John Kelly was born in East London on 11th January 1871, the son of Charles and Jane. There is not a lot of concrete information about his early life, but he seems to have married an Isabella Coles in the late 1890s, and the couple went on to have at least one child – a daughter they called Lizzie.
On 13th May 1915, with the First World War raging, John enlisted. He joined the Royal Navy for the duration of the war as a Trimmer (or Stoker), His enlistment papers show that he stood at 5ft 6ins (1.67m tall), had a fair complexion and blue eyes. He is also noted as having a scar on his chin.
During his time at sea, Trimmer Kelly served on board a number of vessels; his primary base, however, remained HMS Pembroke, the shore-based establishment at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent.
It was while he was on board HMS Hecla, a depot ship, that John fell ill with stomach problems. Returned to Chatham, he was admitted to the Naval Hospital in the town, but died of a carcinoma of the stomach on 17th November 1918. He was 47 years old.
John Kelly was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham, a short distance from the dockyard where he had been based.