LIEUTENANT COLONEL PERCY WILFRID MACHELL, CMG, DSO
1ST JULY 1916 AGE 54
BURIED: WARLOY-BAILLON COMMUNAL CEMETERY, SOMME, FRANCE
This isn't the whole of Colonel Machell's inscription but we'll come to that later. One of the reasons I've chosen to include Percy Machell is to show that not everyone killed on 1 July was a young junior officer or an inexperienced soldier; Machell was 54 and a Lieutenant Colonel. And this is where the rest of his inscription comes in. It exceeds the War Graves Commission's limit of sixty-six letters by forty, and with the link could well have exceeded Twitter's 140 character limit, so I omitted for it for Twitter and have included it here. The inscription relates his military career:
56 Regt. 1882 Egyptian Army 1886
C.O. XII Sudanese 1891-1895
Adviser Ministry of Interior
Egyptian Government 1898-1908
The information in the cemetery register gives even more detail.
Machell retired in 1905 and married in 1906. However, when Lord Lonsdale decided to raise a battalion in the border regions, the 11th (Service) Battalion Border Regiment, afterwards known as The Lonsdales, he asked his friend Percy Machell to train and command it. This Machell was prepared to do with his usual commitment and thoroughness, if also with his usual brusqueness and bluntness.
On 23 November 1915 the battalion sailed for France and in the middle of December had its first taste of the trenches. You can see the sort of man he was in this extract from his diary of 14 December:
I had a talk yesterday on the futility of grousing and the necessity of making the best of the worst of everything.
The battalion, like so many of these New Army battalions, was being trained for the 'Big Push' that was to come on the Somme on 1 July 1916. Machell did his best to leave no stone unturned in the preparations, as his obviously hurried final note to his Company Commanders makes clear:
All not hit MUST push on. MUST do our job. If all goes well, I stay proper place; if goes badly, I come up and see it through.
A commanding officer's 'proper place' was behind the lines, as far as possible out of danger so that he could 'command'. Unfortunately all did not go well with the Lonsdale's attack with the result that Machell rushed to the front line, mounted the parapet to urge his men on and was immediately shot and killed.
One hundred and eighty men from the Lonsdale Battalion were killed on 1 July. The bodies of the majority of them, ninety-eight, were never recovered and they are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, but sixty of them are buried in Lonsdale Cemetery. I find it rather sad that Machell is not among them. Perhaps attempts were made to save him and he was sent to a Field Ambulance Station, where he died and where he is the only member of his battalion to be buried.
His wife chose his inscription. Lady Valda Machell had been born Lady Valda Gleichen, the daughter of Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, the son of Queen Victoria's half sister. The inscription finishes with the single word 'Prospice', the title of a poem by Robert Browning. I'll only quote a few lines of what is not in fact a very long poem, all of which seems very appropriate.
I was ever a fighter, so one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes and forbore,
And bade me creep past.
No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers
The heroes of old,
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears
Of pain, darkness and cold.
Note: Much of the information on Percy Machell came from The Border Regiment on This Day and this excellent site, dedicated to the Lonsdale Battalion and maintained by Kev Johnstone, great grandson of Private John Farrer, killed in action 1 July 1916.