Colour Serjeant
John Prettyjohn

The following history is written by Mathew Little of the RM Museum.

:Please note:
The surname is Prettyjohns but has on occasions been incorrectly spelt as Prettyjohn.  Mr. Peter Harris of the RMA Manchester & Salford branch in conjunction with the Corps. Historians have confirmed the correct spelling of the surname.

John Prettyjohn was born at Dean Prior, Buckfastleigh near Ashburton, Devon on 11 June 1823, and baptised at the local church of St George on 9 December 1827.


He worked as a labourer until the day before his 21st Birthday, when he journeyed to Plymouth and enlisted for unlimited service in the Royal Marines on 10 June 1844; collecting his 2/6d for attestation, and bounty of £3.17/6d when he took the oath the following day.


He was now a Private in the 59th Company, Plymouth Division — at which rank he remained for seven years and 218 days.  Much of his first year was spent at Stonehouse Barracks until 22 March 1845 when he embarked on HMS Melampus, a 42 gun 5th Rate, and sailed to the south-east coast of America, and later the East Indies.  After a cruise of four years and 155 days the ship returned to England and Private Prettyjohn disembarked at Chatham on 23 August 1849.  Whilst aboard the Melampus on the 28 June 1845 he was flogged for some misdemeanor and his name appeared for the one and only time in his career, in his divisions’ defaulters book.


After almost 14 months ashore, he went to sea again — this time joining the 78 gun Bellerophon on 7 November 1850, although the ship did not venture out of home waters until January 1852 when it sailed to the Mediterranean.  It was on the 15th of this month that John Prettyjohn was promoted to Corporal.


During the next two years the French and British Ships in this area had the uneasy task of protecting their nations’ interests while the Russian and Turkish Empires dissolved into war.  Eventually the French and British allied themselves to Turkey and the Crimean campaign began.


On 26 September 1854 the British arrived at the land locked harbour of Balaklava, which was to become the supply base for the expeditionary Army.  Meanwhile HMS  Bellerophon joined the joint Anglo-French fleet off the Russian Port of Sebastopol and commenced the first bombardment on 17 October.  With Balaklava now established, Lord Raglan requested a Royal Marines Battalion to relieve the Army units on the eastern heights overlooking the harbour against any flanking attack the Russians may deploy.  Around 1,200 Royal Marines were drawn from the fleet under the command of Lt-Col Hurdle to serve ashore.  For administrative purposes they were borne on the books of HMS Agamemnon stationed in the harbour.


It was from the lines and batteries on these heights that the Royal Marines, including John Prettyjohn and Thomas Wilkinson (see next) contributed to the Battle of Balaklava on 25 October 1854.  During the next five days the opposing armies manouevred their forces over the terrain of Inkerman culminating in the battle of 5 November.


It was  Corporal Prettyjohns’ action in this event that warranted his award. The Battle itself consisted of many skirmishes and separate encounters simply because the fog and mist on the day restricted visibility and coordinated movement. 

The 2 November 1854, was an active day, 312 rank and file marched off from the heights of Balaklava, for the Light Division, under the command of Captain Hopkins, RMLI, the detachment was divided into four companies, taking turn in the trenches.  On the morning of the 5th, the relief, which had just returned, were preparing their rude breakfast; the firing from Sebastopol was gradually increased, and then commenced in our rear.  Nothing could be distinguished but fog and smoke from where we were. 


The bugle sounded the ‘Fall-in’ at the double, and officers were flying about giving orders, saying vast columns of the enemy were moving up to our rear.  The roll of musketry was terrific; we were advanced cautiously until bullets began to fall in amongst us, the Sergeant-Major was the first man killed; order given to lay (sic) down; it was well we did so; a rush of bullets passed over us: then we gave them three rounds, kneeling, into their close columns.


 At the same time some seamen opened fire from some heavy guns into their left flank, and this drove them back into the fog and smoke.  Our Commanding Officer received several orders from mounted officers at this critical time; first it was ‘advance’, then it was ‘hold your ground and prevent a junction or communication with the town’.


The Inkermann Caves were occupied by the enemy’s sharpshooters, who were picking off our officers and gunners; between us and these men was an open space exposed to the broadside fire of a frigate in the harbour under shelter of the wall, but she had been heeled over so as to clear the muzzles of her guns, when fired, from striking the wall; thus, her fire raked the open part.  The Caves were to be cleared, and the Marines ordered to do it; as soon as we showed ourselves in the open, a broadside from the frigate thinned our ranks; Captain March fell wounded.  Captain Hopkins ordered his men to lie down under a bit of rising ground, and ordered two privates, Pat Sullivan and another man to take the Captain back, and there he stood amidst a shower of shot and shell, seeing him removed.


