b. 03/08/1890 York. d. 05/08/1917 Ypres, Belgium.
Bertram Best-Dunkley (1890-1917) was born at York on 3rd August 1890. His father, Alfred Corah Dunkley, was a baker and later an agent in the hop trade. He married Eliza Jane Drury in 1862 in Worcester, and later settled in York. Eliza died in 1887 and he married Bertram’s mother, Augusta Martha “Edith” Draper in St Paul’s, York later that year. Alfred suffered from epilepsy and sunstroke and became violent towards Augusta, and they separated briefly in 1899. Sadly, Alfred committed suicide the following year and it was discovered he was ruined financially. At the inquest, the jury returned a verdict of “suicide while of unsound mind”. Bertram had four brothers from his father’s two marriages.
Bertram was educated in Europe, and worked as an assistant teacher in Ireland and by 1911 was a tutor at Gore Court Preparatory School, Tunstall, Sittingbourne, Kent. Later he was a teacher at Tientsin Grammar School in China. He took leave from his teaching job in Tientsin when war broke out and had an eventful journey home through Siberia to St Petersburg, then to Stockholm, Christiania and Bergen to Newcastle upon Tyne. He was commissioned into 6th (4th (Extra Reserve) from 1908 when he became a Special Reservist) Lancashire Fusiliers on 1st November 1907. He was promoted Lieutenant on 14th June 1909 and was the Machine Gun Officer at one time. He rejoined 4th Battalion at Barrow-in-Furness on 13th September 1914 and at the end of the month was admitted to hospital for an appendectomy. He transferred to 2nd Battalion in May 1915 and was later seconded to the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment). He went to France in July 1915 and was appointed acting Captain on 6th July 1916.
Bertram married Marjorie Kate Pettigrew at Barrow in Furness in October 1916 and they had a son, Bertram Eric Lorimer Best-Dunkley (born on 19th July 1917). Bertram acted as Adjutant for a few months and transferred to 2/5th Battalion in October 1916. He appointed Acting Major on 10th October and Temporary Lieutenant Colonel and Commanding Officer 2/5th Battalion on 20th October. He was promoted to Captain on 1st November.
On 31st July 1917 (just 12 days after his son was born) at Wieltje, Belgium, he was in command of his battalion when during an attack, it became disorganised by reason of rifle and machine gun fire at close range from positions which were believed to be in our hands. Lt.-Col. Best-Dunkley dashed forward, rallied his leading waves, and personally led them to the assault of these positions, which, despite heavy losses, were carried. He continued to lead his battalion until all their objectives had been gained. Had it not been for this officer's gallant and determined action it is doubtful if the left of the brigade would have reached its objectives. Later in the day, when our position was threatened, he collected his battalion headquarters, led them to the attack, and beat off the advancing enemy.
Bertram died of his wounds at a Casualty Clearing Station at Proven, Belgium on 5th August 1917 and was originally buried there. He was later moved to Mendinghem Military Cemetery, Belgium. Marjorie (his widow) was unable to travel to London to receive the VC from King George V. Colonel Padley CB, Commander Barrow Garrison, pinned the medal on the shawl of the infant Bertram at Risedale House, Barrow in Furness on 27th October 1917.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf. His medals have been sold at auction three times – for R27,000 by Alex Kaplan in November 1982, for R22,500 at Chimperie Agencies on 1st August 1984 and for an estimated £12,500 at Spink’s in June 1986. They were owned by a Canadian collector, Jack Stenabaugh, at one time, but their present location is unknown.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: MENDINGHEM MILITARY CEMETERY, PROVEN, BELGIUM.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT III, ROW D, GRAVE 1
Entrance Hall of Tientsin Grammar School, China.
Replica of medal at Lancashire Fusiliers Museum
War Illustrated, 6th October 1917
VC Stone laid in York on 31st July 2017