Military Awards - Accounts of the
brave and gallant events which merited the award of military medals
including the D.S.O., D.C.M, M.C., V.C. among others.
Lance Corporal Albert Joynson, Of The 1st Battalion
Won The D.C.M. At Hooge
The midsummer campaign of 1915in the West was, if we except the
German Crown Prince’s offensive movement in the Argonne, confined to
small local attacks and counter attacks.
But, though the loss or gain of ground was, in most instances, of
trifling importance, these small affairs were frequently characterized
by desperate fighting, which afforded not a few opportunities for
individual distinction. Of
such a kind was the British attack on the enemy’s position south of
Hooge on the morning of June 16th, in which Lance Corporal
Albert Joynson, of the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, won the
Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Ythe “Fighting Fifth” had
marched from Vlamatinghe the previous evening, in the highest spirits,
singing all the latest songs as they swung along, and reached our
trenches about midnight. Our
artillery preparation was timed to start at 2.15 a.m., but the German
artillery forestalled it by a few minutes and gave our men an
unpleasantly warm time of it. However
the British shelling was still more effective, and in two hours the
enemy’s entanglements had been absolutely blown away.
Then came the order, “Over you go!”
And over the parapet of the assembly trench went our brave
fellows, and made a dash for the German first line trenches, which were
not fifty yards away. On the left of the assailants were among the enemy with the
bayonet almost before the astonished Huns knew that a charge was being
made; but, on the right, where our men had to pass through a little
nullah, the attack was held up by the fire of a machine gun hidden in a
tree and worked by a man who was chained to the gun, which had been
trained so as to sweep the nullah.
Finally, the British artillery blew Hun and gun right out of the
tree, but not before they had done a great deal of mischief.
Lance-corporal Joynson, who was on
the right of the attack, was one of the few men to get across while the
machine gun was still in action, though he did not come through
altogether scathes, as one of its bullets chipped a piece of flesh from
his right thumb and carried away part of the stock of his rifle,
without, however, damaging the barrel.
Having bandaged up his thumb, Joynson crept round the machine gun
traverse into a German first line trench, which the enemy had prudently
evacuated. Here he met an
officer looking about for bomb throwers, and went with him on an
exploring expedition up communication trenches, where one of the
Liverpool Scottish-a Territorial battalion which greatly distinguished
itself that day-told them that he and a few of his comrades had captured
part of a trench, but that they wanted bombers to drive the Germans out
of the rest of it, which was still in their hands.
On being shown where the Germans, Joynson readily undertook to
move them on, and proceeded to bomb them s effectively that they
retreated in disorder to the extremity if the trench.
The Fusilier pursued them for some distance down the trench,
which was strewn with an assortment of cigars, lemons, chocolates and
other dainties, and then returned and built a barricade to keep them at
a distance, which he did until 2 p.m., when the Germans got
reinforcements, and he and his comrades were obliged to retire in their
turn. They then went and
lay down in the open behind the next line of trenches, where Joynson was
smoking tranquilly, when some of the Royal Irish Rifles came to ask for
bomb throwers. He and
another man went and rendered them very effective assistance, and
remained in that line of trenches until about midnight, when one of the
officers of the R.I.R.s came and asked Joynsonhow many men he had with
him. On being told
fourteen, he said these ought to be sufficient to hold the trench until
they were relieved by the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers in three
hours time, and that he therefore intended to withdraw his own men.
Joynson thought this a very risky proceeding, but he said
nothing, fearing to dishearten his men, and though very heavily shelled
the little band held they’re ground gallantly until dawn, when relief
arrived. Joynson was hit by
a piece of shrapnel in the right shoulder, but the wound, happily, was
not a serious one.
This intrepid Fusiliers, who was
awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous
gallantry,” is thirty years of age, and his home is at Bradford,
Sergeant Alfred Bull, of the 2nd Battalion East Surrey
The D.C.M. At Stanbroek Molen
The action at Stanbrock Molen, on March 12th 1915, was
only one of the subsidiary operations in the great battle of Neuve
Chapelle. Nevertheless, it
produced some fierce and sanguinary fighting, and afforded not a few
opportunities for individual distinction.
One of these fell to the share of Sergeant Alfred Bull, of the 2nd
East Surreys, who found himself with seven men, all that were left of
five officers and eighty-five men, isolated in a trench, parts of which
had been demolished by shell fire, within thirty yards of those of the
enemy. It was a situation
to test the courage and endurance of the boldest, and man would have
accounted it no shame had the little band surrendered.
But no thought of yielding ever entered Bull’s head, and though
the trench was choked with the dead bodies of their comrades, and though
rifle and machine gun bullets came streaming through the gap in the
broken parapet until there was not one of the defenders but could show a
wound-the sergeant himself being wounded in the knee with grim
determination they stood their ground, resolved to die, every man at his
And their heroism was not in vain,
for as dusk was falling, and they were momentarily expecting the enemy
to rush the trench in overwhelming numbers and bayonet every one of the
survivors, relief occurred, and the position which they had so bravely
defended was saved.
Sergeant Alfred Bull, who was
awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous
gallantry,” is twenty-eight years of age and a Londoner, his home
being at Stoke Newington.
Gunner Arthur John Roberts, Of The Royal Garrison Artillery,
The D.C.M. At Cuinchy
In the desperate fighting at Cuinchy at the end of January 1915,
when the British, after being obliged temporarily to evacuate a portion
of their first and second line trenches under pressure of overwhelming
numbers, recovered them again by brilliant counter attacks, many a brave
deed was performed; but there were few more deserving of being
remembered than that which gained Gunner Arthur John Roberts, of the 1st
Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, the D.C.M.
About 6 a.m. on the morning of
January 25th, Gunner Roberts received orders to proceed to
the observation post of his battery-a house situated some four hundred
yards in the rear of our first line trenches-in company with Lieutenant
Mullaly and Corporal Murray, the former of whom was to act as
observation officer, while the latter was to assist Roberts in working
the telephone to the battery. While
on their way thither was to assist Roberts in working the telephone to
the battery. While on their way thither, the enemy’s artillery opened
a furious bombardment of our first line trenches, which were then
occupied by the Coldstream Guards.
So terrific was the shellfire that in a very short time the wire
entanglements had been swept away like matchwood and the parapet of the
trench was crumbling to ruin, upon which the Germans followed up the
bombardment by an infantry attack in great force, advancing in close
formation. The Coldstreams
received them with a withering rifle and machine gun fire, beneath which
they fell in heaps; but fresh battalions advanced to the assault, and so
great was the enemy’s superiority in numbers that the guardsman were
obliged to retire to our second line trench, which by 8.30 was also in
possession of the Germans. The
success of the Huns, however, was of very short duration, for half an
hour later they were driven back in confusion to their original position
by a brilliant counter attack delivered by the London Scottish and the
Black Watch, who bayoneted them by hundreds.
About eight o’clock, at the time
the British were retiring to their second line trenches, Lieutenant
Mullaly was engaged in observing the effect of our artillery fire, and
Corporal Murray an gunner Roberts in transmitting his corrections by
telephone to the battery, when a wounded corporal of the Coldstream
guards limped into the house, with two bullets in his right thigh and
two in the muscles of his left arm.
Roberts suggested that they should take him down to the cellar
and dress his hurts; but the guardsman pluckily told them not to trouble
about him, as there was one of his comrades lying about one hundred
yards away, on the railway embankment, who was in far worse case than
himself, having a broken leg and a bullet in the abdomen.
And he begged them to try and bring him in.
Gunner Roberts readily promised to make the attempt, and, leaving
the house through a hole in which a shell had made in one of the walls,
reached the railway under cover of a building opposite, and caught sight
of the wounded man about eighty yards away, trying to crawl towards a
ditch which ran parallel with the line.
Stooping as low as he could to avoid the bullets which
continually whistled by him, Gunner Roberts ran along the embankment,
reached the man and knelt down by his side.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Mullaly had followed him, and he came up a
few seconds later. The
Coldstreamer advised them to go back and leave him to his fate, or they
would certainly be killed; but the brave men refused to listen to him,
and making a seat of their clasped hands and placing his arms around
their necks, they carried him back to the house, dressed his wound, and
put his leg in splints, after which he was conveyed to the nearest Field
Ambulance. On their way
from the railway embankment to the house, which except for that last
twenty yards was across open ground, Lieutenant Mullaly and Gunner
Roberts were obliged to run the gauntlet of a very heavy rifle fire; but
happily neither of them was hit, although later in the day the
lieutenant was wounded by a piece of shell.
He, however, pluckily remained at the observation post until
relieved that night.
The rescue of the wounded Guardsman
was not the only gallant action which Gunner Roberts performed that day
as subsequently, on hearing that the telephone wire to his battery had
been damaged, he volunteered to go out and repair it, and successfully
accomplished this task under heavy shellfire.
Gunner Roberts was awarded the D.C.M., “for conspicuous
gallantry,” while Lieutenant Mullaly received the Military Cross.
Gunner Roberts, who is thirty-one
years of age, is a resident of North London, his home being at Tottenham.
Second Lieutenant Benjamin Handley Geary, Of The 4th
Surrey Regiment (Attached 1st Battalion) Won The V.C. At Hill
In the early summer of 1914, a traveller on the Ypres-Lille
Railway might have noticed, about three miles southeast of the former
town, a slope some two hundred and fifty yards long by two hundred deep. This slope is Hill 60, which before many months had passed
was to become so famous that no future visitor to the battlefields of
Flanders will ever consider his tour complete until he visited it.
At the beginning of the third week
in April 1915, Hill 60, which had more than once changed hands since the
beginning of the previous autumn, was in German occupation, and it
possession was of great importance to the enemy, since it afforded them
excellent artillery observation towards the west and northwest.
If, on the other hand, the British could retrieve to capture it,
it would give them a gun position from which the whole German front in
the neighbourhood of Hollebeke Chateau would be commanded.
Our men fully appreciated this fact and had been carefully mining
the ground, and the evening of Saturday, April 17th, were the
time selected for the mines to be fired and the Hill captured.
At 7 p.m. on the day in question a
more tranquil spot than Hill 60 could not have been found along the
whole length of the Western front; a few second later it was like a
volcano in eruption, seven mines being exploded simultaneously, and a
trench line and about one hundred and fifty Huns blown into the air.
The explosions were the signal for every British gun in the
vicinity to come into action, and rapid fire to be opened all along our
trenches. “It was,”
writes one who present, “like one contentious roar of thunder, while
the rifle fire sounded like hail on the slates, only much louder.” Under cover of the bombardment, the 2nd King’s
Own Scottish Borderers and the 1st West Kent’s dashed up
the hill, won the top, entrenched themselves in three huge craters made
by the explosions, and brought up machine guns.
During the night they were heavily shelled and had to sustain
several determined counter attacks, which were repulsed, after fierce
hand-to-hand fighting; but in early morning of the 18th the
Germans advanced in great force, and though mown down in heaps by our
machine guns, succeeded, by sheer weight on numbers, in forcing back the
troops holding the right of the hill to the reverse slope, where
however, they hung on throughout the day.
On the evening of the 18th,
the Borderers and the West Kent’s were relieved by the other two
battalions, the 2nd West Ridings and the 2nd
Yorkshire Light Infantry, who again stormed the hill under cover of
heavy artillery fire, and drove the enemy off at the point of the
The following morning another fierce
attack was launched against the British, with the aid of artillery and
asphyxiating bombs. It was
repulsed, but during the greater part of the 19th and 20th
our men were subjected to a tremendous bombardment from three sides.
During the night of the 18th-19th two
companies of the 1st Surreys, from the 14th
Brigade, were brought up from their billets at Ypres, and took over a
part of the support trenches. About
5 p.m. on the 19th, the enemy started shelling them, but
seemed unable to find the range, and were, after a time, silenced by the
British guns. The east
Surreys spent the night in improving the communication trenches and
endeavouring to extend their own trench, in the course of which one of
their officers, Captain Huth, was killed.
Next morning the Germans started shelling them heavily again, and
continued the bombardment for several hours.
This time they managed to get the range and the adjutant of the
battalion was blown to pieces by a shell, while the parapet of the
trench was breached in several places.
Upon the gaps thus made in their defences the enemy directed an
incessant rifle and machine gun fire, which rendered the task of filling
them up a most hazardous operation.
Towards five o’clock in the
afternoon, the Germans resumed their bombardment, and the officer in
command of the East Surreys, Major Patterson, was mortally wounded.
The enemy’s shellfire cut the telephone wires between the
trench and our batteries in the rear, with the result that the British
guns were unable to make any effective reply.
Presently a messenger arrived with a request for reinforcements,
and Second-Lieutenant Benjamin Handley Geary assembled his platoon and
led them up the Hill.
The communication trenches had been so badly knocked about that
it was impossible to make use of them, but Lieutenant Geary and his men
succeeded in reaching the left crater, which was being held by a handful
of the 1st Bedford’s, who greeted their arrival with loud
cheers. The young officer
placed his men around the inside of the rim of the crater, and there
they hung on for the next few hours.
All the ground about them was being fiercely shelled, but the
enemy seemed unable to put their shells inside the crater itself.
However, their trenches were only a little distance away, and
they kept up an almost continuous shower of hand grenades from which our
men suffered severely, and gradually the crater became so full of dead
and wounded that the ground was almost invisible.
The Germans also had a machine gun trained on the only way by
which reinforcements could come up, and though repeated attempts were
made by the East Surreys and the Bedford’s to send support to their
hard pressed comrades, comparatively few men succeeded in getting
through, while practically everyone of the officers who led them was
shot down, so that at one tie Second-Lieutenant Geary was the only
unwounded officer on the Hill.
Meanwhile darkness was coming up,
and our men were in complete ignorance of how matters were going with
their comrades on there right and left.
