Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (22 July 2015)
Date of Auction: 22nd July 2015
Sold for £8,500
Estimate: £7,000 - £9,000
Military Cross, G.V.R., reverse contemporarily engraved 'No.25224 B.S.M. P.J. Jenkins, M.C., R.F.A. Awarded January, 1918'; Distinguished Conduct Medal, G.V.R. (25224 Sjt: P.J. Jenkins. 27/Bty. R.F.A); Queen's South Africa 1899-1902, three clasps, Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal (25224 Tptr: P.J. Jenkins. 9th Bty: R.F.A.); King's South Africa 1901-02, two clasps (25224 Tptr: P.J. Jenkins. R.F.A.); 1914 Star, with bar (25224 Sjt. P.J. Jenkins, R.F.A); British War and Victory Medals, with M.I.D. oak leaves (25224 A-W.O.Cl.1. P.J. Jenkins R.A.); Army L.S. & G.C., G.V.R., 1st 'Field Marshal's bust' type (25224 By: S. Mjr: P.J. Jenkins. R.F.A.), worn throughout, nearly very fine, mounted as originally worn, with "Old Contemptible" Past Chairman's silver-gilt "jewel" (Hallmarks for London 1919), reverse engraved "Chum P.J. Jenkins M.C., D.C.M. for services as Chairman Woolwich Branch 1930", mounted as worn, generally nearly very fine (9)
FootnoteM.C. London Gazette 1 January 1918 (B.S.M. Percy John Jenkins, R.F.A.)
D.C.M. London Gazette 23 October 1914 (Serjeant P.J. Jenkins, 27th Battery, Royal Field Artillery) Personally presented by the King at Nieppe on 2 December 1914.
The original citation states:
'For bravery and devotion in withdrawing guns by hand under heavy fire near Ligny on 26th August.'
Despatches three times London Gazette 20 October 1914, 9 December 1914 and 18 May 1917.
Army L.S. & G.C. Army Order 312 of 1 October 1917.
Battery Sergeant Major Percy John Jenkins served as a Trumpeter with the 9th Battery, Royal Field Artillery during the Boer War. A long-serving regular soldier, he was based at Woolwich immediately prior to the outbreak of war in 1914. Jenkins arrived in France on 23rd August 1914 with 27th Battery, 32nd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, armed with horse-drawn 18 pounder field guns, as part of 4th Division. This Division had been held back to defend Britain in case of an immediate German invasion, but after about two weeks was released to the B.E.F., arriving just in time to fight at Le Cateau on August 26. An R.F.A. brigade was roughly equivalent to a cavalry regiment or an infantry battalion. It was made up of three batteries, each of six guns, each manned by six gun-crew (4 to work the gun, 2 to bring up ammunition) and commanded by a Sergeant like Jenkins.
The Battle of Le Cateau
Five days after landing in France and making a long train journey to the Belgian frontier area, 27 Battery was heavily engaged on the British left flank during the Battle of Le Cateau. This was an important delaying rearguard action fought by Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien’s II Corps of the British Expeditionary Force, which probably saved the British from destruction by the massive German onslaught during the general Allied retreat following sustained German successes at the four Battles of the Frontiers.
Le Cateau was ‘The Last Battle of the Old War,’ in which the British field guns were deployed in the traditional style, far forward alongside the infantry, where they fired over open sights, playing a vital role in beating off German attacks and inflicting heavy losses with their shrapnel rounds. Although the battlefield was chosen by Smith-Dorrien, he was limited in his options. The location, a long ridge running west-east with Le Cateau at its eastern end, was far from ideal. The ground was soft, so easy for the troops to dig in, but it lacked cover, was dominated by a German-held ridge to the north and, worst of all, both flanks were open. The situation on the right flank, the hills around the Le Cateau valley, was perilous from the start, as the Germans infiltrated during the night. The west, held by 4th Division, was absolutely vulnerable to flanking movements designed to encircle II Corps. Field guns deployed in the open presented easy targets.
In the battle orders, 32 Brigade was detailed to support 11th Infantry Brigade, which held several areas of vital ground immediately to the west of Caudry, a village that anchored the centre of Smith-Dorrien’s line. The most vital position was the village of Ligny, and even as the dawn mists began to burn off the Germans were already firing on it. Consequently, 32 Brigade RFA went into action as rapidly as possible and in echelon, with 27 Battery on the right and closest to Ligny. 27 Battery unlimbered in the open stubble-fields and corn-stooks to the west of Ligny, about 25 yards in front of a sunken road, while the other two batteries of the brigade took positions behind cover, 134 to the south west and 135 to the left rear of 27 Battery. 27’s Battery Observation Post was on slightly higher ground about forty yards away to the right.
It was nearly 7 am when the German onslaught against 11th Infantry Brigade began seriously. Then their vastly superior artillery and machine-guns prepared and covered an attack on Haucourt. The immediate result was a vigorous artillery duel. Both 27 and 134 searched for guns behind the ridge near Fontaine-au-Pire. 27, being in action in the open, drew down on itself a heavy return fire from several enemy batteries, which it did its best to keep engaged, in order to draw the fire off its own Infantry. Locating one enemy battery (at 3,650 yards range), 27 silenced it except for one gun, direct hits being reported on two of the others. This German Battery had been engaged in shelling 11th Infantry, but their switch on to 27 Battery was very slow, and 27 was able to begin Battery Fire (i.e. all six guns on to the same target) before the Germans had finished ranging. 27 was then engaged by two or three German batteries, and it became too dangerous to bring up any more ammunition to the guns. The detachments were withdrawn to cover until the German infantry advanced.
