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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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War Memorials



There is general agreement that the name of Dean Prior's best-known military hero is not, in fact, John Prettyjohns. In informing the world of the man's correct name, the church authorities had the benefit of access to the Parish Register. This is taken from the notice about this matter which hangs in the church.


John Pethyjohns (NB) was born in Dean Coombe in the parish  of Dean Prior in 1823 and his family can be traced back to 1697 in South Brent. He worked as an agricultural labourer until he joined the Marine Light Infantry at Stonehouse Barracks, Stonehouse (now part of the City of Plymouth.) Due to his strong Devon accent, his name was misunderstood when he enlisted and spelled as Prettyjohn. He was illiterate and had no idea as to how it should be spelled. He therefore ramained John Prettyjohn for the rest of his life (The final "s" is added on some documentation referring to him and is also included on his gravestone.)


During the Crimean War, at the Battle of Inkerman, a party of Marines under Sergeant Richards and Corporal Prettyjohns was sent to clear some caves of the enemy. They were seized by a  Russian Patrol and the Marines had little remaining ammunition. Coporal Prettyjohns seized the leader of the Russian Patrol and captured him with a West Country wrestling throw, while his men threw stones which he had ordered them to collect, at the Russians.  When the Victoria Cross was instituted, the marines chose Prettyjohns for one. It was the Corp's first Victoria Cross.


John Prettyjohns was discharged as a Colour Sergeant in 1865. He later married and had two daughters. His wife and children are buried beside him in the Southern Cemetery in Manchester. He died in 1887 aged 64.


In 1902, his Victoria Cross was given to Stonehouse Barracks. and is now at the Royal Marines' Museum at Eastney, in Hampshire, along with a portrait of him. A print of this portrait is presented below.


Many of the first citations for the award of the Victoria Cross were supported by a series of reports by different people who were present at the original action and could testify to the details of the action. In Prettyjohns' case these included an account by Sergeant Turner of the Royal Marines and an extract from  a despatch from Lt-Col Hopkins, the Senior Officer of Marines at Inkerman who said that Cpl Prettyjohns had been noticed in particular for having personally shot  four Russisans.


John Prettyjohns name

Coporal John Prettyjohn's name


Sergeant Turner's Report.:

The 2 November 1854 was an active day. 312 rank and file marched off from the heights of Balaklava for the Light Division, under the command of Captain Hopkins RMLI. The detachment was divided into four companies, taking turns in the trenches. On the morning of the 5th, the relief, which had just returned. were preparing their rude breakfast: the firing from Sebastopol was gradually increased and then commenced in our rear. Nothing could  be distinguished but fog and smoke from where we were.


The bugle sounded "Fall in at the double" and officers were flying about, giving orders, saying vast columns of the enemy were moving up to our rear. The roll of musketry was terrific; we were advanced cautiously until bullets began to fall in amongst us. The Sergeant-Major was the first man killed; an order was given to lay down: it was well we did so: a rush of bullets passed over us; then we gave them three rounds, kneeling into their close columns.


At the same time, some seamen opened fire from some heavy guns into their left flank and this drove them back into the fog and smoke. Our Commanding officer received several order from mounted officers at this critical time: first, it was "advance"; then it was "hold your ground and prevent a function or communication with the town".


The  Inkerman caves were occupied by the enemy's sharpshooters who were picking off our officers and gunners; between us and these men was an open space exposed to the broadside fire of a frigate in the harbour under the shelter of the wall, but she had been heeled over so as to clear the muzzles of her guns, when fired, from striking the wall; thus her fire raked the open part. The Caves were to be cleared and the \marines ordered to do it: as soon as we  showed ourselves in the open, a broadside from the frigate thinned our ranks. Captain March fell wounded. Captain Hopkins ordered his men to lie down under a bit of rising ground and ordered two Privates, Pat Sullivan and another man to take the Captain back and there he stood amidst a shower of shot and shell, seeing him removed.


A division, under Sergeant Richards and Coporal Prettyjohns, was then thrown out to clear the caves; what became of the Commanidng Officer and the others, I never knew, so many statements have been made.


We, under Richards and Prettyjohns, soon cleared the caves, but found our ammunition nearly all expended, and a new batch of the foe were creeping up the hillside in single file at the back. Prettyjohns, a muscular West Countryman said "Well lads, we are just in for a warming and it will be every man for himself in a few minutes. Look alive my hearties, and collect all the stones handy and pile them on the ridge in front of you. When I grip the front man, you let go the biggest stones upon those fellows behind."


As soon as the first man stood on the level, Prettyjohns gripped him and gave  him a Westcountry buttock throw, tipping him over upon the men following, and with showers of stones from the others, knocked the leaders over. Away they went, tumbling one man over the men following: we gave them a parting volley and retired out of sight to load;. they made off and left us although there were sufficient to have eaten us up.


Later in the day, we were recalled, and to keep clear of the frigate's fire had to keep to our left, passing over the field of slaughter.


On being mustered, if my memory is not at fault, 21 had been killed and disabled and we felt proud of our own commanding officer, who stood in the fire like a hero, helping Captain March.

Corporal Prettyjohns received the VC Colour, Sergeant Jordan the Medal and £20 for Distinguished Conduct in the Field. Captain Hopkins was awarded a CB; others were recommended."


Corporal John Prettyjohns

Corporal John Prettyjohns of the Royal Marines

wearing his complete complement of medals

Naval personel wore the VC with a blue ribbon instead of the more familiar crimson ribbon of modern times.,

From an oil painting commssioned by his regiment


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