All the ground in rear was now swept by shellfire that it was
impossible for reinforcements to reach them, and it looked as though
they must be completely cut off. No
order had reached Lieutenant Geary, and he was obliged to act on his own
Presently the Germans began to
advance up their old communication trenches, one of which led to the
left crater. They were
obliged, however, to advance in single file, and Lieutenant Geary, aided
by a private named White, who loaded his rifles for him, shot down man
after man, until at last the Huns had had enough and prudently abandoned
the attempt. But they
succeeded in making their way up another communication trench, leading
to the right of the middle crater, and began firing into the backs of
our men on the left.
Thinking it advisable to make an
attempt to ascertain what was happening on either side of him,
Lieutenant Geary despatched a corporal and a couple of men to try and
get into touch with the officer in command of a trench on the left of
the Hill. But none of them
returned having probably been killed on the way.
He himself, at great personal risk, hurried across to the trench
on the right, and, reaching it in safety, found that our men were still
holding on to the greater part of the trench, though the Germans had
succeeded in occupying the extreme left of it.
There were two officers remaining in the trench, one of his own
battalion and one of the Bedford’s.
They, like himself, had received no orders; but, after discussing
the situation, the three officers decided that it was their duty to hang
on as long as possible and not to think of abandoning the Hill, so long
as there remained any chance of reinforcements reaching them.
On his way back to the left crater,
Lieutenant Geary met a Major Lee, an officer of another battalion,
bringing up a detachment, wit orders to drive the enemy out of the part
of the trench which they had captured; and this officer told the
lieutenant to get together what men he could and, on seeing two or three
flre lights go up, to lead them across the middle crater and attack the
Germans on the right, while he himself attacked on the left. Lieutenant Geary rejoined his men and directed some of them
to dig a trench in the rear of and commanding the middle crater.
While they were engaged on this work, which was carried out under
a heavy fire, a German flare light went up and afforded the young
officer an excellent view of the portion of the trench which the Germans
had captured. Observing
that on the side nearest to him the parapet of the trench had been
destroyed by shellfire as to afford the occupants very little
protection, he directed a man to load for him, and began potting away at
the Huns with considerable effect.
Then, ordering the man who had been loading for him to continue
firing in his place, he went away and posted another man in a position,
which would enable him to fire into the communication trench down which
the enemy would have to retire.
As he was returning, he found some
of the Queen Victoria Rifles-a Territorial battalion which greatly
distinguished itself and suffered cruel losses on that terrible
night-carrying up ammunition, but uncertain as to the whereabouts of
their comrades. He directed
them and then went to the left crater, where he found his men holding on
most gallantly, but in sore need of ammunition.
Meanwhile, he had been expecting to see the flares go up-the
signal for him to lead his men across the middle crater to attack the
Germans in conjunction with Major Lee-but, as none appeared, he went to
find that officer, and learned that the enemy had already evacuated the
portion of the trench they had captured and had retired to their
From this, however, they were
keeping up a storm of grenades, which would make it very difficult for
us to hold the trench, which they had abandoned.
Going back again to the left crater, he found his men so reduced
in numbers and so short of ammunition that he saw that, unless they were
speedily reinforced, they would be obliged to withdraw from the crater
and dig themselves in behind it. He was on his way to inform Major Lee of the necessity of
doing this without delay, as the day was now beginning to break, when he
was severely wounded by a bullet in the head, an injury which put him
out of action and subsequently deprived him of the sight of an eye. His men, however, succeeded in holding the crater which they
had so gallantly defended until relief arrived.
Second Lieutenant Geary was awarded
the Victoria Cross “for most conspicuous bravery and determination at
Hill 60,” the Gazette adding that the attacks upon the crater were
repulsed “mainly owing to the splendid personal gallantry and example
of Second-Lieutenant Geary,” who “exposed himself with entire
disregard to danger.”
Some five months previously to
gaining the Victoria Cross at Hill 60, this most gallant young officer
had given an earnest of the wonderful courage and sang-froid, which
characterized his actions upon that occasion. He volunteered for a scouting expedition to reconnoitre the
German trenches, which were about one hundred and thirty yards from our
own lines. Flattened to
earth, he crawled forward by slow stages, and succeeded in reaching the
enemy’s parapet and, looking over it, perceived a mackintosh supported
by a detached bayonet. Without
a moment’s hesitation, Lieutenant Geary seized this bayonet and
succeeded in bringing back the trophy to his own battalion.
After possessing himself of the bayonet, he had intended to enter
the trench itself, but as he was still leaning over the parapet to
satisfy himself with regard to its formation, a figure suddenly appeared
round the corner of the trench not a dozen yards away, upon which
Lieutenant Geary ducked down and wriggled back to the British lines with
all possible expedition.
Lieutenant Geoffrey Wooley, of the Queen Victoria Rifles, who also won
the V.C. at Hill 60, Second-Lieutenant-now Lieutenant-Geary entered the
army straight from Oxford. He
went into residence at Keble College in 1910, and had just taken his
B.A. degree when the war broke out.
He is twenty-four years of age.
Sergeant Bernard Charles Shea, Of The Royal Berkshire
Won The D.C.M. At rouges Bancs
In fulfilment of a promise which he had made to General Joffre to
support an attack which our Allies intended to make on May 9th
1915, between the right of the British line and Arras, Sir John French
directed Sir Douglas Haig to carry out on that date an attack on the
German trenches in the neighbourhood of Rouges Bancs (northwest of
Fromelles) by the 4th corps, and between Neuve Chapelle and
Givenchy by the 1st and Indian Corps.
The bombardment of the German position at Rouges Bancs began at 5
a.m., and continued for half an hour when it momentarily ceased.
This was the signal for the infantry of the 8th
Division of the 4th corps to advance, and immediately the
Rifle Brigade, who were to lead the attack, climbed over the parapet of
our first line trenches and began to cross the hundred yards of open
ground which separated them from those of the enemy.
Withering artillery, machine gun and
rifle fire was poured into the advancing “Greenjackets.”
The enemy had our men practically on three sides, for the
position was much stronger than had been anticipated, with numerous
fortified posts on the flanks, in which machine guns had been mounted.
To the Berkshires, who were to follow them, it seemed as though
every second man went down before even our own wire entanglements were
reached; but, undismayed by the fate of the Riflemen, they, in their
turn, plunged into that terrible vortex of fire.
And with them went a young Cornishman, Sergeant Bernard Charles
When the time came for Shea’s
platoon to advance, the officer in command, Lieutenant Druitt, pipe in
mouth, coolly gave the order, and he and Shea clambered over the parapet
together and paused for a moment on reaching the further side to glance
along their line of men. The
lieutenant looked at the sergeant with a humorous smile on his lips.
“Isn’t it a fine -----?” he was beginning, when he suddenly
broke off, pressed his hand to his chest, and dropped like a stone.
Almost at the same moment another bullet knocked Shea’s rifle
out of his hand.
There was not time to attend to the
lieutenant; indeed, one glance was sufficient to tell Shea that the
unfortunate young officer had already passed beyond the reach of human
aid, and hurrying forward he had already covered half the distance
between the opposing trenches, when he felt a stinging pain in the
groin, followed by what seemed like a terrible blow in the back.
He stumbled on to his knees, then, recovering his feet, pushed on
for a short distance; but about thirty yards from the German lines he
collapsed. A bullet had
entered the abdomen and passing downwards, had shattered the right hip
bone and come out at the back, near the right side.
For a while he lay there, writhing and plucking up handfuls of
grass in his agony. Then he
began to glance about him, and observing that what were left of his
platoon had stopped and lain down to avoid the hail of bullets, he
forgot the pain of his wound and ordered them sternly to advance.
They obeyed and left him. All
about him the ground was strewn with the dead and wounded-some mutilated
beyond recognition. Not a few of the less severely hurt were trying to crawl back
to our own trenches; but not one succeeded, for their movements only
served to draw fire, and they were invariably hit again, and, in many
cases, their hope of life extinguished for ever.
Shea soon began to fee terribly
thirsty. He could not get
at his own water bottle, but he dragged himself to the side of one of
his dead comrades and drank from his.
His thirst quenched, he had a great longing for tobacco, and,
fortunately, this was easily satisfied, as he had plenty of cigarettes
in his pocket. Soon he felt
better and managed to sit up and watch the progress of the fight, which
seemed to be going badly for the British.
Platoons of our men continued to leave our trenches and endeavour
to make their way across the bullet swept zone; but it appeared to him
as if there out of every five fell.
The majority came to grief in clambering over our own parapet,
which was now subjected to a veritable inferno of shellfire from the
German batteries. The
sergeant did his best to cheer the survivors on, beckoning and shouting
to them to keep running forward, that being the safest course.
One of his company officers came on at the head of some of his
men, but when he was a couple of paces from where Shea lay, something
struck him and he pitched forward almost on to his head.
For a few moments he lay quite still, and Shea thought that he
was dead. Then, to his
astonishment, he saw him begin to crawl forward on all fours.
In the evening, as Shea was lying in our own trenches, waiting to
be taken to a dressing station, this officer passed by, and told him
that he had been shot through both hands.
Notwithstanding their heavy losses, the British succeeded in
taking the enemy’ first line trenches, and soon after midday, orders
came that the Brigade of which the Berkshires formed part was to advance
and take the next trench at all costs.
The message was passed along the line of wounded men until it
reached Shea, who passed it on in his turn.
Whether it ever reached those in the captured trenches is
uncertain; but, not long afterwards, he saw to his consternation, some
men retiring towards the British lines.
With a great effort he got to his feet and stumbled towards the
retiring men, urging them to return.
His efforts were successful, and having seen most of them on
their way back, he managed to regain our own lines, when he collapsed.
Friendly hands, however, helped him over the parapet and he soon
found himself lying in safety at the bottom of the trench he had left
that morning. Just before
dawn on the following day, he was conveyed to hospital, some hours
before the British found them obliged to abandon the captured trenches,
the violence of the enemy’s machine gun fire from their fortified
posts on the flanks having rendered them almost untenable.
Sergeant Shea, who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal,
for the bravery and devotion to duty which he had shown, is twenty-six
years of age, and his home is at Torpoint, Cornwall.
Lieutenant C. A. Phillips, Of The ¼th Battalion, Welsh
The Military Cross At Silva Bay, Gallipoli
The first week of August 1915, witnessed the beginning of a great
offensive movement by our troops in Gallipoli.
This movement involved four separate actions, the most important
of which were the advance of the left of the Anzac Corps against the
heights of Kija Chemen and the seaward ridges, and a new landing on a
large scale at Suvla Bay. If
the Anafarta hills could be won, and the right of the new landing force
linked up with the left of the Australasian, the British would hold the
central crest of the spine of upland which runs through the western end
of the Peninsula, and, with it, so commanding a position that, with any
reasonable good fortune, the reduction of the European defences of the
Narrows would only be a matter of time.
The force destined for Suvla Bay was
for the most part the New Ninth corps, under the command of
Lieutenant-General Sir F. W. Stopford. It consisted of two divisions of the New Army-the 10th
(Irish), under Major-General Sir Bryan Mahon, less one brigade; the 11th
(Northern), under Major-Genera Hamersley; and two Territorial divisions,
the 53rd and 54th.
The night of August 6th-7th
was the time chosen for the landing, which was carried out with complete
success, for during the day a pretence of disembarkation at Karachali,
at the head of the Gulf of Saros, and attacks upon the Turkish positions
at Cape Helles and Lone Pine had diverted the enemy’s attention to the
extreme ends of their front, and they had no inkling of our plan.
By two o’clock in the afternoon of the 7th, the 10th
and 11th Divisions had disembarked, deployed into the plain
and held a line east of the Salt Lake.
So far the operation had been conducted with perfect success, but
it was necessary to push on resolutely if we were to benefit by the
surprise. And this,
unfortunately, was not done, for though some further ground was won that
night, little if any progress was made on the following day, which was
spent in sporadic to advance, in which we lost heavily.
For this there were various causes.
In the first place, the mobility and invisibility of the enemy,
cleverly concealed amid the scrub, had created the impression that we
were confronted with a force many times greater than was actually the
case. In the second, the
scene of combat presented extraordinary difficulties to a body of
perfectly green troops, who had never been in action, and were fighting
under a tropical heat and suffering torments from thirst. And, finally there appears to have been a lamentable lack of
purpose and resolution in their leadership.
By the 9th, on which a gallant but unsuccessful
attempt was made to carry the main Anfarta ridge, our chance had almost
gone, for the Turkish defence was already thickening; by the morrow
large reinforcements had reached the enemy, and it had vanished
On that day the 53rd
Territorial Division, under, was repulsed.
The next few days were devoted to consolidating our front, some
ground being won on the 12th by the 163rd Brigade
(from the 54th Territorial Division), which had arrived on
the previous day, on our left centre, in difficult and wooded country.
It was here that a very mysterious incident occurred.
Colonel Sir H. Beauchamp, of the 1/5th Norfolk’s,
with sixteen officers and two hundred and fifty men, who included part
of a fine company enlisted from the King’s Sandringham estates, kept
pushing on far in advance of the rest of the brigade, driving the enemy
before him. Nothing more
was ever seen or heard of any of them.
“They charged into the forest and were lost to sight and
sound,” wrote Sir Ian Hamilton; “not one of them ever came back!”
The work of consolidating our line
was carried out under exceptional difficulties, for the nature of the
soil did not permit of deep trenches dug, and the Turks, whose numbers
were steadily rising, kept up a heavy and continuous artillery, machine
gun and rifle fire from cleverly concealed positions amid the scrub and
woods. In the shallow
trenches occupied by the 1/4th Welsh, in the 53rd
Territorial Division, which faced a wood held in considerable force by
the enemy, the men were obliged to keep so still that even the dead and
wounded could not be moved. For
it was almost certain death to raise the head or any portion of the body
above the parapet, and, on one occasion, a corporal who, in reaching out
a hand for a cigarette, had exposed the top of his head was instantly
shot through the brain. In
such circumstances, the gallant deed, which we shall now relate, was
worthy of the highest admiration.
