Each of us has at least one medal group that we wish we could add to our collection, but probably will never find. The article below which I published in the Journal of the Royal Artillery some years ago describes the group that I wish I owned and the story behind it:
An Officer Who “Made Good”
Lieutenant Colonel Edward Parker England, DCM, RA (Ret.)
Could a cashiered 52 year-old Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Artillery win a Distinguished Conduct Medal as a Private in a line infantry regiment? Unlikely as it seems, it did happen during the Great War.
Born on 10 August 1866, Edward P. England was accepted as a Gentleman Cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich on 19 August 1884. He passed out of the ‘Shop’ on 17 February 1886 and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. He subsequently served as a subaltern in the Royal Garrison Artillery, and the Indian Mountain Artillery in the United Kingdom and India. In 1897 he transferred to the Royal Field Artillery, serving at home and abroad as a battery captain and battery commander.
He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 19 May 1913. On the outbreak of war in August of 1914 England was appointed Officer Commanding the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery and took his unit to France on 21 August 1914.
A Divisional Ammunition Column in the field during World War I
During the retreat from Mons, the 5th DAC retired as part of the 5th Division. On the evening of the 25th of August 1914, they were bivouacked along the old Roman Road to the north of Reumont. At approximately 3 a.m. on the morning of the 26th, Lieut.-Colonel England was ordered to proceed with his column to Premont, which he did, bringing the column to a location west of Premont. At about 2:30 p.m. he received orders to retire to St. Quentin, which was accomplished by alternately trotting and walking his transport wagon teams via Joncourt and Levergies. The horse teams were badly tired on a steep hill near Levergies. In addition, there were rumours of possible attack by German cavalry. Lieut.-Colonel England ordered four to six boxes of ammunition to be thrown out from each wagon to lighten loads. Later, at about 7.30 p.m., he ordered most of the surplus hay, corn, baggage and other impedimenta to be thrown out of the wagons. But, significantly, he did not ensure that his order was properly carried out. As it passed down the column, England’s order became increasingly distorted, and many of the drivers threw off all their ammunition loads. Shortly afterward, General Sir H. Smith-Dorrien, commanding 2nd Army Corps came along the Estrees-Levergies-St. Quentin road, where he found neat piles of white boxes along both sides of the road for nearly three miles. He at first he mistook them for rations and other supplies and only realized as he was entering St. Quentin that it was gun ammunition.
General Smith-Dorrien was greatly upset, and referred the incident to the Field Marshal Commanding in Chief, remarking that: “the case is really much more serious than appears here. It was an absolute case of panic on the part of Lieut.-Colonel England ending in his abandoning everything for which his unit exists so that he might save himself and his men.” General H. Smith-Dorrien went on to write that: “At St. Quentin Railway Station at about 10 p.m. on the 26th August, I was at once approached by Lieut.-Colonel England who was in an extremely nervous and agitated state.”
A Court of Inquiry for Lieut. Colonel England was held at Pontoise, France on 29th August 1914 Based on the evidence presented, it was recommended that he be tried by General Court-Martial on two charges:
First Charge – Section 4 (7) of the Army Act: “Misbehaving before the enemy in such manner as to show cowardice, in that he between Premont and St. Quentin on the 26th August 1914, by reason of fear caused by rumours of the approach of the enemy, without due cause allowed ammunition to be thrown from the wagons of the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column, of which he was in command.”
Second (Alternative) Charge – Section 4 (6) of the Army Act: Knowingly doing when on active service an act calculated to imperil the success of His Majesty’s Forces, in that he between Premont and St. Quentin on the 26th August 1914, without due cause ordered ammunition to be thrown from the wagons of the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column of which he was in charge.”
On 5 September 1914 England was admitted to hospital, “. . . it being reported that his actions were not those of a responsible person. The Deputy Director of Medical Services on examination found Lieut.-Colonel England to be suffering from considerable mental strain due to over-fatigue and want of sleep, and it was stated that he had in fact lost for the time his mental balance. He was placed on the sick list and was sent to the base.”
