b. 08/06/1892 Sheffield. d. 27/08/1933 Bracklesham, Sussex
Wiliam Barnsley Allen (1892-1933) was born at 14 Botanical Road, Ecclesall, Sheffield, Yorkshire on 8th June 1892. His father, Percy Edwin Allen, was a steel merchant’s clerk and later a silversmith manager. His mother was Edith nee Barnsley (hence William’s middle name) and they married in 1889 and lived for a time in Scarborough before moving to Ecclesall. William had two sisters, Edith Dorothy born in 1890 and Barbara born in 1896. By 1901, the family were living in Worksop, Nottinghamshire.
William was educated at St Cuthbert’s College, Nottinghamshire from 1902-1909 and was a member of Mountgarrett House, then Mason House. He attended Sheffield Medical School, graduating in June 1914 (MB & ChB), having been awarded the University Gold Medal for Pathology 1913, the Kaye Scholarship for the highest marks in physiology and anatomy and three Bronze Medals for academic distinction. He was also a member of Sheffield University Officer Training Corps from 1911. William became a junior house doctor at the Royal Hospital in Sheffield in June 1914 and was commissioned in 3rd West Riding Field Ambulance RAMC as a Lieutenant on 8th August 1914. He was promoted to Captain on 1st April 1915 and went to France on 15th April, attached to 246th (West Riding) Brigade Royal Field Artillery.
William married Mary “Mollie” Young nee Mercer at the Wesleyan Chapel, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire on 16th May 1916. They had one daughter, Patricia Josephine Laura Allen, born on 30th April 1920. William was awarded the Military Cross (LG 26th September 1916) for his actions south of Thiepval, The Sommee on 14th and 20th August 1916, when he went into no man’s land under heavy shellfire to tend to a wounded artilleryman, repeating the procedure for others later.
On 3rd September 1916, near Mesnil, France, when gun detachments were unloading high explosive ammunition, the enemy suddenly began to shell the battery position. The first shell fell on one of the limbers, exploded the ammunition and caused several casualties. Captain Allen at once ran across under heavy shell fire and started attending to the wounded. He himself was hit four times by pieces of shell, but he went coolly on with his work until the last man had been attended to and removed. He then went to tend a wounded officer and only then reported his own injuries.
William was granted leave between 5th-12th October 1916, and on the 12th was examined by the medical board in Scarborough. He was suffering from bronchial catarrh and debility and declared unfit for duty for 7 days. On 18th October, a medical board at 3rd Northern General Hospital, Sheffield found him unfit for duty for three further weeks. William’s Victoria Cross was gazetted on 26th October 1916.
The Victoria Cross and Military Cross were presented by King George V in Hyde Park on 2nd June 1917. He would then be awarded a Bar to his MC for his actions at Nieuport on 25th July 1917, when during an intense bombardment of a town with HE and gas he left the ADS to search for wounded. Hearing there were some wounded in a remote part of town he went there, collected them and supervised their removal to the Dressing Station. He was seriously gassed, but performed his duties until evacuated to the Casualty Clearing Station.
The gas affected his eyes and chest and a large abscess formed in the pectoralis major, which was operated on five times. He arrived in Britain from France on HMHS St Denis on 13th August and was sent to Swedish War Hospital, Paddington Street, London and then 3rd Northern General Hospital, Sheffield on 21st August. William was out of action until after Christmas 1917.
He was appointed Acting Major on 4th January 1918, and returned to the front. He would be awarded the DSO for his actions on 11th-14th October 1918 with 1/3rd Field Ambulance west of Saulzoir on the River Selle line; he showed a high degree of fearless initiative in organising the collection of wounded under continuous hostile shellfire. By his untiring energy, inspiring example and contempt of danger he moved large numbers of helpless wounded from positions of danger before he was gassed. He was wounded again on 17th October, and returned to Britain.
He was transferred to a regular commission as a Captain on 1st December 1918, and became Acting Major on 11th July 1919. He then served in Rawalpindi on the staff of the Prince of Wales and Duke of Connaught. From January 1923 he was in Aden until discharged on 26th September 1923, suffering from malaria and dysentery and granted rank of Major.
In civilian life, he went into practice with Dr Louis Aimee Newton MRCS LRCP in Hounslow, Middlesex. The partnership ended in 1931 and William continued on his own. Sadly, William’s marriage was failing, and Mollie sued for divorce on the grounds of William’s adultery with several women. Mollie was granted custody of their daughter, and when the divorce was granted, she married William Wilson in York in 1926. William had also re-married in 1925 to a florist, Gertrude Craggs, at St Margaret’s Registry Office, The Strand.
William suffered bouts of ill health in later life which affected his behaviour and personality. In July 1932, he crashed his car into a ditch and was charged with drink driving. He was fined £1 and his licence was suspended for five years. In his defence in court, he stated he “had suffered as no other man in England had suffered.” His war wounds plagued him constantly and he took to drink and drugs to obtain relief. On 27th August 1933, he telephoned Dr Sadler to come to see him at his home Perley’s Marsh”, Bracklesham Bay, Sussex. William died within half an hour of the doctor’s arrival and had been taking various drugs. Death was certified as an overdose. An inquest at Chichester on 28th August recorded a verdict of misadventure. He was buried in Earnley Cemetery, Bracklesham. He left over £4,500 in his will to his widow.
In addition to his VC, DSO and MC & Bar, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf. His VC is held by the Museum of Military Medicine, Keogh Barracks, Mytchett, Surrey.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MUSEUM OF MILITARY MEDICINE, KEOGH BARRACKS, ALDERSHOT.
BURIAL PLACE: EARNLEY CHURCHYARD, BRACKLESHAM, SUSSEX.
* means MC and Bar
Picture - Thomas Stewart
National Memorial Arboretum
War Illustrated 11th November 1916