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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Military Monday: Donald Farmer, V.C. in World War One

Donald Dickson Farmer VC.jpg
In A Boer War V.C. I told the story of  Sergeant Donald Farmer  who, at the age of 23,  was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy. 
Here I continue Donald's story with his service in the  First World War. 

Returning from South Africa, Donald married Nell Bonnar  and they  made their home in married quarters at Fort George, near Inverness. The only room available to them turned out to be a former barracks room big enough to hold 30 or more men.  Apparently it had been the Ordinance Room used for storing arms and other military equipment. 

Four children followed, born in Fort George, Dublin, and Tidworth Barracks, Salisbury.

By summer 1914 Donald had completed over 22 years of service in the army, witnessing conflicts in the Sudan War and Boer War and was promoted to  the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major.  His name was put forward to be a Colour-Sergeant and he joined the Liverpool Scottish Territorial Army in Liverpool, responsible for recruitment and training.  He and his comrades set sail for France  aboard the SS Maiden.

They marched through Flanders, in mud and rain to the trenches.   The order was 96 hours in the trenches and 96 hours out.  Many men disappeared in the mud and casualties were high. The Liverpool Scottish first saw action at the Battle of Hooge on the Somme and saw heavy casualties, with 21 officers out of 23  killed and 399 other men losing their lives.  In Donald's own words
"Our Medical Officer was the bravest man I knew.  He was missing for 2=3 days after the Hooge Battle and it was found that he had attended all the wounded in No Man's Land and had also dressed the wounds of Huns.  Later on he was badly hit and awarded the Victoria Cross for hi actions.    He refused to vacate the dressing station continuing to attend to the wounded. men, until another shell killed him."
 This man was Captain Noel Chevasse, the son of the Bishop of Liverpool. A biography of Captain Chevasse, by Anne Clayton  described the training of the Liverpool Scottish with a reference to Donald: 
 "Summer camp took place  involving two weeks under canvas.  There was pride and respect for their only VC holder, a veteran of the Boer War,  Sergeant Donald  Dickson Farmer. Still only 36,  Farmer was an uncle figure to the men in the battalion and soon became well known to Noel Chevasse. There was much mutual  like and  respect between the two brave men."
Donald continued to see service at the front   Due to a fault at the War Office,  he was thought to have been a casualty and missing presumed dead. much to the distress of his family until this news was retracted. Promotion followed and he  was then posted to Aldershot as Captain and Adjutant before returning to the trenches.  

In 1918  he took  command of a small Cadre Unit  to train American troops. They were all billeted in a chateau near Boulogne. " Life turned out to be interesting for all concerned" to quote one more of Donald’s comments. 

A 1918 Postcard of Brussels
At the end of the war, Donald and his lads were billeted on the outskirts of Brussels where Donald was then asked to go as 2nd in Command of the 111 Corps Concentration Camps. The accommodation was listed for 150 troops and a group of engineers. In a few days this increased to 800 with more arriving daily. By 1919 Donald was now Company Commandant and he arranged the dispatch of those for demobilization. He received the following message from Brigadier General Livesay, who was the Corps Commander.
 Lt-Col.D.D.Farmer, VC.


Before the 111 Corps Concentration Camp is broken up on the 17th inst. I wish to convey to you and to all ranks under your command, my appreciation of the services rendered to the Corps in the demobilisation of Personnel.

The improvisation of the Camp at short notice with the little labour and materials available, and the continual reception and despatch of 50,000 officers and men required not only very thorough and able organisation but also exceptionally hard work and goodwill from all ranks.

I am satisfied that all the arrangements for demobilization were carried out without a hitch and that everything possible was done to ensure the comfort of all ranks.

I congratulate you and your whole staff on the excellent result.

Signed: R.H.Livesay.

After the war, Donald was delighted to be invited to a special dinner for 400 holders of the Victoria Cross, given by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), in the House of Lords, the Prince being the very person who had presented him with his Victoria Cross in 1901.    Someone at the dinner started an autograph hunt, by putting the menu cards around the tables for the signatures of all the guests. Very soon there was a queue on either side of the Prince and it was obvious to Donald that the autograph-hunting could not carry on too long and hold up the proceedings.

Donald recalled later that,
“I was determined to get the Prince’s autograph on my menu card, so I decided to adopt novel tactics which I thought would appeal to the Prince’s sense of humour. I got down on all fours and crawled beneath the tables to where he was sitting. Suddenly I popped up at his side and confronted him with my card poked up in front of his nose from beneath his table. There were howls of laughter and the Prince himself was highly amused. My efforts did the trick, I got his autograph!”

Donald Dickson Farmer, V.C. 1877-1956. 
On the outbreak of World War Two,  Donald  served for a time in the Home Guard. until his retired.

Donald's dearest wish was fulfilled when he took part in the Victoria Cross Centenary Celebrations,   attended by the Queen. in Hyde Park on June 26th 1956.   He died six months later at the age of 79, having served his country in three wars  -  Sudan War, Boer War and First World War.
In a tribute, his granddaughter Rachel said:
"I am very proud to say that Lt. Col. Donald Dickson Farmer VC  was my grandfather and I remember him as being such a lovely man, a gentle man and a gentleman". 

As a postscript, Donald's  great grandson Matthew joined the army in 1992 almost a hundred years to the month that Donald joined the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.

 With grateful thanks to Rachael for her contributions to this post. 

Military Monday is one of many daily blog prompts from www.geneabloggers.com
to encourage writers to record their family history.

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