 A division under Sergeant Richards and Corporal Prettyjohns, was then thrown out to clear the caves, what became of the Commanding Officer and the others I never knew, so many statements have been made.


We, under Richards and Prettyjohns, soon cleared the caves, but found our ammunition nearly all expended, and a new batch of the foe were creeping up the hillside in single file, at the back.  Prettyjohns, a muscular West Countryman, said, ‘Well lads, we are just in for a warming, and it will be every man for himself in a few minutes.  Look alive, my hearties, and collect all the stones handy, and pile them on the ridge in front of you.  When I grip the front man you let go the biggest stones upon those fellows behind’.


As soon as the first man stood on the level, Prettyjohns gripped him and gave him a Westcountry buttock, threw him over upon the men following, and a shower of stones from the others knocked the leaders over.  Away they went, tumbling one over the other, down the incline; we gave them a parting volley, and retired out of sight to load; they made off and left us, although there was sufficient to have eaten us up. 


Later in the day we were recalled, and to keep clear of the frigate’s fire had to keep to our left, passing over the field of slaughter.


 On being mustered, if my memory is not at fault, twenty-one had been killed and disabled, and we felt proud of our own Commanding Officer, who stood fine, like a hero, helping Captain March.


Corporal Prettyjohns received the VC, Colour Sergeant Jordan the Medal and £20 for Distinguished Conduct in the Field, Captain Hopkins a C.B., others were recommended.’

--a report by Sergeant Turner RM



Reported for gallantry at the Battle of Inkerman, having placed himself in an advanced position; and noticed, as having himself shot four Russians.

--Despatch from Lieutenant Colonel Hopkins, Senior
Officer of Marines, engaged at lnkerman

London Gazette 24th February 1857

HMS Agamemnon, Crimea 

"On 5th November 1854 at the Battle of Inkerman, Corporal Prettyjohn's platoon went to clear out some caves which were occupied by snipers.  In doing so they used up almost all of their ammunition, and then noticed fresh parties of Russians creeping up the hill in single file.  Corporal Prettyjohn gave instructions to his men to collect as many stones as possible which they could use instead of ammunition.  When the first Russian appeared he was seized by the corporal and thrown down the slope.  The others were greeted by a hail of stones and retreated."

--letter from Colonel Wesley, Deputy Adjutant General


After Inkerman, John Prettyjohn spent three months in the trenches and lines before Sebastopol: the Russians being unable to raise the seige and the allies unable to take the city — the attrition only ended when the Russians evacuated the city on 9 September 1855.


Upon returning from the Crimea he was promoted to Sergeant on 16 January 1856 and embarked aboard HMS Sanspareil on 12 March 1857, which sailed for Hong Kong.  Not long after its arrival news of the troubles in India was heard, and a detachment of Royal Marines and the 90th Regiment were transferred to HMS Shannon along with the Earl of Elgin and sailed for Calcutta on 16 July 1857, stopping at Singapore en route.  Sergeant Prettyjohns then served at Fort William, Calcutta until joining HMS Assistance and returning to China where he eventually served in the Provisional Battalion and 1st China Battalion of Royal Marines, involved there in the Second China War (1856-1860).


As of 29 April 1857 he had been promoted Colour-Sergeant, and on 26 June of that year his Victoria Cross was sent to the Admiralty and despatched to China for presentation.  On the 28 and 29 December he took part in the Capture of Canton, the last major action of his career.  His last embarkation was aboard HMS Tribune for service in Vancouver Island, and afterwards San Juan Island ending 17 December 1863.


He was discharged on 16 June 1865 after 21 years and 6 days service, 16 years and 94 days of which he had spent either at sea or on foreign stations.  As well as the Victoria Cross he was presented with the British Crimea Medal with clasps for Balaklava, Inkerman and Sebastopol, the Turkish Crimea and Sardinian Crimea Medals, the China Medal (1857) with clasp for Canton, a Long Service and Good Conduct medal, and a Long Service and Good Conduct gratuity for gallantry in the Crimea.


He died in Manchester on 20 January 1887 and was buried in the southern cemetery there on the 26th. He was 62.


His wife Elizabeth died on 19 August 1912 aged 86, daughter Bessie 13 July 1889 aged 32 and his second daughter Alice Maud Prettyjohn 4 July 1960 aged 95.


The following information is from: