The Man Behind the Medals
In this blog series, SOFO Museum's Research volunteers look at the stories behind some of the medal sets in the museum's collection, from those that can be seen on a visit in our dedicated Medals display to some of those that are still tucked away in the archive.
While medals will tell you a little bit about a soldier's service, it's only with further research that their full story can be revealed! SOFO's Research volunteers respond to enquiries we receive through our Research Service, helping people find out more about their relatives who served in the county regiments, and raising funds to support the museum in the process. Using a combination of the museum's records and those available elsewhere, they piece together stories like this one.
CSM 5373227 Cecil Bailey, DCM
Cecil Tomalin Bailey was born in 1895 in Gravel Hill, Henley, the son of Harry & Elizabeth Bailey. His father Harry (a decorator) died when Cecil was still an infant, but his mother re-married quickly to a Fred Langford who adopted Cecil and his 2 sisters and one brother.
The Census of 1911 records Cecil Bailey as living at home and working as a servant locally, but clearly this was not for Cecil. In July 1912 he joined the Territorials as Private 8283 Bailey of the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion of the Ox & Bucks LI, and in November 1912 was attested into the Regulars as Pte 9782 of C Coy in the OBLI’s 2nd Bn – the old 52nd as they were known.
Pte Bailey went to France with the 2nd Battalion in August 1914 and would have fought at Langemarck & Gheluvelt in Oct 1914, and then Givenchy in Sept 1915.
Promoted, Corporal Bailey obviously led a charmed life; surviving a bullet wound to the scalp in March 1916 and a shell wound in July 1916, before being wounded again on 13th Nov 1916 in the Battle of the Ancre. This wound, in his side, was received during the fierce fighting for the German strongpoint known as Munich Trench. Despite this injury, Bailey (by then a Sergeant) blocked a trench and then held it to enable his men to mostly escape. Sgt Bailey was awarded the DCM for his gallantry but was captured by the Germans and held as a POW after hospital treatment.
Sgt Bailey was released as a POW after the Armistice and returned home on 1st Jan 1919 – only to be deployed with the 1st Bn OBLI as part of the North Russian Expeditionary Force to Murmansk in May 1919. This force was engaged against the new Red Army in support of the White Russian forces but was extracted later that year with the 1st OBLI returning home in October 1919. Promoted to CSM in 1924 and having married Florence Horsman in 1932, Cecil Bailey continued to serve with the 1st Bn until 1933 when he took his pension and retired.
In January 1937 however CSM Bailey re-enlisted, joining A Coy of the 4th Bn of the OBLI, a Territorial unit. When war broke out the 4th were mustered and eventually crossed to France on 18th Jan 1940. When the Germans crossed the Meuse on the 14th May the 4th Bn began a long retreat along with the rest of the BEF, before being ordered to garrison Cassel which was occupied on 25th May. Cassel was designated as one of the strongpoints planned to hold back the advancing Panzers to buy time for the remainder of the BEF to evacuate through Dunkirk.
Along with the 2nd Glosters, the 4th OBLI held Cassel for three days despite heavy attacks by elements of 6th Panzer Division, until on the 29th May orders came for a night time retreat across country in an attempt to break out. The enemy were encountered in force near Watou, where CSM Bailey – already wounded – died charging a machine gun post in an attempt to clear a way through. Only about 5 officers and 80 men of the 4th Battalion returned home.
30th May.—Orders were received to march on a 50-degree bearing to Watou and thence due north to Hondschoote, where the canal was said to be held by our own troops (in point of fact it was not). The leading half-column passed to the north of Watou and got well on the way to Hondschoote before encounter¬ing a strong force of the enemy, to whom they were compelled to surrender after putting up a stiff fight. The rear half-column, finding Watou occupied by enemy tanks, attempted to make a detour to the south of the village, but soon found itself sur-rounded by a strong enemy force consisting of tanks, guns, mortars and motorized infantry in armoured troop carriers. Against these the only weapons that we had been able to take with us—rifles and Bren guns—were practically useless; but an attempt at resistance was made until the party was overwhelmed by the advance of heavy enemy tanks. As further resistance merely meant increasing the already heavy casualty list whilst serving absolutely no useful purpose, they too surrendered.
In this action against overwhelming odds every man acquitted himself well, but C.S.M. Bailey, D.C.M., of A Company, was especially gallant. Although seriously wounded, he continued to lead an attack on a machine-gun post until he was killed by a burst of fire. - The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, 1939-1940
Distinguished Conduct Medal, British War Medal, Victory Medal, 1939-45 Star, War Medal, Long Service & Good Conduct Medal