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 the awards that can be seen on a visit in our dedicated Medals display to some of those that are still tucked away in our archive.
Our volunteers have been supported by the Royal Army Chaplains' Museum in this special edition of the blog looking at a chaplain that accompanied 2nd Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry for over two years during the Great War. You can find out more about the story of faith in the forces by visiting the Royal Army Chaplains' Museum in Shrivenham, Oxfordshire.
Reverend Edward Montmorency Guilford, MC
Edward Montmorency Guilford was born on the 2nd Sept 1888 in Dharmsala, India, the son of Edward Guilford – a missionary – and Louisa his wife. In 1891, the young Montmorency (or 'Monty') was at his grandmother’s home in Reading, but his mother died in 1895 when he was six and by 1901 he was at boarding school in Ramsgate, and still lived there in 1911 (with two of his three sisters) having graduated at Cambridge in the meantime.
In April 1913 Monty, by now a clerk in Holy Orders, married Kathleen Bigger at St George’s, Hanover Square, and in August 1914 he officiated at the baptism of their first child Ruth. At this time the family lived at Streatham Common.
With the outbreak of war, he joined the Army Chaplains' Department (which would later become the Royal Army Chaplains' Department from February 1919), and was commissioned as a Temporary Chaplain to the Forces, 4th Class (equivalent to a Captain), on 11th May 1915. He was first appointed to the Woolwich Garrison for a few months, before spending a further four months with the newly formed 30th Division as they prepared to move to France. However, on the 26th Sept 1916 he was assigned to the 5th Brigade of the Regular 2nd Division, which was already on the Western Front taking part in the Battle of the Somme. Within this brigade were the 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
The 2nd Oxf. & Bucks LI had just suffered heavy losses at this time, with over 200 casualties in their attack on Guillemont Station, and another major attack on 13th November saw them take another 240 casualties.
Early 1917 saw the 2nd Battalion in action at Ovilliers and Bailleul on the Somme, before a move north to the Arras sector – where once again they had over 200 casualties in an attack in April.
For over two years Monty Guilford was the Chaplain for the 2nd Battalion and was widely admired and popular. His sermons were well attended apparently, he had the ability to get on well with all the men and his habit of always having a cigarette to offer was also much appreciated! More importantly, he did not hesitate to put himself at risk when offering comfort to the wounded and dying, often when under enemy fire.
His MC was awarded as part of the King’s Birthday Honours in 1918, recorded in the London Gazette without a citation. His long and dedicated service likely contributing to the decision to award him the medal.
Monty Guilford stayed with the 2nd Battalion through 1917, holding two Christmas services that year, and was with them near Bapaume in March 1918 when the last Great German offensive was launched. He was
wounded around this time but returned to the 2nd Battalion in late May. After spending two months detached to Division, he returned to the 2nd in October 1918 and marched with them through the Armistice in
November and then on into Germany in December 1918.
At times, Monty Guilford had to do his duty through dark times, spending all the night with a condemned man before execution (a Private Bateman, not of the Oxf. & Bucks) must have been hard, and he experienced personal grief when his much-loved brother-in-law (Jack Bigger, of the 4th East Surrey Regiment) was killed in early 1917.
According to family reports, his experiences on the Western Front caused him to experience a crisis of faith for a while at the end of the war, or at least a loss of faith in the methods and doctrine of the Established Church rather than wholesale loss of faith in God. Apparently though, working at St Martin in the Fields in London helped restore his faith. By 1928 he was the rector at St Nicholas’ church in Cottesmore near Rutland, and in 1939 he was recorded as being the padre to the RAF Bomber Squadron based at the new airbase. Once again Edward saw his duty as offering comfort to men risking their lives for their country. He is recorded as having died at Herstmonceaux in Sussex in Sept 1971.
Military Cross, British War Medal, Victory Medal, Defence Medal
Article by David Rushton, with thanks to the Royal Army Chaplains' Museum