This is a carefully written account, with an explosive accusation at the end.

Do I believe him? Was there a miscarriage of justice in awarding the DSM to Payne?

I believe that Ashley was sincere in his belief that 'a very great mistake' had been made - that he had made the heroic dash to carry vital messages from headquarters, that he crept dangerously close to the enemy to learn their plans, and that he showed tremendous courage in carrying heavy ammunition back to his besieged colleagues when his shoulder was numb and useless. As his Adjutant said, he was lucky to be alive.

I found his service record in findmypast, in the Royal Naval Division Service Records 1914-20, for John Ashley /3942/A.

His service record shows that in December 1914, after returning from Antwerp, Ashley was offered a commission. Over the next six months he was trained as a Machine Gun instructor and  promoted to temporary Lieutenant. By the end of the war he was Captain Ashley.

It may be that CPO Payne was involved in similarly heroic actions during the ferocious siege of Antwerp, and that the claims put forward on his behalf were accepted. He was an experienced marine, a veteran of the Boer War. But his service record shows no signs of recognition, such as those accorded to Ashley. 

And there is Ashley's claim that 'it is common knowledge, that a very great mistake . . .'


Payne and Ashley were in the same guns-crew. Payne was the Chief Petty Officer, Ashley a Petty Officer 1.  Perhaps the claim was put forward in the superior's name, although Ashley makes it clear that the CPO was not with him on at least one of his heroic escapades.

It may even have been an error in transcription. John Ashley Anson Battalion - John Payne Anson Battalion. Scrawled in haste during the chaotic retreat. Phonetically different but typographically similar. Easy to misread. This seems the most likely scenario to me - an innocent error made under extremely stressful conditions, by an officer who read what he expected to read..

By the time the list was published, it was too late to correct the error.