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Douglas Reynolds VC

Lieutenant Colonel Mike Watson
05 Mar 2015

This article was originally published in September 2014. It is based on research Lt Col Watson has undertaken which aims to give an insight into the actions of 37 Howitzer Battery, Royal Field Artillery (RFA), now 93 Le Cateau Battery RA, when it fought at Le Cateau on Wednesday 26 August 1914, as related by some of the veterans of 37 Howitzer Battery and XV Field Brigade RFA at Le Cateau during August 1964. You can read the full, recently revised manuscript on which it is based HERE.


50 years ago, I marched into Le Cateau to receive the freedom of the town with 93 Le Cateau Battery, Royal Artillery; the successors of the WW1 - 37 Howitzer Battery, Royal Field Artillery.  As I speak, 93 Le Cateau Battery are parading through Le Cateau in France.

So 50 years ago, I met some of the Gunner veterans, who fought alongside Captain Douglas Reynolds a century ago including: Driver Fred Luke VC, 2Lt Eric Earle DSO and Boy Trumpeter Badgie Waldron DCM.  These Gunner veterans stated that, “Le Cateau was a frontline Gunners’ battle

In which all the Gunners fought hard, much to the admiration of their supported infantry.”  It is what they called “Being the Cheese in the Le Cateau Mouse-trap!

Douglas Reynolds was born here in the Clifton area of Bristol but brought up in Cheltenham.

Subsequently, he was educated Cheltenham College and the Shop [Royal Military Academy] at Woolwich.  Before WW1, Douglas saw active service as a Lieutenant with the Gunners in South Africa as well as on the North West Frontier of India [now Pakistan].  At the outbreak of WW1, he was serving as Battery Captain, 37 Howitzer Batter in the Curragh Camp, in Ireland.

The Retreat from Mons started Sunday evening 23 August 1914.  There was an urgent need to prevent the Retreat from Mons becoming a rout by checking the momentum of the following 1st German Army so that is why 2 British Corps, including 37 Howitzer Battery and Douglas Reynolds, fought their renown rear-guard action near Le Cateau on Wednesday 26 August 1914.

At Le Cateau, the Right Flank Artillery of 5 Division, 2 British Corps, including 37 How Battery were deployed within a 100 yards or so of the rear of the frontline infantry.  From dawn until mid afternoon, they fought hard against an ever-increasing German threat.  When the guns were eventually permitted to retire, 37 Howitzer Battery recovered only four of their six guns.  

So, Douglas Reynolds called for volunteers to recover the two guns they had left behind.  Two teams were formed up of: a 2nd Lieutenant; three Gunners; three Drivers; six horses and a limber-cart, with Captain Douglas Reynolds following close behind.

Driver Fred Luke recalled the grim silence as they returned over the ridge from Reumont for a final time at a steady trot.  With 200 yards to go, Captain Douglas Reynolds ordered The Gallop!  Fred Luke thought that the nearby Germans started cheering them on but, with hindsight, they may have been calling on them to surrender.

Job Drain led the F Gun team in a left hand swerve; bounced the nearside limber-wheel over the gun-trail and halted his team with the hook on the limber 40 feet behind him, directly over the gun-trail eye-ring.

A superb piece of driving but an unauthorized stunt used in-barracks when recovering the guns from the parade square to the gun-sheds for a sweepstake.  Providing, of course, Captain Douglas Reynolds was out of sight!

This enabled Serjeant [WW1 spelling] Jumbo Butterworth, Gunners Baker and Garlick to hook F Gun up immediately.  As they set off, the Germans opened fire killing Centre Driver, 19 year old, Ben Cobey, who threw his whip in the air as he died.  It was caught by Captain Douglas Reynolds who galloped beside the centre pair of horses controlling them with Ben’s whip.

Meanwhile, the other team kept to the gun-drill as practiced endlessly on parade in Ireland, as they halted and slowly reversed the team towards their gun.  The nearby Germans shot all the horses but let all the surviving Gunners escape on foot.

