The historically outstanding Great War Somme 1916 Distinguished Service Order, Mashonaland 1897, and Second Boer War group awarded to Major C. A. R. Pryce, D.S.O., Royal Field Artillery, onetime colonial policeman, mercenary and Hollywood star, whose remarkable life is recounted in Gringo Revolutionary, he having briefly taken hold of Baja California in Mexico when a mercenary, he famously lit dynamite sticks with a cigar and threw them at the enemy.
Group of 7: Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R., silver-gilt and enamels; British South Africa Company Medal 1890-97, reverse Mashonaland 1897, no clasp; (401 Troopr. C. A. R. Pryce, B.S.A. Police); Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 2 clasps, Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal (2138 Tpr. C. R. Pryce, Natal Police); King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (899 Sjt. C. A. R. Pryce, S.A.C.); 1914-15 Star (Capt. C. Ap. R. Pryce, R.F.A.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oakleaf (Major C. Ap. R. Pryce), mounted as wornGVF
Sold with a quantity of original documentation, comprising a signed record of service, a quantity of of printed testimonials, 8 in all, including one from Major General C.G. Blackader, and one from Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell, and his M.I.D. certificates, the first dated for 13 November 1916 as awarded by General Sir Douglas Haig, and the second dated for 9 April 1917 and awarded by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig; and also author’s signed testimonial copy of Gringo Revolutionary, by John Humphries.
Caryl Ap Rhys Pryce was born in Madras in 1876, the son of an Indian Army officer and the scion of an old Welsh family, whose ancestry could be traced back to Gwaethfod, a Prince of Wales before the Battle of Hastings, and to the famous Welsh freedom fighter, Owain Glyndwr. Young Caryl was educated at St. Salvator's School, St. Andrew's, and Glenalmond College, Perth, after which he played rugby football for the Glasgow Academicals, whilst training with the 1st Lanark Rifle Volunteers.
A brief stint as a Lieutenant in the 5th (Volunteer) Battalion, Highland Light Infantry having followed, the young Welshman decided to seek adventure and fortune elsewhere, and took passage to South Africa. Travelling north to Salisbury, Rhodesia, where he joined the British South Africa Police as a Trooper in May 1897, he was assigned to ‘D’ Troop, Mashonaland Division, under the command of Inspector R. C. Nesbitt, V.C., and was quickly in action at the storming of Matshayongombi's stronghold in the same month, where dynamite was used to blow the rebels out of their fortified caverns - over the course of four days, 278 surrendered, but hundreds more were entombed within the rock.
Shortly afterwards, Pryce obtained a prospecting licence from the Mining Commissioner at Umtali, but his ten claims in Manica country proved fruitless, and in May 1898, he enlisted in the Natal Mounted Police at Pietermaritzburg. Active service ensued in the Boer War, including six months in the Imperial Light Horse in 1900, prior to employment in the South African Constabulary later that year. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in January 1903, he went on to serve as District Commandant of Bethlem, Springfontein, Flicksburg and Jacobsdal, in which period he also acted as Magistrate. Taking leave back in England in 1905, he applied for a post as a Chief Constable, a failed initiative that prompted his brief return to policing duties in South Africa.
Once more getting itchy feet, Pryce elected to try his hand at business in Vancouver, where, upon arrival, in 1908, he joined the 6th Duke of Connaught's Own Rifles, the local militia unit. But with business slack, and in fear of being hitched by the lady in his life, Pryce made a typically spur of the moment decision - whilst walking late one night he happened upon the ferry to Los Angeles, and without further thought or telling anybody of his intentions he jumped aboard. Arriving in L.A. in January 1911, without a penny to his name, his prospects looked bleak, the local populace suffering from high unemployment.
Yet Pryce's arrival in L.A. happened to coincide with the heightened activity of Ricardo Flores Magon, an exiled Mexican revolutionary with ambitions towards ousting his country’s president, Porfirio Diaz - the latter had been in power for 30 years and was under increasing pressure by another revolutionary called Madero, whose “Generals” were to later be Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.
Magon was constantly watched by both U.S. and Mexican agents, and, though fearful of being extradited back to his homeland to face the firing squad, plotted a revolution in Baja California, right on the American border - being based in L.A., he was able to take advantage of the down trodden masses and enlist their support as a vanguard of socialist revolution. And what he got by way of volunteers was a very mixed bag indeed, comprising ‘U.S. Army deserters, border bandits, escaped convicts, mercenaries, and most of all Caryl ap Rhys Pryce’ (Gringo Revolutionary, The Amazing Adventures of Caryl Ap Rhys Pryce, by J. Humphries, refers), the latter no doubt attracted by a bounty of $100 and a salary of a dollar a day - not to mention the promise of 160 acres of free land in Baja California, if Magon’s aims were achieved.
Among a party of 18 volunteers, Pryce was guided across the border into Mexico by Generalissimo Jose Maria Leyva, and his second in command, Simon Berthold, his fellow mercenaries including another Boer War veteran, “Melbourne” Hopkins from Australia, and several U.S. Army deserters, most prominent of which was to become Stanley Williams. Poorly armed, the budding revolutionaries joined up with a party of Indians, ‘the only thing distinguishing them as an army, the anarchist emblem, tiny red bows, pinned to their sleeves’ (Humphries refers).
