It was dawn over the trenches. The watery sun still frozen tried to bring light. In the mud and shit rats bounded here and there nibbling at the dead sat slumped as sentry called the men alive to go over the top firing hard at an enemy they could not see. No food in their bellies the wave scrambled into action .Tired starved and ill to be butchered in minutes by the flash of machine guns and the red streak of lead that shattered the very body of the dead on foot. The trumpet sounded retreat onto the deaf dead ears of mother England sons. The mud shall be their winding sheet as mother Earth took them down in that stinking trench were moments before they had obeyed the call of death in the Kings name. Never to be found never to be remembered for long enough to matter.
So it was a man who had seen it all started rebellion in their wake.Those noble lads he knew all gone all twisted in pain and vanished under the field of mud. Not for him an end so terrible. He was the Monocled Mutineer now in his mind revenge.
The horse led carts trundled passed him but he card not for that direction that ran onto unaware of hell that lived in those fields. Great artillery guns fired as he climbed farther up the banking. Boom it deafen him as one shell after another sang loud and screamed out across to the other side. He was dizzy with the sound but slid down to the lower level.Was there no where out of this crazy war.
His name he remembered was Private Percy Topliss born 25th September 1896 in Chesterfield Derbyshire. His parents had farmed him out to a grandparent as they could not afford the keep. He had spent two years in Lincoln prison for attempted rape. Here he was about to vanish again as a deserter.
Five times he had deserted but always rejoined using his own name .Only now he bought a monocle and called himself Captain Topliss as his rank and name. The rebellion in Etaples he was said to have started but no proof he was even present as we have it he was on his way by troop carrier to India as medical corps man at time of uprising.
The men revolted as so many had been shot by own guns owing to what we know now is battle sickness shell shock, dizzy not aware of what went on around them, but shot as cowards by officers. Percy sided with the troops and a revolution came to be as half million mud covered blood soaked heros had had enough. The army fails to report this fact in any dispatches but it happened as stated. It is called by historians the Easter Risings.
Troops stationed in Ireland lower ranks rebelled mainly pit lads from Nottingham but unlike other nations most of these lad had like the rest volunteered to join the war as soldiers.True they had not a clue what war was when they signed to the Kings Shilling. They soon found out and making ready to be shipped to the front line many lost nerve.Some had lied about age many at 14 in uniform did mot know what hell is.
it went on for a week from 26th April 1916. At the end some 120 lads lay dead and many more wounded. The loyal army took charge of arrests and it came suddenly to halt. Terrified boys march to be shot as traitors Rest marched to the shipyard to sail to the trenches without rest.
Actor Paul Magann who played Topliss in a tv drama.
That about sums it all up but for Percy he was right in there in France wanting friendship and asking questions. He was being watched too. What ever this man was he was one hell of an actor. May have been slightly mad or just had courage to be the best at all he did. He stopped at nothing really. Then out of war in 1919 he is said to have shot a taxi driver called Sidney Spicer in London and the chase was on. He fled to Scotland and then to a bothy (a small one story stone built cottage for shepherds )to take cover in at night. it was whilst he relaxed that 3 local men seeing smoke from the chimney decided to approach. Topliss half undressed shot at them wounding two and the third ran for his life for help. When a party of men and police arrived but no sign of the culprit. I have it that he was a beaten child by his father and the grandparents saved him. Slightly mad he lived a life of crime in the boldest sense he could. He really took the gentry off so well that as Major he so convinced Generals that he was invited to dinner. To him, I am convinced, it all was but a game. He from the peasantry now able to rub shoulders with the toffs thrilled him. He may even have admired them but he was just an actor with such talent at 20 years of age that his legend is that of Robin hood or even more he is a vanishing Prince and loved it as theater that I am sure of. Did he kill that taxi man , but he was never charged but in his absence. He was able to shoot at any who threatened him like the hand of a father he now flashed back. he was but 23 years old when he died.
More to this man than I can say here.Many say that he was British Intelligence set to find out mutiny in the minds of high command. For me that could be except for that fact he was a loner a misfit and a conman who lived for adventure, magic and cared nought for any but himself. it made him dangerous and that is what he was. His legend will never die and unlike his unmarked grave near the old Roman road in Plumpton he will not be forgotten by time. His legend will grow no doubt. I must add that I know the exact spot he died upon as have been to that site twice in my life as this man and his legend and the place he was shot not far from my home in my youth, a farm in the Eden Valley Cumbria.
Percy Topliss dressed as a British Army Officer
Next we have him at Penrith in Cumbria , once known as Cumberland. At a village on the A65 trunk road he was shot dead by three men not knowing who he was only that he seemed suspicious as he had changed out of army uniform into civilian brown suit and trilby hat carrying brown paper parcel with uniform in. It was 6th of June 1920 and he was shot several times, once in the back. The shooters as guilty for murder as the man they shot down may have been. The gun and shaving gear with the tell tale monocle at police museum that all belonged to Percy Topliss.
The copse of Percy Topliss
Topliss was either an intelligence officer or more likely just a bad boy who was able to charm birds of the trees and lived dangerously. He could have been suffering shell shock in intervals or was just a mad man who could act. No proof he was even at the Mutiny nor that he shot the taxi driver .If he at the Bothy shot in lower legs the two wounded men does that make him a killer? No need for mercy if he had murdered before. Lots of wrong alleys and bends in his tale. like the time he wore a Majors uniform he went in to try a suit .The tailors assistant obliged and he left the uniform and came out with a free suit. We cant say more as than that about this man. Did he deserve to be gunned down by country bumkins at a turkey shoot? They admitted he looked suspicious but did not know who he was. I always thought his luck had run out but really he was murdered.
It all adds to the legend on the Monocled Mutineer.
God bless you all, Sir Kevin.
Copyright Kevin Parr Bt 2019 March