“I have had a proud day…I have been awarded the Military Cross!”

On February 28, 100 years ago, Stephen Warner was decorated for his brave actions on the Front Line.

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For the centenary of the First World War Lowewood Museum is celebrating the life of Stephen Warner. Stephen was one of many unsung heroes of the war. Before fighting on the front line he spent over a year with the Royal Army Medical Corps and attended surgical operations as a theatre orderly, saving the lives of hundreds of men. He was an inspirational leader and much loved Second Lieutenant of A company, 9th Battalion, Essex Regiment, based I Arras, France. He won the Military Cross for organising successful raids on enemy trenches, taking prisoners and capturing a machine gun. This February it will be one hundred years since he won this prestigious award.

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Handwritten note from the Adjutant awarding Stephen Warner the Military Cross. The note dates from 18/2/1918.

 

 

 

Tuesday 5 February 1918 – “The raid is done! The raid is a huge success! Thanks be!… Congratulations have been showered upon me and the Brigadier has interviewed me…and expressed his satisfaction.”

 

 

 

 

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The Military Cross awarded to Stephen Warner. The reverse of this medal has Stephen’s name and regiment number inscribed

 

 

The Military Cross (MC) is a British military decoration that, at the time, was only bettered by the Victoria Cross and the Conspicuous Service Cross. It was introduced during the First World War and awarded to officers for “gallantry in the field.” Thousands of them were given out during the First World War and it, along with the standard issue service medals, was essential in recognising the immense efforts of British soldiers and volunteers in the war.

Stephen Warner assisted with a raid in January 1918 and led some of his own in February 1918 while based in Arras. Looking at the surviving documentation Stephen was given orders relating to the time, date and location of the task but it was up to him, as a patrol leader to decide who to take and how to carry out the task. On the 5th February Stephen and his patrol of 3 men crawled across ‘No-Man’s-Land’ in the dead of night. The conditions were muddy and treacherous while the men had to cut defensive barbed wire but they succeeded and leapt into the German Trench. Remarkably they managed to take two German soldiers as prisoners, capture a machine gun and get back behind their own lines with no casualties – except for ‘a couple of scratches’. For this effort and other successes he was awarded the MC.

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German soldier’s cutting wire in unknown location on ‘No-Man’s-Land’. Stephen and his patrol would have had a similar, uncomfortable experience while cutting the enemy wire. Source: The Daily Herald.

February 28 1918 “I have had a proud day. A letter has just come from the adjutant telling me that I have been awarded the military cross! I do not feel that I did anything very wonderful, but I suppose the standard to gain the award is lower than it used to be.”

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Mud-filled shell holes across ‘No-Man’s-Land’. This section of the battlefield is in Verdun, 1917 after the major battle there. Looking at this image it is possible to imagine the horrible conditions faced while crawling across the fields at night-time to attack the enemy trenches. Source: The Daily Herald.

It is testament to Stephen’s character that he is so modest when he receives the award, commenting that he thinks the ‘standard to gain the award is lower than it used to be’. He also talks in diary entries about how satisfying it is to finally do something he feels contributes to the war effort in an immediately gratifying way.

 

 

At Lowewood Museum we are delighted to have Stephen’s diaries, letters and other documents that record his unique experience. We are using these to create an exhibition which is due to open on 19 May 2018.

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