Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Richard Dawnay Martin-Bird

Richard Dawnay Martin-Bird : Photograph of Richard in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference: MR3/20/54

Photograph of Richard in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR3/20/54

Richard Dawnay Martin-Bird : (L to R) Knight Bachelor's Badge; Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Civil Division); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; 1953 Coronation Medal; Efficiency Decoration with 2 Bars

(L to R) Knight Bachelor's Badge; Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Civil Division); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; 1953 Coronation Medal; Efficiency Decoration with 2 Bars

Richard was born on the 19th July 1910 in Weybridge, Surrey. He was named after his father and his mother was called Mildred. He was their eldest child. We know he had at least one brother, called George.

Mildred's maiden name was Yates, and her father Peter had been one of the founders of the Yates Wine Lodge pub chain. In 1911 Peter lived at 'Woodville' in Lytham, Lancashire. Richard and his new family also lived there, and he worked with Peter in the family business.

Richard junior was educated at Charterhouse School in Godalming, Surrey. During his time at this boarding school he was a member of the School's Cadet Contingent, reaching the rank of Under Officer. After he left school Richard began to work for the family business. In July 1931, when he was 20, Richard lived at 'Harwood' in the village of Cookham Dean, Berkshire.

Between April and June 1935 Richard married Katherine Blanche Jelf in the Finsbury area of London. Their first child, Richard, was born in Aldershot, Hampshire between July and September 1936.

Richard was living and working in the Manchester area by the end of 1938. His daughter Joanna was born in Bucklow, Cheshire between October and December 1938.

Throughout 1938 and 1939 fears of another war with Germany grew. The Army began to increase in size, and on the 29th April 1939 Richard was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 8th (Ardwick) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a Territorial Army (TA) unit, so Richard kept his home and job, and trained as a soldier during evenings and weekends. There was also an annual training camp, lasting around 2 weeks.

The TA was embodied, or called into full time service, on the 2nd September 1939, the day after Germany had invaded Poland, and the day before Britain declared war. At the time Richard was the 8th Battalion Signals Officer, responsible for keeping the unit in contact with higher headquarters, and for ensuring that the different sub-units of the battalion could communicate with each other.

The 8th Battalion trained at their drill hall for the first few months of the war. After further training at Marlborough in Wiltshire, on the 23rd April 1940 the battalion was sent to France. It did not join the British Expeditionary Force that was preparing for a German attack; it continued on to Gibraltar for a brief period and arrived in Malta on the 20th May.

Malta was vital to the British forces in North Africa, especially once Italy declared war in June 1940. It soon came under air attack. Richard and the 8th Battalion were originally sent to help defend the island against an invasion, but they soon found themselves busy building shelters for people and aircraft, as well as repairing the damage caused by air raids.

As Signal Officer Richard 'became the most ubiquitous figure in the unit, appearing equipped with belt and pliers at all hours of the day and night throughout the length and breadth of a sizeable battalion area'.

By September 1940 Richard had become Second in Command of Headquarters Company. This controlled specialists such as signallers, mortars and pioneers. They were based at Ghain Tuffieha and Ta Saliba. He was the Company Commander by August 1941, and had been promoted to the rank of War Substantive Captain.

When the Germans sent troops to North Africa in February 1941 attacks on Malta began to increase and the island was soon under siege. This meant that as well as constant air raids ships carrying supplies could not always reach the island. Several convoys fought their way to the island, but food and clothing were in particularly short supply.

By the end of 1942 the Germans were retreating in North Africa. They were less able to spare aircraft to attack Malta and by the end of November the siege had effectively been lifted.

Richard left Malta for Egypt on the 27th August 1943. Over the next 3 months he and the 8th Battalion moved around the Middle East. They spent time in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. On the 30th November the movements stopped for a time when the 8th Battalion returned to Palestine.

The 8th Battalion stayed in the Middle East until March 1944. On the 23rd March the battalion arrived in Italy, which had been invaded by the Allies during September 1943.

We don't know much about where Richard served during his time in Italy. The 8th Battalion took part in hard fighting through the mountains of central Italy. Their final campaign was the attack on the German Gothic Line. This ran along the Apennine Mountains of Northern Italy and was attacked between August and September 1944. The Allies broke through the position, although they took many casualties and could not defeat the Germans.

On the 13th October 1944 the 8th Battalion left Italy for Northern Ireland. Their new job was to train new recruits to be infantrymen. We believe Richard went with them. He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 11th April 1945, although he was still a War Substantive Captain.