On the 14th Lieutenant C.
A. Philips, who was in charge of the machine gun section of the 1/4th
Welsh, perceived a wounded officer of the 1/7th Essex,
Captain Shenston, lying about seventy yards from the trench.
Despite the appalling risk they ran, he and Staff sergeant
Grundy, of his battalion, immediately went to his assistance and
succeeded in bringing him safely into the trench. But these two brave Welshmen did not rest content with this
single act of heroism, for in front of the trench lay others of their
comrades, sore wounded and appealing piteously for water to slake their
raging thirst. So, scarcely
had they found themselves in safety, when they jeopardized their lives
again, and going forth, returned with another stricken man.
A third, and yet a fourth time, did lieutenant and sergeant run
that terrible gauntlet of fire to succour the wounded, and on each
occasion, marvellous to relate, they came through it unscathed, with the
soldier whom they had gone to save.
This gallantry and self-sacrifice
did not fail of recognition, for Lieutenant Phillips was promoted
Captain “on the field” and subsequently awarded the Military Cross,
while Staff Sergeant Grundy received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Second Lieutenant Cecil Frederick Holcombe Calvert, Of The 3rd
South Staffordshire Regiment, Attached 179th Company,
Engineers, was Recommended For The D.S.O.
Second Lieutenant Cecil Frederick Holcombe Calvert, of the 3rd
South Staffords, who was then attached to the 179th Company, Royal
Engineers, serving with the 51st Division, performed a most splendid
action, combining conspicuous gallantry with determination and
resourcefulness, on September 6th 1915.
A heavy bombardment by the enemy had caused one of the mining
shafts to fall in killing two men and burying two others in one of the
Lieutenant Calvert, who was in charge of this isolated post, at once
went to the assistance of the important men, and as, owing to the close
proximity of the enemy, the noise made by the use of tools would have
invited certain death, he worked for three hours under heavy fire,
scraping away the earth with his hands until he had made a hole large
enough to rescue them. For this brave deed the young officer was recommended for the
Distinguished Service Order, but, unhappily, he never lived to receive
this coveted decoration, as eight days later (September 14th)
he lost his life in a most gallant attempt to rescue a man who had been
overcome by gas.
The poisonous fumes caused by the
explosion of a German mine in the vicinity had overtaken the man in a
mining gallery before he could effect his escape, and, although an
attempt at rescue was fraught with terrible risk, Second Lieutenant
Calvert, without a moment’s hesitation, went to his assistance.
Before, however, he could accomplish his task he was overcome by
the gas, and although he was brought out of the shaft and treated at
once by the medical officer on the spot, he was already too far-gone to
rally the seizure, and died without regaining consciousness.
He was buried in the extension reserved for British officers in
the Cemetery of Albert, in the Department of the Somme.
Second Lieutenant Calvert was the
eldest son of Mr. Albert Frederick Calvert, the well-known traveller and
author, who received many letters of sympathy from brother officers,
expressing the high estimation in which his son was held.
His commanding officer wrote: “I
feel sure it will comfort you to know that he died as he had lived, a
victim to his high souled sense of duty.
The Army can ill afford to lose such men.
Although he had only lately joined the 179th
Tunnelling Company, he had already made his mark, and we shall deeply
feel his loss.”
“I cannot tell you,” wrote one
of his brother officers, “how we all mourn his loss, which has cast a
gloom over all of us. During
the short time he had been with this company he had already won the
admiration of all his fellow officers, on account of his absolute
fearlessness and coolness on all occasions.
His death will be a severe loss to the Service and particularly
to his friends. Since not
only did his coolness in action inspire confidence in all, but his
cheerfulness had also endeared him to all the officers of his unit.”
Acting-Corporal Cecil Reginald Noble And Company Sergeant Major
Daniels, Of The 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade (Prince
The V.C. At Neuve Chapelle.
There has been more cruel spectacle in the present war than that
of dauntless courage baffled and rendered impotent by mechanical
contrivances; of brave men advancing to the assault of the enemy’s
position in the full confidence of victory, suddenly held up by the
barbed wired entanglements which they had fondly imagined would have
been completely swept away by their own artillery preparation, and while
thus checked, exposed to a murderous fire from their entrenched foes.
For, however heavy and long continued the bombardment preceding
an attack may have been, there will always be places here and there in
the defences where the high explosive shells have failed to do their
work, and where the wire entanglements still hold firm; and cruel,
indeed, is the fate of the regiment which finds itself obliged to cut
away through such an obstacle while rifle and machine gun plays upon it
at close range. If it
escapes practical annihilation, it will be more than fortune.
From such a fate was the 2nd
Battalion of the Rifle Brigade saved, on March 12th 1915, at
the battle of Neuve Chapelle, by the heroism and devotion of two of its
non-commissioned officers. When
the “Green Jackets” approached that section of the second line
German trenches, which they had been ordered to take, they saw, to their
consternation, that the wire entanglements protecting them were still
practically intact, and that to force them would entail the most
It was at this most critical moment
that Acting-Corporal Noble and Company Sergeant Major Daniels resolved
to sacrifice themselves for their comrades.
While the others threw themselves on the ground to take what
cover they might from the withering fire beneath which they were falling
fast, the two heroes ran towards the entanglements and began to cut away
at them like men possessed. Well
they knew that they were courting almost certain death; that already a
hundred rifles and half a score of machine guns were trained upon them.
But they wrecked not of that; one thought alone possessed their
minds: to make a way for their comrades before they were shot down.
And they succeeded; for though both speedily fell dangerously
wounded, it was not before great lengths of the barbed wire had been cut
through and the path to victory stood open.
With resounding cheers, the Riflemen rushed through the breach in
the entanglements like a living tide; the bayonet soon did its deadly
work, and the trenches were won.
Both of these gallant men were
awarded the V.C. “for most conspicuous bravery”; but it is sad to
relate that Corporal Noble never lived to receive the coveted
distinction which he had so richly merited, as he died of his wounds
shortly after the action. Sergeant-Major
Daniels happily recovered, though it was not until towards the middle of
May that he was finally discharged from hospital.
Daniels is a Norfolk man, having
been born at Wymondham in that county in December 1884.
Private Charles Ball, Of The 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards,
The D.C.M. Near Zonnebeke
A particularly daring and successful piece of work-a duty, which
demands great courage, coolness and resourcefulness from those who
undertake, it-was performed by Charles Ball, a young private of the 2nd
Battalion Coldstream Guards, at the end of October 1914, near Zonnebeke.
About nine o’clock on the morning
of October 26th, Private Ball and one of his comrades left
the British trenches, with the object of penetrating the German lines
and picking up what information they could in regard to the disposition
and movements of the enemy’s forces. After proceeding for some little distance, most of the way on
all fours, they entered a field, in which lay about a score of dead and
wounded Germans. Some of
the latter appealed to them piteously for water, and the two Guardsmen
therefore decided that Ball should remain where he was, and that the
other should go back to our lines to obtain water and to inquire what
they were to do with the wounded. He
returned in about half an hour, with orders that they were to leave them
to some other men and endeavour to reach a farm on the other side of the
field, which was occupied by the enemy.
They accordingly set off again, but as they were wriggling their
way along the further hedge, they caught sight of a German sniper also
crawling along it and coming in their direction, though apparently
unaware of their presence. As
they had orders not to shoot unless forced to do so, they concealed
themselves in the ditch, which ran parallel with the hedge, behind a
bush that had been torn from its roots by a shell and had fallen across
it. There they lay
expecting the sniper to pass them by, when they intended to surprise and
make a prisoner of him, which would spare them the necessity of giving
the alarm by shooting him. But
when he was within ten paces of them, he suddenly turned to go back, and
Private Hall, recognizing that it would be impossible for them to
proceed further until the fellow was disposed of, decided to take the
risk. He therefore fired
and dropped the German stone dead.
As the farm for which the Guardsman
had been making was only some thirty yards distant, and they feared that
the rifle shot might bring its occupants down upon them, they continued
to lie low for another half hour. They
then crawled out of the ditch and made their way, still on all fours,
through some unoccupied German trenches to a spot a little distance
beyond whence they had a clear view of a distant hill, on the summit of
which was a windmill. From
the number of troops which they saw pass this windmill; they concluded
that German reinforcements must be stationed behind the hill.
Ball sent his comrade back to the British lines with a message to
that effect. But the latter
had not been gone long, when he came back, with the alarming information
that there retreat was cut off, as the Germans had come out of the farm
and manned the unoccupied trenches which they had just passed.
They both crawled back as near to the trenches as they could
without being seen, determined to sell their lives dearly rather than be
made prisoners. To their
surprise, however, they saw that the enemy were moving along the
trenches, so they lay still for an hour and a half, in momentary fear of
being discovered and shot before they could show fight.
After the Germans had passed along
the trenches, the Guardsman crawled through them and hid them in the
friendly ditch again, and, believing that they were now comparatively
safe, they began to crawl as fast as they could along it.
Suddenly, from the other side of the hedge, a rifle shot rang
out, and, peering cautiously through, they saw six Germans engaged in
watching the distant British trenches. They accordingly lay low, Ball keeping an eye on the six
Germans in front, while his comrade watched the farmhouse, to guard
against any surprise from that quarter.
About half an hour passed thus, when Ball saw the German
sharpshooters turn and begin to crawl towards the hedge, with the
evident intention of coming through it into the ditch in which the
Guardsman lay. The latter
waited until the Huns were within twenty paces of them, and then, each
picking his man, fired and shot him dead. Again the Coldstreams rifles cracked, and again two of the
astonished enemy fell, while the survivors sprang to their feet and made
off as fast as they could. A
well-aimed bullet brought one of them down, but the other succeeded in
Ball and his comrade recognized that
they had not a moment to lose if they wished to effect their own escape,
as the surviving Hun would, of course, give the alarm, even if the shots
they had fired had not already done so.
They had to crawl along the ditch for a hundred yards and then to
cross two ploughed fields and the wire entanglements-a sufficiently
formidable undertaking with the enemy on the alert.
But the brave lads courage did not fail them, and, on reaching
the end of the ditch, they jumped up and made a dash across the fields
and over the entanglements. Before they had covered many yards of open ground they were
seen by Germans, who did not forget to let them know it. However, through bullets hummed incessantly past their heads,
neither of them was hit, and they reached the British lines in safety,
and reported what the enemy were doing and where their reinforcements
were being drawn from.
It was clear, from the information
they brought back, that an attack was intended, and sure enough, at
three o’clock that afternoon-the two Guardsmen had returned about an
hour earlier the German guns began to rain high explosive shells upon
our trenches in such profusion that that day will always be known to the
men for whose benefit these unpleasant looking projectiles were intended
as “coal box Friday.” After
the artillery preparation, the Huns attacked in great force; but the
French coming to our support, they were driven back with terrible loss. That night Private Ball’s battalion was transferred to
Ypres, and in the woods in the vicinity of that town the enterprising
young guardsman experienced several further adventures when on patrol
work. During the battle of
Ypres he was wounded in no less than ten places, but, happily none of
his wounds was very serious, and after being invalided home for a time,
he was able to return to duty.
“For his conspicuous good work on patrol duty on October 26th,”
Private Ball was awarded the D.C.M., and, subsequently, the Russian
Order of St. George (Third Class) was conferred upon him by the Czar.
The recipient of those decorations,
who is only one and twenty, is a Lancashire man, his home being at Moses
Gate, near Bolton.
Charles Gudgeon, Of The 1st Battalion Northamptonshire
Won the D.C.M. At Ypres
Although the First battle of Ypres is generally regarded as
having terminated with the failure of the attack of the Prussian Guard
on Gheluvelt on November 11th 1914, spasmodic attacks still
continued, and on November 12th, and the two following days,
the position occupied by the 2nd Brigade, of which the 1st
Northampton’s formed part, was so heavily bombarded that telephonic
communication was almost entirely suspended.
As it was, of course imperative for Brigade Headquarters to keep
in touch with the troops in the firing line, messages had to be sent by
hand; and on the evening of the 14th, Charles Gudgeon, who
was acting Headquarters orderly for his battalion, was despatched with
one of them.
Gudgeon’s nearest way to our first
line trenches lay through a wood, on the edge of which stood the house,
which served as Brigade Headquarters.
But the Germans were so persistently shelling this wood that he
considered it more prudent to skirt it, though this would entail a
journey of more than a mile. For
half this distance he would be in comparative safety, but after that he
would come under the observation of the enemy, and the last two of three
hundred yards would be very dangerous indeed, owing to the risks of
shellfire and the activities of the enemy’s snipers.
Gudgeon travelled at an ordinary
pace until he reached a house which marked the beginning of the danger
zone; then, crouching low, he made a dash for the cover afforded by some
machine gun emplacements about three hundred yards away.
There he paused for a few moments before embarking his next dash,
to a ruined house about one hundred and fifty yards distant.
This was a very hazardous undertaking, as it was hereabouts that
the snipers had brought down many an unfortunate British soldier, while
the ground was dotted with shell holes, among which he had to pick his
way, thus rendering rapid progress difficult.
However, he got safely across, through more than one bullet
hummed past his head and took refuge behind the ruined house to prepare
for his last dash of one hundred yards to the firing line, the most
dangerous part of the whole journey, as the ground was swept by both
shell and rifle fire. But
he accomplished it in safety and delivered his message.
He had then to make the return journey and undergo the same nerve
racking experience over again; but this, too, he accomplished without
The brave fellow made this journey
on another occasion, when he volunteered to conduct some reinforcements
who had just lost their way to the firing line.
