Francis Alleyne Marr DSO & MC

This officer of the Cambridgeshire Regiment was one of many to join the battalion direct from his studies at Cambridge University and went on to receive the Distinguished Service Order and Military Cross and was twice mentioned in despatches. He was to die a tragic death in 1942 during the sinking of the SS City of Cairo.

Born in 1893, Alleyne Marr was the son of Professor John Edward Marr, a Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge University, & Mrs Amy Marr, of Cambridge. Prof Marr was one of the foremost geologists of the time; elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1891, also secretary and president of the Geological Society.

Young Alleyne went to Oundle School in 1907, where he served for six years in the school’s Officer Training Corps. Gaining an exhibition at St John’s College, Cambridge, he went up in 1913, where he joined Cambridge University OTC, but his university career was interrupted by the war.

Commissioned in October 1914 in 2/1st Btn, Cambridgeshire Regiment, in April 1915 he was sent out to the 1/1st Btn, which had recently gone to the Western Front. He joined C Company, but was soon made the machine gun officer, being promoted T/Lt in June. He also spent several short spells as acting adjutant in 1915. He left the gun section to become 2ic of C Coy and two months later was the company commander as a Temporary Captain.

His courage was recognised with the award of a Mention in Despatches for leading a C Company raid on September 16, 1916 and being award the Military Cross for taking command of the battalion during the capture of the Schwaben Redoubt. The citation read:

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He assumed command of and handled his battalion with great courage and ability. He set a splendid example throughout the operations.

After several months spent as the battalion’s adjutant, he was posted to 118th Brigade in January 1917 to act as Brigade Major. After a staff course in June 1916 and a short time with 140th Brigade, 47th Division, Marr was promoted full Captain and in August officially seconded to 118th Brigade as Brigade Major, a post he held for a further seven months. He was Mentioned in Despatches again, probably for work during the Passchendaele offensive.

This was followed by the award of the Distinguished Service Order in the King’s Birthday Honours list of 1918 “for distinguished service in France and Flanders.” Marr received his DSO from King George V at Buckingham Palace in June 1918. During the summer of 1918, Marr found himself attached to the American Expeditionary Force and late in the war he was Deputy Adjutant & Quartermaster General of 39th Division. As 118th Brigade was being broken up, he was attached to the HQ of 58th Division after the Armistice serving in various brigades until he was demobbed in June 1919, being transferred to the Territorial Force Reserve in 1921.

 Alleyne was also a geologist and joined the Burmah Oil Company’s geological staff in 1919. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1919, in 1924 he went to Assam and spent most of the next 18 years at the Digboi oilfield. He also served in the Indian Defence Force. Married in 1931 to Margaret (known as Peggy) from Maidenhead, Berkshire, he decided to retire from the East in 1942.

Tragedy was to strike on the night of November 6, 1942, while sailing from Bombay to the UK on the SS City of Cairo when the ship was torpedoed by U-boat U-68. The ship was sailing via Durban and Cape Town to the UK via Brazil with 295 aboard, including 97 passengers, including Marr and his wife. In the darkness passengers and crew scrambled to the lifeboats which were soon overcrowded owing to the loss of several in the explosions. A brave man to the end, Marr is believed to have put his wife into a lifeboat, and sacrificed his place for someone else and remained on board helping others into boats. He was one of two crew and four passengers aboard when a second torpedo sank the ship.  The six cramped open boats tried to make for St Helena some 480 miles away. After an epic ordeal the boat with Peggy Marr aboard was found on November 19 by the ship Clan Alpine.

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Marr while serving with the MG Section.

Marr after the Armistice.

This site went live on the 14th February 2015 to mark  100 years since the 1/1st Cambs went off to war.


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