“The state I was in when finally I did reach our trenches can be imagined. Challenged by a sentry, I was almost too exhausted to reply. Plastered with mud and clothing literally in shreds, I was almost unrecognisable even by men of my own Company”
Sergeant Reginald Evans – DCM
The following year, in February 1916, Reg was badly wounded in the face and underwent pioneering plastic surgery performed by Captain (later Sir) Harold Gillies at Britain’s first plastic unit set up in the Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot
By Chris ELLIOTT ….
This article follows on from Saturday 30th March 2019 when I went along to St Andrews Church, Kyrenia for a memorial service in memory of Pamela Campbell who passed away on 15th April 2018 in the UK. Pamela’s daughter Vanessa Parr, who I had met at St Andrews Hermitage together with her mother and father Peter in 2012 when they were visiting North Cyprus, had brought a copy of a Cyprus Observer newspaper in which I had written an account of her grandfather as told to me by her mother Pamela.
Sgt Reginald Evans, Pamela’s father, was awarded the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) which was the second highest medal and was instituted in 1854 during the Crimean War for gallantry and was in use until 1993. The family were all very proud of him but also so pleased to talk about how he overcame the trauma of war and a very serious injury to go on to lead a full and happy life.
Pamela said her father, Reginald Josiah Thomas Evans was born in January 1888, a month after his father died. He was educated at the Spurgeon Orphanage in London and then served an apprenticeship as a wood borer at the Gade Brush Factory of GB Kent and Son Ltd, Apsley. He lived with his mother and brothers in Broad Street, Hemel Hempstead. He joined the Herts Territorials in 1913 and he was with them at camp in August the following year, when war was declared.
The Gazette of 8th August 1914 described the scene:-
“The first intimation which the Territorials had that matters were regarded seriously, was the order to strike camp at Ashridge and return to their homes to await further instructions. They did so and the call to mobilise came on Tuesday evening, when notices ordering the Territorials to report themselves to headquarters were posted on the post office and other prominent places. There was an immediate rush to respond to the call and the first to reach the Drill Hall was Mr R Evans. Others quickly followed on and soon the hall was filled with members of the local Company, all highly delighted at the prospect of being able to serve their country.”
So Reg, Pamela’s dad, was the first man from Hemel Hempstead to join up.
She said he served in F Company of the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment and, after a stay in Bury St Edmunds, travelled to France in November 1914. In October 1915, becoming Corporal Evans he was then awarded the DCM for a moonlight reconnaissance. Reg wrote later that they needed :
“a volunteer to go out that night and report what damage had been done to the enemy’s wire and front trenches by the intensive bombardment. The artillery would receive orders to cease fire for an hour whilst the reconnaissance was carried out but, so as not to raise suspicions at the lull, machine guns would carry on covering fire over the German lines. Whoever took the job on would have to go alone. It would probably mean death but would certainly mean glory.”
Reg went out on his mission and returned safely despite the artillery starting a fresh bombardment:-
“The state I was in when finally I did reach our trenches can be imagined. Challenged by a sentry, I was almost too exhausted to reply. Plastered with mud and clothing literally in shreds, I was almost unrecognisable even by men of my own Company. After making my report I found an old dug-out where I was only too glad to turn in and sleep. I had been out over an hour longer than was intended and been given up for lost, hence the recommencement of the bombardment, which so nearly caused my death. A personal letter from the General commanding the brigade was handed to me next morning, thanking me for the reconnaissance made and the report sent in and when after a few days, news came through that I had been awarded the D.C.M. I felt that I should need the attraction of a whole barrow-load of decorations before undertaking another expedition of the same kind.”
The following year, in February 1916, Reg was badly wounded in the face and contracted Scarlet Fever and was held in isolation until he could be shipped back to the UK during May. He was then taken to the Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot where he underwent pioneering plastic surgery performed by Captain (later Sir) Harold Gillies at Britain’s first plastic surgery unit. Here Captain Gillies performed 11,000 operations on over 5,000 patients.
Pictures of Reg and his facial reconstruction were incorporated into a book “Plastic Surgery of the Face” by Sir Harold Gillies which has become a reference manual for plastic surgery techniques ever since.
In September 1916 Reg was now a sergeant, and making a remarkable recovery and returned to a hero’s welcome in Hemel Hempstead and received a present of a gold watch from his employers.
Pamela said whilst he was recovering from his wounds he joined the Royal Sussex Regiment before transferring for a period into the Flying Corp at Uxbridge and then learning of a volunteer force being raised, he joined the British Expeditionary Force’s campaign in Russia against Lenin’s Bolsheviks of 1918-1919. Her father was shipped out with the other troops en-route to Murmansk during October and he wrote that the conditions on the boat were horrendous because of the cold. After arrival they found no arrangements had been made to receive them and the troops marched out of the town before they reached a monastery where they set up camp and did not return from their mission to the UK until the latter part of 1919.
After the war, Reg found it difficult to resume his civilian life back in Hemel Hempstead and went to live in Armitage, Staffordshire, from where his mother originated. He married Eva Walker in 1924 and they had four children – Bill, Mary, Pamela and another son who died as an infant.
He ran newsagents in Armitage and also served as parish clerk, Secretary of The Royal British Legion and was in the Home Guard during the Second World War. He died in 1943 and is buried in Armitage Churchyard.
When speaking with Pamela she told me that she has always been proud of her father’s exploits and she was encouraged by her family to write to the BBC who were preparing a special edition of Antiques Roadshow for Remembrance Day. Having sent a profile of her father’s life, she was delighted to be invited to go to the National Memorial Arboretum which is managed by the Royal British Legion and took part in this BBC programme and told the story of her father at the beginning of the programme. As Pamela said her dad was a very special man and is buried in Armitage only a few miles away from where this programme was made, at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas near Lichfield.
Life is like a wheel and goes in circles and I was very touched and glad to be able to remember Pamela and her memories of her father Sergeant Reginald Evans – DCM and with the permission of the family share these memories again to hopefully a larger readership.