A Collection of Medals to the 20th (Blackheath and Woolwich) Battalion, London Regiment

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Date of Auction: 25th September 2008

Sold for £2,100

Estimate: £2,000 - £2,500

A fine C.B.E. and Great War Western Front ‘Givenchy’ D.S.O. group of seven awarded to Captain W. M. L. Escombe, 1/20th Battalion, London Regiment, later Superintendent, Hertfordshire Special Constabulary

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, C.B.E. (Civil) Commander’s 2nd type; Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R., complete with top brooch bar; 1914-15 Star (Capt., 20-Lond. R.); British War and Victory Medals, with M.I.D. oak leaf (Capt.); Defence Medal 1939-45; Special Constabulary Long Service Medal, G.V.R., coinage head, two clasps, Long Service 1941, Long Service 1944 (Supt.William L. L. Escombe) mounted court style as worn, some very minor damage to enamel on wreath of D.S.O., otherwise good very fine or better (7) £2000-2500

Footnote

C.B.E. London Gazette 11 June 1960 ‘For political and public services in St Albans.’

D.S.O.
London Gazette 24 July 1915 ‘For conspicuous gallantry and skill in establishing himself on the crest of the Givenchy bluff on 28 May 1915, under very heavy fire, and from there directing bomb throwers with great success for an hour. His prompt action not only repelled a hostile attack, but secured fresh ground, which was consolidated.’

M.I.D.
London Gazette 1 January 1916.

Captain William Malcolm Lingard Escombe was born at Bromley, Kent in 1891 and educated at Bradfield College. He was commissioned into the 20th London Regiment in March 1911 and served on the Western Front from March 1915 until 25 September 1915 when he received a gunshot wound to his right arm at the Battle of Loos. In December 1916 he was appointed Assistant Instructor at the 2nd Army Central School, British Expeditionary Force, being transferred to the Reserve of Officers in 1919. He joined the Hertfordshire Constabulary in May 1926 attaining the rank of Superintendent in 1933, before retiring in 1945 at the end of the Second World War. He then pursued a career in local politics serving as Chairman of the St Albans (Parliamentary) Division of the Conservative and Unionist Association.

Captain Escombe published a nine page account of his part in the Battle of Loos from which the following is extracted: ‘At last the moment that we have waited for for six weeks arrives. We adjust our smoke helmets ready to pull down at a moment’s notice. Suddenly the word comes, “It’s started”. A hasty glance over the parapet shows a thick brown cloud emerging from the front line. The next moment there is the crack of a Boche rifle, then another and another, then dozens, then hundreds and machine guns as well. The bullets crackle and whistle over our heads in a storm. Up go the rockets and star shells and then the Boche guns start. With a shriek and a roar the shells arrive. Faster and aster they come. HE shrapnel, big stuff, small stuff, pip-squeaks, 77s, 5-9s, tearing the air to ribbons, scattering the earth clouds, smothering the atmosphere with fumes, dust and flying fragments. One gun or battery in particular persistently puts HE’s about 50 yards beyond my bit of trench showering us with dirt each time. A bit of spent shrapnel hits me thud on the shoulder but has not the force to go through my clothing. Then a bit of dirt hits the rim of my goggles as I hold them in my hand and knocks the glass out – a serious accident this, but with Andy’s help I am able to replace it. Our own guns have now worked themselves into a frenzy, and the din is awful. I glance constantly at my watch. It seems impossible for anyone to get out on top and live, but my mind goes back to accounts of previous battles. How often is that phrase used; and yet men do get through, so why shouldn’t some of us?
Six-thirty at last. “There’re off” the news flashes along the line. I glance over the top and there in the dense smoke are the Irish advancing in line. Weird and uncanny they look – mere shadows in the curling yellow fog – but they never hesitate; each line adjusts itself and disappears. Here indeed is borne the fruit of all that training at Hatfield, St Albans, and in our days of ‘rest’ behind the line; for nothing but the absolute habit of moving in line at five paces interval could enable men to do so under these hellish conditions.

