Denman P. D.

Lieutenant Percy Darryl Denman, 2nd Yorkshire Regiment


Killed in action 1st July 1916

Percy Darrell Denman was born in Lancaster on 4th November, 1874 into a military family, and was baptised on 6th January the following year. His parents were Staff Sergeant William Darrell Denman and Letitia Anderson, whom he had married on 25th June, 1853 in Nenagh, County Tipperary in Ireland.

Percy was the youngest in the family of four children, his oldest sister Emily having been born in Corfu, his older brother Herbert in Canada, and his other sister Gertrude in Chester. In 1891, Percy was working in Lancaster as a telegraph messenger, but four years later in 1895 Percy followed his father into the army and was drafted to India. He served there with the Punjab Command in 1897 and 1898 as Lance Corporal 5192 Percy D Denman and was awarded medals for the Punjab Campaign and Tirah.

In 1906 he was sent to South Africa, where he met and married married Catherine Kerr in 1908. They returned to England together and their young son, Percy Darrell junior was born near York early in the following year. A daughter, named Letitia after Percy’s mother, was born in 1911. At the census, earlier in the same year, Percy and Catherine were living in Parkstone Villas in Strensall near York. Percy senior was then Colour Sergeant. In 1913, he received his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, which might ordinarily crown a successful career with the colours. In Percy Denman’s case, this was not to be. A year later, the Great War broke out.

Percy Denman, now Sergeant Major with 4th Battalion, ‘The Green Howards’ (Princess Alexandra’s Own Yorkshire Regiment) was sent to France, arriving on 18th April 1915. There he displayed outstanding courage; his name (Company Sergeant Major Denham) was put forward for mention in despatches at the end of May, and he was wounded at Givenchy in June and again at Hulluch in September. He was recommended for officer training and was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant on 29th September, 1915. The military authorities thought that officers who came from 'the ranks' ought not to command the men they had once served alongside, and so Lieutenant Denman was transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment.The French awarded him the Croix de Guerre (First Class) and none other than Sir John French, Commander -in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, mentioned Lt Denman in a despatch dated 30th November 1915 ‘for gallant and distinguished conduct in the field’.

It was with the 2nd Yorkshire Regiment that Lt Denman again went into action on the first day of the Somme Offensive, 1st July 1916. At 6.00am he was in Headquarters Avenue Trench with ‘A’ Company of 2nd Battalion. At 7.30 am A Company went ‘over the top’ with B company, followed three minutes later by companies C and D. As the front line advanced towards the village of Montauban, it came under intense fire from heavy machine guns on their left front. All the officers were hit, Lt Denman being one of three officers killed in the advance. Many others were wounded, and of A Company only 30 men, led by a corporal, reached the enemy lines. C and D companies fared little better, and in this short advance, the Battalion suffered over 200 casualties. They then had to hold the ground against determined counter-attacks. They had achieved all their set objectives, but at a terrible cost.

This kind of scenario was played out in many sectors as men advanced along the Somme front that morning; withering machine-gun fire cut swathes through the advancing troops, some of whom, far from reaching the enemy lines, fell before they reached their own wire. After nearly one hundred years,1st July, 1916 remains the blackest day in the history of the British Army.

Percy Darrell Denman was one of nearly 60,000 killed or wounded (including two other Stokesley men killed) among the British Forces on that day. He left a widow and two young children.

Lieutenant Percy Denman was 41 years old when he fell. He was awarded the British War Medal , the Victory Medal with Emblem and the 1914-15 Star in addition to all his previous decorations and honours. His body lies in plot IV H 35 of the Peronne Road Cemetery at Maricourt, on the Somme, south-east of Albert .

On 4th March, 1921, his widow Catherine (then living in Hartlepool) successfully applied for an Emblem in respect of his war services.  This took the form of bronze oak leaves, to be worn on the ribbon of the Victory Medal, and could be awarded posthumously to men who had been mentioned in despatches.   (Percy Darrell junior was to follow his father into the army and In 1954 was awarded an OBE for his own services).

Note: It is only now (March 2014) that we have solved the apparent mystery of how 2nd Lt Denman came to be numbered amongst the Stokesley Fallen. Thanks for this are due to Alan Swales, formerly of Stokesley and now of Broughton, who has made available to us a manuscript written by Charles Hall of Springfield entitled "Materials for a History of Stokesley". In this work, Hall listed over 290 names as a Roll of Honour for Stokesley. Against the name P.D.Denman (p470) is pencilled in the information that he was Stokesley's Recruiting Sergeant!

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