Master Gunner James Maher, the son of a Trumpet-Major in the Royal Horse Artillery, was born in Portobello, near Dublin, Ireland, on 13 August 1839.
Exposed to the ways of army life as a child, he enlisted in the Royal Artillery at Woolwich, 8 November 1852. His initial documentation records him as “Age – 13 years, three months; Size – 4 feet 9-1/4 inches,” with a sallow complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. His father, who had recently retired, provided him with the regulation kit, thereby saving young James at considerable personal expense.
His first few years at Woolwich were busy. He had much to learn about the gunner’s art. He saw his first foreign service in the Crimea, from September 1855 until July 1856. He returned to Leith Fort, England, where, after one year, he was promoted to Bombardier. A year later, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal. By the spring of 1861, he was serving at Portsmouth in the rank of Sergeant. On New Year’s Day 1862, he departed Liverpool bound for service in North America.
During the next five years, he would serve at Saint John, Fredericton, Montreal and Kingston. Departing Montreal for Malta in 1868, he was appointed Battery Sergeant-Major. He remained on the Mediterranean island for six years.
Returning to England in 1874, he served at several locations, including Plymouth and Dover. On 7 March 1877, he assumed the appointment of Brigade Sergeant-Major. After serving 28 years with the Royal Artillery, he retired. In 1880, he returned with his family to Kingston.
He soon enrolled in A Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA). When A Battery moved to Quebec City in late 1880, he replaced Master Gunner George Creegan, who remained in Kingston. Master Gunner Maher served with A Battery for the next 18 years, including seeing action in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. Here he developed a lifelong friendship with Major General R.W. Rutherford. Mahar retired in 1898. For his service, he received the Meritorious Service Medals from both the British and Canadian Forces.
In retirement, he remained very active in Canadian Gunner affairs. He worked an additional 18 years in the offices of the Director of Artillery at Militia Headquarters, Ottawa. He retired at age 78, after more than 64 years of service to the guns. His long and distinguished service stands as a unique accomplishment.
One of Canada’s first Master Gunners, James Maher’s lifetime of good work with the guns, is a superb example that would be difficult to duplicate.