“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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One Man’s Journey through War

Getting to know one First World War soldier’s unique experience.

Blog3.1Within Lowewood Museum’s collection are a set of five diaries written during the First World War by Stephen Warner, a soldier whose family came from Hoddesdon. The diaries offer a first-hand perspective of war, in a field hospital and on the front line. There are stories, drawings, pressed flowers, photographs and much more in them, which bring Stephen’s experience to life. Many quotes and images from the diaries have been shared on this blog in the past.

At Lowewood Museum we are working on a research project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, based on the diaries.

In May 2018, as part of our First World War centenary celebrations, we will be launching an exhibition and series of events focusing on this unsung hero and his war diaries.

Look out for more in the coming months and in the meantime keep reading to find out why Stephen is such an important character.

Local Connections and Family Importance

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Engraving of two gentlemen standing next to the newly cast bell for the Elizabeth tower. Source: Big Ben Facts.

Stephen Warner was the great grandson of John Warner, who owned Lowewood Museum when it was a domestic residence. The Warner family were well known locally and there are several institutions named after them, such as John Warner School and the John Warner Sports Centre.

 

John Warner also had a bell foundry and famously cast the first ‘Big Ben’, the bell in the Elizabeth Tower at Westminster (it was later recast at Whitechapel in London).

 

Stephen Warner

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Military Cross medal awarded to Stephen Warner on February 18 1918.

Stephen served the majority of his time in the First World War at the St John’s Ambulance Brigade Hospital in Étaples, France. He then went on to serve with the Essex Regiment on the front line. Stephen joined the 3rd Battalion and fought on the front line in France, going on to receive the Military Cross for his gallant and self-sacrificing work.

 

Thursday. 28 February 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.”

He survived the war but was reported wounded in April 1918. After the war he graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford with an MA. He had a keen interest in history and architecture and later published books on various historic buildings in England including Lincoln College.

In 1928 he moved to Alton, Hampshire and became the honorary curator of the local museum. The museum still has a significant number of artefacts and books that were donated by Stephen and by his wife after he died in 1948.

The Diaries

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A page from Stephen Warner’s diary with pressed flowers and Latin annotations.

His diaries offer us a personal interpretation of life in the war from a unique man. Stephen had a keen interest in the flora of his local area and pressed specimens in his diaries.

 

Throughout the war and especially when he had days off from the St John’s Ambulance Brigade Hospital, Stephen wandered through the countryside and villages, talking knowledgably about the landscape and flora. He also showed an interest in the local agricultural practises, comparing them to those in England.

 

Stephen was an intelligent man and took an interest in everything he came across. He describes in his diaries, detailed articles and notes about operations, infections, illnesses and treatments that were being carried out in the hospital. He had a close-up view of these things when he worked in the surgical theatre as an orderly.

Thursday 13 January 1916 “The chief feature is the church, which had a finely vaulted chancel and transept of late 1450. Nice carving on the pillar capitals including acanthus leaves and ivy with berries.”

Stephen Warner Diaries, Volume I, August 1915

  Monday August 2, 1915

“hurry up old chappie, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up old chappie, hurry up, HURRY UP – this is chanted in a kind of  a sing-song by the Canadians when they are waiting for something and are getting impatient”

Tuesday August 3 , 1915

“this evening Lovett and I walked along the Calais Road about 2 1/2 minutes to the village of Francq, the extreme limit of where we may go without a pass. We entered the first little sorta minuet we saw and I introduced him to to a glass of vin du pays which he was anxious to taste. He chose red and I white and as a result I think he is less enthusiastic than I was!”

Wednesday August 3, 1915

“a year ago today England declared war and the mention of this fact is sufficient to bring to mind a thought of all the suffering and misery that has been caused during this time”

Sunday August 8, 1915

“the graves were about 8ft deep, two bodies being put in each grave with 2 wooden crosses on the head each bearing a strip of thin lead punched with the man’s number, rank, name, regiment and date of death – above in each case is another little strip of lead bearing the letters RIP. There are not many graves there yet but it is filing up only too rapidly”

Tuesday August 10, 1915

“no loitering is allowed in Etaples – the place stinks in the nostrils not only of the casual visitor but more unfortunately still in those of the military authorities. Reports have it that the Canadians got on the rampage there and what with one thing and another the place is now banned  and banned by those in command”

Thursday August 12, 1915

“today about 5 of the nurses arrived including the matron (Miss Todd) and assistant matron – among the other three was Miss Macmahon who was matron at Beachborough when I wrist went there. She remembered me and was very pleasant, so that maybe it will stand me in good stead later on!”

Saturday August 14, 1915 

“5.30am reveille (revally as it is usually called), 6.00am parade for early fatigue duty – whether it may be there are various parties made up for various duties, 7.15am breakfast, tidy up beds and kit, 8.30am parade for fatigue duty, 12.15pm dinner and leisure until 2.00pm parade for afternoon fatigue, 5.15pm tea, 6.00pm parade for next day’s orders, 9.00pm roll call in dormitories, 9.30pm last post and 9.45pm lights out”

Monday August 16, 1915

“8.45pm finished a kind of plum tipsy caked secreted with in my billy can as the result of the kind of officers – an excellent little meal for which we are very grateful and he had just brought in part a bottle of lemon squash so that he is a true friend to us”

Tuesday August 17, 1915

“I don’t mind washing my own body but I dislike doing the same for my own shirts, pants and handkerchiefs – but it has to be done, so I arm myself with sunlight soap and wrestle in the wash house with the said garments in a basin much to small for the job”