Many readers of this site will be aware of the recent campaign for a posthumous award of the Military Cross to Second Lieutenant Walter Daniel Tull.
The campaign is based on documented evidence that Tull had been recommended for an award before he was killed in action on 25 March 1918. This comes from a letter written by his comrade Second Lieutenant Donald Henry Pickard, who wrote shortly after Walter’s death.
Pickard says clearly that Walter “had been recommended for the Military Cross and had certainly earned it”.
It is not the intention of this article to make a judgement on the case, but to present the facts as they can be seen from documentary evidence. I leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.
No paperwork regarding the recommendations and approvals of gallantry awards now exists. It is believed that it was lost in the fire that destroyed the Army Record Centre at Walworth, London, in 1940.
Walter’s position at the time of these events
Walter Daniel Tull had been commissioned as a Temporary Second Lieutenant of the 5th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment on 30 May 1917.
He had already spent 23 months as a soldier with the regiment’s 17th (Service) Battalion and then 2 months with the 23rd (Service) Battalion when he submitted an application for a commission in December 1916. Tull passed the officer training and selection course at 10 Officer Cadet Battalion at Gailes in Ayrshire. It is of interest to see that on his application for a commission he expressed a preference either for the infantry or the Wireless Equipment Department of the Royal Flying Corps.
Walter returned to France and was attached to the 23rd (Service) Battalion: the precise date is not known, for it does not appear in his own service record or get a mention in the battalion’s diary.
Donald Henry Pickard joined the same battalion on 20 July 1917. He left during April 1918, suffering with trench fever, shortly after writing the letter. He returned to England to go to Reading War Hospital on 17 May 1918, but according to his diary (details provided to me by his grandson) he actually attended the Red Cross Hospital at Netley.
The 23rd (Service) Battalion was under command of 123rd Infantry Brigade of 41st Division. It moved to Italy with the division in November 1917 and returned to France in early March 1918.
Although Walter participated in other actions while serving with the battalion, the only obvious event that may have led to a recommendation was a raid carried out by the battalion on 1 January 1918.
Details of this action have been compiled for orders and after-action reports held in the following war diaries, all of which are held at the National Archives in Kew, London
WO95/4243 Diary of 23 (Service) Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment
• also WO95/4243 Diary of headquarters of 123 Infantry Brigade
WO95/4241 Diary of Adjutant of 41 Division
• also WO95/4241 Diary of General Staff of 41 Division
WO95/4212 Diary of Adjutant of XIV Corps
• Also WO95/4212 Diary of General Staff of Corps
WO95/ 4197 Diary of Adjutant of British General HQ in Italy.
I have also examined the army service records of Tull and Pickard, which are also at the National Archives in pieces WO339/90293 and WO339/91272.
On 1 January 1918, Walter’s battalion carried out a raid with the specific intention of taking enemy prisoners. A total of ten officers and 284 men took part. To conduct the raid it was necessary to cross the multiple streams of the River Piave, for the British-held front line was on one bank and the Austrian-held line well over a kilometre away on the far side. The raid was to achieve surprise,
so no initial artillery or other fire was made and the deployment was carried out as quietly as possible.
At 5.30pm, the whole raiding party, under command of Second Lieutenant (Acting Captain) Walter Hammond, assembled and proceeded to the river line.
At 6.10pm, Tull, who had been placed in command of a covering party of 26 men, crossed the streams. The job of his party was to shield the rest of the raid as it crossed the river and proceeded forwards; and to protect it as it later withdrew back to British lines. He was followed by Lieutenant Kenneth Collard Randall and 20 men, who at once put ropes across the streams to act as a guide for the parties that followed.
At 6.40pm, two more parties crossed. They were to deploy as flank guards: that is, they would protect the left and right of the area and ensure that the main central advance would face no
interference from those flanks. On the right was Lieutenant Salter and 50 men; on the left came Second Lieutenants Frank Cowderey and William Conway Day, with 60 men.
The main raiding party of 77 men crossed at 7pm, led by Second Lieutenants Donald Henry Pickard, Sydney Robert Hylands and Thomas John Pitty.
