John Warren, 17 April 1921-3 Oct 1992

Times Obituary, October 19, 1992

John Lynton George Warren, GM, who won his George Medal when shells fell on Dover 50 years ago, died on October 3, 1992 aged 71. He was born on April 17, 1921.

LIEUTENANT John Warren, a young officer in the so-called "Baby Buffs", the young soldiers' battalion of the Royal East Kent Regiment, was at a Dover cinema in March 1942 when the port was hit by a salvo of 380mm shells from the long range guns of the German Batterie Todt, located in the Pas de Calais.

As the cinema was evacuated, he ran through the blackout towards Market Square where crowds were gathering outside the smouldering ruins of the Carlton Club, the Conservative Party headquarters in the town. Several members were already dead, but one woman was still trapped inside, beneath tons of masonry.

Warren, a short wiry rugby wing three-quarter, was just small enough to wriggle through a gap in the smoking building. While a fellow subaltern, Ronald Brownrigg (now a retired Church of England canon), held on to his legs, he burrowed his way ten feet into the rubble. Boys from the regiment, many of whom had joined up from a local reform school, helped pass him two car jacks which Warren used to prop up a beam which was threatening to suffocate the woman.

He then lay by her side for five perilous hours, wiping her face and injecting her with morphia under shouted instructions from a doctor up above, while rescue teams, guided by Warren, struggled to free them.

Next morning at Old Park barracks, he was carpeted for being late on the parade ground – much to the subsequent chagrin of the adjutant, who first learned of the drama on reading the local newspaper. But Warren's bravery was later rewarded with the George Medal and the "Carlton Club Incident" has been given its place in the long history of Dover.

Shortly afterwards, Warren was posted to the Western desert with The Buffs' 4th battalion, only to be captured in the following year while taking part in the ill-judged British diversionary expedition to the Greek island of Leros.

Imprisoned in Oflag 79 near Brunswick, he threw his energies into organising a unique charity. Arguing that their conditions were no worse than those being suffered by young people at home, he and fellow prisoners-of-war collected £13,000 in promissory notes and improvised cheques, most of which were honoured by the men on their release.

The fund went to the National Association of Boys' Clubs which, after challenging the British public to match the PoWs' generosity, used the proceeds to found the celebrated Brunswick club in West London. Warren always retained his close interest in the venture.

Warren commanded a boy soldiers' unit after the war and briefly toyed with the idea of signing on – before leaving the army as a major in 1947 and beginning an entirely different career.

Born at Battle in Sussex, he had left King's School, Bruton, as soon as possible and become a bank clerk – then considered a safe profession with sound prospects. But he disliked that even more than he did school and joined the army on the outbreak of war, almost with relief.

So in 1947 he became a farmer. After 12 months gaining experience on an uncle's farm in Sussex he went to Shuttleworth agricultural college in Bedfordshire, where he became the first president of the union and founded a students' magazine he christened The Furrow. He then worked for some time as a farm manager in Lincolnshire before inheriting, in 1955, a 200-acre farm in the River Wey valley which had been in his family for 200 years.

There he built up a herd of 100 pedigree Jerseys and he was at one time chairman of the Southern Jersey Cattle Society. He also became deeply interested in conservation, partly through the River Wey Trust. He restored a number of 17th century aqueducts and water meadows on his own land and fought for the preservation of local commons and heathland. He had been driving home from a National Trust meeting when he was fatally injured in a motor accident.

Ten years ago he sold most of his land and partly retired, to write his own book River Running By and spend more time on public work for, among others, local schools and the boy scouts. The heir to a long family Methodist tradition, he was also appointed national coordinator of the 1988 celebrations to mark the 250th anniversary of John Wesley's conversion.

A bachelor until his mid-forties, he fell in love with a young schoolmistress, Marion Mackenzie, who came to preach in his local chapel. He courted her with fresh farm cabbages on his milk round, so successfully that they were married in 1967. John Warren is survived by her and by their son Peter.

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