John Carlon Markes
6th November 1879 – 19th July 1916. Leinster Regiment, Lancashire Fusiliers.
“His charming personality endeared him to all, but in addition to this he was one of those men who, actuated by the highest ideals himself, exercised the best influence on all with whom he came into contact.” – General Lionel Stopford
John Carlon Markes was an Army Major and former Manchester FC player who was killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Born in London in 1879, Markes seemed destined for the army, and was trained at Sandhurst before joining the Lancashire Fusiliers for active service in South Africa. Along the way, he developed into a fine rugby player, captaining his school side (Stratford-on-Avon) and representing Surrey whilst at Sandhurst.
Markes lost his brother in the Boer War to enteric fever, and buried him himself. In 1905 Markes, now transferred to the 5th Battalion, was stationed in Tipperary, Ireland, where he stayed for three years, and where he met his wife Philomena. There, he also got into horse racing.
Later, Markes was transferred to the 2nd Leinster Regiment, and it was with them he went to war, first seeing action at the Aisne in September 1914. Major Markes was killed during the Battle of the Somme, during the Delville Wood campaign. On the 19th July, whilst attempting to join his men on captured ground, he was pierced from behind and through the chest by a splinter of shrapnel. He died instantly – “a doctor was on the spot, but medical aid was useless,” wrote his comrade and former Surrey rugby teammate V.C. Neild. “He just sank back, not making a sound of any kind.”
“He was carried back the same evening, and buried in a small soldiers’ cemetery at the back of our lines,” wrote Neild. What Neild did not mention was that he, “at great personal risk,” had salvaged Markes’ body from the advanced position so that he could receive a proper burial.
Brigadier-General Sillen wrote to Philomena that “[Markes] was the embodiment of loyalty and honesty and straightness, and I always thought that you and he together were the embodiment of happiness.”
At St. Michael’s Church in Tipperary, Ireland, there exists a stained glass window in the side Chapel of Adoration that honours Markes’ memory. It was here, almost exactly ten years prior to his end in France, that Markes was married to Philomena Ryan. The Lancashire Fusiliers were in attendance, and the regiment band played out the newlyweds to the sound of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. Afterwards, the 150 guests retired to a great garden party.
He and Philomena had four children.
On Instagram, his great-granddaughter wrote that “20 years ago a French farmer discovered [Markes’] prayer book whilst ploughing his land…it was the prayer book Carlon carried with him into battle and inside read a loving inscription from his wife, Philomena.”
Markes is buried at Carnoy Military Cemetery, Somme, Grave L27
The Lancashire Fusiliers Annual 1916
World Rugby Museum