There goes our front line, now the second and third – our turn next. We scramble over the parapet and out of the saps, stumble through a few strands of wire and throw ourselves down for a brief pause. Then up and we double forward as fast as we can, jumping our supernumerary and front lines or crossing them by the bridges placed there by our men before they left. We must get clear our lines as quickly as possible as that is where the shells are falling thickest. My helmet hampers my breathing considerably and once clear of the front line I am glad to break into quick time. I can see Andy beside me but we have to shout to make each other hear. It is not possible to recognise men at a few yards owing to their helmets and the smoke.

The air seems to whiz past me with bullets, but I hardly notice anyone falling. Suddenly my outlet valve becomes choked and refuses to work. I can’t get my breath fast enough; in vain I gasp – my lungs are empty. But for Andy I should fall. I feel I must drop just where I am and rest, but he clutches my arm. My only hope is to raise my helmet and chance the gas. I can see others doing it and tear mine off. A few deep breaths of cool air revive me and as there is no gas to hurt I can push on. Now I find myself in the Boche wire, but luckily I strike an easy place and get through without trouble, though I can see men dropping all around. A grenade pitches amongst a group of men on my left. I can see the hole it blows in the ground. The men seem to hesitate and then fall, but I hear no sound – the general roar of battle drowns everything. The Boche front line at last – I hurl myself over it but the parados gives and I slip back. There is a dug-out behind me into which the Irish have driven some Germans.

I take a chance shot down the entrance before willing hands heave me up again and Andy pulls me to my feet and on we go. It is still impossible to see more than a few hundred yards. I try to find Tower Bridge or cassier to check my position, but I cannot see them, so I drop down and take a compass bearing – we are too far left. Now we cross a track and reach a communication trench. I rack my brains to think where they come in on the map. A Boche is located in this trench, but the lines sweep on. Here I recognise some of my men, P.C. Litten amongst them.

Again I drop down to take a bearing and then thud – something hits me a stinging blow on the right arm just below the shoulder. I am hit, I tell Andy but get up. He helps me into the trench and rips up my sleeve. My arm is bleeding a bit but he soon binds it up and it doesn’t hurt much. I have a drink of water and after a few minutes I feel better though a bit shaky. We move along the trench a bit and then climb out. Andy wants me to go back, but I must get to the Garden City and find the Company. He takes my arm and tries to make me go back with him – I think he thinks I am worse than I really am – but I order him to come with me, and then guided by the Tower Bridge which now shows up, we make for the Garden City. We were too far left as I thought and as there seems to be a good deal of fire coming from Loos we follow a communication trench past the second line.

We can see our men in the Cit and after about ten minutes we join them. They have practically cleared the whole place out and are now working through the neighbouring trenches and consolidating. Bell has got a platoon, or rather, what remains of it on the crassier on the left, exactly as arranged, and ‘A’ Company has pushed on about a quarter of a mile up the slope of hill 70 and is digging in. The line is very thin though....

It is Sunday morning – just a week since I went for a ride – and here I am eating breakfast in the open with green woods rising above the quiet little village and a church bell ringing. Faintly through the calm air comes the far away rumble of guns, where the remnant of my devoted regiment is still carrying on the struggle. A squadron of cavalry moves along dusty roads. At midday the long hospital train moves slowly out of the siding and I am on it. Many are the encouraging rumours that have reached us and our spirits are high – for surely we have got through this time. Not till we reach England some two days later do we begin to learn how once more we have failed. Not through any fault of the 47th Division though.’

Sold with the following original documentation: A studio portrait photograph of recipient in uniform wearing D.S.O. ribbon; two letters to recipients father advising him that his son had been wounded in action ‘gunshot wound in right arm’; news cutting relating to recipients wedding; photograph of recipient whilst Superintendent, Hertfordshire Constabulary and a typescript curriculum vitae prepared by recipient in 1953.