Some issues regarding the Military Cross – Arras South

One of the decisions I had to make when writing all three “Visiting the Fallen” titles was whether to include awards and citations of the Military Cross. My first thoughts were that it would prove too time consuming and that I should only include those recipients to whom one or more bars were awarded. It was only about two years into the project that I changed my mind; it was a decision that added many months to the research phase. The project had already grown into something bigger than I had originally anticipated and there were some obvious risks attached. At the time I still had no publisher behind me and, given the size of the book already, (at that stage it was only intended to be one book) I wasn’t sure whether a publisher would welcome the additional material about to be incurred by the inclusion of recipients of the Military Cross.

Another issue was whether to include awards made without specific citations as part of the King’s Birthday Honours List and the New Year’s Honours List. In the end, there were two reasons why I decided to include this particular group of awards. Firstly, and this could be fiercely argued either way, who’s to say whether a Military Cross earned through a specific act of gallantry is worth more than the one earned for conspicuous devotion to duty and service over a prolonged period?  That said, I also felt sure that many visitors to cemeteries would, at the very least, and without prejudice, appreciate knowing whether an award was given for gallantry or for service as part of the honours system. Secondly though, I was either going to make the work as comprehensive as possible, or I wasn’t; in other words, what kind of book did I want it to be, and how did I want others to perceive it? And so, that was it, I decided that I would cover recipients of the Military Cross; the project was going to take a bit longer, and the question of dealing with any would-be publisher over the size of the work could wait.

It was whilst carrying out research in this field that some interesting case studies emerged. Although the Victoria Cross was the only gallantry award that could be awarded posthumously, there were clearly cases where that principle appears to have been overlooked or ignored. In “Arras South”, for example, (Page 221) it is quite obvious that the actions for which Lieutenant David MILNE was awarded his Military Cross occurred on the same day that he was mortally wounded, the 2nd September, near Villers-les-Cagnicourt. The citation even acknowledges that his death was a direct result of his courageous actions that day, and although it states that he died some time later, we nevertheless know that he died on the 2nd September, a fact that would have been perfectly obvious to those in charge of the battalion and who were responsible for submitting the recommendation.

The circumstances are more or less identical in the case of Captain Arthur Thomas NEWBY, MC, Fort Garry Horse, who is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial – “Visiting the Fallen – Arras Memorials” (due out very soon!). Again, his Military Cross was awarded for the action in which he was mortally wounded, which occurred on the 10th August 1918 along the Amiens-Roye road. We shall probably never know the reason why these two awards were posthumously conferred, but I suspect that where there was a will there was a way.

By contrast, it is interesting to compare the circumstances surrounding the death of two other men referred to in “Arras South” – 2nd Lieutenant George Houlden MERRIKIN (Page 131) and the brother of 2nd Lieutenant Harold George Harcourt DORRELL (Page 34). Both men lost their lives performing acts of gallantry, as did NEWBY and MILNE, and yet neither received any reward. In the case of 2nd Lieutenant Evelyn Percy Dorrell, his commanding officer acknowledges that he had carried out similarly difficult and dangerous patrols on previous occasions,  though this even begs the question as to why no earlier recommendation had ever been made. Recognition of Dorrell’s gallantry is simply confined to the posthumous comment made by his commanding officer who states that had he lived he would have recommended him for an award. MERRIKIN’s act of gallantry was outstanding, to say the least, as was that of everyone in the rescue party with him. To make these comparisons is not to pass judgement, but they do serve to highlight the anomalies that existed in some cases.

There is also an interesting entry in the CWGC register for Tilloy British Cemetery regarding Rifleman Michael John PRICE, 9th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. It shows the award of the Military Cross next to his name, a decoration that could only be conferred on those holding the rank of officer or warrant officer. I included it on page 86 in ‘Arras South’ for that very reason. I did make some attempts to resolve this apparent anomaly before going to print, but I was unable to exhaust every possible avenue of enquiry. Given that I’m still currently working with the team at ‘Pen & Sword’ to launch ‘Arras Memorials’ in a couple of months’ time, I still haven’t progressed this one, but I hope to do so later if only to satisfy my own sense of curiosity.

Whilst it was, and still is, unlikely that PRICE held the Military Cross, I was unwilling to suggest that the entry in the CWGC register must be a mistake. I do know of at least one instance where a corporal held the Military Cross. Battery Serjeant-Major Adam Thompson Stewart won his MC with the Machine Gun Corps in 1916, followed in 1917 by a bar to it whilst serving as a second lieutenant. Both of these awards were later forfeit by virtue of a court martial, the outcome of which was gazetted on the 11th January 1919, and he was also cashiered. He did, however, go on to serve as a corporal with the 45th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, in Northern Russia in 1919. Both MC and bar were then re-instated in March 1920 in recognition of his services and gallant conduct during that campaign, which fortunately he also survived.

There are also a number of instances in all three books where there appears to be no record of any Military Cross having been gazetted or where different records say different things. Sometimes there isn’t a definitive answer. Where I was unable to locate a gazette entry relating to an award I have said so, which is not to say that no entry exists.

All in all, I’m glad I decided to include recipients of the Military Cross, regardless of how long it took, and I hope that readers find the inclusions helpful.