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Lieutenant George William Hanna, MM

(Editor's note: Mrs. Jennifer Lawson of Australia supplied copies of her family papers and photographs for the preparation of this article. Her help and cooperation is acknowledged with thanks.)

George William Hanna's father, William John Hanna, was born in Magheralin, Co Down, Ireland, in 1842 according to his army record. He enlisted in the 27th Foot (The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers) at age 18 and later transferred to the 31st Foot (The Hampshire Regiment). Hanna the elder was one of the legions of Irishmen who enlisted in the British Army during the 19th Century, for the oft-quoted reason no other means of earning a living was available to them. Irish nationals served the British Army throughout the 20th Century, too, but the 19th was a century of heavy Irish enlistment.

William Hanna served six years of his military career in India. He spent only the last few months of his service at Tregantle Fort, Whitesand Bay, Cornwall. During the French war (1793-1815), Tregantle guarded the approaches to Devonport. He was fortunate to have served during a period of calm in the colonial wars of the 19th Century British Army. So to have attained the rank of colour sergeant by the age of 36 in 1878 was no mean achievement. Fortunate in one way, Sergeant Hanna was unfortunate in another. He applied for, and was granted, a discharge in 1878, most likely for medical reasons because he was given a pension of eight shillings a week.

On his discharge, he moved to Westminster were he married Elizabeth Trotman. They had three children: George, Mary and John. Disaster struck the family when George Hanna died at the age of 48. The widow Hanna and the children continued living at the same at the same address after her husband died.
Like many an army widow before and after her, Elizabeth Hanna was soon in need of the Army's charity. She lived in Westminster and the depot of the 31st Foot was in Hampshire, which meant her appeal for help had to be made by correspondence. Elizabeth Hanna was obviously a capable woman well able to explain her situation for help. The commanding officer of the 31st signed a Petition for a Soldier's Son for admission to the RMA of the Hanna brothers.

George Hanna was the first to be admitted. His younger brother, John, followed when he was old enough for enter the RMA. The documents relating to the admission of the Hanna brothers - and what is known of the subsequent career of the elder brother - provide an insight into late 19th Century protocol for the acceptance of boys to the Royal Military Asylum.
Relevant extracts from the Petition of John Hanna
Two items of significance in the documents are worth noting. One is that the school authorities required submission of the boy's birth and baptismal certificates; baptism evidently being an important consideration. The second item is a statement of the examining doctor before admission that the candidate would be fit for military service when he was ready to leave the institution. George Hanna (1880-1955) was admitted to Chelsea in 1891. He left in 1895 at age 15 to enlist in the Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment with the rank of boy soldier. [The year following his leaving, the Royal Military Asylum was officially renamed the Duke of York's Royal Military School, although it was known from the beginning of its existence as the Duke of York's School.    
  Extracts from documentation of John Hanna provide a clearer indication of the information required for an applicant's admission. Proof that the applicant for admission had reached a specified standard of education appears to have been a fairly new addition to the Petition for a Soldiers' Son form. The requirement might well have stemmed from the National Education Act of 1870, although there is no direct evidence that there is a connection.
George William had a long military career that took him to Shorncliffe, Pietermaritzburg (Natal), Bangalore, Rangoon (Burma), and South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War (1901-1902). For service in South Africa he received the Queen's Medal. He also served in World War One and awarded an MM (Military Medal), which his granddaughter, Jennifer Lawson believes was won at the third Battle of Ypres in 1917. He was given a field commission in the rank of Second Lieutenant and later promoted to full Lieutenant. George married Elizabeth Taylor in November 1915 and remained in the Army until his retirement.
Pte George William Hanna early in his military career in the Duke of Wellington's Regiment   George and Elizabeth shortly after their marriage in 1915   George and Elizabeth in retirement
Similarly, George's younger brother John had a military career, serving before and during the First World War. John was unquestionable in the school band and played the trombone, for he had a dance band after leaving the army. He married his sweetheart Rose. They had no children of their own, but were closely involved in the lives of George and Elizabeth's family.

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