The village of Ligny was a very important point. Its loss, as well as jeopardising the position held by Fourth Division, would affect the Third Division quite as materially, because it commanded the ridge line to the east. It was essential to hold the village, and during the morning 135 Battery’s guns were split into sections, which were deployed among the hedges on the north and northeast outskirts of Ligny, to provide close defence.
During the artillery duels of the morning, 27 Battery, still in its cornfield, was engaged most heavily, defending Ligny while 135 was on the move. 27 knocked out a machine gun for the 11th Infantry Brigade; but the Germans immediately opened so many batteries on it that again the ammunition could not be replenished and when it was nearly exhausted the detachments were withdrawn until the storm subsided. During this bombardment the Germans achieved a direct hit on the under shield of No 5 Gun. Soon after a pause occurred and ammunition was replenished, all the wagons being brought up by hand along the road in the rear, and the wheel of No 5 gun was replaced.
Towards noon, 27 Battery was ordered to cover the retirement of some of 11 Infantry Brigade. As the British infantry in front fell back, the guns of 27 opened on a German battery that was in action close to the one 27 had knocked out earlier in the morning. This drew down an intense return fire from an enemy Heavy as well as from two Field batteries. An Infantry Brigade Major now came up to the Battery Commander and said that the Battery, by drawing the German fire on to itself, was doing just what the Infantry wanted. The Battery managed to keep in action until its ammunition ran out. Then, as no more could be brought up, the men were, for a third time, withdrawn under cover.
The Withdrawal from Le Cateau – Saving the Guns
During the early afternoon Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien decided to break off the action and resume his retreat. The line began to thin out as units were ordered off the field, but 32nd Brigade RFA stayed in action right until the end, to cover Fourth Division’s pullout. 135 Battery, which had inflicted heavy losses with close range shrapnel bursts on the German infantry advancing up the rolling down-land towards Ligny, was ordered by the Brigadier of 11th Infantry to abandon its guns, but the battery commander managed to extract them without loss. Finally only 27 Battery was left in place, still in action in its corn field.
“The task performed by the senior battery in the brigade [27 Battery, whose predecessor had been raised in 1794] was even more difficult than that of 135 Battery…, to withdraw its guns directly darkness fell. The C.R.A. himself [Commander, Royal Artillery of 4th Division] saw the battery in action after the infantry had retired from its vicinity. Probably it was well after 5 p.m. when, realising that Ligny must shortly be entered by the Germans, the Lieutenant-Colonel commanding 32 Brigade called for volunteers from the battery to run out the guns by hand. The Battery Commander (Major Vallentin) and the whole battery volunteered immediately.” (The Royal Regiment of Artillery at Le Cateau, 26th August 1914, by Major A. F. Becke, Chapter 8 refers).
There were two problems to overcome; the German bombardment by artillery and machine-gun, and the fact that, as the guns had been firing in action all day, the recoil had buried their trails so deep into the soft soil that they could not easily be lifted out. Becke continues “Men were then dribbled forward to the guns and, keeping under the cover of the shields, they set to work with picks and loosened the earth round the trails. During pauses in the shelling, a gun or a limber was run back to the road. Thus, by dint of steady work and seizing the opportunities offered, four guns and four limbers were withdrawn into the sunken road in the rear. Then suddenly the firing increased and when the detachments were working on the next gun a heavy and accurate fire opened on the Battery. A second attempt met with the same fate and most unwillingly it was decided that the enterprise must be abandoned, for its continuance might lead to its total failure. Forming up the four guns under cover, they waited their time and then made a sudden dash to the south-west pursued by German shells - fortunately all [fell] very short. These four guns were saved.”
Despite Major Becke’s noble assertion that the entire battery volunteered to pull back the guns, it is clear that not everyone in the gun teams went back onto the gun position (or all six guns could have been retrieved in the first or second pauses in the german bombardment). About 30 NCOs and men were available, allowing for one killed, seven listed as casualties, plus a few more with minor wounds. Two, maximum four men were the most that could access each buried trail with picks and shovels, two were needed to pull a limber and four a gun. It seems that the Battery Commander decided to limit the number of men at risk by working on recovering each gun in turn, with Sergeant Jenkins (a Gun team commander) playing a leading role.
“To the west of Ligny the position of the 27th Battery was even worse; nevertheless, the gunners, taking advantage of every lull, had succeeded in running back four guns and limbers to the sunken road in the rear when an increase in the German artillery fire compelled them to abandon the remaining two. The battery then formed up and awaited its opportunity; eventually it made a dash to the south-west, and, though it was pursued by German shells, got its four guns safely away. ” (Official History of the War, Vol 1, refers).
Because the guns were deployed so far forward, 36 artillery pieces were lost at Le Cateau, with three batteries having to abandon all their equipment on the battlefield. Fourth Division lost only two guns, those that Jenkins and his comrades were unable to pull back. 27 Battery suffered 12% of the total Royal Artillery casualties (225) at Le Cateau.
Subsequent Military Career
During the retreat to the Marne, 27 Battery marched more than 150 miles in eleven days. During the remainder of 1914 Jenkins fought in the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne; then at Messines, following the move of the BEF to the Ypres sector. Percy Jenkins transferred to 134 Battery of 32 Brigade on 9th February 1915 and was duly promoted to the key appointment of Battery Sergeant -Major. He saw service at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, before moving to the Somme in 1916. In 1917 the 32nd Brigade RFA was heavily involved in the Battles of Arras in the Spring, for which he received a Mention in Despatches, and Third Ypres in the autumn (most likely the period in which he won his MC).
Percy Jenkins was discharged to pension on 23 February 1922. It seems that he settled in or near to Woolwich; his battery had been based there before the war and he had a strong association with the local branch of the ‘Old Contemptibles’.