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.
Major John Windham Meade
John Windham Meade was born in November 1894 at Earsham Hall in Norfolk, the eldest of three children of John Percy Meade & his wife Helen. His father, John Percy, was then Deputy Lieutenant of the County and a local magistrate. John was recorded in the 1901 Census as living with the family at Earsham Hall, along with 18 servants.
John Windham Meade was commissioned in October 1914 and joined his father’s old Regiment - the 2nd Battalion of the Ox & Bucks LI (the old 52nd) - in France as Lieutenant in May 1915. The Battalion (part of 5 Brigade in 2 Division) was near Bethune, having just taken part in the battles of Aubers and Festubert in that month – with Festubert alone costing the 2nd Bn some 400 casualties. Lt Meade was wounded near Givenchy on 9th July 1915 and eventually invalided back to England three months later. Lt Meade returned to duty in early 1916 but was then posted to join the 1st Bn O&BLI (the 43rd) in Mesopotamia.
Meade joined the expeditionary force on the Tigris as the last attempts were being made to break through to the beleaguered garrison of Kut Al Amara, where the old 1st Bn were still suffering in a dreadful siege. Along with a large draft of men from England, he joined the force on 1st March 1916, just in time to take part in the attack on the Dujala Redoubt – a strongpoint blocking any relief force. The attack failed, resulting in a withdrawal and then another attack on Sannaiyat on the 6th April – a very costly attack with heavy casualties including Lt Meade. Once again, he was hospitalised and later invalided back to England. Incidentally, all relief attempts failed, and the survivors of the garrison in Kut surrendered on 20th April 1916.
Returning to Mesopotamia as Captain Meade in June 1917, he re-joined the provisional 1st Bn as they fought their way slowly northwards towards Baghdad. Conditions were very extreme – July saw a temperature of 126 degrees recorded in the shade of a tent – disease was common, and Cap Meade was amongst those hospitalised for a week in July 1917. Despite the conditions, the 43rd was with the force which successfully attacked Khan Baghdad on 26th March 1918, and Capt. Meade was with them leading D Company of the 43rd. The armistice with the Turks was signed on 1st Nov 1918, and the 43rd and Capt. Meade sailed for home on 4th March 1919.
However, after arriving in Aldershot camp, the 43rd were quickly under orders again – to reinforce the British force currently fighting in the North Russia Expedition. The decision had already been made to evacuate all British forces from Murmansk & Archangel, but more troops were judged necessary for a safe withdrawal. The battalion sent was a composite one made up of several units with the 43rd’s HQ and A Company included, but Captain Meade was amongst the officers. The force – with assistance from several ice breakers – arrived in Archangel on 26th May, and then proceed by river to the Silefskoi front. Following a successful action at Belesnik on 22nd June, the 43rd formed past of the Vaga Column in July. The withdrawal was underway however, Capt Meade and three of the O&BLI platoons withdrew on 20th August, and the whole force was embarked on 26th Sept at Beresnik, arriving in Liverpool on 4th October 1919.
Captain Meade retired from the Army on 28th January 1933 but was recalled for service in September 1939. He served for two years with the 6th Bn O&BLI as they were raised and trained, and then another year with the 70th Bn of young soldiers – another training role. Promoted in December 1943, Major Meade then served for the duration of WW2 as Permanent President of the Field General Courts Martial. He finally was released from service on 20th Oct 1948. He died at Earsham in June 1984.
Awards: 1914-15 Star; Victory Medal; British War Medal.
1939-45 Star; France – Germany Star; Defence Medal; War Medal