THESE photographs and a wealth of documentation belong to Susan Humphreys and they all relate to her grandfather, a Walsall-born veteran of the First World War who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in the early months of the conflict — a gallantry award second only to the Victoria Cross.
Susan writes, “Granddad (James Thomas Standley – Jim) was born on 19th May, 1887, in Hill Street, Walsall, (I have his birth certificate) and passed away on 22nd June, 1978, living most of his life in Bloxwich.
“I believe he had one brother and three, possibly four, sisters, two of which I knew, and I was told by a member of the family that he lied about his age and initially joined the army as a boy soldier to send money home to feed his bothers and sisters after his parents died. I’m not sure of the authenticity of this but the lady who told me was very reliable.
“I lived with Granddad until I was 18 and we couldn’t have been any closer. I absolutely adored him and looked after him until he died, aged 91, and after my grandmother had passed away. He had two sons, John and Harry, and a daughter, Doreen, my mother.
“He was wounded during the war and lived for most of his life with his kneecap held together with a piece of wire, which used to fascinate me. He was very proud of his DCM, although he never spoke about why or how it came about. When I was a little girl it was my job to clean the medal on Remembrance Sunday, the only day he ever wore it, although he did wear his medal ribbons on his uniform; he was doorman at Bloxwich Memorial Club for many years.”
The Distinguished Conduct Medal was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1854, during the Crimean War. At that time awards for gallantry made a distinction between the ranks of the recipients, with officers receiving a higher class of award. The exception was the Victoria Cross, instituted in 1856, which was open to all. While the DCM was second to the Victoria Cross in terms of gallantry, it ranked much lower in precedence compared to its equivalent for officers, the Distinguished Service Order. This distinction between officers and other ranks continued until 1993 and the review of the honours system by John Major’s government, which saw the DCM discontinued and replaced by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, the new second level gallantry award for all ranks across the whole armed services.
In the First World War 24,391 DCMs were awarded for services in the field.
Susan has many documents relating to her grandfather’s military service. His discharge certificate, issued on 6th December, 1917, states that he enlisted in Birmingham on 30th January, 1907, and he appears to have served his whole time with the South Staffordshire Regiment.
His was discharged because his injuries left him “no longer physically fit for war service”.
Another certificate, dated 4th January, 1918, shows that Sergeant Standley was entitled to wear the Silver War Badge. This badge was established by George V in 1916 for servicemen honourably discharged for wounds or sickness and was also known as the Discharge Badge, the Wound Badge or the Services Rendered Badge. It was only to be worn with civilian clothing, never with military uniform, and it was meant as a discouragement to those that would present white feathers to men of service age that were not in uniform, following several incidents where wounded ex-soldiers had been branded cowards for not being in uniform.
Other documents refer to Sergeant Standley’s pension, which include the award of an extra 6d a day due to his Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Susan also has her grandfather’s education and swimming certificates, which show that he served with the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment in South Africa.
Military historian Peter Franks has looked into Jim Standley’s record, in particular the circumstances of his DCM award. He wrote to Susan: “Interesting, as you have him as 2nd Battalion South Staffs – when he won his award he was with the 1st Battalion South Staffs.
“The 1st battalion had been in South Africa at the outbreak of war on 4th August, 1914, and of course, as regular soldiers, were called back almost at once to UK and arrived on 19th September, 1914.
“They then formed part of the 22nd Brigade which was part of the 7th Division.
“They were sent to Zeebrugge in Belgium to form part of the defence there (records have it as 6th October, but see medal record attached, gives arrival as 4th October, 1914). Unfortunately, they were too late to be effective and they were sent to Ypres with the Division to defend against the German onslaught. They moved into positions outside of Ypres, by this time the German Army was very close, if memory serves they were in the vicinity of ‘Polygon Wood.’ “At this early stage of the war, the full trench systems had not yet been put in place, as the battlefield was still fairly fluid, however, it was here that the Germans were stopped, ‘fought to a standstill’ as some records put it.
Up to that time the British, French and Belgians had been fighting a withdrawal, but here that ended. Of course it was not without consequence and the British Army (the BEF, which was a small, highly trained ‘Regular Army’ of around 100,000 men) suffered huge losses.
They, of course, also inflicted huge losses upon the Germans, who although they had huge numbers of men (and boys) were not as professional or as well trained in many circumstances as the British.
“So to get to the point, during the First Battle of Ypres is when Sergeant Standley won his DCM and this must have been around November 1914.
He is in the London Gazette in April 1915, but was actually gazetted for the award in February 1915. Unfortunately the citation is very, very brief: ‘For gallantry under heavy fire he performed good work during the campaign’. That is most unusual but, given the circumstances, I expect that many of his officers lost their lives and were not able to write up a full citation. There are no records of him in the war diary for the award, no service papers for him (many were destroyed in the Blitz in the Second World War, so maybe his were lost).
“This is an important award; don’t forget it’s only one below the Victoria Cross.
Also it’s a very early award in the war, so all in all very important.
“He was a very lucky man to survive, especially as he was one of the originals to go out, most didn’t come back; the odds against surviving four years were a little slim, to say the least.” Peter has uncovered documents which show that, in addition to his DCM, Sergeant Standley was awarded the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.