b. 18/06/1874 Dawlish, Devon. d, 19/01/1907 St Moritz, Switzerland.
Henry Singleton Pennell (1874-1907) was born on the 18th June 1874 at 8 Barton Villas, Dawlish, Devon, into a well known local land owning family, Henry’s father being described on his birth certificate as a Gentleman. Henry was the second son of Edwin Pennell and Henrietta (nee Copeland) of Dawlish, his elder brother being Charles Lewin, sisters Rosalie Frances and Hilda Mary. As was the custom at the time the eldest son went into the family business, the second son followed a career in the Army.
After being educated locally in Dawlish, Henry, at the age of 13 in 1887, was sent to finish his education at Eastbourne College (Blackwater House), East Sussex. He remained with the college until 1892, after which he was accepted by the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, for officer training, being placed 26th in the list of 102 successful candidates.
After passing out from Sandhurst Henry Pennell was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion, The Derbyshire Regiment (The Sherwood Foresters) as a 2nd Lieutenant on 21st October 1893 and so began his military career.
He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1896, before being posted to the Tirah Field Force on Christmas Eve that year. He would see action at the Dargai Heights, Sampagha Pass, Anhanga Pass, Kanki and Waran & Bazar Valley, being mentioned in despatches, and was recommended for the Victoria Cross. He was gazetted on 20th May 1898 for his actions on the 20th October 1897 on the Dargai Heights.
During the attack on the Dargai Heights, Tirah, British India, when a captain of The Derbyshire Regiment (W.E.G. Smith) was struck down, Lieutenant Pennell ran to his assistance and made two attempts, under a hail of bullets, to carry and drag him back to cover. The lieutenant only gave up when he found that the wounded officer was dead.
Pennell was presented with his Victoria Cross at Bareilly, India on the 2nd September 1898 by Colonel Dowse. In 1899, he was attached to the West Yorkshire Regiment, with the Natal Field Force which was part of the forces deployed against the Boers in South Africa. During the operations for the relief of Ladysmith he was present at all the chief operations, including Colenso, Spion Kop, Vaal Krantz, and the severe fighting on the Tugela, which saw the capture of Pieter’s Hill, and left Pennell severely wounded. He was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with five clasps, and mentioned in despatches twice.
In 1905, he was appointed Staff Captain at the Administrative Headquarters, Southern Command. In January 1907, he holidayed with fellow officers of his regiment in St Moritz, Switzerland, and on the 19th, they decided to take on the Cresta Run. The Cresta Toboggan Run consists of a series of sharp bends, one of which is called the “Battledore” followed by the “Shuttlecock”. Loose snow is packed up against the banks of the corners to act as a safety net for participants.
The rider preceeding Henry Pennell had fallen at “Battledore” and spectators had rushed forward to assist the man, inadvertently trampling down the deep snow which was normal protection for fallen riders. Following at speeds of between 40 mph and 50 mph, Henry Pennell fell at the same spot and with no snow protection, hit rocks and stones and suffered severe internal injuries from which he later died.
Henry Pennell’s body was transported overland to Calais – Dover and then to St. John’s House, Polsloe Road, Exeter, where his family were living at the time. His body was later taken to the family plot for burial in St. Gregory’s Churchyard, Dawlish, Devon, on 25th January 1907. His medals are displayed at the Sherwood Foresters Museum, Nottingham Castle.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SHERWOOD FORESTERS MUSEUM, NOTTINGHAM CASTLE.
BURIAL PLACE: ST GREGORY’S CHURCHYARD, DAWLISH, DEVON.
Kevin Brazier – Image of Pennell VC’s grave in Dawlish, Devon.
Mark Jones – Image of the Pennell VC Medal Group at Sherwood Foresters Museum, Nottingham.