Friday, October 31, 2008

You spell Mendecourt with an "H"!

During the 1980s when I lived in Houston, I entered into a long and sporadic correspondence with representatives of the British Army to try to find out more about my father's Military Cross, awarded (official language says "won") during the First World War in northern France.

That is all I knew at the beginning of the search. By the end I had received a typed commendation that reproduced the citation that went with the medal. The key was that my father was in charge of a section that overran a German machine gun position at Mendecourt.

And there the story died on me. I had always assumed that Mendecourt simply disappeared in the mud of the First World War trenches.

Then today April said "I wonder if Mendecourt starts with an "H". Hendecourt. A quick Google search revealed enough to get us excited and the village of Hendecourt-les-Cagnicourt revealed itself as a location of two Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries.

I knew that my father was an officer in the Liverpool Regiment so further affirmation was found in the details of the action in 1918. The Liverpool Regiment, along with a Canadian division, were involved in the action.

The official Gazette for the medal was then discovered (again by our in-house expert, April) and everything tied together except that the Gazette was printed in wartime so there is no mention of the location.

The full citation should now read:

2nd Lt. Leslie Charles Ashton, 5th (attd. 8th) Bn, L'pool R., T.F.

Hendecourt-les-Cagnicourt, France

For conspicuous gallantry and good leadership. When the enemy attacked he led his platoon forward to meet them and drove them back, inflicting heavy losses. Later, he led his platoon with great determination in an attack, and, encountering an enemy machine gun, he killed the gunner and captured the remainder of the team. It was largely owing to his excellent example that the attack was successful.

We now have some additional information to work with, in particular the location. The village did survive and the Upton Wood (British Army code name, apparently) cemetery will no doubt have the remains of several of my father's comrades.

This has me thinking about the entire scenario once again and in the day of the internet it would seem a good subject for a website, perhaps using