Gerald Sidney Connolly was born in the spring of 1899, one of eleven children to Thomas and Mary Connolly. Thomas was a retired soldier who had been born in Malta, while Mary had come from Portsmouth. The couple had lived in India for a while, but, by the time Gerald was born, had settled in Kildare, Ireland.
Retirement from the armed forces left Thomas needing to financially support his family, and so they made the move to London in 1910. According to the following year’s census, the family had settled in Manor Park, to the east of the city, where Thomas was working as a storekeeper for a local hostelry.
Military service was obviously in young Gerald’s blood and, in April 1916, he gave up work as an errand boy for a life in the Royal Navy. Initially taken on as a servant boy at HMS Pembroke and HMS President – the shore-based establishments in Chatham, Kent – he subsequently served on HMS Shannon, a cruiser that patrolled the North Sea for German warships.
It was while he was aboard the Shannon that Gerald came of age, and was given the rank of Officer’s Steward (3rd Class). During the next few years, he served short periods on five further vessels, before returning to HMS Pembroke in December 1918.
Officer’s Steward Connolly was still serving in Chatham two months later, and he kept himself active. It was while he was making use of the barracks’ swimming baths that an accident befell him. His service record confirmed that he was found drowned in the baths on 26th February 1919 and a subsequent inquest identified that no foul play was to blame. Gerald had ‘accidentally drowned whilst bathing’. He was just 19 years of age.
Gerald Sidney Connolly’s body was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, Kent, not far from the Naval Dockyard where he was based.