THE RESCUE OF F SUB-SECTION SECTION GUN, 37 HOWITZER BATTERY RFA LE CATEAU 26 AUGUST 1914 by Terrence Cuneo, 1964. RA Institute

[Left - E Sub-section: Left - 2Lt Earle. E Sub-section Limber: Sjt Bower, Gnr Fraser, Gnr Robertson and Gnr Turner. E Sub-section Drivers: Lead - Dvr Trelaor; Centre - Dvr Hall; Wheeler - Dvr Prior. Right – F Sub-section Drivers: Right to Left: Dvr Job Drain; Capt Douglas Reynolds; Dvr Ben Cobey; Dvr Fred Luke. F Sub-section Limber: Sjt Jumbo Butterworth, Gnrs Baker and Garlick – one not shown]

Captain Douglas Reynolds and the two surviving Drivers of the F Gun team: Job Drain and Fred Luke, were awarded Victoria Crosses for this action.  At aged, 18 years 10 months and 11 days, Job Drain is still the youngest Gunner recipient of a VC; Fred Luke was only 17 days older than Job!  When Fred died in March 1983, he was longest surviving Old Contemptible [Veteran of the original BEF] VC.  Douglas Reynolds’ Trumpeter, 15 year old, Badgie Waldron is also still the youngest Gunner to be awarded a DCM.  [An award for other ranks, one below a VC]

Douglas Reynolds did not seek popularity but was respected for his professionalism.  He was not only personally very brave; but was also the lynch pin of the Battery throughout the Retreat from Mons – as both the Battery Commander and Battery Serjeant Major were captured at Le Cateau - until he left it when wounded in mid September 1914.

Unusually, Douglas Reynolds’ Victor Cross citation not only refers to his gallantry at Le Cateau, but also to a separate incident at Pisseloup sur Marne a fortnight later.  When he led a fighting patrol and silenced a German battery holding up the British advance.  Therefore, I think he may be the Gunner who got closest to being awarded a bar to his VC.

In 1915, Douglas was promoted to Major; returned to the Western Front as a Battery Commander.

Where he was mentioned in despatches twice; gassed and died in Trouville hospital in February 1916.

Sadly, Douglas Reynolds only son, another Douglas Reynolds, who was born after his father’s death

And also died of his wounds, while as a Lieutenant serving with the Irish Guards near Dunkirk in May 1940.

VETERANS, LE CATEAU, 1964. M G Watson

[Seated – Left to Right: Maj Gen John Younger; Parish Priest, Maj Gen Peter Gillett [2Lt 37 Fd Bty, India 1939 and last CO 5 RHA]; Local; Maj Gen Bill Hughes [Representing The Master Gunner]; Brig Eric Earle; Local; Maj Gen Reay Mirrlees; Comdt Local Airbase; Mayor; Local; Local Comdt; Capt Jumbo Butterworth, Mr Walters; Madame Belmont-Norbert; Maj Hopkins [BC 37, 1917]
Some Standing – Left to Right: Maj Oliver Nicholas [BC 93 Des]; WO1 (RSM) Cedric Ramshall [RSM 25; later Chief Yeoman Warder, HM Tower of London]; Roger Fielding [later Lt Col RA]; Lt Col John Fielding [CO 25 and former BC P (Dragon) Bty]; Mrs Katie Fielding
Note: Fred Luke, Badgie Waldron and Sid Spraggon are probably under the arch at the back having a smoke and chatting to a group of our 93 Bty Gunners and some local mademoiselles..]

Notes

Col Watson spoke at the unveiling of the commemorative paving stone installed at St Peter's Church on 26 August as featured on our News page. He was Section Commander, 93 Le Cateau Battery, Royal Artillery, 1964.

Paving stone for Douglas Reynolds

Comment

Hello. I am wondering if you have any more information on Jumbo Butterworth? My grandfather was at le Cateau -Charles Arthur Butterworth and was painted in the picture by Terrance Cuneo. I'd be delighted if you have any more to say. Best wishes - Giles.

REPLY: I only saw Jumbo Butterworth for the three days that I was at Le Cateau in late August 1964. He was a most impressive but unassuming man. Most Old Contemptibles were between 5ft 3ins and 5ft 7ins high and weighed barely 9st/60kg Jumbo was just under 6ft tall and a fine figure of a man - hence his nickname. He was the Serjeant in charge of F Gun, 37 Howitzer Battery, Royal Field Artillery at Le Cateau (the gun that was recovered from in close proximity to the Germans). I don't think he got on very well with Capt Douglas Reynolds. He was one of the very few men who took an active role in the recovery of the gun - he and two others men hooked it up to the limber [cart] - who was not mentioned in Capt Reynolds' report. Jumbo's most vivid memory of the incident was on their return over the ridge to the safety of Reumont when Capt Reynolds ordered the exhausted Sjt Bower, who had just rescued the severely wounded 2Lt Earle, to stop hitching a lift on the gun-trail and walk. Jumbo was an extremely brave man. Although his gallantry was not recognised at Le Cateau, later on in WW1, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal (an award one below a VC); became an officer and was promoted to the rank of Captain. Once again, thank you for getting in contact with me. I do hope I will be able to give you an inkling of the affectionate respect I have for Jumbo Butterworth.

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