Captain Allastair Malcolm Cluny McReady-Diarmid V.C.

17th Middlesex Regiment

Decorations and Awards: Victoria Cross

Died: 1st December 1917

Age: 27

Allastair Malcolm Cluny McReady-Diarmid (formely Arthur Malcolm McReady-Drew), born 21st March, 1888, was the third of the four sons of Mr. H Leslie McReady-Drew, his mother being a native, of Jersey. He entered [Victoria] College in the Summer Term of 1904, and was in that year’s Cricket XI. He and his brothers were all entered at school as ‘Drew’ simply, and his name will be found on the cricket shield for 1904 as AM Drew. He and his brothers were for some years at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Barnet, where they were Captains of Houses, Xl’s and XV’s, and shared among them most of the prizes at the Sports. Later, Malcolm was at Ealing Grammar School. He was not a student by inclination. Outdoor life was his delight. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why he always had such golden memories of his short time at Victoria College! He was a dead shot with a rifle, but such was his natural love for animals that, until the war, he had never fired at any living creatures. He knew the note of every wild bird.

His parents wished him to go to Cambridge and take Holy Orders, but he had made up his mind to go abroad. After he had left school there were various projects for carrying out this determination. None of them however had materialized when the advent of war resolved all doubts.

He was admitted at once to the London University OTC and before long received a commission in the 17th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment. From then till his death he was almost continuously at the front, with the exception of four months in hospital in 1915. He had been blown off the firing step by the explosion of a shell, and after carrying on for some weeks was sent home. An operation revealed serious internal injury, and he was told he must never again throw a bomb. How faithfully he carried out that advice, what follows will show! During his convalescence he married a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. GN Dainton, of Dursley, by whom he had one child, a girl.

Letters from brother officers show that in a soldier’s life he had found his real career. “Apart from his brilliant soldierly ability, he was a most charming companion in the mess. Cheery and full of humour, he was always keeping our spirits up.” On one occasion one of his brothers, a Captain of RE, was near enough to visit him in the trenches. They only had a few minutes together, as Diarmid was just about to lead a bombing attack: but what impressed his brother was the way the men “rushed out” after him the instant they knew he was to lead.

The crowning moment of McReady-Diarmid’s career came in November 1917, in the Battle of Cambrai.

The wonderful exploit that won him the V.C. and cost him his life was described in a Special Divisional Order, which was repeated in the official award. It runs as follows:- “When the enemy penetrated some distance into our position and the situation was extremely critical, Captain McReady-Diarmid at once led his Company forward through a heavy barrage. He immediately engaged the enemy, with such success that he drove them back at least 300 yards, causing numerous casualties and capturing 27 prisoners. The following day the enemy again attacked and drove back another Company which had lost all its officers. This gallant officer at once called for volunteers and attacked. He drove them back again for 500 yards, with heavy casualties. Throughout this attack, Captain McReady-Diarmid led the way himself, and it was absolutely and entirely due to his marvellous throwing of bombs that the ground was regained. This most gallant officer was eventually killed by a bomb when the enemy had been driven right back to their original starting point.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, describing the fighting (“Cambrai: the second phase”) says:

“There was no more wonderful individual record in the battle than that of Captain McReady-Diarmid, of the 17th Middlesex, who fought like a d’Artagnan of romance, and is said to have killed some eighty of the enemy in two days of fighting before he himself at last met that fate from which he had never shrunk.”

The above text appeared in the Victoria College Book of Remembrance published in 1920.

The fifth House at Victoria College, Diarmid, formed as the College grew in the late 20th Century, was named after him on the 150th anniversary of the College in 2002. Three of the Houses are named after Victoria Cross winners, two of which, Diarmid and Bruce were awarded in the First World War.

The following links may be of some further interest: