John Joseph McDonnell served with the Lancashire Fusiliers, possibly having served with them for ten years since he was a boy soldier. He volunteered for airborne forces and completed his training in February 1942.
He qualified as a military parachutist on Course 8 which ran at RAF Ringway from 10 to 24 February 1942. Sgt McDonnell was posted to 5 Platoon, B Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion.
Sgt McDonnell soon saw active service in North Africa with the 3rd Para Bn and whilst there he was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal for ‘the most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’ when he took out a number of machine guns and then captured prisoners even when out of ammunition. He wrote to his mother that he had been given the medal ‘for being a good boy’. The announcement of his award appeared in the Supplement to the London Gazette on 22 April 1943.
On 20 December 1944 Sgt McDonnell was granted an immediate emergency commission from the ranks to 2nd Lt, which he relinquished on 19 January 1949 returning to the ranks.
He was re-commissioned as an officer in June 1952, while serving with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as a Warrant Officer Class II. He was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1954
John McDonnell was promoted to Captain in 1957 and retired in June 1961.