Private-now Lance Corporal Gudgeon, who was awarded the
Distinguished Conduct Medal for these valuable services, is twenty-five
years of age, and his home is at Northampton.
Captain Charles Herbert Mansfield Sturges OF The Royal
Artillery Won The D.S.O.
In the early months of war the Germans in the matter of heavy
guns hopelessly out matched the British Artillery, while as is well
known our supply of shells was most lamentably inadequate.
Happily, the disparity has now been to some extent removed, and
since the beginning of the spring campaign of 1915 in the West our siege
batteries have rendered most admirable service; indeed one of the sights
of the terrific artillery preparation at Neuve Chapelle was that of the
shells fired from our great howitzers rising to the altitude of a lofty
mountain before descending on the doomed German trenches.
The splendid results attained here
and in many other engagements have been of course, largely due to the
courage and ability shown by the officers at the observation stations,
who have repeatedly carried out their difficult duties in places exposed
to a terrible fire with a coolness and intrepidity beyond all praise.
Of these few have performed more admirable service than Captain
Charles Herbert Mansfield Sturges, of the 1st Siege Battery,
Royal Garrison Artillery, who was awarded the Distinguished Service
Order “for conspicuous gallantry and general good work as an observing
officer through out the campaign, notably during the attack at Givenchy,
on March 19th 1915, the attack at the Rue du Bois, on May 9th
and the attacks on May 15th and 16th.”
The fighting at the Rue du Bois on May 15th ad 16th
formed part of the fierce engagement known as the Battle of Festubert,
and Captain Sturges had some unpleasantly exciting experiences.
Our artillery preparation began late on the night of the 15th,
assisted by three groups of French 75 man guns and continued without
intermission until just after dawn, when the infantry advanced to the
attack. Captain Sturges had
taken up his post in one of a row of ruined houses just east of the
road, and about three hundred yards behind our first line trenches,
which were within one hundred yards of those of the Germans.
But he soon was shelled out of it.
He repaired to another, with the same result, and finally entered
a third which had already suffered so severely from the enemy’s fire
that only a portion of the outer walls were left standing.
The house on its left was merely a heap of tangled masonry.
By means of a ladder he mounted to the level of what had once
been the roof, and, with his field glasses to his eyes, proceeded to
observe the results of his battery’s fire and to shout his
instructions to the telephone operators below, who for with communicated
them to the gunners. Presently
a shell burst within a few yards of him, and, though he was not hit,
such was force of the concussion that he was blown down the ladder.
Picking himself up, he calmly mounted to his dangerous post again
and continued to observe and correct his battery’s work until our
Captain Sturges is thirty-one years
of age, and his home is at Headington, Oxford.
Major Charles Allix Lavington Yate, Of The 2nd Battalion, The
(Yorkshire Light Infantry), Won The V.C. At Le Cateau
It may be said, quite fairly that the world has rarely seen an
army of such high rank as that which shouldered the burden of Great
Britain during the first six months of the war in Flanders and Northern
France. Though the army was
small in numbers, the men held inviolable the heritage of their race,
great courage and tenacity of purpose. These qualities alone, however, would not have sufficed in
view of the tremendous odds to which the men were opposed. Added to a superb morale was physical fitness.
To maintain the latter athletics had been widely encouraged in
the army amongst both officers and rank and file.
Further, the methods of training the infantry followed the theory
of fighting in open order, and aimed at making each man an individual
fighter, who was to depend on himself in the battle line.
With so much of first-rate importance combined in the making of
each soldier, it is small wonder that the army, which crossed to France
in August 1914, should have proved so redoubtable a fighting force.
The most conspicuous act of bravery for which Major Charles Allix
Lavington Yate, of the 2nd Battalion, the King’s Own
(Yorkshire Light Infantry) was awarded the V.C. recalls in its dramatic
circumstances the heroic defence of Thermopylae, where Leonidas, the
Spartan king, with three hundred of his men opposed the Persian army of
In the battle of Le Cateau on august
26th 1914, Von Kluck first tried to break the British line by
frontal attacks and by a turning movement against the left flank.
Later on, however, he used his great hordes of men in an
enveloping movement on both flanks.
The position was extremely critical, and at half past three Sir
John French gave the order for the British to retire.
B Company of the 2nd Battalion The King’s Own
(Yorkshire Light Infantry), which Major Yate commanded, was in the
second line of trenches, where it suffered fearful losses from the
enemy’s shellfire, which was directed against one of the British
batteries not far behind. Of
the whole battalion, indeed, no less than twenty officers and six
hundred men were lost during the battle, and when the German infantry
advanced with a rush in the afternoon, there were only nineteen men left
unwounded in Major Yate’s company.
But with splendid courage and tenacity, they held their ground
and continued firing until their ammunition was all exhausted.
At the last Major Yate led his little party of nineteen survivors
in a deathless charge against the enemy.
Though courage and discipline prevailed, there could be but one
result. Major Yate fell,
with wounds from which he subsequently died, a prisoner of war in
Germany, and his gallant band of men ceased to exist.
Lieutenant Cyril Gordon Martin, D.S.O., Held The Enemy Back For
And A Half Hours And Won The V.C.
At 7.30 on the morning of March 10th 1915, the battle
of Neutve Chapelle began with perhaps the most terrific artillery
preparation in the history of modern warfare, and by the evening of that
day the village was ours, and on a front of three miles we had advanced
more than a mile. But our
ultimate objective-the driving of a great wedge into the enemy’s line
by the capture of the ridge south of Aubers-still remained to be
accomplished; and it was to this task, which was to prove,
unfortunately, beyond the capacity of our troops, that the two following
days were devoted. Simultaneously
a number of movements were undertaken all along the British front, with
the object of preventing any sudden massing of reinforcements, and it
was during one of these attacks that upon the German position at
spanbroek Molen-that a young officer of the 56th Field
Company Royal Engineers, Lieutenant Cyril Gordon Martin, performed the
gallant action that gained him the Victoria Cross.
Lieutenant Martin had already won the Distinguished Service
Order, by his gallantry in the first weeks of the war, during the
retreat from Mons, when, at the head of his platoon, he had captured a
German trench and held it until reinforcements arrived.
On this occasion he was twice wounded, and invalided home for
some months; indeed, he had only recently returned to the front.
Early in the action at Spanbroek
Molen Lieutenant Martin was again wounded; but he made light of his
hurt, and volunteered to lead a little party of six bombers against a
section of the enemy’s trenches.
So effectively did they discharge their deadly missiles that the
Germans were quickly driven out in rout and confusion, when the
lieutenant and his men proceeded to transfer the parapet of the trench
and to strengthen their position with sandbags, in readiness for the
inevitable counter attack. This
was not long in coming, but, inspired by the splendid example of their
leader, the little band of heroes drove their assailants back, and
though the attack was again renewed in apparently overwhelming numbers,
they succeeded in holding the enemy at bay for two and a half hours,
when orders arrived for them to abandon the captured post and retire.
By their gallant defence they had rendered most valuable service,
by holding up German reinforcements, who were unable to advance until
this section of their trenches had been retaken.
Rifleman Daniel Shee, Of The King’s Own Rifle
Won the D.C.M. At St. Eloi
Fifteen miles north of Neuve Chapelle, on the southern ridge of
Ypres, stands the village of St. Eloi.
in the late afternoon of March 14th-15th 1915, the
Germans opened a terrific bombardment, which played havoc with the
defences to the southeast of the village.
A most determined infantry attacked followed, which forced our
men out of the first line trenches.
There was, however, no intention on
our part to allow the enemy to remain in even temporary possession of
what he had won, and as soon as darkness fell a counter attack was
organised. It was delivered
very early in the morning of the 15th, by the 82nd
Brigade, with the 80th Brigade in support, and resulted in
the recovery of all the lost ground, which was of material importance.
I the counter attack our men
displayed the greatest gallantry, a notable instance of this being the
dashing piece of work which gained Rifleman Daniel Shee, of the King’s
Own Rifle Corps, the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
On the night of the 14th-15th
the K.R.R.’s were in reserve, when the order came for them to advance
and retake four trenches just east of the St. Eloi-Oostevern road, which
had been captured by the enemy.
It was a pitch-dark night and
raining in torrents, and all the surrounding country was a sea of liquid
mud, into which in places the men sank up to their knees.
As they approached the German position our artillery shelled it
vigorously, lighting it up with the glare of bursting shrapnel.
The K.R.R.’s were ordered to attack the two easterly trenches,
in conjunction with the Cornwalls, while the Royal Irish Fusiliers, with
the assistance of half of the company to which Rifleman Shee was
attached, were to advance against the other two.
The K.R.R.’s attack began, when our men, emerging from an old
disused trench situated about sixty yards from the German lines,
splashed bravely through the mire, and in a few minutes had carried
three of the lost trenches.
It was in the only one of the four
trenches still remaining in the hands of the enemy that Rifleman Shee,
who had been on the extreme right of his half company, found himself
just as the day was beginning to break. There he saw Captain Franks, the adjutant of his battalion,
who inquired his name. Shee
told him, upon whom the officer said, “Follow me,” and led the way
out of the trench. Under a
heavy machine gun and rifle fire the two men advanced towards 19
trenches. When close to it,
Captain Franks shouted to the Germans who occupied it to surrender, and
shot one of them dead as he was trying to get away.
Shee also fired, and then the officer shouted, “Charge!” and
they both sprang into the trench. They
must have presented the most truculent appearance, being literally
plastered with mud from head to heel, while Shee could boast a
two-day’s growth of beard. Anyway,
the sight of them proved altogether too much for the nerves of the
sixteen valiant Teutons in the trench, who, notwithstanding that there
were a number of their comrades in support trenches forty yards behind,
forthwith threw down their rifles and held up their hands.
Sergeant David Brunton, Of The 19th Hussars, Won The D.C.M.
At Le Bizet
On the morning of October 15th 1914, our 3rd
Corps, under General Pulteney, who had detrained at St. Omer on the 11th
and advanced as far as Bailleul, driving the enemy before them, were
ordered to make good the line of the Lys from Armentieres to Sailly,
and, in the face of considerable opposition and very foggy weather, they
succeeded in doing this, the 6th Division at Sailly-Bec St.
Maur and the 4th Division at Nieppe.
At this time B Squadron of the 19th
Hussars was divisional Cavalry to the 4th Division, and about
one hour after noon on the 16th, while at Romarin, Sergeant
Bruntons troop officer, Lieutenant Murray, received orders to proceed to
the village of Le Bizet and reconnoitre it.
He accordingly set off at the head of a patrol consisting of
Sergeant Brunton, another sergeant named Emerson, and six men, and at
about 2 p.m. arrived on the outskirts of the village.
The officer and Brunton proceeded to examine the place through
their glasses, and the sergeant reported two of the enemy outside a
house. This showed that the
village must be in possession of the Germans though in what strength had
yet to be ascertained.
The patrol then galloped in open
order to a little in some five hundred yards up the road, where they got
under cover, without dismounting. Leaving
Brunton here in charge of the patrol, Lieutenant Murray, accompanied by
sergeant Emerson and a private named Groom, galloped across a field to
the entrance of the village, where he dismounted, and, giving his horse
to Private Groom, walked into the roadway.
At once several rifle shots rang out
from houses on his right, and he officer was seen to fall.
Emerson and Groom rode back at full speed to where their comrades
were posted and reported what had occurred, upon which sergeant Brunton
sent Emerson to Romarin to inform their squadron commander, and, with
the rest of the patrol, galloped towards the village and, dismounting,
called for a volunteer to help him. A private named Jerome offered himself, and dismounted with
his rifle; and Brunton having sent the rest of the patrol with the led
horses to the inn, he and Jerome crawled towards the wounded officer in
As they raised him up, they came
under a heavy rifle fire at almost point Blanc range, and were obliged
to let the lieutenant go and rush for cover.
Happily, neither of them was hit, most of the bullets whistling
harmlessly over their heads, and, after waiting a little while, they
made a second attempt; and, though again exposed to a hot fire,
succeeded in dragging Lieutenant Murray under cover. Then they found, to their sorrow, that they have risked their
lives to no purpose, as the unfortunate officer was quite dead.
He appeared to have been wounded in three places, in the head,
the left hand, and the region of the heart.
Since they could do nothing more for him, they decided to leave
him and endeavour to reach their horses; and, stooping low, they doubled
across some ploughed fields towards the place where the rest of the
patrol was waiting. The
distance they had to traverse was about four hundred yards, and the
ground absolutely devoid of cover; but though they were heavily fired
upon, not only from the rear, but also from some brickfields occupied by
the Germans on their left, they succeeded in getting back safely.
By this time the squadron had arrived from Romarin, and on their
approach, the enemy, who seemed to have numbered about eighty, evacuated
the village and retreated.
Sergeant David Brunton, whose
gallantry on this occasion gained him the Distinguished Conduct Medal,
was severely wounded in the right shoulder by shrapnel and slightly
gassed on May 24th 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres.
He is thirty-four years of age, and his home is at Aldershot.
Lance-Corporal David Finlay, Of The 2nd Battalion The Black
Highlanders, Won The Victoria Cross Near The Rue Du Bois
On Sunday May 9th 1915, the French began their great
attack on the German position between La Targette and Carency, the
advance of the infantry being preceded by the most terrific bombardment
yet seen in Western Europe, which simply ate up the countryside for
miles. On the same day,
chiefly as an auxiliary to the effort of our Allies in the Artois, the
British took the offensive in the Festubert area; the section selected
that between Festubert and Bois Grenier. The 8th Division, on our left, advanced from
Rouges Bancs, on the upper course of the River des Layes, towards
Fromelles and the northern part of the Aubers Ridge; while, on our right
part of the 1st corps and the Indian Corps advanced from the
Rue du Bois, south of Neuve Chapelle, towards the Bois du Biez.
