Accidental death of a quick thinking and brave officer

On 25 August 1916, the 1st Scots Guards arrived at the village of Morlancourt. It was situated in the rear, behind the area in which the Battle of the Somme was being fought. The Guards Division, of which the battalion was a part, was assembled in the area and making preparations for a forthcoming major renewal of the offensive.

The battalion’s war diary [my insertions] reported for 3 September that

In the afternoon a selected party of 4 NCOs and 16 men paraded before the GOC [General Officer Commanding Guards Division] in “attack order”, with a view to ascertaining what equipment and kit would be most suitable to carry in the assault. This party was accompanied by a bombing [that is, hand grenade] squad of 12. Fatigue party of 1 officer and 80 men found [that is, went out as a working or carrying party].

A very sad accident, attended by fatal results, occurred in the morning. 2/Lt. G de L. Leach, the battalion bombing officer, was detonating bombs in the Orderly Room, when the fuze of one accidentally ignited. Realising the great dangfer in which this placed the two other occupants of the room, Lt. Leach, after shouting a warning to them, rushed to the door, evidently with the intention of throwing the bomb into some bushes.On reaching the door, however, he discovered a number of people in the vicinity and before he could throw the bomb clear it exploded, blowing off both of his hands and wounding him in stomach and legs. He was conveyed to hospital at Corbie with all possible speed, but died before it was reached. By his unselfish action he saved the lives of several others but lost his own. A court of enquiry was held in the evening.

1st Scots Guards war diary
Portrait photograph said to be of Grey De Lèche Leach. Uploaded to “Lives of the First World War” by member Ian3310.

On 4 September 1916, “a party of one officer, 24 other ranks, the pipes and drums, the [battalion] CO, 2nd-in-Command and the majority of officers attended the funeral of the late 2/Lt. G. de L. Leach, at Corbie. The body was interred in the ground set aside for British soldiers in the civil cemetery.”

Grey De Lèche Leach lies there still, in grave 1, row B, plot 2 in what is known as Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension.

Grey was born in Streatham, Surrey, on 1 March 1894, the son of ship owner Charles Frederick Leach and his wife Jessie, nee Peto. By 1901 the family lived in Leatherhead. An old boy of Uppingham School, Grey enlisted as a Private of the 5th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment on 10 August 1914 (just six days after war was declared). He went to India with the battalion, experiencing garrison service at Cawnpore and Nowshera. After applying for a commission as an officer, he was made Temporary Second Lieutenant of the Scots Guards (Special Reserve), on 4 November 1915. His service record suggests that he arrived in France on 4 June 1916. Grey’s younger brother Claude served as an officer of the Rifle Brigade.

Court of Enquiry

An internal enquiry was always held in such cases. The witness statements and judgement of this enquiry are contained with Leach’s service record. The president of the enquiry was Major M. Barne, supported by Lieutanant R. A. A. Abercromby and Second Lieutenant W. F. Martindale. Eleven days later, when the Guards Division went into attack in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, Warine Frederick Martindale, aged 22, was killed in action.

Sgt-Major 1931 Edward Thomas Cutler was born in Watford in 1878. He enlisted into the Scots Guards in 1898 and saw service in South Africa in the Second Boer War. By 1914 he was married with three children, and was appointed Quartermaster Sergeant of 1st Battalion just before it went to France in August 1914. Cutler served with the battalion until being returned home on 24 November 1916. After spending some time with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, he went back to the 1st in France in August 1918 (coincidentally exactly four years after he first landed there). His service continued until 1933, by which date he had been commissioned and was at the rank of Captain. Cutler served with the Shanghai Defence Force in 1927.

Sergeant 10321 David Dickson was aged 23 when he enlisted in Glasgow in September 1914. After training with 3rd (Reserve) Battalion he went to France in February 1915 with a draft for 1st Battalion. He was promoted Sergeant in June 1915, having been for some time an orderly room clerk. In the following August he was appointed Orderly Room Sergeant. In October 1917 he was returned home and attended a course at No. 3 Officer Cadet Battalion. He was commissioned as an officer of the North Staffordshire Regiment in July 1918 and was posted to the 51st (Graduated) Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He survived the war.

Lance Corporal 12050 Robert Gordon Hattle was aged 25 when he enlisted in Edinburgh in November 1914. After training with 3rd (Reserve) Battalion he went to France in April 1915 . Hattle sustained a shrapnel wound to his left leg while serving with 1st Battalion in the Battle of Loos in September 1915 but was able to rejoin the unit the following month. Promoted to Sergeant in 1917, he continued to serve with the battalion until he was returned home due to illness in November 1919.

Captain Hugh Wansey Bayley, Royal Army Medical Corps, was the battalion’s Medical Officer. Quite why his name was typed as Thyle is unknown. Born in 1872 he was also a veteran of the Second Boer War and after the Great War went on to become a notable Clinical Pathologist at the National Hospital for Paralysisand Vice President of the Society for the Prevention of Venereal Disease.

Captain H. W. Bayley RAMC. Portrait photograph from the publication “Bond Of Sacrifice” and included in Imperial War Museum collection under reference HU113524.
In a clear case, the enquiry absolved Leach of any blame. Further enquires also suggested that there was no manufacturing defect to the grenade that exploded.
The result of the enquiry soon came to attention of the CO of the Guards Division, Major-General John Ponsonby. It is quite possible that it was through Ponsonby that a recommendation for an award originated.
The terrible telegram that informed Grey’s father that he had “died of wounds”. His death was formally reported by 5 Casualty Clearing Station at Corbie.

Albert Medal

The “Times” of 12 December 1917 announced that Grey had been posthiously awarded the Albert medal in gold.

Story of a Noble Deed
The King has awarded the Albert Medal in gold in recognition of the conspicuous gallantry and self-sacrifice of 2nd Lt. Grey de L. Leach, late of the 1st Bn. Scots Guards. The circumstances are as follows:

“In France on Sept. 3rd, 1916, Lieutenant Leach was examining bombs in a building in which two non-commissioned officers were also at work, when the fuse of one of the bombs ignited. Shouting a warning he made for the door, carrying the bomb pressed close to his body, but on reaching the door he found other men outside, so that he could not throw the bomb away without exposing others to great danger. He continued therefore to press the bomb to his body until it exploded, mortally wounding him. Lieutenant Leach might easily have saved his life by thowing the bomb away or dropping it on the ground and seeking shelter, but either course would have endangered the lives of those in or around the building. He sacrificed his own life to save the lives of others.”

The “History of the Guards Division” suggest that this was the first time on which a Guards officer had received this particular award.

There is a splended brass memorial to Grey in St Mary & St Nicholas Church in Leatherhead, Surrey.


Service record of Grey De Lèche Leach (National Archives WO339/47788)

War diary of 1st Scots Guards (National Archives WO95/1929)

Army List 1914-1916

Times Digital Archive


Scots Guards

Recipients of the Albert Medal