Dr Walter Seymour Danks, Lieutenant, Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). Lived at Carshalton Road, Sutton
Dr Danks is one of the fortunate cases who not only survived the war but happily for us left a comprehensive paper trail in the form of newspaper articles, medals cards and medical career history, allowing us to trace him through his life. Dr Danks featured in the Great War Stories exhibition here at Sutton Library in 2014 and his story was researched by Kath Shawcross and Susan Giddings of the Archives and Local Studies team.
According to a newspaper report in the Sutton & Cheam Advertiser of 15th Jan 1915, Dr Danks was, “on the outbreak of war…one of the first to offer his services and obtained a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps as Lieutenant”. With previous experience of active service in South Africa and the North Sea Dr Danks was sent with the First Expeditionary Force and was in the thick of it at the Battle of Mons. In the second week of September 1914 his family was informed that he was missing. The Sutton & Cheam Advertiser reported that “The news spread through the town very rapidly, and the utmost apprehension was felt as to his fate.” (25 September 1914)
There was welcome news not long after when an announcement was made that he was a prisoner of war. His whole detachment had been captured while they were tending the wounded during the retreat from Mons. The local paper reported: “Indignation is rife in the town at this statement, which is only additional evidence of the fact that the Prussians are breaking all the rules of civilisation, for the internment of men whose sole mission is to care for the wounded is cruel in the extreme.”
The newspaper reports his return on the 15 January 1914: “Suttonians of all classes will rejoice at the safe return of Dr. W. S. Danks … after a very trying ordeal as a prisoner of war for four months in the hands of the Prussians.”
The article goes on to describe his time as a POW: “They [the Germans] directed Dr. Danks to assist in ministering their wounded and he was treated with scant courtesy, being repeatedly told that he was liable to be shot… Telling his experiences to a Pressman, the doctor remarked: “Things came to a head one day as I was riding out on a gun carriage to the German lines. A detestable little private, who had often spoke of my being liable to be shot, came up and whispered in my ear “if I get a chance of loosing off my rifle to-day I’ll reserve the first bullet for you.” Dr Danks kept a keen eye on that cheerful Hun all day but no opportunity occurred of his firing his rifle and therefore the doctor returned unhurt…After many vicissitudes Lieut. Danks found himself at Torgau in company with other British medical officers… the party was sent, on December 4th to Magdeburg… Their guards were very suspicious, and on three occasions they were paraded and searched. Every valuable was taken from them … whilst in the matter of food there was very little variety… Last Friday… the commandant stated that five of them were to be sent back to England.… Two of the doctors [Austin and Elliott] were specifically mentioned for release and Captain Harrison as the only married man. The commandant settled the question of the last two places … by causing the remaining men to draw lots.” Dr. Danks who was serving with the 14th Field Ambulance Corps was one of the fortunate two.
“…Dr Danks came straight to Sutton to visit his mother. He is looking weather beaten and rather thin but also fit, and afte a brief visit will be ready for duty again. We have not learned whether his release is conditional or not, but it is certain that captivity, ill-treatment and brutality will not conquer the spirit which has, both in this war and in previous crises led him to offer his services to his country.”
Dr Danks returned to active service, rising to the rank of Major and Lieutenant-Colonel in 1920 by which time his address is listed as York Lodge, York Road, Sutton. He was awarded the Victory Medal, the British Medal and the 1914 Star.