The 8th Division captured
the first line of German trenches about Rouges Bancs, and some
detachments carried sections of their second and even third line.
But the violence of the enemy’s machine gunfire from fortified
posts on the flanks rendered the captured trenches untenable, and
practically all the ground the valour of our men had won had to be
South of Neuve Chapelle, the First
Corps and the Indian corps met with no greater success, though they
displayed the utmost gallantry in the face of a most murderous fire, and
many acts of signal heroism were performed, notably that which gained
Lance-Corporal David Finlay, of the 2nd Black Watch the
The Bareilly Brigade, of which the 2nd
Black Watch formed part, attacked early in the afternoon; but while our
artillery preparation was still in progress.
Lance-Corporal Finlay advanced at the head of a bombing party of
ten men; with the object of getting as near the enemy’s trenches as
they could under cover of the bombardment.
It was a desperate enterprise, for the German parapet bristled
with machine guns, and each one of the parties knew that his chance of
returning in safety was slight indeed.
About fifteen or twenty yards fro
our trenches, which were separated by some one hundred and fifty yards
from the German, was a ditch full of water, ten to twelve feet wide and
between four and five feet deep, spanned by three bridges.
The party had got as far as the ditch before the enemy realized
that they were advancing, when a fierce rifle machine gun fire was at
once opened upon them, and eight out of Finlay’s ten men were put out
of action, as all made for one of the bridges.
Two were shot dead while crossing the bridge, and the others
killed or wounded immediately upon reaching the other side.
Undismayed by the fate of their
comrades, Finlay and the two survivors rushed on, and had covered about
eighty yards, when a shell just behind Finlay.
He was uninjured, but so violent was the concussion that it
knocked him flat on his back, and he lost consciousness for some ten
minutes. When he recovered
his senses, he saw one of his two men lying on the ground about five
paces to his left, and, crawling to him, he found that he had been
wounded in two places. He
opened his field dressing and bandaged him up, and then, quite
regardless of his own safety, half carried and half dragged him back to
the British trench.
Lance-Corporal-now Sergeant-David Finlay who was awarded the
Victoria Cross, “for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty,”
is twenty-two years of age, and his home is in Fifeshire.
Captain Douglas Reynolds And Drivers T. H. C. Drain And F. Luke,
The Royal Field Artillery, Won The Victoria Cross By
a Gun At Le Cateau.
On the morning of the 24th of August 1914, the retreat
of the British from Mons began, and on the 26th Sir Horace
Smith-Dorrien fought his famous action at Le Cateau, which saved the
left wing of the army from being enveloped and cut off.
Smith-Dorrien had little time to
entrench his position before the grey masses of the enemy’s infantry
were seen advancing, supported by the fire of some six hundred guns, on
a front of about twelve miles. He
had no reserves available, and could only strengthen a threatened part
of his line by taking the risk of weakening another part of it.
Heavy, indeed, was our men’s task that day, and that of the
artillery was the heaviest of all.
Opposed to four times their number of guns-and guns for the most
part of much heavier calibre than their own-their losses in men and
horses were appalling. In
one battery, towards the end of the fight, only a lieutenant and one
gunner remained, still heroically contriving to keep a single gun in
action. The huge shells
from the German field howitzers disabled several pieces, while the
carriages of others were smashed to atoms.
As the day wore on, Von Kluck began
to use superior numbers in a great enveloping movement on both flanks,
and between three and four o’clock in the afternoon the British
received orders to retire. Our
artillery with the most splendid courage, but at a terrible cost covered
the movement, and it was at this moment that the incident we are about
to relate occurred.
Captain Douglas Reynolds, of the 37th
Battery R.F.A., perceiving that the horses attached to several guns had
all been killed or disabled, brought up two teams, driven by men who had
volunteered their services, in a desperate attempt to save a couple of
them. Though exposed to
very heavy shell and rifle fire-the advancing German infantry were
scarcely a hundred yards distant-these brave men contrived to limber up
two guns. But the next
moment one entire team was shot down, while Driver Gobley, the driver of
the centre pair of the other team, fell dead from his saddle.
Captain Reynolds, however, rode alongside the unguided pair, and
kept them in hand, with, Driver Luke driving the leaders and Driver
Drain the wheelers; the gun was brought safely out of action.
Each of these three heroes was
awarded the Victoria Cross, and one of them, Captain Reynolds, had the
satisfaction of distinguishing himself again a fortnight later at the
battle of the Marne, when, reconnoitring at close range, he located a
battery which was holding up our advance and silenced it.
Unhappily, he was severely wounded at the Aisne on September 15th
Private Duncan White And Other Men Of The 2nd Battalion
Guards Won The D.C.M. At Cuinchy
On February 1st 1915, a fine piece of work was carried
out by the 4th (Guards) Brigade in the neighbourhood of
Cuinchy, where fierce had been in progress for some days.
Very early in the morning the Germans made a determined attack in
considerable force on some trenches near the La Bassee Canal, occupied
by a party of the 2nd Coldstreams, who were compelled to
abandon them. A counter attack by a company of the Irish Guards and half a
company of the Coldstreams, delivered some three quarters of an hour
later, failed to dislodge the enemy, owing to the withering enfilading
fire which it encountered. But
about ten in the forenoon our artillery opened a heavy bombardment of
the lost trenches, which is described by General Haking, by whose orders
it was undertaken, as “splendid, the high explosive shells dropping in
the exact spot with absolute precision.”
This successful artillery
preparation, which lasted for about ten minutes, was immediately
followed by brilliant bayonet charge made by about fifty men of the 2nd
Coldstreams and thirty of the Irish Guards.
The Irish Guards attacked on the left, where barricades
strengthened the enemy’s position; and it was here that Lance-Corporal
Michael O’Leary performed that heroic feat of arms, which gained him
the Victoria Cross and made his name a household word.
But the Coldstreams also had their heroes that day, and amongst
them a young Yorkshire man. Private Duncan white, whose action, if
necessarily overshadowed by that of O’Leary, was nevertheless, a most
Private White was one of a little
party of bomb throwers who led the assault, and on Captain Leigh
Bennett, who commanded the Coldstreams, giving the signal for the charge
by dropping his handkerchief, he dashed to the front and, passing
unscathed through the fierce rifle and machine gunfire which greeted the
advancing Guardsmen, got within throwing distance and began to rain
bombs on the Germans with astonishing rapidity and precision. High above the parapet flew the rocket like missiles,
twisting and travelling uncertainly through the air, until finally the
force equilibrium supplied by the streamers of ribbon attached to their
long sticks asserted itself, and they plunged straight as a plumb line
down into the trench, exploding with a noise like a gigantic Chinese
cracker and scattering its occupants in dismay.
So fast did he throw, and so deadly was his aim that the enemy,
already badly shaken by our artillery preparation, were thrown into
hopeless disorder; and the Guardsmen had no difficulty in rushing the
trench, all the Germans in it being killed or made prisoners.
A party of the Royal Engineers with sandbags and wire, to make
the captured trench defensible, had followed the attacking infantry. Scarcely had they completed their task, when the German guns
began to shell its new occupants very heavily; but our men held their
ground, and subsequently succeeded in taking another German trench on
the embankment of the canal and two machine guns.
Private Duncan White, whose home is
at Sheffield, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his
gallantry and skill, as also were Privates F. Richardson, S.B. Leslie
and J. Saville, of the same regiment.
Captain Edward Kinder Bradbury, Sergeant David Nelson And Battery
George Thomas Dorrell, “L” Battery, Royal Horse
Won The V.C. At Nery
Having discussed the situation with General Joffre, Sir John
French renewed the retreat of his army on the afternoon of Saturday,
August 29th 1914. To
meet present circumstances the original plans of General Joffre had to
be modified, and the British now moved towards the line of the river
Aisne, from Soissons to Compiegne, and then in the direction of the
Marne about Meaux.
On the night of August 31st
the Bays and “L” Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery bivouacked in
an open orchard on the west side of the village of Nery.
The village lies low in the midst of broken and hill country.
To the south and east the ground rises suddenly and very steeply,
and on the heights Lieutenant Tailby, of the Hussars, was patrolling in
the early morning of September 1st.
A thick fog hung over the ground, and besides shutting out the
view, it muffled every sound. Nevertheless,
he groped along, stopping every now and again to listen, but neither
hearing the enemy nor seeing any signs of them.
Then, all of a sudden, a whole column of German cavalry loomed
out of the fog. Lieutenant Tailby was seen, and turning his horse
abruptly round, he galloped off to worn the brigade.
He had just time enough to dash in and raise the alarm, and then
shot and shell began to fall upon the village.
About five o’clock the fog cleared, and away on the heights
could be seen the six German regiments, dismounted, with their twelve
guns. The advantage in an
engagement would be greatly on the side of the Germans, both as regards
numbers and the position, which they held. But the British gallantly resolved to fight.
Three only of the battery’s guns
could be brought into action, and these quickly opened fire.
After getting their horses into safety, the Bays, who were in the
line of fire, joined in with rifles and machineguns. The three guns kept
up their fire admits a storm of shot and shell, but the range was only
four hundred yards, and two of them were quickly knocked out of action.
Captain Bradbury, who was in command, had a leg blown off by a
shell, but with the utmost bravery he propped himself up and continued
to direct the fire till he fell dead.
Both Lieutenant Campbell and Brigade-Major Cawley died beside
him, the latter after bringing up orders from Headquarters.
Lieutenants Gifford and Mundy were both wounded, and then, amidst
a storm of fire from field guns, maxims, and rifles, sergeant Major
Dorrell took command. He
was supported by Sergeant Nelson, who, though severely wounded, refused
to retire, and also by gunner Barbyshire and Driver Osborne.
While they kept the last gun in action, the 5th
Dragoon Guards worked round to the northeast, to make a diversion from
that flank. They succeeded to a certain extent, but colonel Ansell fell,
shot through the head, at the very commencement.
Without reinforcements they could do no more than make a
demonstration, and for a time the situation was doubtful.
But the 4th Cavalry Brigade suddenly arrived on the
scene. Dismounting from
their horses they at once joined up with the 5th Dragoon
Guards, and the combined regiments then poured a steady fire into the
enemy’s flank. Finding
that their position was getting rather hot, the Germans attempted to man
handle their guns out of action. A
steady fire, however, was poured into their flank by the cavalry, and
the Bays, who had mounted a marine gun in a sugar factory to the west of
the village, attacked them with a frontal fire.
This proved too much for them, and, abandoning eight guns and a
maxim, they made off towards Verrines.
The engagement had now been in progress a little over an hour,
but to cap the victory the 11th Hussars sprang on to their
horses and dashed off in pursuit. Fifty
horses and a number of prisoners were brought back, and the Germans
casualties in killed and wounded proved to be considerable.
Of just over two hundred officers
and men of “L” Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, only forty survived,
but their magnificent courage and tenacity saved a serious situation,
and, later, greatly helped towards the enemy’s defeat.
For their most gallant services, V.C.’s were awarded to Captain
Bradbury, Sergeant-Major Dorrell and Sergeant, now Lieutenant, Nelson.
Sergeant Edward John Clarke, Of The 15th Hussars, Won The
The Chateau Herentage
It was on Wednesday, November 11th 1914, that the
German legions made their supreme effort to break through the British
line to Ypres. As Napoleon
had used his Guards for the final attack at Waterloo, so the Kaiser used
his for the culminating stroke in the longest, bloodiest, and most
desperate combat which the world has ever seen.
The 1st and the 4th Brigades of the
Prussian Guards-thirteen battalions in all-were brought up from the
Arras district and launched against Gheluvelt. Stubbornly did the 1st Division, upon which the
brunt of the attack fell, oppose them; nevertheless, they succeeded in
piercing our front at three points and in taking our first line of
trenches. But here their
success ended, for when they tried to advance further, they were met by
so withering a frontal and enfilading fire that they were obliged to
abandon the attempt and to fall back sullenly to the trenches they had
won, from most of which they were subsequently driven by a determined
British counter attack.
One of the most stirring moments
episodes of that eventful day was the gallant defence of the Chateau
Herentage, situated between three and four miles east of Ypres, near the
Menin road, and about 150 yards behind our first line trenches, by
Sergeant Clarke and a handful of men of the 15th Hussars, in
conjunction with thirty Turcos and their sergeant.
On the previous evening Sergeant
Clarke had received orders to take his troops up to the first line
trenches, as escort to two machine guns belonging to the 15th
Hussars, which were going into action.
On reaching the Chateau Herentage, he was told by the officer in
charge of the machine guns to leave his troop there and accompany him to
the trenches; but after seeing the guns, which were attached to the West
Ridings, placed ready for action, he returned to the chateau, with
orders to defend it at all costs.
At the chateau Sergeant Clarke found thirty Turcos under a
sergeant, and some more of these fierce warriors were stationed in
dugouts to the left of the house. Behind
the chateau were some shallow trenches, unoccupied, and between them and
the Menin Road the Brigade Headquarters.
There were no troops between the first line trenches and the
Brigade Headquarters but the little garrison of the chateau and the
Turcos in the dugouts.
Between five and six o’clock on the morning of the 11th
the Germans began a fierce bombardment of our first line trenches, and
soon the shells were dropping close to the chateau.
About nine o’clock its occupants saw the Turcos leaving their
dugouts and retiring, and at the same time the British first line
Shortly afterwards, a strong force
of Germans appeared in column on the edge of a wood about one hundred
yards in front of the chateau, where they halted, and looked a though
they intended to deploy and rush the house. Clarke, who had stationed his men-twelve in number-at the
loopholes on two floors of the chateau, at once ordered them to fire,
which they did with considerable effect.
