in nearby Blackheath. In the small, but comfortable Radnor Cottage, were his mother Mary, and his siblings, James aged 13, Charlotte aged 10, and Thomas, aged 7. A few years later, in 1903, his father retired honorably from the force, and took on the tenacy of a public house, The Royal Exchange, in High Street, Blackheath. It was from here, that in September 1914, the young John set off a train of events that would have seemed, on the face of it, to change his life forever, if it was actually true, he enlisted in the Army. His two brothers had not followed their father footsteps, but had both found work on the railways, James as a Shunter, and Thomas as a Porter, although with different companies. John Charles Reynolds, apparently not as bright or as healthy as his siblings, ( a fact born out in the Army Records ) found work as a lift attendant at a hotel in Birmingham, and had added 3 years to his age when he took the short journey to the Suffolk Street recruiting office, and joined up.  He was posted, on 4th October to the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment, with the number 12525. It didn't take the Doctors long, at the Reading camp, to declare that he was totally unsuited to becoming a member of His Majestys Armed Forces. On the 19th, October,1914, just 15 days after arriving at the camp, he was discharged under KR.392 (iii)(c), as medically unfit for active service, and would never, in a month of Sundays, ever make an efficient soldier. There is no hint, in the regulation cited for his dismissal, other than the reasons stated, that they had discovered his age, it was just that they had, at this early stage of the War, more than enough fit and able men to cope, and rejected all those with any disabilities.  John possibly went home disappointed, and then went back to his job of pushing buttons on the only driving job he would ever do, up and down a lift shaft. The next year, it is claimed, he went back to the recruiting office, and re-enlisted in the Royal Engineers. This would imply, that as his stated entry into France was May,1915, he would have needed to re-enlist around Christmas, 1914, to allow for his training period.  Even after the Army's losses, in Belgium and France, it's a huge and unbelievable stretch of anyones imagination, to think he had suddenly gone from a phsyical wreak, to prime army stock, in just four months. I will quote from a document I have been supplied with, " John later rejoined the Army as a driver, Royal Engineers ". There is, absolutely no proof or any single piece of evidence whatsoever, that the John C Reynolds, listed in the Army's Medal Roll, as Driver, 74255, Royal Engineers, is John Charles Reynolds, as claimed. The story which has appeared since, and has also has been related to the Royal Irish Constabulary Archivist, is, without any proper records, entirely fictional, made up to match the real John C Reynolds sparse military records, and a subsequent, if slightly notorious, career based in Ireland, simply because the name and initial were the same. Whoever did the genealogical research on this, may have reverted to a bit of guesswork, and at times, pure invention. There is also no basis at all, for another tale, that puts him in the dreaded " Black and Tans" either, for entry was based on war service, and John Charles Reynolds had non, not even a Victory Medal to back up the claim. Now I don't know what the claimed John Charles Reynolds was occupied at from the time he was totally rejected by the Army in 1914, until his name appears in a marriage recorded in 1941, but what I do know is, that it wasn't him that joined ADRIC, ( Officer Rank only ) or the Black and Tans, ( Ex-serving soldiers ) or the Irish Free State Army, nor applied to join the Garda,in 1933. Nor is it likely that he is the one who married in Liverpool in 1920, or the same man who was divorced in 1940. It's very easy to alter copies of documents, I know, for I was shown just how easy it is by a friend, who scanned my own marriage Certicate yesterday, and altered it to say my occupation in 196?, was Rear Admiral of the Fleet, Portsmouth. The lengths some people will go, to try and establish facts that don't exist, has always been around it seems, and many reading this will already have come across a few of their own. It's really easy as well, to cover up the lack of any missing paperwork, they could for instance have been "lost", "burnt", or "destroyed by accident", in fact anything that suits the author, no matter who they are, including of course, myself. What for instance, has happened to the three Medals, the real John C Reynolds received in 1920, surely, as he is claimed to have died in December,1972, Registered in West Bromwich, they should still be in the family, or perhaps they have also been " lost " as well. There are thousands of piece's of mis-leading bits of information on ancestry site's, and the searcher should be aware, for these will lead you, and others, down a wrong and fruitless path. Check the facts first, before you publish anything on your own site or family tree. The key to this puzzle lies in Liverpool, and Ireland, not in Blackheath, for the marriage of John C Reynolds, in 1920, reveals his address and his occupation at the time, and his middle name is most certainly not Charles.

 

" All falsehood is a mask; and however well made the mask may be, with a little attention we may always succeed in distinguishing it from the true face. "

Alexandre Dumas. ( from The Three Musketeers.) 

