“For Bravery in the Field”
Thus reads the inscription on the reverse of the Miltary Medal, a gallantry award that was instituted in the March of 1916 (although it was backdated to1914) for ‘other ranks’ of the British Army. It was a comparable honour to the Miltary Cross that was awarded to officers. There is a popular myth (probably started by someone who thought they deserved a M.M and didn’t get one) that the medal “came up to the trenches with the rations”. It did not. It was hard-earned, and exposed the recipient to mortal danger when he could have avoided it.
Wivenhoe can be proud of and grateful to these two recipients of the award.
The eight young Wivenhoe lads in the photo had volunteered for service abroad and after training in Essex and Norfolk departed for Gallipoli in the summer of 1915. At the back of the group, looking extremely laid-back, and wearing a woollen ‘Trench Raider’ hat, is Private Ben William Dann.
Also on that photograph is a soldier in full military kit – puttees, ammunition bandolier, and a rifle (the 1/5th were the first of the Territorial Force to be issued with live ammunition). The rifle even has a fixed bayonet!
The caption names him as Private Blundon, and Ben Dann must have known him well. Their service numbers were only two digits apart (250140 and 250142), and earlier pre-war numbers of 1608 and 1611 only three. It is quite likely they joined up together.
Ben Dann was 20 years old when he and Harold Blundon of D Company 5th Battalion Essex Regiment in August 1915 were plunged into the hell that was Gallipoli. A campaign resulting in a staggering loss of life. The Turks – who controlled the heights above the beaches – must have thought it was a turkey-shoot, and although there is still controversy about the figures, most sources seem to round out at about 27,000 French, and 115,000 Dominion Troops (British, Irish, Australian, New Zealand, Indian & Newfoundland) killed, missing, or wounded. That our two Wivenhoe lads survived at all is something of a miracle.
In September 1915 the Essex County Standard (ECS) received a poem by Lance Corporal B W Dann of Wivenhoe and Private S Halls, 5th Essex Regiment.
You can read it here. Verses from Gallipoli
The Middle East
The Battalion was evacuated to Alexandria December 1915 and for the next 3 years they remained and fought in the Egyptian/Palestinian Theatre of War.
Sadly, the citations for their medals and those of the majority were destroyed in the bombing raid of 1940 that also deprived us of many Service Records of the Great War.
However first hand accounts written after the war reveal the stories behind the actions that led to the medal being awarded.
This much we know…….
The 5th Battalion were part of the battle plan to create a defensive line from the Red Sea across to the Dead Sea. The last gap in the line was the town of Mulebbis near Jaffa. From mid November to early December all Companies of the 5th were entrenched on the south side of the Aluja River just to the North of Jaffa. The weather was foul. The heavy rain and mud made conditions extremely difficult. The Turks were constantly raiding these trenches.
On 3 December the 4th Battalion were ordered to relieve the 5th. D company however were ordered to remain, under the command of the 4th Battalion.
According to his Service Record, Harold earned his medal, 6 December 1917
We read in “The 161st Brigade” that the days between 3rd and 8th December were ones of “fire of all arms” and “shelling”. Without a citation this is as close as we can get.
D company rejoined 5th soon after and were part of the action when Mulebbis was finally taken on December 22nd and a front line from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea established.
The 5th Battalion in July 1918 were part of a defensive force holding the front line between the Red Sea and Dead Sea, following the Battle of Jaffa. Early on the morning of 21 July Benn Dann was part of a small patrol, 32 in strength under the command of Second Lieutenant A G Eden who were involved in a skirmish while protecting Haram Ridge. When the ammunition was exhausted Eden gave the order to charge a party of the enemy who were endeavouring to outflank the Essex Platoon. The enemy retreated but 9 men of the patrol were wounded and Eden was killed. It was for his actions on this day that Benn was awarded the Military Medal
Men like Ben and Harold – and there were many – endured unimaginable horrors, and were in mortal danger on a daily basis. They witnessed things no man should see, and faced death from disease and enemy fire. Constantly aware that their next breath could be their last, or that they could be terribly maimed, they somehow kept going, and they endured. Bear in mind, too, that our men were from the Territorial Force – they were not regular soldiers – but they found within themselves a courage which humbles us today. The Great War is firmly embedded in the national psyche, and still fascinates and horrifies a century on. “Bravery in the Field” seems an inadequate description. No medal could ever do justice to the deeds, but it is, perhaps, a small token of recognition. The war has now passed from living memory, and yet we cannot – and do not – forget.
What else do we know?
Both Ben and Harold survived the war
Harold John Blundon
Harold was born in Elmstead on 12th July 1894, the second son of Robert Blundon, a shepherd, and his wife Christiana. Harold’s younger brother, Frank, also served in the Great War, by which time the family had moved to 5, Manor Road, Wivenhoe, from Gravel Pit Cottages.
Harold was in the 1/5th Essex throughout, serving at Gallipoli, Ghaza, Sinai, and Megiddo (from which name, I am told, Armageddon derives!). He was awarded the Military Medal on 6th December 1917, and it may have been won soon after the third battle of Gaza. By the 9th December the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) had captured Jerusalem. Again, without the citation, we cannot be certain.
Little is known about Harold’s life after the war, except that he married a Rowhedge girl, Florence Coppin, in 1927. There do not appear to have been any children from this marriage. Harold John Blundon M.M. died in 1970 at the age of 76. His death is recorded in the registration district of Colchester.
Ben William Dann
It was always ‘Ben’, never ‘Benjamin’ – was born in 1895 to Benjamin James Dann, a Mariner, and Grace Eliza, his wife. The family lived in Colne Terrace, Park Road, Wivenhoe, and Ben had a sister, Grace Sophia, who was born in 1896. By 1911, Ben was an apprentice Ship’s Plater, presumably at the local shipyard.
After the war, Ben went – in 1919 – to the Belgian Congo, although in what capacity is unknown. He had returned to England by 1924, when, on September 10th, he married Grace Mary Hazell Barham at St Michael’s Church, Croydon. The couple are known to have had at least two children. Ben became an Engineer, and in 1943, made the somewhat risky crossing from Bombay to Liverpool on board the Cunard White Star liner ‘Britannic’. He gave his occupation as ‘Engineer’, and his address as “c/o Anglo-Iranian Oil Company”, which is now BP.
Ben William Dann, M.M., died on 4th December 1958, at the comparatively early age of 63. His address was given as ‘Beechcroft’, The Avenue, Wivenhoe. His widow, Grace, soldiered on, and died in 1985. There are very probably people who remember them both.