Civilian John (or Joseph) Fleming

Civilian John (or Joseph) Fleming (aged about 36) of 17 Cattle Market Avenue, Cork city (Lower Road, near Water Street, Cork)

Date of incident: 7 Dec. 1920

Sources: Death Certificate (Cork Urban No. 1), 7 Dec. 1920; II, 8, 9, 13, 18, 20 Dec. 1920; CE, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 Dec. 1920, 11 May 1921; FJ, 8, 18 Dec. 1920; Kerryman, 11 Dec. 1920; CWN, 18, 25 Dec. 1920, 8 Jan. 1921; II, 20 Dec. 1920; Military Inquests, WO 35/150/39 (TNA); RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork City and East Riding, Dec. 1920 (CO 904/113, TNA); Last Post (1976), 76; Borgonovo (2007), 99. 


Note: Ex-navy seaman Fleming was shot in the abdomen and fatally wounded by a soldier firing, probably accidentally, from one of two or three passing police lorries as he was walking on Water Street with two brothers and an English ex-soldier friend. The shooting occurred at about 4:30 p.m. on 7 December 1920 at the corner of Water Street and the Lower Road. As they were crossing the road, ‘3 lorries containing uniformed men, with rifles pointing out over the side of the cars, passed at a rapid pace’. John Fleming was the last man to cross the street, and as he did so, one of the rifles was discharged. See II, 9 Dec. 1920. 

The Cork Examiner also left little doubt that the fatal shot had come from passing soldiers: ‘Two lorries were travelling citywards, and several shots appear to have been discharged from these lorries, which were moving a a fairly rapid pace. One of the bullets struck Mr Fleming in the abdomen. The lorries passed on and shots continued to ring out. When hit by the bullet, the wounded man collapsed. Assistance was rendered by other passers-by and the neighbours, who endeavoured to staunch the flow of blood. The Corporation ambulance was quickly on the scene, and in it the wounded man was removed . . . to the North Infirmary. Last evening [7 December] about 8 o clock Mr Fleming, who was a married man aged about 36, died while on the operation table at the North Infirmary.’ See CE, 8 Dec. 1920.

According to a subsequent military court of inquiry, there was more than one bullet wound, and ‘the shots were fired from some high point in the vicinity of the outrage’. But a newspaper reporter reminded readers that the victim’s companions had insisted that the fatal shot had come from a passing lorry. See II, 20 Dec. 1920. In fact, the victim’s two brothers testified at the military court of inquiry that while they and John Fleming were ‘walking together [on the Lower Road], a lorry containing about 12 policemen passed. Three shots were fired and deceased said, “I’m hit.”’ But the sergeant in charge of the lorries told the court that on returning to the barracks, he had examined and checked the ammunition, and that ‘all was correct as at the time of starting’. See II, 18 Dec. 1920.

Fleming had ‘served twenty-one years in the navy and was demobilised’ in 1919. He had seen much active service during the war and taken part in the Battle of Jutland and other engagements. ‘On one occasion he was forty hours in the water after the sinking of his vessel.’ See II, 9 Dec. 1920. Fleming was not a Volunteer and was certainly not ‘murdered by British [forces] in Clonakilty’, as reported in The Last Post (2nd ed., 1976), 76.

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