Sunday, 1 June 2014

1st JUNE


My maternal grandfather, Percy Edwin GALE was born on 1st June 1886 in Aldershot. He was the eldest child of Edwin and Louisa (nee KENNETT) GALE and like his father, he was a military man.

Percy enlisted in the Northumberland Fusiliers in Newcastle on 11th July 1905 when he was just 19 year old. His enlistment papers show that he was 5ft 9 ¾ and weighed 138lbs, and he had brown hair and brown eyes.

From February 1906 to November 1913 he was stationed in India; probably in Sabathu where the 2nd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers had been stationed prior to the outbreak of WW1.

At the outbreak of war, Percy was with the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers which were based in Portsmouth. On 14th August 1914 the 1st Battalion landed in Le Havre and remained in France and Flanders for the duration of the war as part of the 9th Brigade, 3rd Division ending the war on 11 November 1918 at La Longueville.

 December 1915 saw Percy shipped back to Blighty where he remained until November 1916. I believe that this was the period he was hospitalised as a result of a gas attack. It was at the end of this period that he married Grandma Jessie MACKENZIE who was a nurse at the time. Family legend tells that Grandad was temporarily blinded as a result of the gas and he fell in love with Nurse Mackenzie’s voice as she tended to his wounds. When he regained his sight he saw how beautiful she was and asked her to be his wife. They married on 9th September 1916 – for the first time.

From 15th November 1916 Percy served with the 2nd Battalion Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry who were already serving in France as part of the 97th Brigade, 32nd Division. I don’t know for sure why he was transferred to this unit although it is probable that it was for reinforcement purposes. November 1916 was the end of the Battle of the Somme during which many Battalions suffered heavy casualties and soldiers were transferred to fill the many gaps until reinforcements could arrive.

By the 14th June 1917, Percy was back with the Northumberland Fusiliers. During WW1 the Northumberland Fusiliers raised a total of 51 battalions and as a result of this amazing contribution the regiment was granted the title Royal, becoming the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.

Percy must have been sent back to England again late in the war as he and Jessie married again on 3rd August 1918! Once again I rely on family legend for the reason for their second ceremony; of which there are two theories. One was that Jessie did not want to give up nursing while there was a war on and as a married woman she would not have been permitted to keep working. The second story is far more romantic. Jessie’s father, John MACKENZIE, did not approve of Percy as a suitable husband and so refused to give permission for them to marry in 1916, prompting Percy and Jessie to marry in secret. Only when John relented did they marry with his blessing in 1918. This story may have some credence to it as John is not a witness to their first marriage at Trinity Church St Marylebone but he is a signatory at their wedding in St Clement Danes Church in 1918.

Percy was discharged from the army in August 1928 but re-enlisted in the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Special Reserve Territorial Army as a Trooper in April 1934. He attended Annual training camps over the next few years and was ready for active duty again at the outbreak of WW2.

From January 1940 to May 1941 Percy served in Palestine as part of the 52nd Training Regiment of the Royal Armoured Corps.

Grandad was finally discharged from the Army in October 1943 due to ill health. He was awarded the India General Service Medal 1908, the 1914 Star, British War Medal 1914-1918, Victory Medal 1914-1918 as well as Long Service and Good Conduct medals.

Grandad was a proud member of the Old Contemptibles. This name was coined by the members of the original British Expeditionary Force which crossed to France in August 1914 under the command of Sir John French. As large parts of the British Army were stationed in all corners of the Empire at the outbreak of war, this BEF was a relatively small fighting force; especially compared to the German Army. Apparently the Kaiser was particularly scathing in his assessment of the British Army calling it “General French’s contemptible little army” and so the name was adopted with pride.

The “Old Contemptibles” covered themselves in glory during the early days of the war when they took part in the Battle of Mons, the Retreat from Mons and the First Battle of Ypres. They were entitled to the 1914 Star; a medal reserved for those who fought in the first months of war.

After he retired Percy and Jessie managed a number of hotels, the George in Market Rasen and the Welland Inn in Spalding.  Percy died on 3rd April 1955.


This date is also the anniversary of the marriage of my paternal G-G-G-G-grandparents, John SKELTON and Mary PASCALL. They were married in Shifnal in Shropshire and spent all their married life in the area. Their first three children, Mary, John and Richard were baptized in Preston-on-the-Weald-Moors and their final 5 children, Catherine (my G-G-G-Grandmother), Elizabeth, Fanny, William and Mary Ann were baptized in Wellington Shropshire. 

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