In late January 1911, Leyva took the border town of Mexicali without any great resistance and enrolled prisoners from the local jail to boost his force, news that Magon was able to use to his advantage back in L.A. where more volunteers came forward, but given the proximity of Mexicali to the U.S. border, it was inevitable that Washington became involved, a request being sent to President Diaz to deal with the 'uprising'. In answer to this request, the State Governor, Colonel Celso Vega, accompanied by 100 police, set off on a 10 day forced march across the mountains to Mexicali. Exhausted by the march, his small force was ill-prepared to take on the entrenched “Magonistas”, and after a two hour pitched battle in which several men were killed, the Mexican force fled, carrying the wounded Vega with them.
The military knowledge of the veterans had come to the fore, leading to Stanley Williams taking command of the Magonistas and he ‘wasted no time stamping his new authority on the rebel army. Declaring he wanted action quickly, he, Pryce and Hopkins, together with 40 other gringos, hijacked a train to raid Algodones about 30 miles down the line towards Arizona. Bridges were blown, telegraph lines cut, and the terrified inhabitants sent fleeing across the border’ (Humphries refers).
The ongoing raids on cattle, and other activities, caused extreme discomfort amongst the wealthy American land owners in the Imperial Valley, which in turn put further pressure on Washington and, ultimately, President Diaz, to do something. The answer came on 6 March when, as recounted by Humphries, ‘the War Department announced the largest mobilisation of troops and naval vessels ever undertaken by the United States in peacetime. Twenty thousand soldiers, a fifth of the U.S. Army, together with most of the Pacific Fleet, 2,000 marines recalled from their base at Guantanamo in Cuba, were converging on the border with Mexico.’ The relative stability of Diaz's reign had been good for the U.S’s $1 billion investment in Mexico, but the pressure placed on that stability by the Magonistas camped closely to their border was clearly trying their diplomatic patience.
On 8 April, Colonel Mayol and 600 regular soldiers of the Mexican “Fighting Eighth”, with artillery support, advanced to within five miles of Mexicali. Williams and Pryce rode out to meet them with what has been called the 2nd Battalion of the Liberal Army in Lower California, better known as the “Foreign Legion” - a force of 80 men, only 30 of whom were mounted - and they were ambushed in an open cornfield on John Little's Ranch by Mexican machine-guns and artillery pieces. Humphries takes up the story: Shells screamed overhead, kicking up great clouds of dust and sand, the Magonistas diving for cover in the craters gouged in the desert floor. Pinned down by two chattering Hotchkisses, with Williams dying at his side, part of his head blown off ... Pryce sent “Dynamite” Bill, the oldest man in the 2nd Battalion, to attack the machine-guns with his home-made bombs ...Crawling to the edge of the Encina Canal, he lit the fuses from the end of his cigar, lobbing his bombs at the enemy ... Convinced the insurrectos had artillery, the Mexicans did pull back for a time.'
In fact, one of Bill's bombs took out a machine-gun and Pryce and some of his comrades were able to make their escape, but not before noting that the Mexicans were in no mood to take prisoners, bayoneting their wounded where they fell in the cornfield. By now, to the 40 or so surviving Magonistas, states Humphries, Pryce ‘was a mercenary, pureand simple, the only man capable of leading them to the elusive pot of gold, if it existed,’ and was accordingly appointed their Generalissimo.
The Magonista cause was now starting to attract newspaper headlines in the U.S., and journalists were braving the journey across the border for the chance of an interview with the enigmatic Welshman. In one interview, which appeared in the Sunset Magazine, shortly after the massacre at John Little's Ranch, Pryce was quoted as saying his men were, “a bully fine lot. I thought I'd lose half of them after the first fight, but it only seems to have wet their whistle. Still, they haven't looked on their own dead, and that makes a difference. I'll lose lots of them if I don't give them more action. The young bloodhounds! They must have it.” All was not well, however, for Pryce's gentlemanly approach to command failed to prevent the emergence of dissenting parties, perhaps not altogether surprising given that his ranks included several well-known American criminals who had crossed the border to avoid the hangman's noose - in fact Pryce was compelled to order the execution of at least two of his men, one for rape the other for murder.
In May, with a force now totalling 200 mounted men, Pryce set out to capture the gambling town of Tijuana, a journey in which his men had to cross much difficult terrain, varying from sweltering deserts to
freezing mountain tops. The town was garrisoned by 100 men, but Pryce’s morning attack quickly secured the southern perimeter, at which point he invited the Garrison C.O. to surrender. The latter having declined his offer, Pryce’s force swept forward to complete the occupation of the town, his men showing no quarter or mercy and ‘fighting like demons, time and again rushing trenches or strongholds in the face of a veritable rain of lead’, fighting that cost the Mexicans 18 killed and Pryce’s force seven killed. The way was now open to advance on the capital Ensenada. However, the victory at Tijuana was overshadowed by the capture of Ciudad Jaurez by the Maderista General Orozco, which development persuaded Pryce that he required more arms and ammunition before continuing his advance. Accordingly, in the company of “Melbourne” Hopkins, he crossed the border under an assumed identity in order to meet Magon's representative in San Diego, but on arrival found his pseudonym to be all but useless, events in Mexico having attracted the headlines - in fact Pryce and Hopkins were inundated with free drinks, the former having achieved local celebrity status as “The Mexican Robin Hood”. Alerted to their presence, the U.S. authorities moved in and arrested them on 19 May, then rushed them through proceedings at the District Court the next day, but only for the War Department to sanction their release after no evidence was secured to hold them.
