What’s with all the DSOs?

What’s with all the DSOs?


This is a bit of a bitter entry about who got Distinguished Service Orders (the second-highest Commonwealth decoration after the Victoria and George Cross) in the first round of decorations for CRUSADER.

Gazetting Failure

On 20 January 1942 the London Gazette published a special supplement (at this link), in which awards for operations in the Middle East were announced. It includes three names that are hard to understand, given the absence of other officers who at least in my view were far more deserving.

The three names are Brigadiers Gatehouse ( 4 Armoured Brigade – Bar to the DSO), Davy and Scott-Cockburn (7 and 22 Armoured Brigades, respectively, both DSO). Notable by their absence are Brigadiers Reid, Willison, and Watkins (Reid becoming CBE on 9 September 1942 for the capture of Gialo, and the latter two receiving the Bar and the DSO respectively on 20 February 1942), and indeed any of the New Zealand Brigadiers (Brigadier Barrowclough and Colonel Clifton received bars the 20 February 1942, and Brigadier Inglis received his DSO on the same day).

Screenshot 2019 12 28 07 50 58

‘Brig Scott Cockburn (Scottie)’, in physical training kit, on board HMT Orion en route to Egypt, 1941
[National Army Museum Image number: 111439]

Why and what for?

It is hard to understand the precedence being given to the three who were on the first list, given the comparative achievements. Brigadier Gatehouse is probably the best performer of the three, given that he had at least not lost all of his armoured brigade, but that’s a low bar to clear, given he also was a veteran in command. The other two are notable for having lost their Brigade in less than one week (Davy), and having lost it twice, the first in a week (Scott-Cockburn).

I guess there is a lesson here about decorations, which is especially pertinent given the refusal to grant one to Lieutenant McGinlay (see this older post), who at least from where I sit looks to have been thoroughly more deserving than Brigadier Scott-Cockburn. But at least some more junior officers such a Robert Crisp received their DSOs in the same round as the first three Brigadiers.

Nevertheless, more deserving (in my view) recipients were included, such as Robert Crisp, the author of ‘The Gods were Neutral’ and ‘Brazen Chariots’, and the South African armoured car commanders Lt.Cols. Grobbelaar (later to rise to armed forces command in South Africa) and Short, for their contribution to the capture of Jalo.

You can read more about the background to the DSO at this link.