Lieutenant-Colonel England was sent home and his case was submitted to the King “. . . with the result that His Majesty was pleased to direct that the officer in question be removed from the Army. Before effect was given to the decision, however, Lieut.-Colonel England appealed to the King’s Clemency mainly on the ground that owing to the effects of a severe concussion of the brain caused by a fall when riding in a point-to-point race in India in March 1913, he had since that time been incapable of any severe mental effort, which fact he had not disclosed to the medical officer who certified as to his fitness for active service; and he asked that he might be brought before a medical board with a view to being invalided out of the service, thus avoiding the severe penalty and disgrace entailed by removal from the Army.”
“The Army Council, in view of the medical opinion already referred to, considered it probable enough that Lieut.-Colonel England’s mental equilibrium had been impaired by the strain he had undergone, but nevertheless they took the view that it was inadvisable on their part to attempt to enter into the question of mental disability in the case of an officer exercising his command in the presence of the enemy; and His Majesty was pleased not to disturb the decision already arrived at that Lieut.-Colonel England was to be removed from the Army.”
The London Gazette of 11 December 1914 carried the following notice: “Lt.-Col. E. P. England is removed from the Army, The King having no further occasion for his services, 12 December 1914.” He was granted retired pay of £292.10s.0d annually from that date as ‘Mr. England.’
Early in 1915 the now Mr. E.P. England travelled to South America to regain his health, hoping that he might be fit for further service.4 On his return to England, he initially enlisted in the Yeomanry, under an assumed name, but was invalided out due to ill-health. He then enlisted in the Mechanical Transport section of the Army Service Corps as a Private, since he was over the age limit for service in a front-line unit.
In a later letter to the Secretary of the War Office, England explained what happened next.
“As I knew several of the English general officers employed in the German East Africa Campaign, I felt sure of being transferred or attached for duty to a fighting unit of the mounted branches in that country. Hence in January 1916 I was sent to German East Africa with a Motor Ambulance Company as Sergeant, but owing to the kind offices of General Malleson, was attached for duty directly after arrival at Mombassa, to the 4th South African Horse, with whom I served as scout, range taker and occasionally machine gunner, till their disbandment at Moroforo on account of sickness amongst the men and the impossibility of mounting the men since the mounts died before arrival.”
He returned to England in January 1917 and entered hospital for treatment of ill-health as a result of his service in East Africa. On his discharge from hospital he was transferred from the Army Service Corps to the 8th (Service) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment as Private No 33797.1 England wrote:
“I found the greatest difficulty in getting a transfer to infantry. . . and was refused a transfer to the Record Office, Woolwich and it was only in France that I managed to do so, through the kind assistance of Officer Commanding, Army Service Corps, Rouen – after 10 days training at Rouen in an Infantry Base Depot, I was transformed into a fully trained infantry man and joined the 8th Devons on their way to the trenches at Bullecourt.”
He joined his Battalion on 23 July 1917 “. . . and very soon thereafter attracted attention by his exceptional ability and zeal in the performance of duty, whether in the trenches or out of them. He was out with every wiring party and did most useful work on night patrols in locating occupied shell holes and enemy machine gun posts.”
The Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Private England was appointed second in command of a bombing section. On the morning of 4 October 1917 he was detailed for transport work away from the line, but, on hearing that an offensive operation was about to begin, he asked if he could join in the attack. His request was granted. For his actions that day he was recommended for the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The recommendation read:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during active operations on 4th October 1917, East of Polygon Wood, near Noordendhoek. During the advance an unexpected enemy machine gun opened fire from a pill box on Private England’s platoon from a range of 50 yards. The platoon officer and all N.C. Officers were hit and the men somewhat disorganized. Realizing the situation Private England freely exposing himself rallied the remainder of the platoon and taking charge of them rushed and captured the pillbox and machine gun, although badly wounded himself, on the way. Private England’s quick decision and gallant action enabled the troops on either flank to advance, who would otherwise have been held up by enfilading fire. By his quick grasp of the situation and determined action Private England showed in addition to great personal gallantry great power of leadership and command over men.”