Returning to his troops at Tijuana, Pryce was dismayed to discover that Diaz had signed a treaty with Madero on 25 May, the former fleeing to France and the latter now close to gaining power as a result of imminent elections. His position untenable, Pryce crossed the border for L.A. for a final show down with Magon, who hitherto had been of little assistance; leaving behind a Tijuana that one observer described as ‘like living on the brink of a volcano; with not a sane man in the entire town, just anarchy.’ In Pryce’s words:
It was getting so serious that I came up to Los Angeles to see the Junta and find out what they intended doing. They had no money, and we didn't have any ammunition and it was useless to move on to Ensenada. So when I found the jig was up, I wrote back to the boys at Tijuana and advised them to disband. Hopkins and I came north to look for something else. Perhaps some day we may go back. I could hold Lower California with a 1,000 men and a couple of screw guns.’
His men were ordered by Magon to continue flying the Red Flag, but in reality, without Pryce's military acumen, and sufficient ammunition, their future was bleak, and on 22 June, one week after Pryce’s
departure, Vega returned with a force which outnumbered the Magonistas six-to-one, and retook Tijuana and massacred the insurrectos to a man. For his own part, Pryce was intercepted by F.B.I. agents just north of San Francisco, the Mexican Consul demanding that he be extradited to face charges of arson and murder, charges that he vehemently denied, and charges that he was cleared of by Commissioner Van Dyke in the District Court of Southern California on 28 September 1911 - the hearing had lasted a week, attracting a large amount of press coverage, and was filled with intrigue, one of the chief witnesses for the defence being murdered before he had the chance to give evidence that favoured Pryce. Be that as it may, Pryce was cleared of violation of neutrality laws and released, once more finding himself back on the streets, penniless.
Having had a taste of celebrity, it appears that Pryce could not keep out of the limelight for long, receiving a lucky break in the newly formed film empire in Hollywood. With his rugged looks and his revolutionary past, he went on to perform in several silent movies, including starring alongside the then “Hollywood Queen” Alice Joyce in The Colonel's Escape in June 1912, the plot being loosely based around his adventures in Mexico. Following the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, Pryce returned to Canada and joined the Fort Garry Horse at Winnipeg, but subsequently transferred in the rank of Lieutenant to the 5th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, Humphries stating that ‘after ten months training, he sailed with the Canadian Expeditionary Force to England aboard the S.S. Irishman, transferring again on arrival to the Royal Field Artillery, attached to the 38th (Welsh) Division, of which his elder brother, Harry, was a General Staff Officer.’
Now aged 38 years, Pryce was appointed Commanding Officer of ‘A’ Battery, 119th Field Artillery Brigade, and entered the French theatre of war with his battery in November 1915. Ably assisted by Battery Sergeant-Major E. G. Horlock, V.C., who he described in his diary as a ‘treasure’, Pryce witnessed heavy fighting on the Somme in 1916, when ordered to get his guns into position behind Fricourt, not far from Mametz Wood, one of the objectives of the famous July offensive. The day before, when part of his diary was blown away by a piece of German shrapnel, he and two other officers were reconnoitring the German positions at Contalmaison when they came upon an enemy machine-gun position held by 17 Germans - all of whom surrendered to the British officers after a furious exchange of fire. By late May 1917, his battery was in position awaiting the assault on Messines, ‘but shortly before this began Pryce was hit in the shoulder by a shrapnel burst on 3 June. Sufficiently badly wounded to be invalided home, he spent the remainder of the war in command of a Reserve Artillery Brigade at Aldershot’ (Humphries refers). Twice mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 4 January 1917 and 23 August 1917 refer), he was gazetted for his D.S.O. on the day he was wounded, an award believed to have stemmed from his earlier capture of the enemy machine-gun post on the Somme.
Little is known regarding Pryce's movements in the immediate aftermath of the Great War, but in May 1922 he joined the Palestine Gendarmerie at Fort Tragantle, Plymouth, very probably on the back of a glowing testimonial written by Lieutenant-General Robert Baden-Powell, under whom he had served in the B.S.A.P. Among some 750 volunteers who set out the 13,724 square miles of mandate territory which had become a British responsibility at the end of the Great War, he onetime commanded No. 6 Company at Nazareth, in addition to the Gendarmerie’s Mounted Squadron.
Returning to the U.K. in 1925, Pryce had a brief flirtation with politics before spending the rest of his days in the Lake District, enjoying what had largely escaped him for most of his life - peace and quiet. He died in November 1955, aged 79 years.