The enemy, evidently under the impression that the chateau was
far more strongly defended than was actually the case, and unwilling to
waste time in taking it by assault, thereupon began to advance across
the front of the house, and obliquely, towards the Menin Road,
passing-so great was their haste to reach their objective-within fifty
yards of our men and being mercilessly enfiladed in the process.
They had almost reached the Menin
Road when the British supports came up, and drove them back in disorder
through the grounds of the chateau, where they again suffered severely
from the enfilading fire of the garrison, over one hundred of their dead
being counted afterwards. Before
our broken first line was restored Clarke and his men had been cut off
for two and a half hours, and, with the assistance of the remaining
three troops of his squadron, they subsequently held the chateau for
three days against very heavy shelling and machine gun fire.
Sergeant Clarke, who received the
Distinguished Conduct Medal “for very conspicuous ability and
gallantry,” is twenty-five years of age and a Londoner, his home being
at Wood Green.
Private Edward Dwyer, Of The 1st Battalion East Surrey
Won The V.C. At Hill 60
About three miles to the southeast of Ypres and just east of the
hamlet of Zwartelen, where our dismounted Household Cavalry made their
decisive charge on the night of November 6th 1914, lies an
earth heap from the cutting of Ypres Lille railway, some 250 yards long
by 200 yards deep, which is known to fame by the name of Hill 60.
Desperate, indeed was the fighting of which Hill 60 was the scene
towards the end of April 1915. Its importance to the British consisted
in the fact that it afforded an artillery position from which the whole
front in the neighbourhood of the Hollebeke Chateau could be commanded,
and we were determined to get possession of it.
Accordingly, bout seven o’clock in the evening of April 17th
we exploded seven mines on the hill, which played havoc with the
defences, blowing up a trench line and 150 of the enemy with it, and
enabled our men to win the top of the hill, where they entrenched
themselves in shell craters and bought up machine guns.
Next day the enemy delivered a series of most determined counter
attacks, which resulted in desperate fighting at close quarters.
But they were all repulsed, and by the evening the Germans had
been driven from the slopes of the hill, and the Glacis was littered
with their dead.
However, the position was of far too
much importance to the enemy for them to desist from their efforts to
recover it, and during the next three days our troops had no respite.
All through the 19th and 20th they were
subjected to a terrific bombardment from three sides, and lived through
a veritable inferno; while on the evening of the latter day they were
called upon to withstand another fierce infantry attack.
The 1st East Surreys were terribly hard pressed, and
Lieutenant George Roupell won the Victoria Cross, as described
elsewhere, for the splendid courage and tenacity with which, though
several times wounded, he held his post with the remnants of his company
until he came. But he was
not the only member of his battalion to gain the crown of the British
A lad of nineteen, Private Edward
Dwyer, who earlier in the day had displayed great gallantry in going out
into the open, under heavy shellfire, to bandage the wounded, found
himself alone in his trench, from which his comrades had been driven by
a strong party of German bomb throwers. The Germans were in a trench only some fifteen or twenty
yards distant, so close that Dwyer could hear them talking; and the
brave lad, aware that if they took his trench behind would be at their
mercy, resolved to hazard his own life to save his comrades.
Collecting all the grenades he could find, he climbed on t the
parapet of the trench and began throwing them at the Germans. His appearance in this exposed position was, of course, the
signal for a hail of bombs; but happily the Germans aim was bad, while
his own throwing was most accurate and effective.
In fact, he succeeded, single handed, in keeping the enemy at bay
until reinforcements arrived, and the trench he had so heroically
defended was saved.
Dwyer was wounded on April 27th,
and sent to the military hospital at Etretat, and it was not till nearly
a month later that he learned that he had been awarded the Victoria
Cross, “for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty.”
The King himself, at Buckingham Palace, on June 28th 1915, His
Majesty shaking hands with him very cordially and complimenting him on
his performance, decorated him. While
in England, he rendered excellent service at recruiting meetings.
Private, now Lieutenant, Dwyer is
the youngest soldier who has ever been awarded the Victoria Cross. He
was born at Fulham, where his parents still reside, on November 25th
1995. He enlisted in the
Army when he was only sixteen, previous to which he had been a
Bombardier Ernest George Cooper, Of The Royal Field Artillery
The D.C.M. At The Ploegsteert Wood
Early one fine morning, in the last days of October of 1914, a
battery of Field Artillery had taken up a position the crest of a hill
between the Messines toad and the Ploegsteert Wood.
Presently the order for action, and the battery was soon busily
shelling the German trenches. For
some time there was no reply, but just as our men were beginning to
congratulate themselves that the crest of the hill and some trees behind
which the guns had been placed effectually secured them from
observation, a high explosive shell burst not far away.
The enemy’s artillery had located them, and was endeavouring to
find the range. The next
shell dropped unpleasantly close and the next closer still; and soon
they were being subjected to a heavy bombardment, which effectively
silenced their battery and drove the gunners for shelter to the gun pits
behind the guns.
Fiercer and fiercer grew the
shelling; the whole crest of the hill was dotted with huge holes, and
the tiles from the roof of a barn close at hand, which had been
repeatedly struck, were scattered all around them. No one was hit, nor were the guns damaged, though hour after
hour passed and the bombardment continued as furiously as ever.
But shellfire can kill and injure in more ways than one; and
presently a young bombardier, Ernest George Cooper, heard a shout from a
gun pit not far from him that its occupants had been buried.
Heedless of the danger he was incurring, he at once left his own
shelter, and picking up a shovel, ran to the pit from which the cry
came, where he found that a shell had exploded on its very edge,
completely filling it with earth. Two
of its three occupants were kneeling in the pit with their heads just
above the mould, but nothing could be seen of the third, which was right
down underneath buried as deeply as in a grave.
Throwing off his coat, Cooper began
to dig as he had never dug before in his life, and succeeded in
extricating his comrade from his perilous situation, though not before
the unfortunate man’s face was already blue with suffocation.
He saw that the neck of the unconscious soldier’s shirt, Cooper
hoisted him on to his back and set off for a chateau about two hundred
yards away, where the surgeon attached to the battery had taken refuge
until his services should be required. Both on his way to the chateau and on his return journey, the
brave bombardier had to run the gauntlet of a very heavy shellfire-it
was afterwards computed that on that day over three hundred shells were
discharged against his battery alone but happily he passed through it
The comrade for whom he had risked
his life soon revived under the surgeon’s care and was none the worse
for his terrible experience.
Bombardier Cooper, who is
twenty-three years of age, is a Londoner, his home being in Lambeth.
Captain Francis Octavius Grenfell, OF The 9th Lancers,
The V.C. Near Doubon
About 7.30 on the morning of August 24th-the day on
which the retreat from Mons began-Sir Charles Ferguson, who was holding
the village of Frameries with the right of the 5th Division,
found that the enemy were endeavouring to work round his flank between
Frameries and Mons, and sent word of General Allenby that he was very
hard pressed and in urgent need of support.
On receipt of this message, Allenby at once brought up his
cavalry to the menaced point, and for a little while succeeded in
holding the out flanking movement in check.
The first of the cavalry to go into
action were the three regiments of the 2nd Brigade-the 4th
Dragoon Guards, the 9th Lancers, and the 18th
Hussars, who began a dismounted action with the German infantry at a
range of over a thousand yards near the village of Andregnies.
Then General de Lisle, who commanded the brigade, ordered the 9th
Lancers to mount and charge the flank of the advancing masses, with the
other two regiments as supports.
But alas! Their gallantry was to
affect nothing beyond proving that the spirit, which had inspired the
Light Brigade at Balaclava, is still a line in the British cavalry of
today. For the ground had
been insufficiently reconnoitred, and five hundred yards from the enemy
the Lancers found themselves held up by a double line of barbed wire,
along which they galloped “like rabbits in front of a line of guns,”
in a vain attempt to find some way of getting round.
Every moment, beneath the deadly
blast of shell and rifle fire which swept their now broken ranks, men
dropped from their saddles, or horses, screaming in agony, came crashing
down, until at last, perceiving the impossibility of reaching the enemy,
the remnant of the regiment drew rein behind a house.
But the respite they had thus gained
was a very brief one. At once the German guns were turned upon the house, which in
a few minutes was nothing but a heap of tangled masonry; and once more
men and horses were exposed to the full blast of the storm, until they
finally found refuge under a railway embankment, near Doubon.
By this time, all the senior
officers had been either killed or so severely wounded as well as being
incapacitated for further service; and Captain Francis Grenfell, who had
kept his squadron together by giving the order to trot, found himself in
command. He himself had
come by no means scathless through the terrible ordeal, which his
regiment had undergone, having been badly wounded by shrapnel in the
hand and leg; but this dauntless courage and devotion to duty were to
triumph over pain and weakness, and to enable him to perform one of the
most heroic actions of the first weeks of war.
Under the lee of the embankment a
battery commandant and some dozen gunners had taken shelter.
They belonged to the 119th Battery of the Royal Field
Artillery, which had been put out of action, with the loss of the most
of its men and all its horses, by the enemy’s terrific shellfire.
Captain Grenfell at once determined that an attempt ought to be
made to save the abandoned guns, and rode out alone to ascertain if
there was any exit for them to the British lines.
Some little distance beyond them he discovered a way of retreat,
and then coolly walked his horse back to the embankment, amidst a
tempest of shot and shell, with the object on minimizing the risk of the
undertaking in the eyes of his men.
“We have got to save those
guns,” said he. “Who’s
going to volunteer?” and he reminded his men of how the 9th
Lancers had saved a battery at Maiwand, and of how in South Africa they
had never failed the gunners. Every
man at once volunteered, and leaving their horses behind the embankment,
about a score of them, together with the survivors of the battery, ran
towards the guns.
“It’s all right they can’t hit
us,” observed Captain Grenfell coolly, and although more than one
journey was necessary and they were exposed to a tremendous fire, they
succeeded in man handling the guns into safety, with the loss of only
three men wounded, although, as the last gun was being got away, the
German infantry were close upon them.
Captain Grenfell, who was awarded
the crown of every soldier’s ambition for this most gallant deed, was
invalided home, but at the earliest possible moment he rejoined his
regiment and greatly distinguished himself in the fight of the
dismounted cavalry at Messines, on November 1st 1914.
Wounded again, this time more severely than before, he once more
fought his way back to recovery, but on March 24th 1915, the
2nd Cavalry Division, among which were the 9th
Lancers, were subjected to a violent gas attack by the Germans, the
poison cloud rising to forty feet, and the emission continuing for four
and a half hours. Throughout
the gas and the subsequent heavy shelling, which they received, this
most hardly tried regiment stuck gallantly to their trenches, but they
paid a heavy toll, and among the dead was Captain Grenfell.
Joining the 9th Lancers
in May 1901, Captain Francis Grenfell served with distinction in the
South African War, I which he obtained the Queen’s Medal with five
clasps. He was promoted
captain three years ago. He
was one of the best known and most popular officers in the whole Army, a
perfect type of the soldier, gentlemen and sportsman; and his loss is
Corporal Francis Cyril Powell, Of Lord Strathcona’s Horse,
The D.C.M. At Festubert
One of the most inspiring features of the closing stage of the
battle of Festubert, in May 1915, was the dash, gallantry and steadiness
displayed by the Canadian cavalry regiments, which, to relieve the
terrible pressure upon the infantry, were called on to serve in the
trenches, without any previous fighting experience, and thrown into the
forefront of a desperate and sanguinary conflict.
Many fine examples of courage and devotion to duty were shown by
these dismounted troopers, among which the following was not the least
On May 25th, Corporal
Francis Cyril Powell, of Strathcona;’s Horse, was in charge of a
telephone station in a farm house-or rather the remains of one-situated
about six hundred yards behind our support trench. The enemy was very
heavily shelling the intervening ground, in order to prevent our
reserves being brought up, with the result that the telephone wires were
repeatedly cut and communication between Brigade Headquarters and the
trenches interrupted. Time
after time, at great risk to them, corporal Powell and his men went out
into the open to locate and repair the damage; but almost as fast as
they mended one break another occurred, and their perilous task had to
be performed all over again.
Presently a most urgent message arrived from Brigade
Headquarters, and as the wire had just been cut again, and it was
impossible to send it on by telephone, the only thing to be done was for
one of the party to carry it to their commanding officer, to which it
Corporal Powell himself undertook
this most hazardous mission, and at once started for the trenches.
The ground which he had to traverse was perfectly open and so
thickly covered with great shell holes, some of them six feet to eight
feet deep, and almost as broad across the top, that rapid progress was
impossible, while shrapnel and high explosive shells were bursting all
about him. But the brave
man held on his way, threading a tortuous course amidst the shell
craters, and ducking down every now and again when the shriek of some he
projectile warned him of its near approach, and after more than one
narrow escape, reached the trenches in safety.
Having delivered the message to his
commanding officer, he set out on his return journey, and happily
accomplished it without mishap. Later the same day, the brave corporal again crossed the
shell swept ground with another urgent message and returned safely, and
this feat he repeated on several subsequent occasions during the five
days and nights he and his men occupied the farm, for he appeared to
bear a charmed life.
Sergeant Powell, who had already shown marked courage and coolness in
difficult situations, was most deservedly awarded the Distinguished
Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous gallantry in carrying messages,
rallying men, and in the performance of his duties.”
He is a member of a well known Glamorganshire family, and an old
Malvern College boy, and at one tile held a commission in the Welsh
Regiment, which he resigned in order to take up farming in Canada,
He is thirty-one years of age.
Lance Corporal Fred Aspinall, Of The 15th Hussars, Won The
The Retreat From Mons
On the morning of August 27th 1914-the day following
Smith-Dorrien’s gallant rearguard action at Le Cateau, which broke the
vigour of the German pursuit and foiled Von Kluck’s attempt to envelop
and cut off our Second Army Corps-Lance-Corporal Fred Aspinall, of the
15th Hussars, was sent, with one of his comrades, to a
platoon on the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers, posted on extreme
right rear of the second Corps. Their
orders were to reconnoitre and, if required, to act as dispatch riders.
