Today saw another General Court Martial take place in Bailleul, where the 15th Brigade remained in billets. This court martial is interesting in that it deals with an officer: Captain Montagu Dalston Turnbull of the 1st Bn. East Surrey Regiment. Gleichen is president for this case.
Turnbull was born in 1886 to Charles and Ellen Turnbull, residents of Blackheath, Greenwich. Charles is listed as a “man of own means” and a “Gentleman” in census reports. Montagu attends Tonbridge School in Kent and then joins the Army as a Special Reserve with the 4th Bn East Surreys.
Turnbull had only joined his fellow East Surreys from England on the 21st January. According to the 15th Brigade’s diary an alarm was set off by him that the enemy were concentrating for attack. Airmen’s views the next day contradicted this. As we saw on the 3rd February, the army was clamping down on poor sentry duties rather severely. The East Surrey’s diary for the night of 4/5th February 1915 reads, “At 3am Headqrs. tested communication with forward battery regarding rapidity of Artillery support when unexpectedly called for at night on unregistered target”. Was this initiated by the hand of Captain Turnbull? It certainly sounds like modern marketing speak for “we made a massive cockup”.
Did Turnbull prove to be unsuitable for front line life? His CO, Major Patterson, certainly thought so. There’s a damning note at the end of the East Surrey’s war diary for February 18th 1915. Captain Turnbull had been sent back to England. When he arrives, Turnbull is listed at a serving member of the 1st Battalion. When he leaves he belongs, once more, to “4/th E.S.R”.
The next place I’ve found him is in The London Gazette, ever-reliable record of the comings and goings of British Army officers, “Captain Montagu D. Turnbull resigns his commission. Dated 4th August, 1915.”
What had gone on in the intervening months? Did frustration of not being able to fight get the better of him? Or was there a darker tale behind Turnbull’s fall from grace. Did he go to prison? Whatever happened, on the 17th December, he joined the 11th (Queen’s Own) Royal West Kents as a private. Did he want to get back to the fighting? Or did a white feather send him back to the army? He describes himself as a farmer on his service papers, although how much farming went on in Greenwich is hard to say.
Perhaps life as a private didn’t suit him either or the training was too much for him because he went missing between 26th and 31st March 1916 and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Turnbull had every intention of returning to duty according to submitted evidence in his service records. I wonder if the submitter of this information and the occupant of 50 Vanbrugh Park, a Miss Sales, was anything to do with his reluctance to return to barracks. This could have been one of two sisters: Gertrude Annette Sales or Violet Guinevere Sales (aged 29 and 28 respectively in 1916), daughters of Arthur Sales, a Government Lighting Contractor.
Luckily for Turnbull, he was sent overseas, to Italy, before the arrest warrant catches up with him. Later on, he was sentenced to 10 days C.B. which I take it means Confined to Barracks.
The next time I’ve found the hapless Turnbull, I’m sorry to say that he’s been killed in Flanders on the 27th April 1918, presumably during the German Spring Offensive. He’s buried at Hagle Dump Cemetery near Poperinge in Belgium. He died a Lance Corporal.
He left a pitiful collection of objects which were returned to his mother: 2 identity discs, half a franc, some postcards and a mascot; a supposedly “lucky” black cat pouch. Lucky for some.
On the back of the effects form, his mother, Ellen, has written a plea to the army. She hasn’t received the things she wanted most: A pocket notebook and a small leather photograph case. She writes “I would be so glad to receive these things”.