Major Vernon Harcourt de Butts Powell


Major Vernon Harcourt de Butts Powell MC shot himself on January 2 1918 after being injured in the World War 1.

He is buried in the Churchyard of All Saints Church, Little Shelford. His plaque states; Now We See Through the Glass Darkly; But Then Face to Face

Major Powell was part of the Powell and Wale family from Little Shelford. Vernon Harcourt De Butts Powell, M.C. was born in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire in 1886 to Cecile H and Rev. Harcourt Powell.

He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry on the field in the Battle of the Somme.

Powell originally enlisted with the cavalry but then obtained a commission as Lieutenant with the Canadian Field Artillery (CFA). He was promoted Captain at the front in 1916. At the Battle of the Somme, he was wounded and received the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry.

In September 1917 he was appointed Major of the 53rd Battery of the CFA. A month later he burnt his hands badly from extinguishing a fire among live shells in a gun pit. However he fought on. On December 7 he was severely wounded by an explosion and he was evacuated to England. He took his own life on January 2 1918.

Before Major de Butts Powell joined the Canadian Field Artillery on January 15, 1915 he served as a teaching master at Appleby College in Burlington, Ontario. The school was founded in 1911 and de Butts Powell was one of the original faculty, teaching English, and served from 1911 until 1914. His tenure had an obvious impact to the school’s formative years and a residence, “Powell’s House”, is named after him. 

Powell had declared previous military experience with 5th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (Territorials); Oxford University Officer Training Corp; and 9th Mississauga Horse. His Military Cross citation indicates his valour and bravery: ” For conspicuous gallantry in action. He made a daring reconnaissance under heavy fire, obtaining most valuable information and displaying great courage and ability throughout.”

The place and cause of death was registered as: “4th London General Hospital, Denmark Hill, S.E. (Self Inflicted) Gunshot wound of head, whilst unsound mind…” The next of kin on the form is his mother Mrs. Cecil Henrietta Powell. He left her an estate worth $2,413 of which $2,000 consisted of life insurance and the rest in cash.

This is the wording from his memorial in All Saints Church.

MEMORIAL TABLET IN MEMORY OF MAJOR V H deB POWELL In All Saints’ Church, Little Shelford, Cambridgeshire The Memorial Tablet hangs on the wall, behind the pulpit, to the left of the chancel arch. It is made of varnished, dark wood, possibly oak, with a moulded pediment and border around the inscription. The lettering is faded gilt paint, apart from the bottom 3 lines, which are black paint The letters are all Capitals, of various sizes, Roman type, with serifs Measurements are: overall height 131cm x overall width 80cm The inscription’s area is: overall h 80cm x w 54cm The tablet is surmounted by a moulded pediment, with, centrally, the insignia of the 53rd Battery, 13th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery The inscription is as follows: They offered themselves willingly among the people And came to the help of the Lord against the mighty. Judges 5.9. Chap. To the Glory of God And in memory of Major V.H. de B Powell M.C. Born Jan 23rd 1886 Educated at Highgate School and Keble College Oxford Where he received an Honour Degree At the outbreak of war in 1914 he was second master At Appleby School Oakville Canada He obtained a commission in the Canadian Field Artillery And was promoted to Captain at the front in 1916 He was present at the Battle of Ypres & at the Battle of the Somme where he was wounded & received The Military Cross for “Conspicuous Gallantry in Action” In Sept 1917 he returned to France As Major of the 53rd Battery CFA 13th Brigade He was wounded in October and recommended for further Honours having “incidentally having saved many lives by Extinguishing a fire in a gun pit” On Dec 7th 1917 he was again severely wounded by an Explosion & was sent to England where he died On Jan2nd 1918 from the effects of “shell shock and Multiple wounds” & was buried in this churchyard on Jan 6th 1918 He was a soldier of fearless & upright character And of charming personality Appreciated by all who knew him. He was called By his men “our beloved Major” This tablet has been placed here by Mildred Wood as a Proud record of her much loved nephew Grandson of the late Colonel Wale of Little Shelford

This is a newspaper article from the time.


Verdict of Suicide Returned in Case of Major Vernon H. Powell Who Died in London.

London. Jan. 6. – A verdict of suicide was returned in the case of Major Vernon Harcourt Powell, Canadian Artillery, who shot himself at a rifle range in London. Deceased was a schoolmaster [from] Canada, and was blown up in a dugout in France, receiving serious injuries, but apparently recovering after returning to England. He left a note saying “the accident was entirely my own fault.” which, however, must have been written some time prior to the shooting. Before turning the rifle on himself deceased as scored eleven successive bulls.

Major Powell before the war taught at a school near Toronto. He went overseas with the rank of Lieutenant in the C.F.A. of the second contingent, won promotion and the Military Cross for gallantry on the field.

Major Powell was one of the first teachers at Appleby College, Oakville, Ontario, Canada founded in 1911. There is a Powell Playing Field and a Powell House, named in honour of Major Powell.

Appleby School in Ontario Canada has a house named after Major Powell as he was a teacher there before the Great War.

In February 2015 Patrick Carter (in the hat) a Social Science teacher, as well as the Director of Moral and Ethical Education and Tom Karcz, Assistant Head of Appleby School  visited Major Powell's grave and left an Appleby Pin on the gravestone. 

Here is the Wale family tree featuring Major Powell