Having reported themselves to the officer in charge of the
platoon, the two hussars proceeded to look for suitable cover for their
horses, which they left behind a farmhouse, and then joined the infantry
to await events. They had
not long to wait, for about half an hour late the enemy showed
themselves from behind a wood which flanked a road running at right
angles to that along which the Munsters were posted, though they were
some considerable distance away. On
catching sight of them, the officer asked Aspinall to get his horse and
endeavours to ascertain the strength of the enemy.
The hussar hurried off to the farm, and, mounting, made a long
detour to the right, and then cautiously approached the Germans, until
he reached a spot whence he was able to obtain an excellent view of
them. He then saw that they
were in great force, though the wooded nature of the enemy prevented him
from even a rough estimate of their numbers, and he also perceived, by
the direction in which they were marching, that they must soon outflank
Turning his horse’s head, he
galloped away to warn the Irishmen, who, as he came up, opened a brisk
fire on the enemy. On
hearing his report the officer dispatched the other hussar to summon
reinforcements; but they did not arrive, the rest of the battalion
being, in point of fact, already engaged in a desperate struggle with an
overwhelming force of the enemy, who had contrived to cut off their
Orders were accordingly given for
the platoon to retire, and not a moment too soon, for the Germans,
moving obliquely across their front, had succeeded in outflanking them,
and had begun to enfilade them from the right.
Aspinall, however, who had found excellent cover behind a heap of
stone by the roadside, courageously volunteered to cover the retreat,
pointing out that by firing rapidly he might succeed in bluffing the
enemy into the belief that they had a number of hidden marksmen to face
instead of only one, and thus hold them in check long enough to enable
our men to take up a new position.
His offer was accepted, and while the infantry effected their
retirement in good order, the brave hussar remained behind the stone
heap, facing down the road, with his rifle ready.
By this time many of the enemy had
begun to break through the hedge on his left and to cross the road, with
the intention of making their way through the opposite hedge, at a point
not more than two hundred yards from where Aspinall lay hidden.
The latter waited until the road was full of them, and then fired
into the brown-or rather into the grey.
So rapidly did he shoot, and so easy was the target which the
Huns, crowding towards the gaps in the further hedge which the foremost
had made, presented to a skilled marksman at that distance, that inside
a couple of minutes more than a score lay dead and dying in the road;
and; in full belief that they were being enfiladed by a regular posse of
sharpshooters, the whole line came to a halt, and a apart of them took
up a position below a dip in the road, where they lay down and opened
The stone heap suffered severely,
but the hussar behind it was untouched.
However, thinking about it was time to be moving, he crawled
along the ground for some ten or twenty yards-still keeping the friendly
stone heap between him and the enemy-and then jumped up and made a sash
for the farm where he had left his horse.
He reached it in safety and found, to his surprise, another horse
tethered beside his own, who’s owner-a man from his own troop named
Soper-made his appearance a few moments later.
There was no time to inquire he had come from, as bullets were
already striking the post of the gate, which was the only way by which
they could leave the farm. So
Aspinall sprang into the saddle, calling out: “We shall have to make a
dash for it. One-two-three!” And away they went at full pelt, zigzagging from one side o
the road to the other to make as difficult a target for the enemy as
They had gone some distance without
either they or their horses being hit, and Aspinall, thinking that they
were now safe, had taken off his cap to give a cheer, when a bullet
struck him in the hip, coming out just below the groin and passing
through his field dressing. He
managed to keep his seat, but pulled his horse into a walk, put his
rifle in the bucket attached to the saddle and hung his ammunition on
the rifle butt. Then he got
off-or rather fell off-as the pain caused by proceeding even at a
walking pace was unendurable, and tried to drive his horse in the
direction in which the Munsters had gone.
But the animal refused to leave his master, until a man belonging
to the R.A.M.C. came by and led him away.
Shortly afterwards, an officer of the same corps came up,
examined the hussar’s wound took his name, and promised to send an
ambulance for him. However,
before the ambulance arrived, a body of Germans appeared upon the scene,
and Aspinall found himself a prisoner.
Drawing his revolver, an officer
approached the wounded man, and demanded in which direction the Munsters
had retired, threatening to shoot him out of hand if he refused to tell
him. But Aspinall, without
changing countenance, calmly inquired what answer the German would make
if he were in his place. Upon
which the officer, seeing that there was nothing to be got out of his
prisoner and admiring his courage, laughed good humouredly, and without
pressing the question, put back his revolver and went away.
Lance-Corporal Aspinall who was
awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his gallant conduct, appears
to have been well treated by his captors, and was afterwards sent as a
prisoner to Hanover.
He is thirty-three years of age and
a Yorkshire man, his home being at Doncaster.
Company Sergeant Major Fred Seaman, Of The 2nd Battalion
Guards Won The D.C.M. At Cuinchy
Worthy, indeed, of their glorious traditions has been the conduct
of the Coldstream Guards in the Great War, and terrible have been the
losses suffered and many the distinctions gained by the officers and men
of that famous corps. But
among of splendid deeds of gallantry and devotion, which we might
mention here, that which won Company-Sergeant Major Fred Seaman, of the
2nd Battalion, the D.C.M. will bear comparison with any.
Shortly after two o’clock on the
morning of February 1st 1915, during the action at Cuinchy,
the enemy rushed one of our trenches, and Sergeant major Seaman’s
company received orders to retake it.
So heavy had been the losses of this company, that only of its
officers was fit for duty; and the command of the party, which consisted
of twenty men, was therefore, entrusted to the sergeant major, who was
instructed to rush the trench from the towpath of the canal, acting in
conjunction with a second party, which was to attack from the other side
of the railway embankment.
Under cover of the railway
embankment, which runs parallel with the canal, Seaman led his party at
the double along the towpath, until they arrived at a culvert beneath
the railway, which they found that the enemy had barricaded in such a
way that there was only sufficient room for one men to squeeze through
at a time. Around this
opening, at a distance of about thirty yards, he drew up his men in a
half circle, and had just done so, when he received a message from his
commanding officer, inquiring if it were possible to get through the
culvert. The sergeant major sent back answer that it was only possible
to get one man in at a time, and that he proposed to go him.
He then entered the place, and, dauntless as Horatius upon the
bridge at Rome, remained there for an hour and a half, holding the enemy
at bay and repulsing every attempt they made to get through and cut his
party and the attacking party off.
For though the Germans tried again and again, they could come at
him one at a time, and whenever the Guardsman’s deadly rifle spoke,
the forest Hun Fell. The
gallant sergeant major did not escape unhurt, however, as he was wounded
in the arm by a bomb thrown by one of the enemy, though, happily, the
injury was not serious enough to prevent him from continuing to use his
rifle. Eventually, the
trench was retaken by the other party of our men, amongst whom, it is
interesting to note, was the famous Michael O’Leary, V.C., who
distinguished himself not a little on this occasion.
Company Sergeant Major Seaman, who
received his decoration “for conspicuous gallantry and ability,” is
twenty-eight years of age, and his home is at Windsor.
Company Sergeant Major Fred Smith, Of The 1/5th Battalion
Regiment (T.F.), Won The D.C.M. At The Second Battle Of Ypres
Towards noon on a fine day in May 1915, during the Second Battle
of Ypres, a platoon of the 1/5th South Lancashire Regiment (T.F.),
consisting of an officer, a company sergeant major named Fred Smith, six
other N.C.O.’s and thirty men, were posted in an isolated machine gun
trench. Desperate fighting
was in progress that day at other parts of the British line, but just
where these Lancashire Territorials were all had so far been calm and
quiet. This agreeable condition of things was not to continue very
long, however, for presently a couple of German aeroplanes came sailing
down the wind and began to hover over our trenches and the appearance of
these birds of ill omen was speedily followed by the arrival of huge
shells from one of the enemy’s heavy gun batteries about three or four
The shells came four at a time, and
at first did no damage, some falling short and wasting their destructive
power on the already shell torn ground in front of the trenches, whilst
others screamed harmlessly overhead.
But the aeroplanes soon corrected the range, and they began to
drop unpleasantly close, some blowing in parts of the parapet.
The gunners were evidently trying hard for the South
Lancashire’s section of the trenches, which was just in front of a
The bombardment had continued for
more than two hours, when suddenly there was a blinding flash and a
terrible concussion, and Company Sergeant Major Smith, looking in the
direction from which the flash had come, saw that a shell had landed
right in a dug out. The
cries of the wounded men were heartrending, and heedless of his own
danger, the brave sergeant major climbed out of the trench and ran
towards the spot. Some of
the unfortunate occupants of the dug out had been killed outright,
whilst others were buried and held down by the beams and timber from the
shattered roof. Finding
that he could not liberate them without the aid of a spade, he went back
to the trench and obtained the only one the platoon had, and, having
pulled away the fallen timber, proceeded, with shells bursting all about
him, to dig his imprisoned comrades out and give them water.
One man, to whom Smith handed the water bottle, was so parched
with thirst that he would have drained it to the dregs, had not he
reminded him that he must spare some for the others; upon which the man
immediately gave it back. Another
of the injured, as soon as he had drank his share, begged Smith to light
a cigarette for him.
When darkness fell, the wounded were
conveyed to the nearest dressing station on stretchers; a shell hole
served as the grave for the dead.
Company Sergeant Major smith, upon
whom the Distinguished Conduct Medal was conferred, “for conspicuous
gallantry,” is thirty-two years of age, and his home is at St. Helens,
Company Sergeant Major Fredrick Barter, Special Reserve, Attached
Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Won The Victoria Cross At Festubert
At daybreak on May 16th 1915, after very effective
artillery preparation, which swept away the German wire entanglements as
though they had been matchwood, and in places almost obliterated their
trenches, the British infantry attacked the enemy’s position
immediately east of Festubert, where their front showed a pronounced
salient. Two brigades of
the 7th Division-the 20th and 22nd-and
part of the 2nd Division and the Indian Corps were the troops
to which the movement was entrusted.
The latter attacked on the left near Richebourg l’Avoue; the 20th
brigade moved from Rue du Bois south eastward; while the 22nd
Brigade advanced to the southeast of Festubert against the Rue
The most successful movement was
that of the 22nd Brigade on our right, composed of the 2nd
Queen’s, 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the 1st
South Staffords, with the 2nd Warwick’s and the 8th
Royal Scots in support, which advanced for more than a mile and
succeeded in reaching the enemy’s main communication trench near the
The German entrenchments in the
Festubert area were curiously complicated, forming, in fact, a veritable
network, and these circumstances naturally put a premium on bomb
throwing. He old eighteenth century weapon being the most efficient we
possessed for close quarter fighting.
The bombers of the 1st grenadiers, in the 20th Brigade, did
brilliant work, and by a party of the Civil Service Rifles, led by a
sergeant of the Post Office Rifles, on the following day, the four
survivors each being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
But these feats were surpassed by that performed by a party of
the 1st Welsh Fusiliers, led by Company Sergeant Major
When his battalion reached the first line of German trenches,
Barter called for bomb throwers to enable him to extend our line.
With the eight volunteers who responded, he proceeded to deal out
death and mutilation on so wholesale a scale that in a very short time
he had cleared five hundred yards of hostile trenches and captured three
officers and one hundred and two men, besides finding and cutting eleven
mine leads, situated about twenty yards apart.
For this most splendid exploit,
worthy to rank with that of Sergeant Michael O’Leary at Cuinchy,
Company sergeant Major Barter was awarded the Victoria Cross, while
subsequently he was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant.
He is a Cardiff man, and having served his time with the colours,
was, when war broke out, in the employment of the Cardiff Gas Company as
a gas stove fitter.
account of the famous bomb exploit at Festubert would be incomplete
without mention of a mystery connected with one of the party, which his
death on this occasion served to clear up.
Among the eight men who assisted Lieutenant Barter was a private
of the 2nd Queen’s named them as Hardy, who had been
temporarily attached to the Welsh Fusiliers for training in bomb
throwing, in which he made astonishing progress.
Hardy was a man of splendid physique, obviously a gentleman, and
so proficient in his military duties that Barter, with whom he soon
became on intimate terms, began to suspect that he was an officer who
had left the service possibly under a cloud, and had enlisted under an
His suspicious proved, in the main, to be correct, for one day
“Hardy” admitted to him that his real name was Smart, and that he
had been a captain in the 53rd Sikhs, and that, being on
leave in England at the time when war broke out, he had decided not to
return to India, but to join a British regiment as a private in order to
make sure of getting to the front.
He begged Barter to keep the fact a secret while he lived, but,
should he be killed in action, he might then consider himself at liberty
to make it public.
In the bomb attack, Private
“Hardy” showed such splendid courage that, in Lieutenant Barter’s
opinion he would, had he survived, have certainly awarded the
Distinguished Conduct Medal. “He
was,” said he, in conversation with a representative of a London
paper, “about ten yards from the first German trench when he got
wounded. It was a terrible
blow in the right shoulder. Some
of our men bound up the wound, and I shouted, ‘Hardy, go back!’ I
could see, however that he was determined to go at the enemy.
‘Hardy’ answered: ‘It’s all right, for I am left
“The next thing I saw was
‘Hardy’ rushing off to our right, and, with the bravery which seemed
his characteristic, he commenced to slam the bombs at the enemy.
He carried on like that for about twenty or thirty years, and he
was eventually shot through the head, half of which was blown off.
He died a hero’s death, and no one regretted his end more than
I did, for I was probably attached to him more than anyone else, and was
afforded opportunities of seeing his sterling worth.
Hardy was a man of splendid physique-I should say he was quite
six feet high, and there can be no doubt of this, that he was six feet
of real manhood. A more fearless fellow it would be impossible to find.
