Recently, the Dacorum Heritage Trust purchased some First World War medals, including a Distinguished Conduct Medal with bar, awarded to Corporal Francis Vercoe, Royal Garrison Artillery, of Hemel Hempstead.
We wrote in our newsletter and “The Gazette” at the time that Vercoe was the second man from the town to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and that the first recipient was Sergeant Reginald Evans, who worked for Kent’s Brushes of Apsley.
Some time later, this article found its way to Reg’s daughter, Pamela Campbell who now lives in France and she recently donated her father’s medals and papers (including copies of all his letters home) to the Trust. This is Reg’s story….
Reginald Josiah Thomas Evans was born in January 1888, a month after his father died. He was educated at the Spurgeon Orphanage in London and then served an apprenticeship as a wood borer at the Gade Brush Factory of GB Kent and Son Ltd., Apsley. He lived with his mother and brothers in Broad Street, Hemel Hempstead. He joined the Herts Territorials in 1913 and he was with them at camp in August the following year, when war was declared.
The Gazette of 8th August 1914 described the scene:-
“The first intimation which the Territorials had that matters were regarded seriously, was the order to strike camp at Ashridge and return to their homes to await further instructions. They did so and the call to mobilise came on Tuesday evening, when notices ordering the Territorials to report themselves to headquarters were posted on the post office and other prominent places. There was an immediate rush to respond to the call and the first to reach the Drill Hall was Mr R Evans. Others quickly followed on and soon the hall was filled with members of the local Company, all highly delighted at the prospect of being able to serve their country.”
He served in F Company of the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment and, after a stay in Bury St Edmunds, progressed to France in November 1914. In October 1915, Corporal Evans was awarded the DCM for a moonlight reconnaissance. Reg wrote later that they needed;“A volunteer to go out that night and report what damage had been done to the enemy’s wire and front trenches by the intensive bombardment. The artillery would receive orders to cease fire for an hour whilst the reconnaissance was carried out but, so as not to raise suspicions at the lull, machine guns would carry on covering fire over the German lines. Whoever took the job on would have to go alone. It would probably mean death but would certainly mean glory.”
“The state I was in when finally I did reach our trenches can be imagined. Challenged by a sentry, I was almost too exhausted to reply. Plastered with mud and clothing literally in shreds, I was almost unrecognisable even by men of my own Company. After making my report I found an old dug-out where I was only too glad to turn in and sleep. I had been out over an hour longer than was intended and been given up for lost, hence the recommencement of the bombardment, which so nearly caused my death. A personal letter from the General commanding the brigade was handed to me next morning, thanking me for the reconnaissance made and the report sent in and when after a few days, news came through that I had been awarded the D.C.M. I felt that I should need the attraction of a whole barrow-load of decorations before undertaking another expedition of the same kind.”The following year, in February 1916, Reg was badly wounded in the face and underwent pioneering plastic surgery performed by Captain (later Sir) Harold Gillies at Britain’s first plastic unit set up in the Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot.
He later joined the Royal Sussex Regiment and took part in the British Expeditionary Force’s campaign in Russia against Lenin’s Bolsheviks of 1918-1919.
After the war, Reg found it difficult to resume his civilian life back in Hemel Hempstead and went to live in Armitage, Staffordshire, from where his mother originated.
He ran a newsagents in Armitage and also served as parish clerk, Secretary of The British Legion and was in the Home Guard during the Second World War.
He died in 1943 and is buried in Armitage Churchyard. A truly remarkable man.
By Dacorum Heritage Trust