At 7.15pm, the raiding party’s headquarters (Hammond and 27 men), signallers (under Second Lieutenant Edward James Ashenden), and 32 stretcher bearers of the Royal Army Medical Corps under Captain William McMeekin Chesney MC, also crossed.
The raid proceeded well until 8.15pm when it was detected, and fifteen minutes later the enemy’s artillery opened fire. The main raiding party was still 300 metres short of the enemy’s line and had reached a belt of protective barbed wire. With surprise now impossible, an order was given to retire.
By 9.30pm, all of the various parties had returned to the British lines. They included four men who had been wounded, together with three enemy prisoners. (I also discovered that one soldier, Private Benjamin Levy, drowned during the river crossing. It is curious that none of the reports mention this, except the battalion war diary which records one man was missing.)
On 3 January 1918, the raiding party was visited by the divisional and brigade commanding officers. It is of course quite possible that this was when congratulations and possible recommendations were discussed.
With no mention at all of any awards arising from the raid in the war diaries, I have traced the awards by reference to the men’s service records, campaign medal records and the “London Gazette”.
Acting Captain Walter Hammond was given the Military Cross, with a citation appearing in the “London Gazette” on 18 July 1918. The citation reads,
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When in command of a large raiding party he carried out a successful operation, and brought his party back with three prisoners and only a few minor casualties, despite heavy shell and rifle fire. Previously to the raid he had been of the greatest assistance to his commanding officer both in making preparations, reconnaissance, and in training the men for the operation. His skill and gallant leadership throughout were most marked.”
Second Lieutenant Donald Henry Pickard also received the Military Cross, but it was part of the King’s Birthday Honours of 3 June 1918 and as such there is no published citation. It is not clear whether it relates to the raid but given his role in leading the main party there is obviously a possibility that this is the case.
None of the other eight officers who crossed the river received awards for their parts in the raid.
One other officer, Second Lieutenant James MacGregor Morrison, also received the Military Cross. His citation also appeared in the “London Gazette” on 18 July 1918:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Previous to a raid he was one of the first to cross the river on a reconnaissance, and during the raid itself he controlled the crossing of the whole party and saw them safely back again. He rescued many men who were in difficulties, though under shell and rifle fire, and behaved throughout with great gallantry and determination.”
Pitty was killed and Hammond wounded on the same date that Walter Daniel Tull lost his life.
Second Lieutenant William Conway Day was awarded the Military Cross, citation published in the “London Gazette” on 5 April 1918, but this was a late award for work at Langemarck in October 1917. The award was noted in General Routine Orders from the British General Headquarters in Italy on 18 March 1918.
Frank Cowderey and Sydney Hylands were mentioned in Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Plumer’s despatch, published in the “London Gazette” of 30 May 1918, but it is not possible to determine whether this was for their work in the raid or an alternative action.
The regulations as laid down in “Instructions regarding recommendations for honours and awards 1918”. Specifically, this includes the following points:
- “officers are forbidden to divulge at any time the nature of the recommendations they have made. … In no case should the relatives or friends of an officer or soldier be informed that he has been recommended for an award”. “Such letters, though kindly meant, are apt to raise hopes which cannot be fulfilled”.
I have also seen a transcript of a letter of condolence written to Walter’s brother by Major F. C. Poole, dated 12 April 1918, in which he says that Walter “was recommended recently for a Military Cross”. In other words, both Pickard and Poole were either in ignorance of the “Instructions” or chose to ignore them.
Some sources have stated that the divisional commanding officer Major General Sydney Lawford praised Walter for gallantry and coolness. This document is held by Walter’s family. They have kindly provided me with a copy. It is what is known in regulations as a “complimentary card” and is not a recommendation for an award, expressly saying that “It does not follow that your name will be submitted to higher authority”, which is in line with the regulations concerning regulations.
In his 23 March 2018 letter to the Prime Minister, setting out the case for a posthumous award to Walter, the Rt. Hon. David Lammy MP stated that Walter Tull had been mentioned in despatches. This does not appear to be the case. There is no mention of it in Walter’s own service record; there is no announcement in the “London Gazette”; and there is no entry of it on his campaign medal index card or rolls.