The Dedication of the Ulster Battlefield Memorial Tower, 19 November 1921

My great-grandfather, Sergeant William Neill DCM, served with 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers—Blacker’s Boys—during the First World War. One hundred years ago he returned to the Somme, to Thiepval, for the dedication of the Ulster Battlefield Memorial Tower. This is an account of the events and includes a gallery of the memorabilia that he kept. It also includes a scene-by-scene description of the news clip filmed for Pathé News, in which he appears at the very end.

Ulster Tower

The Ulster Battlefield Memorial Tower was proposed in November 1919 by Sir James Craig MP. Based on Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye in County Down, it was designed by Bowden and Abbott Ltd of London[1] and built quickly by Fenning & Co Ltd, specialists in granite memorials, and the Société de Construction et Travaux Publics d’Arras. (See the plans here.) The land had been purchased from three families that farmed the area around Thiepval. The Ulster Tower, as it has become known, was the first official memorial raised on the Western Front—it was opened and dedicated on Saturday 19 November 1921. The tower is owned by the Somme Association and you can read more about its centenary here.

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Honours, Decorations, and Medals to The Royal Corps of Signals for Gallantry & Distinguished Service 1920-2020

At last the new book is finished and on its way to the printer!

Honours, Decorations, and Medals to The Royal Corps of Signals for Gallantry & Distinguished Service 1920-2020 will be published by 30 September 2021. (ISBN 9781916264311)

It will be available through online retailers (such as Amazon) or by ordering through local bookshops; it may be pre-ordered online closer to the publication date. You can read more on the project website.

September 11…

There is lots being written about what should and should not have been done after 9/11, the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC 20 years ago. It is worth, however, remembering the many thousands grievously impacted by the events of that day. My friend Susan Henson was working in the Pentagon when the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 hit the western side of the building. For the first time she has told her story—it’s well worth reading.

For Exemplary Bravery – The Queen’s Gallantry Medal – Update, December 2019

Following the recent civilian gallantry awards list published in the London Gazette in September 2019, and the Armed Forces operational awards list published in November,  I have updated the addendum to For Exemplary Bravery—it records all the 46 Queen’s Gallantry Medals awarded since the book was published in December 2013, with new information about a number of previous recipients and some new photographs. The addendum is a pdf in a similar format to the book and it can be downloaded (free) from the book’s website.

The medals of former Warrant Officer Class 1 J W McNair QGM, who earned his Queen’s Gallantry Medal during and in the aftermath of an attack by artillery and tanks on civilians at Konjević Polje in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993.

‘Class ‘B’ Mentions’—Rewards for Valuable Services Published in The Times during the First World War

As I was working through one of the registers in my Royal Signals honours and awards project, I came across an anomaly. The obituary in The Wire for Major General A. C. Fuller CBE—the inventor of the Fullerphone—records that he was mentioned in despatches four times and that he did not receive the Victory Medal. These statements are at odds—if he did not serve in a theatre of war he could not have been mentioned in despatches. There are some exceptions to that statement, but Experimental Officers at the Signals Experimental Establishment were not amongst them. A little more digging revealed that these were ‘class ‘B’ mentions’ for ‘valuable services in connection with the war’. I was unable to track them down easily, however, and this post is the result of my research into where such awards may be found.

An extract from War Office List of 23 March 1919 showing Scottish officers; the full list was not published in The Times. (The Courier, 23 August 1919.)

Meritorious service by military personnel and civilians at home was recognised largely only in the latter years of the war, primarily by the various grades of the Order of the British Empire, created in June 1917. In addition, a lower category of commendation, the equivalent in broad terms of a mention in despatches, was made available for those who were brought to the notice of the Secretary of State for War or Home Secretary. They are often referred to as ‘class ‘B’ mentions’. Most were for service in the United Kingdom, but some awards were made for service in the Dominions and Colonies.

Although the War Office, Air Ministry and Home Office lists, or communiqués, were described as supplements to the London Gazette, they did not appear in the Gazette but were instead provided to the Press for publication. Extracts may be found in regional newspapers, often highlighting the work of local recipients, but The Times became seen as the ‘official’ avenue of publication because it featured the full lists. The first communiqué appeared in February 1917 and the last in May 1920.[1] Similar lists were announced by the Admiralty, although they do not appear to have been published by The Times in the same way.[2]

Several lists were not published in The Times—for example, a list of Army officers dated 23 August 1919 may be found in part only as extracts in some regional newspapers.

