Reg Selway’s medals
Reg and Gladys Selway lived at 5 Orchard Terrace in Kingswear for many years. Only after Gladys died, would he start to talk about his experiences on the Somme during WWI. However, he never told anyone about his heroism.
The silver British War medal, in the middle, was awarded to officers and men of the British Forces who fought between 1914 and 1918. Approximately 6.5 million British War Medals were issued. The front of the medal depicts the head of George V. The recipient’s service number, rank, name and unit was impressed on the rim.
The Allied Victory medal is on the right. The front depicts a winged classical figure representing victory. About 6 million victory medals were issued with the recipient’s service number, rank, name and unit was impressed on the rim. On the left is Reg’s Military Medal. This honour was established by King George V in 1916. Its inception was intended to meet the enormous demand for medals during the First World War.
Reg Selway was born in 1895. He enlisted as a Private 457386 in the Royal Army Medical Corps on 24 April 1915. 3 years later he earned himself the Military Medal for bravery in the field when his Regiment was near Bethune. The citation reads ‘on the morning of 9th April 1918 Private Reginald Selway was employed as a runner to a Regimental Aid Post.
This RAP was getting congested with casualties and he volunteered to go to the Advance Dressing Station for extra bearers. There was a heavy barrage at the time through which he had to pass. He got through, although in an exhausted condition.
After giving his message, he fainted, but immediately he recovered, he at once returned to his post although the shelling was still severe. At this time as well as on other occasions he has shown great courage and devotion to duty.’
The medal was awarded to NCOs of the Army, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Navy for acts of bravery.
Free French Medal
Soon after France fell to the invading German forces in the early days of World War 2, the Dart witnessed a Free French naval presence which lasted for much of the conflict.
Several Motor Boat Flotillas were developed early in the war to provide coastal escort and defensive patrols and air sea rescue. Forces Navales Francaises Libres (FNFL) manned a number of these boats and in 1943 the 23rd Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla was formed.
This unit was based in Kingswear with eight Motor Torpedo Boats, French crews and three British Liaison officers. The FNFL had their HQ in Brookhill and the Officers were billeted in local houses. The Royal Dart Hotel became HQ of the Royal Navy coastal forces which had overall control of the 23rd flotilla.
These boats were 72 foot Vosper MTBs weighing 60 tons and powered by three Packard engines giving up to 40 knots and a range of 420 miles. They carried 2500 gallons of petrol! Their arms were two 21” torpedoes, a variety of machineguns, hand grenades and depth charges.
The crew was made up of Captain and Officers with gunners, radar and radio operators and mechanics. The Flotilla was involved in a large number of incidents mainly across the channel towards the Brittany coast and the Channel Islands. General de Gaulle, whose son was stationed in Kingswear for part of the war, conferred on these boats the Ordre de L’Armee, a bravery decoration awarded to a ship.
In total, the 23rd Flotilla carried out more than 450 patrols sinking 5 German ships and damaging more.
The MTB crews were decorated many times including 1 DSO, 5 DSC, 2 DSM, multiple French medals including 85 Croix de Guerre. To mark their gratitude to the people of the village, a silver medal was awarded to Kingswear in 1967 by order of the Inspector General of the French Armed Forces ‘in permanent acknowledgement of the hospitality extended to the Free French Forces’. Their letter to the Parish Council stated that ‘the parish was virtually regarded as the HQ of the Free French Navy’.
Captain Leon Coquerel
As a tug boat captain based in Le Havre, Leon Coquerel took the opportunity in 1940 to escape the invading Germans, and with his tug L’Aube arrived in Kingswear. He was based here for much of the rest of the war. The tug remained very active in harbour duties working with Dart Harbour Navigation, as well as working with the Royal Navy, US Navy and Free French Forces.
Leon became acquainted with Gertrude Perring, from Dartmouth, and after the war, they married and lived in France. They returned to Dartmouth regularly at Regatta time to keep in touch with family and friends. When his wife, Gertrude died in 1994, he returned with her ashes to place them in the River Dart, which they both loved so much.
Leon was kept busy on the Dart, but his skills as an experienced Captain were truly tested in 1942 when a trawler towing a large yacht from Brixham with only a deckhand on board, encountered storms when eleven miles out from Dartmouth. This made the yacht unmanageable. Seeking the shelter of the Dart estuary, the tow parted; another rope was thrown to the yacht and secured to the towing post which broke. Yet another rope was hurled aboard, and secured to the winch which also broke away.
The situation was now critical and Captain Leon Coquerel steamed from Kingswear to draw close enough for two of his crew members to scramble on board the yacht. The seas were now mountainous and they were unable to reach the deckhand who was washed overboard and drowned.
As the yacht started to sink, the two tugboat crewmen jumped overboard, one managing to swim to the safety of the tug but the other began to drown. Captain Coquerel jumped overboard into the raging sea, and with great difficulty secured the man until a launch arrived and hauled Captain Coquerel and the unconscious seaman aboard.
For this act of ‘entente-cordiale gallantry’ the Mayor of Dartmouth awarded Captain Coquerel the Royal Humane Society bronze medal at a civic gathering in the Guildhall.
After his death in 1998 at the age of 97, Leon’s ashes were also his medals should be given to Kingswear, a place that had captured his heart and benefitted from his presence.His medals include Free French honours as well as British War, Campaign and Victory awards, and the Cross of Lorraine, the emblem of the Free French. This presentation is truly fitting for a remarkable man.
First Published June 2011 By The Dart