"The Monocled Mutineer" [Background] Plumpton Wall
“The Monocled Mutineer” was shot dead by police at Plumpton, near Penrith, in 1920
Francis Percy Toplis was born in 1896 in Chesterfield. He is known, and was portrayed by the actor Paul McGann, as ‘The Monocled Mutineer’ involved in the Etaples Mutiny of 1917. This is ironic as he could not have been involved as he was on board a ship en route to India at the time! His early life was a catalogue of wayward behaviour and petty crime culminating in 1912 with arrest and imprisonment for attempted rape. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps at the outbreak of the 1st World War and saw some form of service at Gallipoli, Salonika, Egypt and Bombay. Returning to England he deserted in August 1918 and returned to crime, this time fraud which earned him a second term of imprisonment until 1920. Although technically still a deserter he re-enlisted and joined the Royal Army Service Corps where he became heavily involved in the illegal sale of Army petrol.
On 24th April 1920 Toplis was probably responsible for the shooting dead of a taxi driver, Sidney George Spencer, in Andover. He promptly deserted again and went on the run to London where he spent two weeks parading as a decorated army officer. However he soon realised that he needed to get away and fled to Tomintoul in north east Scotland. Here he was confronted by a game keeper and the local constable and retaliated by shooting and injuring both. Flying south on a bicycle to Aberdeen he reached Carlisle by train and started to walk south along the Carlisle-Penrith road. On Sunday 6th June he was questioned by a suspicious PC Fulton at Low Hesket who, sure that this was the man wanted for the taxi-driver murder, retreated and sought re-inforcements from Penrith. A while later Fulton together with Inspector William Ritchie and Sergeant Robert Bertram drove north and were joined, unofficially, by Norman de Courcy-Parry, the Chief Constable’s son. They spotted Toplis and took cover in the farm buildings of Romanway near Plumpton.
Ritchie challenged Toplis who took to his heels and began shooting at the officers. They fired three shots one of which killed him. The verdict of the Inquest held on the 8th June was that Toplis had been ‘justifiably killed by a revolver bullet fired by a police officer in the execution of his duty’. He was buried by the Board of Guardians in an unmarked grave in Beacon Edge Cemetery on the 9th June. The Vicar of Christchurch, Rev. R H Law, insisted that he be given a Christian burial. Which of the officers was responsible for the fatal shot has long been a matter of debate as has the actual location of his grave, although it is now suggested that the site of the grave is to the right of the cemetery chapel possibly on the site shown below
For more information, see
Jim Cox, Who shot Percy Toplis?, (Bookcase, Carlisle, 2018)
Text and photos by Lorna M. Mullett