Percy Toplis
(1896-1920)

Died aged 24

Francis Percy Toplis (22 August 1896 – 6 June 1920) was a British criminal and imposter active during and after the First World War. Before the war he was imprisoned for attempted rape. During the war he served as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps, but regularly posed as an officer while on leave, wearing a monocle. After the war he became notorious following the murder of a taxi driver and the wounding of a police officer who attempted to apprehend him. The manhunt was major news at the time. He was tracked down and killed in a gunfight with police. In 1978 a book was published which claimed that he had a big part in the Étaples Mutiny from 9–12 September 1917, as "The Monocled Mutineer". The authors suggested that he was pursued by the political establishment in a vendetta and may have been innocent of the murder. The book was dramatised by the BBC in 1986 as The Monocled Mutineer, creating considerable controversy. Critics say that there is no evidence he was present and that official records show that Toplis's unit was en route to India during the Étaples mutiny. However, the official records that are often cited to refute claims that Toplis took part in the Mutiny have been extrapolated from a summary of his movements that appear in a letter addressed to the Chief Constable of Hampshire Police from Superintendent James L. Cox . The letter, dated 17th May 1920, describes how Toplis was deployed to the Dardanelles at the outset of war in 1915 with a Field Ambulance Company, was wounded and sent home and “then went on trooping duty to Salonika, Egypt and back to the Depot and then to India in the Troopship ‘Orontes’”. Sadly, the letter from Superintendent Cox makes no mention of a ‘wanted notice’ that featured in the Police Gazette dated Oct 18th 1918 which states that Toplis deserted from Salonika on June 15th that same year . The six-month ‘hard labour’ sentence served by the Nottingham magistrate in December 1918 suggests Toplis did not see out his service days in Egypt or Bombay as some have alleged. As Percy’s British Army Service Records have not been retained by the MOD, precise details about his movements remain unclear. With the exception of Cox’s letter and a Medal Card , no other official records of his service history exist. Despite the omission of actual dates in Superintendent Cox’s summary of his movements during the war, many historians feel it is unlikely that Toplis was in France to participate in the mutiny.

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Commemorated on 1 plaque

Percy Toplis known as the Monocled Mutineer, shot and killed here whilst on the run for murder 6th June 1920

Romanway Farm, Plumpton, Penrith, United Kingdom where they was killed (1920)