On the day after Toplis’s violent end, 7 June 1920, an unsigned telegram had arrived at the office of the Bristol Evening Post.

It read: ‘Toplis lives on. He always will.’ Certainly, his posthumous presence was still being felt in 1978 in a series of unrelated events, one of which reached Parliamentary level.

In 1978 the British government made its first official admission that there had been a mutiny at Etaples, and with it came an admission that records of the rebellion had probably been destroyed. Socialist Member of Parliament Eric Moonman asked the Minister of Defence in the House of Commons whether any papers relevant to the Haig Board of Inquiry into the Etaples mutiny in 1917 were retained by the Public Record Office, if any were not accessible to public inspection, and, if so, why such an exception to the normal rule had been made.

Dr John Gilbert, Minister of State, in a written reply stated:

Although the Public Record Office holds a war diary for the Etaples Base, which describes the events of the mutiny and records that a board of inquiry was set up on the authority of the commanding officer, it has not been possible to trace any papers relating either to the board of inquiry, or to one involving Field Marshal Haig. The rules governing the disposal of Army records which were in force until recently provided that records of boards of inquiry need be kept for only ten years, so it is probable that the Etaples board of inquiry records were destroyed many years ago.

In 1978, de Courcy Parry, Jnr, cross-examined on television, about the last moments of the outlaw, said that the gun battle had ended with Toplis shooting himself, and for good measure demonstrated to the cameras how Toplis had turned his own gun towards his body to make the final shot. The chief constable’s son had previously signed statements and given Press interviews in complete support of the 1920 inquest version of events.

If de Courcy Parry’s latest account is accurate it follows that there is a great question mark hanging over all the sworn statements and evidence given before the inquest verdict of ‘Justifiable homicide’.

Already deeply troubled by a confession that the ‘rules’ had allowed for the selective destruction of records as embarrassing as that of the Etaples mutiny, thereby casting a doubt over the accuracy of the whole of British military history, Moonman switched his attack to the civilian front.

He attempted to find out from the Home Secretary if the last surviving witness’s surprising change of mind, but the question was mysteriously blocked at source. It did not get as far as the Home Secretary, being returned from the Commons Table Office with a penned note reading: ‘A matter of past history and one for which there can be no Ministerial responsibility.’

This curt dismissal could have become the final valediction but for the intervention of a childhood friend of Toplis, Frank Dayson, now of Roblin, Manitoba, who rallied other ex-service-men to the cause of erecting a tombstone on the unmarked pauper’s grave at Penrith. The local authority in England confirmed that there was no bye-law which could prevent this happening, and added, that, in any case, they had no wish to interfere with the plan.

Dayson had already decided the epitaph for the stone, expected to be in position by 1980. From that date on the task of locating the grave will be eased by the inscription: In Grateful Memory of Percy Toplis, The Monocled Mutineer.