Italy is no stranger to earthquakes, but the first time I became aware of the Messina quake, which struck at around 5.20 a.m. on the 28th December 1908, was while researching Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery. The entry in the CWGC register for Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Arnold LLOYD-JONES, DSO, Royal Army Medical Corps, notes that he held the Italian Red Cross Medal for his contribution to the disaster (Page 313). The Royal Navy responded quickly to this humanitarian catastrophe, together with a number of Merchant Navy vessels, as did some Russian ships, followed by vessels from France and the United States. The epicentre was the narrow strip of water that divides the toe of Italy from Sicily, the Straits of Messina, but the effects were felt over a radius of nearly two hundred miles. A further consequence was a forty feet high tsunami, though this was possibly the result of an underwater landslide. The waves caused relatively few casualties, maybe around 2,000, but the majority of fatalities occurred as a the result of buildings collapsing and falling masonry. The true death toll is not known, not least because many records were also destroyed in the disaster, but nobody seems to dispute that it ran to tens of thousands, and possibly into six figures. Almost 300 after-shocks were recorded, by which time around 90% of Messina’s buildings lay in ruins.
The original Messina Medal was awarded to those personnel who had provided material assistance, including medical aid, or who provided essential services, such as administration and spiritual comfort. However, in 1910, the Italian Royal family gave further approval for a commemorative version of the medal, which was then awarded to all personnel who had been present as part of the international response.
As well as LLOYD-JONES, another recipient of the Messina Medal is to be found at Mory Abbey Cemetery. Second Lieutenant Francis Jasper LANGLEY, 2nd Grenadier Guards, was serving at the time with the Royal Navy and was aboard one of the vessels that responded. Having enlisted in 1907, he went on to serve in the navy until 1916, albeit with two breaks, one of which was to try his hand at farming in South Africa. During the Great War he took part in the blockade along the East Coast of Africa and the bombardment of Dar-es-Salaam. In 1916 he applied to join the Artists’ Rifles, but was gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Special Reserve of Officers, eventually serving with the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards. He was wounded in the face on the 30th March 1918 and spent some time in England recovering from his injuries before returning to his battalion in France. I refer to his death in ‘Arras South’, about which his company commander, Captain John Charles Cornforth, MC & Bar, wrote that he fell within forty yards of the German position, which he and his men were attacking, and that he was shot through the head. The battalion’s commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Rasch, paid further tribute, describing LANGLEY as ‘fearless’, adding that he had put his name forward for the French Croix de Guerre in connection with his gallantry in March when he was wounded. The medal was subsequently awarded with Palms.
LANGLEY’s brother, Lieutenant John Basil Langley, was killed in a flying accident on the 15th May 1918, aged 29, whilst serving in the Royal Air Force. He is buried at Gosport (Ann’s Hill) Cemetery in Hampshire. He had enlisted at Valcartier, Quebec, in September 1914 and came over to England with the First Canadian Contingent serving with the 19th Alberta Dragoons. In 1916 he joined the Royal Flying Corps as an artillery observer before learning to fly. He was considered a skilful and technically competent pilot, and it was while he was serving as a flight commander at the School of Special Flying in Gosport that he was killed. He was demonstrating a left hand roll in a Camel aircraft , but on the third occasion his machine nose-dived and crashed.