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Date of Auction: 13th December 2007

Sold for £3,500

Estimate: £2,000 - £2,500

A Great War Edward Medal for Industry and M.S.M. for Gallantry group of four to Corporal C. Ashley, Royal Field Artillery, awarded for the Disastrous Explosion at the Explosive Loading Company’s Works at Faversham, Kent, 2 April 1916

Edward Medal (Industry), G.V.R., 1st issue, with 2nd type reverse, bronze (Corporal Charles Ashley), in case of issue; British War and Victory Medals (685774 Cpl., R.A.); Army Meritorious Service Medal, G.V.R. (685774 Cpl., 2/3 Lanc. bde. R.F.A.-T.F.) very fine and better (4) £2000-2500

Footnote

E.M. London Gazette 22 January 1918.

M.S.M. London Gazette 12 December 1917.

Corporal Charles Ashley, R.F.A., was awarded the Edward Medal for Industry in bronze and Meritorious Service Medal for Gallantry, for his services following the explosion at the Explosive Loading Company’s factory at Uplees Marshes, Faversham, Kent, on 2 April 1916.

At about midday of 2nd April 1916, sparks from a boiler house set alight some empty sacks by the side of a shed containing T.N.T. and ammonium nitrate. Despite the best efforts of the work force, the fire took hold of the shed and the area was ordered to be cleared. Soon afterwards, at about 1.20 p.m., the building blew up and the resulting explosion triggered further explosions from the nitro-glycerine washing plant nearby. The main explosion left a crater some 40 yards across and 20 feet deep, destroying adjacent buildings and causing fires throughout the factory complex. Some 20 and 40 minutes after the main explosion two further explosions occured and throughout the factory there was the continual danger of smaller but equally deadly detonations from munitions and mines. Into this lethal enviroment, teams of factory workers, fire brigade and army personnel attempted to tackle the blaze and rescue the injured, many of whom had suffered terrible burns.

One such party was led by 2nd Lieutenant Stebbings, 2nd/3rd West Lancashire Brigade, R.F.A., which included amongst its number Corporal Charles Ashley. In his report, Stebbings stated, ‘... on Sunday 2nd April at 1.20 p.m., on information received I commandeered a motor bus and proceeded with a detachment of men of the 2nd/3rd Lancashire Battery to the scene of the fire at Uplees. We arrived there between 1.30 and 1.35 p.m. and proceeded to remove injured men. At first I did not notice any other men present, but soon found 4-6 men whom I did not recognise; two men of the Royal Engineers I particularly noticed. A second explosion occured about 1.40 p.m. besides many minor explosions. Each victim had to be dug out of the mud and debris by hand and in many cases it was necessary to extinguish their clothing or tear it off as many of the injured men were on fire. No hurdles were obtainable for use as stretchers and the casualties had to be dragged or carried through mud and ditches with their rescuers sometimes up to their necks in water. The handful of rescuers worked heroically and were above all praise, especially during the explosion. Later more troops from this brigade arrived, passages were made across the ditches and hurdles procured. No fire fighting appliances were used until late in the afternoon. I cannot speak too highly of the courage and endurance of these few men of the Engineers, Anti-Aircraft Battery and 2nd/3rd Lancashire Battery who worked alone for the first 30-35 minutes and removed between 30 and 50 very badly injured men’.

Meritorious Service Medals for Gallantry were awarded to deserving men of Corporal Harris party by the London Gazette of 12 March 1917, and to 2nd Lieutenant Stebbing’s party by the London Gazette 12 December 1917. It was noted however that the award of the M.S.M. for Gallantry given to the military rescuers was of a lesser standing than the Edward Medals awarded to several civilians. At the time the Edward Medal could only be awarded to those ‘... who in the course of Industrial Employment endanger their own lives in saving or endeavouring to save the lives of others’. As the soldiers were not in ‘Industrial Employment’ they were deemed ineligible for the award of the Edward Medal. The problem was overcome by a new Royal Warrant dated 28 August 1917 in which the qualifications were less rigid. As a result of this change, a further five Edward Medals were awarded in respect of the Faversham Explosion - one each given to Corporal Charles Thomas Harris and Bombardier Arthur Frederick Edwards - part of the ‘Harris Rescue Party’; one each to Corporal Charles Ashley and Bombardier Bert Dugdale - part of ‘Stebbing’s Rescue Party’, and one to Lieutenant John Morley Stebbings himself, who had hitherto received no award for his brave actions. The fact that four of these men received the E.M. and M.S.M. - two gallantry awards, for the same action, was sensibly disregarded. For the action, 13 Edward Medals in Bronze were awarded together with 17 Meritorious Service Medals for Gallantry.

Sold with copied research including a paper by Major J. D. Sainsbury taken from the Journal of the O.M.R.S., Summer 1979, on the Faversham Explosion.