I didn’t think this sort of thing happened any more, but apparently it does; retrieved from a shredding machine in a paper recycling works are two very battered First World War medals.
The British War and Victory Medals, “Mutt and Jeff” to those who wore them, were awarded posthumously to Captain Bernard John Cherleton Dudley, Dorset Regiment. Captain Dudley has, in common with many of the fallen of the First World War, no known grave, but he is, most unusually, commemorated not on the Menin Gate or Thiepval Arch, but the Nairobi Memorial in Kenya. Dudley was one of the dead from a little known but extraordinary campaign waged against the might of the British Empire by a few companies of African troops under an extraordinary commander – General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck.
Bernard Dudley was born on May 27th, youngest of seven children of Lt.Col. W.E. Dudley. The Dudley family were evidently well-to-do, living at 18, Portland Place, Bath. Bernard was educated at Bath College, followed by the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant into the Dorsetshire Regiment in September 1909, serving with the Regiment at Blackdown, Aldershot and Belfast.
In May 1911, 2/Lt. Dudley deviated from traditional soldiering and took a year as a half-pay officer, travelling to Nigeria before returning to the Dorsets in June 1912. Evidently Africa was more attractive than garrison duty in Belfast, because in May 1914 he volunteered for service under the Colonial Office and embarked for Lagos, being attached to the West African Frontier Force.It was in West Africa that one of the least known but most remarkable campaigns of the war would be fought.
On the outbreak of war in August 1914, Oberstleutnant Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was appointed to command the Schutztruppe in the German colony of Tanganyika, a mixed force of fewer than 5,000 German settlers and native Askaris. Ignoring orders from Berlin and from the colonial governor to try to maintain neutrality, von Lettow-Vorbeck determined that he would best serve the war effort by tying down as many British and Imperial troops as possible. What followed has been described as the greatest guerrilla campaign in history; von Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces were never defeated and succeeded in keeping as many as 300,000 enemy troops occupied.
By December 1916, Bernard Dudley, by now promoted Captain, was commanding the 3rd Nigerian Regiment in fighting along the Rufigi River in Tanganyika, modern Tanzania. In action for most of January 1917, he was killed on the 24th at Mgwembe Nyandoti. His body was buried on the battlefield.
How Captain Dudley’s medals came to be disposed of in a recycling plant is something of a mystery. They were donated to us, the Regimental museum, by a kind individual who recognised their significance.
If this brave Dorset Officer has a surviving relative, we would be most pleased to hear from them.