 

What sometimes comes as a surprise, but really shouldn't, is the lack of a bit of extensive research, and the application of a bit of sound common sense. Everyone who has read the story, has believed, up until now, that the man being discribed as a relative, John Charles Reynolds, is the correct one because thats the only Army record that the family could find. No one has taken the trouble to look at the man who  Jane Winifred Appleton did in fact marry, and if they did, may have realised that some Documents may have been added to, and may be a key, to the whole puzzle that forms the mystery of John C Reynolds. His real name is almost certainly John Cairns Reynolds, who was born in Liverpool in 1895. His father, Samuel Reynolds, was born in Renfrewshire, Scotland. Bear in mind, if you have read, or intend to read the RIC records, for what he eventually did in Ireland, he had to have some Irish roots and sympathies. And so he did, His mother, Margaret Fleming Reynolds, was born in Dungiven, County Londonderry, in 1858. making him at least, half Irish. His father was an important man in the social circles of Liverpool, for he was the managing clerk of a large shipping company. John Cairns Reynold, a clever lad like his father, began life as a Marine Engineering Apprentice sometime around 1909, which is where we come across him in 1911. Under the terms of which, he would not be released until he was 21, which would be in 1916, but the war intervened, and he possibly enlisted in 1915. He was sent to France the same year, for on his record card, he was awarded the 1915 Star. He had joined a unit that matched his abilities and education, The Royal Engineers, as a Driver, No 74255. That he had a better education than most, is apparent from the family, his elder sister was a Confectioner,( own shop ) and the younger one a School teacher. We are not looking at a typical working class family here, this is diffinately middle class. What he was engaged in during the war, can only be guessed at, for the Engineers had many tasks, from maintaining the dockyard equipment, to building the many miles of narrow gauge tracks for the supply of stores that the Army relied on. With his Engineering training, he would have impressed his commanding officers, and in 1918, he appears to have been sent for Officer training at Forest Hall Camp, Newcastle, which is where the Tyne garrison was based. His promotion to 2nd Lt was confirmed on 18th November,1918, and he was transferred to the Sniggery Reserve Training Camp at Hightown, Liverpool. There is a mention in the details I have seen, of an Officer Cadet Training Unit, and it so happens, that is exactly what was present at Forest Hall, Newcastle-on-Tyne, up to at least the mid 1920s. It was here, on his home ground, that he was later listed as 2nd Lt John C Reynolds, with the 3rd Training Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, 27th November,1919. Less than a year later, while acting temporary Captain at Sniggery, and in charge of the Brigades fitness programme, he married Jane Winifred Appleton, ( March 1920 ) a local girl from Wallasey, where he was living with his parents at No 3, Buchanan Road, Seacombe, Wallesey. She was pregnant, and the marriage was reported to have got off to a bad start, not made any better when the child, Thomas William Reynolds was born in February,1921. Maybe seeking some relief from the pressure, and with the War over, he resigned his position, and joined up for a jolly jape in Ireland, in September,1920. He enlisted with the Auxiliary Division Royal Irish Constabulary, ( pay about £3.50p a week ) and with seemingly alleged strong sympathies with the fighters for Independence, he was soon,( again alleged ), selling information to the other side. He became a section leader, then a Platoon commander, then a Major. ( These were police ranks at the time in Ireland, not Army ) Then in 1921, a machine gun went missing, while he was in charge of the guard, and he was arrested and put in prison. ( given what had been allegedly reported above) He was then charged with Treason, reduced back to a temporary cadet, and on 23rd January, 1922, dismissed from the service. For some reason, and it couldn't have been just because the ADRIC was disbanded in 1922, he escaped prosecution, and possibly hanging, from the treason charge.There is of course another perfectly valid reason, he did not do what he was suspected of, and another man from the Black and Tans organised the theft. It's at this point, that one begins to suspect that the thief may have been another man with the same name, John Reynolds. ( without the C ) It hadn't for instance, taken this other Reynolds long to be trusted by the IRA, and that the information he sold was genuine, for the man was serving with the Black and Tans.( He would have known of John C Reynolds, they were srving in the same area. ) Why, may have had a great deal to do with his Irish roots and relatives. Then he went missing for a while, claiming he had started a film business, which may be another coincidence, for the Free Stater's had set up a propaganda film unit. He then joined the military again, on the other side this time, and become, largely because of his military background, a Colonel in the Free State Army, in late1922. He appears to have continued to be involved in making propaganda films for the Free State army during the Civil War. Reported to be badly wounded in the battle for Limerick, he nevertheless appeared in another scuffle a few weeks later. He finally appears to have left the Irish Army in 1933, and made an application to join the new Irish Police Service, " The Garda ", and then disappears from the records again. In 1939, his wife, who has barely been mentioned in all this adventure, sues for a divorce, lodging the papers in London. She gets the Absolute Decree in 1940. He disappears again from most records, but from his exploits in Ireland, it's hard to imagine him coming back to England to live. He was a local hero in Ireland, in 1927 for instance, he was accorded the honour of taking command of the Saint Patricks Day parade in Dublin. If he was a double agent, working for the British Government, his role up to and beyond 1939 would have been very valuable. Ireland, being neutral, was vital to the British for the Naval facilities to protect the western sea routes, and any information that these were under threat would have been vital. Indeed, in some recently released papers, the idea of actually invading Ireland, was being concidered. I now believe I know what happened to John C Reynolds, and I do know that he isn't the man who died in West Bromwich in 1972, penniless or otherwise. John Cairns Reynolds returned to Liverpool in 1922, soon after his dismissal from the ADRIC service. He must have been totally disillusioned and traumatised by the experience. It would have taken any man a good few years to recover from what he had seen and been through, in two short years. I also now know, that John Cairns Reynolds, who was born in 1895, died at his home in Wallasey, in 1967. That still leaves of course an unanswered question, who was the Reynolds who appeared when the Irish Civil War started.

