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Unlucky in love: Town’s VC war hero

Created on 22/08/2017 @ 16:57
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One of Welshpool’s greatest ever military heroes was also unlucky in love after being caught up in a bizarre love triangle 90 years ago.

The story came to light as Welshpool Town Council discussed how the town should honour Victoria Cross recipient John Doogan who lived here for 20 years following his Boar War heroics.

His citation reads that on January 28, 1881 at the age of 27, the private in the 1st Dragoon Guards saved the life of Major Brownlow who had had his horse shot from under him. John rode up and, in spite of being severely wounded himself, dismounted and insisted on Major Brownlow taking his horse, receiving another wound while doing so.

The officer saved, William Vasey Brownlow, ultimately rose to a Major-General and died in 1926, bequeathing John, his 'former servant', an annuity of £20 a year, (worth around £700 today).

But his Wikipedia profile tells the story of a man who was unlucky in love with his first wife dying and his second wife failing to inform John that she was already married to a man in Wrexham!

Details of John’s Welshpool life are scarce but he is believed to have spent 20 years in the town following his service in the army. He was working for the General Post Office as a Mail Driver in Welshpool at the 1891 Census. But by the 1901 Census he was employed as a butler in Berkshire.

Following the death of his wife, Mary, in 1924, he moved to Shropshire (where he had sons living) and spent the rest of his working life as a farmer. He had an incredible 10 children with Mary, but sadly two of them died fighting in World War One.

But it was a bizarre story concerning his second wife who was 39 years his junior when they wed in 1929. Martha Maria Roberts had been his housekeeper following his widowhood and move to Shropshire. But she was already married to David Philip Roberts, whom she claimed was dead at the time she met John but turned out to be still alive after the later wedding.

She stood trial at Shrewsbury Assizes on February 20, 1930, charged with bigamy of which she was found guilty but was leniently bound over in £10. John, the innocent party, gave evidence as witness, while the estranged legal husband appeared simply to confirm his identity and their own marriage.

John died in 1940, aged 86, and is buried at Shorncliffe Military Cemetery (also known as the Garrison Cemetery) in Folkestone (Plot V. Grave 1054).

His VC medal is located in Cardiff Castle and Welshpool Town Council said it is planning on a memorial for the war hero within any future museum that could be created as part of the Courtroom Scheme.


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