Shortly after the end of the war the 8th Battalion was disbanded. Richard had missed the birth of his daughter Katharine, between January and March 1941, but he was most likely there when his second son Christopher was born between July and September 1946. Sadly during this period in 1947 Richard junior died, aged just 11.

During March and April 1947 plans to reform the 8th Battalion began to come into effect. Richard was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on the 1st May, and took command of the reformed battalion. He threw himself into recruiting and training, and even joined the battalion rifle shooting team. In July 1948, at the 42nd (Lancashire) Infantry Division Weapon Meeting at Altcar he helped the team win the Inter-unit Rifle Challenge Cup. His rifle jammed during the falling plate final though, leading to defeat.

Richard served as Commanding Officer for 3 years, and then had his time in command extended. This was a popular decision amongst the members of the battalion, who recognised the 'self-sacrifice and hard work' he had put into 'building up the battalion from scratch'.

The Army also recognised Richard's service. On the 3rd November 1950 he was awarded the Efficiency Decoration, recognising 12 years service as a TA Officer. He was awarded a Bar to this medal on the 24th October 1952. This recognised a further 6 years service. Richard was allowed to count his wartime service twice. He was awarded a 2nd Bar in September 1959.

By this time Richard and Katherine lived at Rockford Lodge in Knutsford, Cheshire. Their youngest child, Frances, was born here in December 1951.

Richard's work with the 8th Battalion was also recognised when he was made an Officer of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) on the 1st January 1953. This is his citation:

Lt-Col Martin-Bird assumed command of the 8th (A) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the 1st May 1947, on the resuscitation of the Territorial Army and has now commanded the Battalion with distinction for over 5 years.

He has built up a most efficient Battalion which is now over 650 strong and the strongest in the Brigade, with an excellent Corps of Officers, Warrant Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers. This has been achieved by the personality, drive and leadership of Lt-Col Martin-Bird who has never spared himself.

Though he is an extremely busy businessman he had contrived to give up a great deal of time to his Battalion for which he deserves the greatest credit.

Her Majesty Queen Mary inspected the Battalion in 1948 and Guards of Honour have been provided by the Battalion on the occasion of Royal visits to Manchester in 1949, 1950 and 1951. These have thrown a great deal of responsibility and extra work on Lt-Col Martin-Bird. On each occasion the Battalion acquitted itself with great credit which is a testimonial to the careful planning, organisation and training of Lt-Col Martin-Bird.

Later that year Richard gave up command of the 8th Battalion. He was promoted to Colonel and took command of 127 Brigade, which included the 8th Battalion and 2 other units. He held this job until he retired from the TA in 1956.

In retirement Richard stayed in contact with the battalion. He had been elected Chairman of the 8th Battalion Old Member's Association in 1955, and on the 31st March 1956 he replaced Percy Dawson as the Battalion's Honorary Colonel. Percy's medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection. Richard served as Honorary Colonel until 1967, when the 8th Battalion was disbanded. He continued as Honorary Colonel to the new Manchester Regiment (Ardwick and Ashton) Territorials until November 1972, by which time it was called the 2nd Battalion of the Lancastrian Volunteers.

Richard received several civil honours during the 1960s and 1970s. He became an Aide-de-Camp to Queen Elizabeth in June 1961, Chairman of the East Lancashire Territorial Association on the 25th May 1963, and a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Lancashire on the 10th August 1964. He also served on the King's Regiment Council for many years, providing 'loyal, experienced and sage advice'. He was also a valued member of the Manchester Regiment Officer's Association.

On the 1st January 1971 Richard became a Commander of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE). This was awarded for his work as Chairman of the Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association, Lancashire, Cheshire and the Isle of Man. In June 1975 he became a Knight Bachelor for this work. He was now Sir Richard.

In March 1976 Richard became High Sheriff of Greater Manchester. He had continued with his business career as well as his work with the TA. He was a Director and Chairman of Yates for many years, and served as President of the Wine and Spirits Association of Great Britain between 1978 and 1979.

Outside of work and military matters, Richard enjoyed game-shooting, gardening and bird-watching. By the late 1980s he lived at 'Stockinwood' in Chelford near Macclesfield, Cheshire.

In 1988 Richard took part in the transfer of the Archway, the only surviving section of the Manchester Regiment Depot at Ladysmith Barracks in Ashton, into the care of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council.

Richard and Katherine's other son Christopher died in November 1991 aged 45. They had 10 grandchildren by the time Richard died aged 82 on the 3rd December 1992. He was remembered as 'a true gentleman ... the kindest, most courteous, considerate and compassionate of men'. Katherine died in August 1996 aged 86, and Richard's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in September 1997.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council