Mortimer’s Grenades

Museum volunteer, Mike Crisp has chosen a silver gift from a Green Howard officer who served in the First World War.

“With the approaching centenary of the Battle of the Somme I thought it appropriate to highlight an officer of the 5th Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment and the gift he presented to the Officers Mess, together with his service – which culminated on the Somme.

The Officers Mess is a place for officers to socialise, eat and, on occasion, sleep. The mess could range from a formal building to a temporary location such as a tent or dugout within a trench. It is believed that the name originates from the Old French word ‘mes’, meaning a portion of food and eventually is found in English during the 15th century as a description where a group of people met to eat and was termed ‘a mess’.

British Army traditions place great value on their mess silver, which the mess members would be justifiably proud. The silver was acquired either by subscription of members or donated by other regiments, messes or individuals to mark occasions such as a promotion.

My object of the month is a pair of silver lighters in the form of flaming grenades presented to the mess by Major Mortimer of the 5th Battalion in 1914. The design is of a stylised grenade as seen worn as insignia on the uniforms of regiments such the Grenadier Guards or Fusiliers. The body of each grenade is engraved with the regimental crest and inscribed; Presented to the Officers Mess by Major Mortimer 1914. The grenades are hallmarked for Chester 1913 with maker’s initials of S L Ld, possibly the company of Stokes and Ireland Limited, well know Chester silversmiths, first registered in 1890.

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The spherical part of the grenade contains a reservoir to hold a combustible fluid which has a wick dipped into it and protrudes through the flames of the grenade. Once lit in subdued lighting it would have looked stunning with the flame reflecting off the polished silver.

James Mortimer was the eldest son of a distinguished Yorkshire Antiquary who was the founder of the Driffield Museum. He joined the 2nd Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment in 1888 and served in South Africa where he was awarded the Queens South Africa Medal.

On the 1st April 1908 he transferred to the Yorkshire Regiment and subsequently went to France with the 5th Battalion in April 1915 where he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and took command of the Battalion. Seeing service at Ypres he was described as displaying; “magnificent courage and example inspired his men with the same determination which he himself possessed”.

On the 30th November 1915 he was Mentioned in Dispatches and also created a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (C.M.G.) for his service. The C.M.G. being a British order of chivalry which dates back to 1818 and originally awarded to those who holding commands or high position in the Mediterranean territories and subsequently extended to similar positions in other territories of the British Empire.

The 9th September 1916 saw the 5th Battalion on the Somme and move from Millencourt to Lozenge Wood in preparation to carry out an attack on the area between High Wood and Martinpuich. They commenced the attack at 6.30am on the 15th.  However, just before the attack went in his men heard that Lieutenant Colonel Mortimer had been killed by a shell as he was making his way to the assembly trenches. The Battalion’s object was successfully gained and it was written of Colonel Mortimer by his General, that; “he was the pride of his Battalion, the pride of the Brigade, and an example to us all”.

Lieutenant Colonel Mortimer is buried at Flatiron Copse Cemetery, Mametz.  I think it is wonderful that he would be remembered each time the mess silver was laid for dinner, with his fellow officers lighting their cigars from his silver grenades.

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