 

Once again, it wasn't John Charles Reynolds, the physical mis-fit from Blackheath, Staffordshire. Neither was it the other name that has recently been raised, John Reynolds, another relative of one claiment. For he was born in Halesowen, Worcestershire, in December 1901, and wouldn't have been old enough for conscription for any first world war service, or entry into the Black and Tans. He died in 1964. Another name for the " Reynolds " of the story has recently come up, and if true, would throw some light on the genealogy mess, someone has made. This John Reynolds was born in 1899, called up for service on 18th May,1918. He was posted to the Army Service Corps, given the rank of driver, and sent to Isleworth, Surrey, for basic training. He passed the test, and was posted back to his unit, and then sent to France just after the war ended. He seems to have had a slight problem holding his drink, for he is charged with drunkness, and even worse, threatening an NCO. For this he gets 90 days PO2, and 30 days for the threat, remitted later by the Commanding Officer. Back in England, his conduct becomes even more alarming, and late in 1919, he is arrested for the theft of a large quantity of Army Blankets, and several Lorry Sheets, all the property of the public. This time he gets 6 months HL, ( Hard Labour ) and now comes a connection with Staffordshire, his place of detention, the Barracks at Stafford. You may be wondering what link he has with Ireland, well thats easy, he was born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, and was signed on in Belfast, army number SN/399444, and he was dismissed the service in disgrace, on 26 July, 1920, just the right time to join the men of the Black and Tans, or even the IRA, given that he now held a grudge against the British Army. This then, may well be the Reynolds refered to in the records, as the supplier of information to the IRA, and for which, given his previous form, he would have been well paid for. It's no wonder then, when a few years later, he was asked to account for the almost two years he had missing on his records, he said he had been in the Film business. If he is the John C Reynolds of the ADRIC, and they had found out he was a double agent, information supplied or not, Michael Collins would have had him shot. Now if anyone wants to research further, please feel free, all the above information will be found listed in the many records now availiable. There is a whole lot more out there, and if any member of any Reynolds family recognises a family member, and wishes to add something, please get in touch.

 

Now I am not claiming to have solved this little riddle, I have no other motive than curiousity in the subject, and illustrating the difficulty that can be encountered with old family stories. Many old soldiers have, shall we say, embellished their war records to some extent, one even going so far as to assume the identity of a well decorated man, with the same name, and who both served in the same Regiment. There are many other John Charles Reynolds in the records, the John Charles Reynolds who died on active service in Egypt in 1917, the John Charles Reynolds who was killed in action in France in1915, the John Charles Reynolds, who was killed when the converted liner HMS Laurentic was torpedoed off the Irish coast in 1940, and the John Charles Reynolds who was killed in HMLCS (L258 ) in a naval action, November,1944. There are three others with the name John C Reynolds to whom the medal records could be applied, pity someone didn't take the time, to add a disclaimer, regarding the doubt of a positive indentification. There is however, only one John Cairns Reynolds, and the only one I have found who matches the recorded Army records. I am grateful for the assistance so far received, and if more comes to light, I will gladly pass it on.