In early 1920 a bronze spray of oak leaves was authorised for wear by those who had been mentioned in despatches (to be worn on the Victory Medal and retrospective to the beginning of the war), but no such emblem was authorised for class ‘B’ mentions. They were recorded, however, in the service records of military personnel.

An extract from the service record of 924 (Acting) Company Quartermaster Sergeant George Dennis Ruggles, who was rewarded for his service with the Household Brigade Officer Cadet Battalion at Bushey in Hertfordshire.

Below are details of each of the lists—the date of the communiqué, the categories of those rewarded for their service, the ‘citation’ as published in The Times (which may differ in minor ways from that of the communiqué) and the details of when the list appeared in The Times. There are two good sources for the relevant pages of The Times, both require subscription: The Times archive and Fold3. Regional newspapers may be searched on sites such as The British Newspaper Archive.

War Office List—24 February 1917.

British Army Officers and Other Ranks, and Army Officers and Other Ranks in the Dominions and Colonies.
The names of the following have been brought to the notice of the Secretary of State for War for valuable services rendered in connection with the war.
The Times, 26 February 1917, p 12, continued p 13. British Army Officers.
The Times, 27 February 1917, p 11. British Army Other Ranks, and Army Officers and Other Ranks in the Dominions and Colonies.

War Office List—3 March 1917. Continue reading

More Royal Signals Gallantry Awards

There are now some additions to the blog that supports my project examining Royal Signals gallantry awards:

A photograph appeared in The Wire in June 1959 under the heading: ‘Who are they? Where are they now?’ I answered the question almost 60 years on (!) and a version of that appeared in The Wire in the Winter 2018 (i.e. January 2019) edition. The photo below is linked to a pdf of the article:

Having been sent the diaries of the Chief Signal Officer China Command, Lieutenant Colonel E. O. Levett OBE, and having read the outstanding story of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals detachment sent to Hong Kong by D. Burke Penny, I was able to update the story of the Hong Kong Signal Company.

Finally, I wrote a piece about Royal Signals gallantry awards on D-Day. The photo of Lance Corporal Danny Bowstead MM below is linked to the story.

Royal Signals Gallantry Awards

I have been very busy on my Royal Signals gallantry awards project and have not written as much for this blog as I should have. Here are my last two offerings from the Royal Signals project:

The first is a commemoration about the end of the Palestine Mandate, some of the gallantry awards earned and the loss of Royal Signals soldiers to terrorism there in the post-war years. PALESTINE 1920-1948: IN MEMORIAM

Captain Alexander David Mackintosh, Palestine Command Signal Regiment – shot and mortally wounded by the terrorists who planted the bomb at the King David Hotel on 22 July 1946; he died the next day.

The second is about NCOs and the Military Cross. The medal became available to all ranks after the 1993 review of gallantry decorations and medals. This blog post looks at two NCOs who wore the ribbon of the Military Cross long before that. NON-COMMISSIONED OFFICERS AND THE MILITARY CROSS

The grave of Lance Sergeant Dennis Edwin Ward MC, Royal Signals, who died in a traffic accident near Kohat in India on 1 February 1936.

Major Robert Norman Dodds MBE, MC, DCM, MM

Robert Dodds served during the First World War in France and Flanders with the Royal Engineers Signal Service, earning a Distinguished Conduct medal and Military Medal. Commissioned in 1918, he then added an Military Cross to his list of decorations in North Russia in 1919. He served with Royal Signals during the Second World War, earning an MBE for his conduct during the withdrawal from Tobruk to El Alamein.

Read his story on the website of my Royal Signals gallantry awards project:

Major R N Dodds MBE, MC, DCM, MM

March 1918 – Sergeant James Hughes DCM, MM

The medals of Sergeant James Hughes DCM, MM

In March 1918, for the third time in 21 months, the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers in 108th Brigade, 36th (Ulster) Division was all but destroyed. Blacker’s Boys devotes a whole chapter to the actions fought in the week following the German attack south of the River Somme and the subsequent action against the German second phase attack south of Ypres.

In these actions, 36th (Ulster) Division suffered over 7,200 casualties, of which over 5,600 were missing, most of whom had been captured. This was the highest casualty rate of any division facing the German attack. The 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers lost 46 killed or died of wounds, 142 wounded and an estimated 334 captured. By this stage of the war the Battalion was nothing like that which had landed in France in October 1915. The majority of its men were those who had joined from 2nd North Irish Horse, there was also a fair number of Englishmen—from Yorkshire, Derbyshire and London—and Irish soldiers from all over Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant.

Many of the men killed in the actions fought in March 1918 were later described as falling in the period 21-29 March or on 29 March but neither of these descriptions is wholly accurate. Continue reading