A Collection of Army Gallantry Awards to the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, and the Royal Air Force
Date of Auction: 4th March 2020
Sold for £2,400
Estimate: £1,600 - £2,200
Distinguished Conduct Medal, G.V.R. (CH-22549 Pte. T. Pyle. R.M.L.I.) heavy edge bruising, suspension repaired, therefore fair £1,600-£2,200
FootnoteD.C.M. London Gazette 20 October 1920:
‘For gallant service in North Russia, where he effectively bombed hostile sangars which were holding up the advance. Subsequently as a prisoner of war he showed much determination under very trying conditions.’
Thomas Pyle, a native of Neath Abbey, Glamorgan, enlisted in the Royal Marines on 27 October 1915 as a special service enlistment with the service number 1099, and served with the 1st Royal Marine Battalion, Royal Naval Division, from 5 March 1917. He was wounded by gunshot to the right thigh on 20 October 1917, and again by gunshot to the left leg on 8 September 1918. Invalided back to the U.K. he was subsequently discharged from the service.
Pyle re-enlisted into the Royal Marines at Chatham depot on 10 March 1919 with the service number CH/22549, and was posted to “B” (Chatham) Company, 6th Royal Marine Battalion. The battalion had been formed to supervise a referendum to be held in the northern German province of Schleswig-Hosltein but were instead diverted to duty with Murmansk Command, North Russia Expeditionary Force.
Several months after the end of the Great War the men in the battalion were not particularly pleased about being diverted to a ‘sideshow’ and being expected to fight and possibly be killed or wounded, especially when the British government was telling the public that only volunteers were being sent to Russia. The ill feeling eventually escalated to outright mutiny and refusal to obey orders. After the failed attack on the Red villages of Koikori and Ussuna on 9 September 1919, the battalion was recalled from the front after only a matter of weeks and two officers and nearly 100 marines were tried by Courts Martial with charges ranging from desertion to refusal to take up advanced posts. All but three marines were found guilty, thirteen of those convicted of the charge of desertion being sentenced to death, later commuted to five years penal servitude with hard labour after H.M. the King had issued secret orders that no executions were to be carried out in relation to offences committed in Russia after the Armistice. The remainder were sentenced to variously 5 or 2 years imprisonment with hard labour. The Royal Marines and British government did their utmost to cover up the mutinies and after some difficult questions were asked by families and Members of Parliament, all of those imprisoned were eventually released in most cases after serving only 6 months.
The Royal Marines completely erased any mention of the mutinies from their Official History and no subsequent Royal Marine battalion was ever numbered ‘6’. General Sir H. E. Blumberg’s post-war history of the Royal Marines 1914-19, Britain's Sea Soldiers: A Record of the Royal Marines during the War 1914-1919, contains a chapter titled ‘Royal Marines in North Russia’ including an account of the services of the 6th Royal Marine Battalion, but excludes any mention of the mutinies. To this day, even within the Royal Marines, few people are aware that the mutinies or Court Martial ever took place.
Blumberg gives the following account of the attack on Koikori:
‘The machine-guns were placed in position and opened fire and the platoons worked forward, but the Russian guide, who was found afterwards to be a Russian spy (Private Pyle saw him in their camp) had led them to the wrong point and into an ambush which was successful as most of the casualties were caused by fire from their rear, whilst the howitzers were unable to see the Very's lights fired by the company. Lieutenant Smith-Hill and Privates Jenkins and Pyle advanced to where they could reconnoitre the trenches and bomb them; in doing this Pyle was wounded and after two men had been killed in trying to rescue him he was captured and kept prisoner by the Bolsheviks for a year. Pyle was awarded the D.C.M. For his gallantry on this occasion and for the determination and loyalty displayed by him whilst a prisoner of war... the losses being 10 killed and 23 wounded.’
Pyle's D.C.M. was not gazetted until after his release by the Bolsheviks in a prisoner exchange in October 1920. The following account subsequently appeared in the newspapers:
‘Held Prisoner by the Bolshies - Marine’s Story of Nine Months’ Captivity.
Private Tom Pyle, who has been a prisoner in the hands of the Bolsheviks for nine months, is now at home in But Street, Chatham. He was with the marines at Marmingsk [sic], and was badly wounded in the left leg. he told me (writes a correspondent) that some of the Bolshevik soldiers deliberately shot him in the other leg and left him. he was picked up by other Bolshies, and received medical treatment, such as it was. His left leg was amputated. For nine months he was moved from hospital to prison and prison to hospital in different parts of Russia. He describes his treatment as being very rough.
The hospital lacked proper appliances. A two days’ ration, he said, consisted of mouldy black bread weighing about half a pound. Water was insufficient. Russia, he declared, was in a state of chaos, and he described the Bolshevik leaders as “more like children than anything else”. They had no idea of government, and were unable to control the rank of file. He reached the frontier in company with refugees, and for a considerable period was in quarantine. He reached home last week. Originally he was a fine, muscular man, who went in for boxing and other athletic pursuits. He is now a weak and helpless cripple. The Admiralty, he said, had taken his depositions.’
Pyle was invalided from the service in July 1921, his service record being noted ‘amputation left leg’.
Only 18 D.C.M.s were awarded to the Royal Marine Light Infantry 1914-20, with Pyle’s being the only award for Russia 1918-20, the other awards being to Royal Marine battalions of the Royal Naval Division on the Western Front 1916-18.
A full account of the mutinies in the 6th Royal Marines Battalion, and the subsequent Court Martial can be found in ‘Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin’ by Damien Wright. Pyle is also mentioned in this work.
Sold with the recipient’s brother’s Soldiers’ Small Book, belonging to Private Robert John Pyle, Welsh Regiment and South Lancashire Regiment, who was killed in action during the Great War on 20 October 1916, this in relic condition.