By June Parkin
“I only did what any of our chaps would have done.” This was the modest reply from a 1914 local hero when he was lauded for retrieving wounded comrades from the line of fire.
John Warwick was born in Barnard Castle in 1885. In the 1911 Census he is boarding, along with his wife Ada, at 38 The Bank and his occupation is given as Flax Dresser. He was a talented footballer and played for West Auckland in the 1911 ‘World Cup’. At the beginning of 1914 the couple moved to Darlington and John worked as a labourer at the Cleveland Bridge Company.
He had first joined the army as a regular soldier in 1902, serving with the 4th Battalion DLI in‘F’ Company until 1906. He re-enlisted on September 8th1914 and was assigned as Private No. 8757 with 2nd Battalion DLI. In France he was quickly involved in the Battle of the Aisne. The advance northwards from the Marne was halted as the Germans dug in along the heights above the River Aisne. British attacks were repelled and with both sides digging in, this was the beginning of trench warfare.
In a letter to a Barney friend, (quoted in ‘The Teesdale Mercury’ of October 7th1914) Pte. Warwick explains that on Sunday September 20th, he was entrenched 80 yards from the German line, when at 6 in the evening, Major Robb gave the order to charge the enemy. When Lieutenant Twist was wounded, Warwick and Pte. Howson, also of Darlington, brought him out of the firing line. Warwick then volunteered to bring in wounded Pte. Maughan. When they discovered that Major Robb was missing, John Warwick reports that he “crawled on my stomach, taking cover behind the dead, until I found him, shot through the chest. I waited until our artillery started up and with the help of a comrade called Nevison, half-carried and half-dragged the Major through a rain of bullets to within 15 yards of our own trench”. It was at this point that Warwick was wounded in the back. His letter was written from a military hospital in Manchester.
Lieutenant Twist and Pte. Maughan survived, but Nevison and Major Robb did not. Pte. Warwick was recommended to be awarded the Victoria Cross, but in the event, received the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The citation says, ‘For gallant conduct on 20thSeptember, 1914, at Troyon, valley of the Aisne, when he voluntarily assisted in the rescue of a wounded Officer under heavy fire.’
John Warwick recovered from his wound and his medal record shows that he was re-assigned as Pte. 45968 in the West Yorkshire Regiment and received a clasp to his DCM in 1920, which may be for long service or a further act of bravery.
In later years Warwick worked at Glaxo. He died in 1956.
UPDATE: When this article was published in the Teesdale mercury recently, with a photograph of John Warwick, I asked if anyone could explain why he was wearing a slouch hat, which to me was reminiscent of the Australian hats worn in the first World War.
As always, a reader was kind enough to get in touch and suggest that John Warwick DCM might be the same John Warwick who had fought in the Zulu war in 1906. A recent conversation with a DLI volunteer seemed to strengthen this idea, as apparently a DLI militia group served in the Boer War and wore slouch hats during that period. Please let us know if you have any further ideas on this.
Judith Phillips (email: Judith.firstname.lastname@example.org)