John Purvis

Medals awarded

  • Member of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
  • 1914-1915 Star
  • British War Medal 1914-1920
  • Victory Medal 1914-1919
  • Defence Medal 1939-1945

Medals from left to right are: Order of the British Empire, British War Medal 1914-1920, Victory Medal 1914-1919 and Defence Medal 1939-1945

John Purvis was an extremely talented artist and photographer. However, he is best remembered for his historical and literary achievements. His translation of the original York Mystery Plays into modern English were central to their revival during the Festival of Britain in 1951. This work, along with his initiation of the Borthwick Institute for Archives in York, led to his OBE in 1958.

Purvis was born in Bridlington 1890. After studying at Cambridge University he worked as a history teacher. He enlisted into the Yorkshire Regiment (as Green Howards were called at the time) and was wounded during the Battle of the Somme on the first occasion he went ‘over the top’.

On that day, 15th September 1916, he had recorded history’s first tank attack in pen and ink in the early light of dawn. Two poems, ‘High Wood’ and ‘Chance Memory’, originally published under the pseudonym Philip Johnson (and Johnstone) are now known to have been written by Purvis.

After the war Purvis resumed his life as a history teacher, but in 1932 he took Holy Orders and joined the Church.

Occasionally, over time, some medal groups are broken up. In this case, the medals that have been donated to the museum do not include all of the medals awarded to John Purvis.