Welcome to this month’s Guest Feature where this time I am happily joined by Becky Bishop who many of you will know from twitter where she regularly shares her self penned poems as well as being a published author, blogger, fellow amateur historian & yes even a Strictly Come Dancing fan but we won’t hold that against her!
Thank you Wayne for having me on your blog. I always enjoy reading your articles and features.
My name is Becky Bishop and I was born in Windsor but currently live near the New Forest in Hampshire. After studying Criminology and Psychology at university and working in admin I now write books and poetry and particularly WW1/2 themed poetry inspired a lot by my war relatives stories or notable war anniversaries.
My interest in military and family history began when I was about eight or nine when I was doing a school project on my grandfather and great grandfather’s war service. Since then I have been researching my family history for over twenty-three years during which time I have uncovered numerous interesting people and stories. For the last five years I have concentrated my research on my war relatives and have found distant links to many well known people who served in the wars, including several war poets, war artists, VC holders, sons of nobility as well as many women who contributed to the war effort.
One such notable relative I have discovered through my research is Lieutenant Maurice James Dease who was the very first winner of the Victoria Cross in the Great War.
Maurice was born in 1889 and was the only son of Edmund and Katherine Dease and as a child attended St Basils Prep School and Frognal Prep School, both in Hampstead, before going to Stonyhurst College, Clitheroe in 1903, where he remained for four years. His connection to Stonyhurst goes back to his great great great grandfather Charles Waterton, the famous Victorian naturalist who attended Stonyhurst in 1796. It was whilst at Stonyhurst that Maurice developed a passion for birds and was appointed Aviary Boy and in 1906 and 1907 he wrote articles on ornithology for the Stonyhurst Magazine. He became a cadet in the Officer Training Corps and after leaving Stonyhurst attended the Army department of Wimbledon College for just over a year, before moving on to Sandhurst. On 20th April 1910 at Aldershot, he was commissioned into the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, being promoted to Lieutenant almost exactly two years later – his choice of regiment may have been influenced by his uncle who had previously served with the regiment.
When war broke out, Maurice and his battalion were stationed at Parkhurst, Isle of Wight, and four days after war was declared, they were mobilised and arrived in Le Havre, France on 13th August, with Maurice being a machine gun officer.
The battalion was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel NR McMahon and was part of the 9th brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. The division was concentrated in the Amiens area before being transported by train to the France- Belgium border. The battalion arrived at Landrecies early on the morning of the 17th August before marching on to Noyelle and by the evening of the 22nd August had reached the village of Nimy.
The following day, 23rd August, the Battle of Mons began. The British were in positions in the Nimy area, with Y Company having two platoons at each bridge and Company HQ positioned at the railway bridge, when the German infantry started to advance at around 9am.
Maurice had set up two machine guns both sides of the railway bridge, planning to control them from a trench 50 metres away. However, the machine gun crews suffered many casualties and Maurice had to keep going forward to sort out the problems. It was whilst doing so, when attending the left gun, around 9am, that he was first shot below the knee but managed to crawl to the right gun, where he was shot again, this time in the side. He was persuaded to take cover for a while by his platoon commander but subsequently returned to check on his men and replace any wounded gunners and in full view of the enemy he carried on controlling their fire. The Germans had continued to advance and by midday were close to the canal, from where they opened fire onto the machine gun positions. By this time Maurice had already been hit several more times, including in the neck but despite his injuries continued to control his guns. he was then shot a fifth time, after which he was removed from the action and died a short while later. He is buried in ST Symphorien Military cemetery in Belgium.
He was due to be mentioned in despatches, but this was soon changed to a recommendation for the Victoria Cross for his actions at Nimy Bridge that day, and on 16th November 1914 was formally granted the VC posthumously.
The official grounds for his VC read as
It was the first VC to be awarded in World War One and he was the first scholar from Stonyhurst to have died in the war. A poem written by an old friend of Maurice which was included in the 1927 volume of the Stonyhurst War Record.
Another relative who’s story I’ve discovered is Lady Louise Paget.
Lady Louise Margaret Leila Paget known as Leila was born in 1881 the only daughter of Sir Arthur Henry Fitzroy Paget and Mary Fiske Stevens. In 1907 she married her third cousin Ralph Paget who was a diplomat and Leila first became active during the First Balkan war when after encouraging her husband to accept a transfer to Serbia, she helped to set up a military hospital in Belgrade.
In 1914 and just three days after war broke out she came up with the idea of setting up a group to help those hurt in the war and thus became president of the American Women’s war relief fund and was also involved in the Serbian relief fund. In October 1914 the first Serbian relief fund unit of four doctors and sixteen nurses, and with Leila in charge, sailed from Southampton destined for Northern Serbia but upon reaching Skopje the Serbian Red Cross invited them to take over a reserve hospital which they did and they looked after wounded Serbians as well as Austro Hungarian prisoners.
The following year 1915 she set up an isolation hospital in Skopje due to an epidemic of typhus and it was whilst treating soldiers with typhus that she herself contracted it. After recovering in England she returned to the hospital where she continued to look after wounded soldiers. In October 1915 Austria Hungary along with Bulgaria relaunched its invasion of Serbia and despite being told to evacuate Leila and her units decided to remain with their patients and face being taken prisoner.
Skopje was captured by the Bulgarians on 22 October but the hospital remained open looking after refugees and those of all nationalities. However her determination to supply aid to all those in need impressed the Bulgarians who helped her prevent German plans to take over the hospital. Leila refused to leave the soldiers until the last one had left the hospital and eventually the international Red Cross arranges their repatriation. She returned to England in April 1916 and subsequently lived in Copenhagen and Rio De Janeiro during her husbands postings. They returned to England during World War 2 and she set up a hospital at her home which after the war became a meeting place for Serbian political refugees.
Sources:- David Knight
Stonyhurst College Archives
Stonyhurst War Record
The Stonyhurst Magazine
Victoria and George Cross Society
Editors Notes:- Thank you soo much Becky for sharing these family stories with us all and as ever if you’d like to follow Becky on twitter she can be found @Beckypoemsbooks or her own blog can be found at beckyspoemsandbooks.wordpress.com