Private England’s Divisional, Corps and Army Commanders all recommended his reinstatement as an officer. These recommendations were supported by the Field Marshal Commanding in Chief who wrote: “. . . while recognizing the seriousness of the offence of the year 1914, is of the opinion that Private England by his devotion to duty, his soldier-like bearing, and his gallantry, merits condonation of the past; and accordingly strongly recommends reinstatement as a Lieutenant-Colonel in His Majesty’s Army.”
In January, 1918 the London Gazette contained the following notice:
“33797 Pte. E. P. England, Devonport
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in an attack. An enemy machine gun opened fire on his platoon at close range and caused several casualties, including his officer and all the NCO’s. He at once took command, rallied the remaining men, and though badly wounded himself, rushed and captured the ‘pill box’ and the machine gun. His prompt and courageous action and splendid leadership enabled the advance to continue.”
In the meantime, Private England had been admitted to The Cedars Convalescent Home, Sherwood, Nottingham in January, 1918 as a convalescent. On 19 January 1918 a Medical Board found that Private England was fifty percent disabled as a result of wounds suffered in action. In consequence of that finding, the Minister of Pensions awarded him a pension of 13s.9d per week.
Upon careful consideration of his case the Army Council recommended to the King that Private E. P. England be reinstated in his former rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.1 He was discharged from the army on 22 January 1918 to accept reinstatement as an officer. The London Gazette of 23 January 1918, on page 1156, carried the following announcement:
“The KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the re-instatement of Edward Parker England in the rank of Lt.-Col., with his previous seniority, in consequence of his devotion to duty and gallantry in the field while in the ranks of the Devonshire Regiment. He is accordingly re-appointed Lt.-Col. in the Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery 30th Dec. 1917, with seniority and to count service in that rank towards retirement on retired pay as from 19th May 1913, but without pay or allowances for the period 12th Dec. 1914 up to 29th Dec. 1917, inclusive.”
After his reinstatement as an officer, the War Office informed him that because he was now an officer he could no longer draw an other-ranks pension for being wounded in action. The War Office further informed him that at the same time he couldn’t draw an officer’s wound gratuity because he was not an officer when he was wounded.
The now Lieutenant-Colonel England went before a medical board that declared him medically unfit due to wounds. Then, on 28 March 1919 he was informed by the War Office that they had approved his retirement on retired pay on account of ill-health caused by wounds with effect from 1 March 1919.6 On 9 April 1919 he was made eligible for the Silver War Badge.
Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Parker England, R.F.A. (Retd) died at New Barn, Horwood, Bishop Tawton, North Devon on 10 January 1921 as a consequence of gunshot wounds to the lungs during the Great War.
The 17 January 1921 edition of The Times carried the following obituary:
An Officer Who ‘Made Good
Death of Colonel England, D.C.M.
The death occurred last week at New Barn, Horwood, North Devon, as the result of wounds received in action, of Colonel Edward Parker England, D.C.M., late Royal Artillery. In the early days of the war Colonel England was dismissed the service and subsequently enlisted, and in consequence of his gallantry while serving in the ranks was reinstated.
Besides the Distinguished Service Medal Lieutenant Colonel England’s group contained a 1914 Star with date bar, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Undated Army Council Memorandum (WO 374/22818).
Confidential letter from the War Office to Lieut. Colonel England dated 5 November 1914 (WO 374/22818).
War Office Minute Sheet dated 4 July 1918 (WO 374/22818).
Letter from Lieut. Colonel England to Secretary, War Office, 16 January 1918 (WO 374/22818).
War Office Minute Sheet dated 4 July 1918 (WO 374/22818).
Letter from War Office to Lieut. Colonel England of 28 March 1919 (WO 374/22818).
Medal Index Card for Lieut. Colonel E. P. England (WO372).
The Times, 17 January 1921, page 7d.