John Geoghegan was born in Ashford, County Wicklow. His family lived for a time in Ballydoreen and later at 11 Nun’s Cross. After leaving school, Geoghegan worked locally, mostly for Tottenhams.
Following the outbreak of war in September 1939, John joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers without telling other members of his family and unknown to his widowed mother Catherine. Ireland was neutral throughout the Second World War, but thousands of young Irishmen volunteered to serve in the British Army. He was a member of the Inniskillings’ 2nd Battalion which was part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France in 1939/40. The battalion was involved with the British Army’s fighting retreat to Dunkirk in May/June 1940.
After re-fitting, the 2nd Battalion, as part of the British Army’s 5th Division, left England in 1942 for the East Indies. Before they could join the rest of the division, the battalion was recalled for duties in North Africa maintaining POW camps. Their journey was then to take them to Syria, Persia, India and Madagascar, and eventually they arrived in the Mediterranean in time to take part in the invasion of Sicily in August 1943. The 5th Division saw action in the landings from 9th to 12 July 1943, and then formed part of the British 8th Army in Italy. Under XIII Corps, it crossed the Messina Straits in September 1943, later involved in the Sangro battles from 19 November to 3 December 1943 and in engagements at at the Garigliano river in January 1944. After the British 1st Infantry Division and other British forces, as part of the US VI Corps under Major General John P Lucas, landed at Anzio in January 1944, the 5th Division formed part of reinforcements to the beachhead, along with the 56th (London) Infantry Division.
After being withdrawn to Egypt, the 2nd Battalion replaced the 6th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the Irish Brigade in early August 1944. On their return to Italy, the 2nd Battalion and the Irish Brigade were deployed in the line in the northern Apennines. It was during the attacks on German positions that Geoghegan, by then a lance-sergeant, was cited for a MM.
The MM citation said:
“During the night 23/24 Oct 44, L/Sgt Geoghan (sic) was commanding a section of 13 Pl (in) C Coy, 2nd Bn The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The Bn wa attacking over difficult hilly country. During the approach march, the Coy was subjected to enemy machine gun fire at short range from the left flank, but L/Sgt Geoghan, not waiting for further orders, swung his section towards the fire and at great speed made direct for the enemy. On approaching the post, he ordered a bayonet charge which he himself led. This was a highly successful charge, completely silencing the machine guns, and resulting in two dead Germans and five prisoners. During the bayonet charge, L/Sgt Geoghan was himself wounded through the shoulder, but disregarding this, he gathered his section and joined his platoon again, refusing to be evacuated until the Coy had taken its objective. The behaviour and bearing of L/Sgt Geoghan has always been a byword in his platoon and on this occasion an example of the finest traditions of leadership.”
The Irish Brigade would participate in the final battle of the Italian campaign which involved attacking German positions in the Argenta Gap south of the River Po. Sergeant Geoghegan MM was killed in action on 21 April 1945 and is buried at the Argenta Commonwealth War Cemetery.
In a letter sent to The Irish Brigade website in October 2010, his fiancee in 1945, Kathleen Gregory shared her memories of Sergeant Geoghegan.
“John was incredibly brave, we were all so proud of him. He asked one of the nursing sisters to write to me and was so afraid he might have to have his arm amputated….His belongings also contained a six-inch bronze statue which he picked up in a bombed-out church on their retreat to Dunkirk. It was all that was left there. He prayed to the statue to help him get home.” In an earlier letter in August 2010, Kathleen said: “It (John’s death) was a dreadful tragedy for such a close-knit family and John is never forgotten.”