We all loved him. I have never seen a happier man.
He seemed to live to beat the Germans.”
As the result of the May fighting in
the Festubert area, we made considerable gains, piercing the German
lines on a total front of four miles, and capturing their entire first
line system of trenches for two miles, and on the remaining portion both
the first and second lines. But
our losses were very heavy, particularly among the commissioned ranks,
and the 22nd Brigade lost three of its battalion commanders,
those of the 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the 2nd
Queen’s and the 8th Royal Scots.
Private Frederick Neville, Of The 15th Hussars Won The D.C.M.
Few military exploits are more calculated to impress the
imagination than the accomplishment of some daring feat of despatch
riding through the midst of an enemy’s country or over ground swept by
artillery or rifle fire; and perhaps never in the present war has work
of this kind performed with more conspicuous gallantry than that done by
Private Frederick eville, of the 15th (“The King’s”)
Hussars, in his perilous rides on three successive days at the end of
The 15th Hussars at this
time were acting as Divisional Cavalry for the First Division and were
engaged in patrol work in the neighbourhood of Ypres.
On October 28th, Private Neville formed one of a
patrol consisting of a corporal and four men, which, on reaching a farm
at Zandvoorde, ascertained that the enemy was preparing an attack on our
infantry. After information
to that effect had been sent to Headquarters, the patrol found itself
obliged to retire a tremendous artillery and rifle fire from the
advancing Germans, who were composed chiefly of battalions of the
Prussian Guard. Private
Neille was sent with a message to Headquarters, where he was requested
by the late General Lomax to return to Zandvoorde with an important
despatch. On reaching Gheluvelt, he found that the road between that
and Zandvoorde was being so heavily shelled by the enemy that it seemed
that no living thing could win through in safety.
But, without a moment’s hesitation, the gallant Hussar touched
his horse with the spur and rode at full gallop into the inferno.
Before, however he had proceeded very far, there came a deafening
crash, and he found himself lying in the ditch with his horse on top of
him. Fortunately, neither
man nor horse was hurt, and, crawling out of the ditch and dragging his
trembling charger after him, he remounted his perilous ride and reached
his destination, which was within two hundred yards of the enemy’s
lines, in safety.
On the following day (October 29th),
the services of this daring light cavalryman were again requisitioned,
this time to convey a message of a windmill to which the British staff
had retired during the night. Learning
that it was impossible to proceed by the Gheluvelt Road, he was obliged
to make his way thither across some open country upon which the German
shells were falling with alarming frequency.
He was still some five hundred yards from the windmill when a
“Jack Johnson” exploded in front of him, the concussion of the
bursting shell blowing rider and horse completely over though neither
was hit. Regaining his
feet, he led his horse to a farm two hundred yards from the windmill
and, leaving him there, accomplished the rest of the journey by crawling
along the ground.
After delivering the message with
which he had been entrusted, Private Neville returned to Headquarters.
On the way he noticed that whenever any attempt was made by the
British to send reinforcements to the firing line the, intervening
ground was immediately covered by a curtain of shrapnel and high
explosive, and came to the conclusion that the neighbouring church was
being used by the Germans as an observation post.
His opinion was speedily confirmed; for no sooner had the fire of
our artillery than demolished the church it was found that
reinforcements could be brought up in perfect safety.
On October 30th Private Neville again rendered
valuable service. While
conveying a despatch to our infantry brigade, he came upon a wounded
motorcyclist lying by the side of the road.
The latter had been charged with a verbal message of the highest
importance, which he repeated to the Hussar, who delivered it safely at
its destination, and by so doing contributed to relieve a very critical
situation. On this day, as
on the two preceding ones, Private Neville was continually exposed to
the greatest danger, but once more the good fortune to escape unhurt.
not soldiering, Private Neville, who at the time of these gallant
exploits was in his thirty-second year, lives in London.
Private Frederick William Owen Potts Of The 1/1st
Yeomanry (T.F.), Won The V.C. At Hill 70,
After the gallant, but unsuccessful, assaults on the Anafarta
heights, which followed the landing of the 10th and 11th
Divisions at Suvla Bay, at the beginning of August 1915, our men
employed themselves in consolidating what ground they had won, and the
Suvla operations languished for some days.
But, meantime we were preparing for a second effort, and fresh
troops, consisting of the famous 29th Division and the 2nd
Mounted Division of Yeomanry) organised as dismounted troopers) were
brought to the scene of action and placed under the command of General
The objective was the encircling
hills behind the Suvla plain, extending from Hill 70 to Hill 100.
The task before our men was one of the greatest difficulties,
since, as all the advantage of surprise had long since been lost, the
only tactics left to us were those of a frontal attack, and that against
a strong position held in at least equal force by the enemy.
The afternoon of August 21st was the time chosen for
the attack. After a heavy
bombardment of the Turkish position from both land and sea, at 3 p.m.
the 34th Brigade of the 11th Division, on the
right of our line, rushed the Turkish trenches between Hetman Chair and
the Aire Kavak, practically without loss.
But the 32nd Brigade, who advanced against Hetman
Chair and the communication trench connecting it with southwest corner
of Hill 100, failed to make good their point, through mistaking the
direction and attacking from the northeast, instead of the east; and the
33rd Brigade, sent up in haste, with orders to capture this
communication trench at all costs, fell into precisely the same error.
Meanwhile the 87th
Brigade of the 29th Divisions, whose advance had been planned
for 3.30 p.m., had attacked Hill 70 with great dash and carried some of
the Turkish trenches there, though the enemy’s artillery and machine
gun fire was too heavy to allow them to gain the crest.
At the same time, the 86th
Brigade, though they had been at first thrown into disorder by the scrub
on Chocolate Hill catching fire, and had been unable to advance up the
valley between the two spurs, owing to the failure of the 11th
Division on their right, were making repeated and most gallant efforts
to carry Hill 100 from the east but they were decimated by a terrible
cross fire of shell and musketry, which simply swept the leading troops
off the top of the spur, and were eventually obliged to fall back to a
ledge to the southwest of Hill 70, where they found a little cover.
About five o’clock, whilst the
fighting was still in progress, the Yeomanry moved out from below the
knoll of Lala Baba, where they had been held in reserve, to take up a
position of readiness between Hill 70 and Hill 100.
Their advance lay across a mile and a half of open country, where
they were exposed to a devastating fire of shrapnel; but they moved
forward in perfect order as if on parade. Sir Ian Hamilton has described the scene in his despatch of
December 11th 1915;
“The advance of these English
Yeoman was a sight calculated to send a thrill of pride through anyone
with a drop of English blood running in his veins.
Such superb martial spectacles are rare in modern war.
Ordinarily, it should always be possible to bring up reserves
under some sort of cover from shrapnel fire.
Here, for a mile and a half, there was nothing to conceal a
mouse, much less some of the most stalwart soldiers England has ever
sent from her shores. Despite the critical events in other parts of the field, I
could hardly take my glasses from the Yeomen; they moved like men
marching on parade. Here
and there a shell would take toll of a cluster; there they lay.
There was no straggling, the others moved steadily on; not a man
was there who hung back or hurried.”
At last the Yeomanry reached the
foot of Chocolate Hill, where they rested for half an hour.
Here they were comparatively safe from shellfire, but were
annoyed by the Turkish snipers, by whom not a few of them were hit.
Having recovered their breath, the 2nd South Midland
Brigade that was composed of the Bucks, Berks and Dorset Yeomanry under
the command of Brigadier-General the Earl of Longford, who was unhappily
killed during the action moved to the left of Chocolate Hill to occupy
the reserve trenches.
While the Berkshire Yeomanry were
passing through a field of ripe wheat, a man named West, a couple of
yards in front of Private Potts, whose heroic deed we are about to
relate, was struck in the thigh by an explosive bullet, which came out
as a five shilling piece and before they gained the reserve trenches,
they had lost a number of men, some of whom fell wounded and were
immediately afterwards hit again and killed outright.
After they had been a short while in
the reserve trenches, the Yeomanry received the order to advance and,
making their way up the slopes by short rushes, they reached the
foremost lines of the 29th Division, the Berkshire Yeomanry
finally halting in a gully which was occupied by the Bucks and the
As darkness was falling, the brigade
was launched to the attack, in the hope that they might retrieve the
fortunes of the day. All
that valour could do they certainly did, and their right flank succeeded
in carrying the trenches on a knoll so near the summit of Hill100, that
from the plain it looked as though the crest itself had been won.
But this the Turks still held, and as our men were too exhausted,
and had lost too heavily to undertake a second immediate assault, and as
it was clear that when daylight came the knoll would be swept by fire,
there was nothing for it but to fall back.
Meanwhile, on the left, the Berkshire Yeomanry had, with splendid
courage and resolution, fought their way to the third Turkish trench,
but by this time, so terrible had been their losses, that they were
reduced to a mere handful; and since it would have been impossible to
hold the ground that they had won against a counter attack in any force,
they had no alternative but to retire also.
Private Potts was not one of those
who assisted to carry enemy’s trenches, since, before he had advanced
thirty yards, he was hit at the top of the left thigh, the bullet going
clean through, and as he was subsequently told in hospital, only missing
the artery by the fraction of an inch.
He fell to the ground and lay there helpless, while his comrades
rushed on to the attack. Fortunately,
he had fallen amidst a cluster of scrub, which if it did not afford much
protection from bullets, at any rate screened him from the view of the
Turks, so long as he did not move.
He had been lying there about half
an hour, when he heard a noise, and, looking round, saw a man whom he
recognized as Private Andrews of the Berkshire-who, by a singular
coincidence, hailed, like Potts himself, from Reading-crawling painfully
towards him. Andrews had a
bullet in the groin a very dangerous wound-and he was suffering terribly
and losing a great deal of blood.
The two men had been together only a
few minutes when a third man-a stranger to both of them- who had a wound
in the leg, crawled up to their hiding place.
So cramped were they for room amid the scrub that Andrews, though
in great pain, shifted his position a little, in order that the new
comer might find shelter also. The
simple act of kindness probably saved his life, as not ten minutes a
bullet, which passed through both his legs, mortally wounded afterwards
The night passed, and was succeeded
by a day of scorching heat; the cries of the dying man for water were
pitiful, but they had not a drop amongst the three of them, and could do
nothing to quench his raging thirst. Potts and Andrews suffered terribly from the same cause from
hunger as well, and it seemed as though the day would never end.
The sun went down at last, but night
brought them no relief, since it was bitterly cold, and there was a full
moon which made the country side as light as day, so that they dared not
move, for fear of attracting the attention of the Turkish snipers.
Their unfortunate comrade became delirious, and kept tossing from
side to side, which added greatly to the dangers of their situation,
since every time he moved the Turks fired at the clump of bushes.
Potts lay as flat as he could, face
to ground, for the bullets were pattering all around them; but, even in
that position, he had very narrow escape, one actually grazing the tip
of his left ear and covering his face with blood.
Towards morning death put an end to the sufferings of their
hapless companion, who had kept on moaning almost to the last for the
water that it was impossible for them to give him.
His dead body had to remain with them, since they could neither
move it nor get away themselves.
During the whole of the next day the
two men remained in they’re hiding place, suffering indescribably from
hunger, thirst, scorching sun, and the pain of their wounds.
In desperation, they plucked bits of the stalks of the scrub and
tried to suck them, in the hope of moistening their parched throats a
little; but they got no relief in that way.
The day seemed interminable, for,
though so exhausted, the pain they were enduring and the noise of the
fighting, which was still proceeding, prevented them from obtaining any
sleep. They could not see
anything of their comrades, and they knew it was impossible for any
stretcher-bearers to get through to them, since they were too far up the
hill, and the terrible fire kept up by the enemy rendered it hopeless
for any stretcher parties to venture out.
When darkness fell, they decided
that, as it would be certain death from hunger and thirst to remain
where they were, even if they escaped the Turkish bullets, there was
nothing for it but to make a move and endeavour to regain the British
They accordingly started to crawl
down the hill, and, though their progress was, of course, terribly slow,
for every movement caused them intense pain, they succeeded, after
several hours, in reaching the shelter of another patch of scrub, about
three hundred yards away, where they passed the rest of the night
covering themselves with some empty sandbags that they found lying
there, as they were nearly frozen.
When morning came they were able for
the first time in nearly thirty-six hours, to obtain water, by taking
the water bottles from some dead men who were lying near them.
This afforded them immense relief.
They crept back to their shelter,
and Potts dressed his comrade’s wound, which was bleeding badly, with
his field dressing, and afterwards Andrews performed the same service
All that day they lay concealed, but
as soon as it grew dark they started of again, though they did not for a
moment suppose that they would live to reach the British lines.
Every moment was torment on account of the thorns from the scrub,
and, after going a few yards; they gave up the attempt, as Andrews was
too exhausted to go any further. He
unselfishly urged Potts to leave him and look after himself, but this
the other would not hear of; and, lifting Andrews up, he made a brave
effort to carry him, but found himself far too weak.
It began to look as though they were
doomed to perish in this terrible place, when suddenly, like an
inspiration, a means of escape presented itself to them.
Casting his eyes about him, Potts caught sight of an entrenching
shovel, which had been dropped during the attack of the 21st,
laying a little way off. He
saw at once that the shovel might be used as a kind of sledge to draw
his helpless comrade into safety, and, crawling up to it, brought it to
where Andrews lay, placed him upon it and began to drag him down the
Andrews sat on the shovel as best he
could, with his legs crossed, the wounded one over the sound one, and
putting his hands behind his back, clasped Potts wrists as he sat on the
ground behind and hauled away at the handle.
“I prayed,” Says Potts, “as I
never prayed before for strength, help and guidance, and I felt
confident that we should win through all right.”
As soon as they began to move, they
were spotted by the Turks, who opened fire upon them; but, careless of
the risk of being hit, Potts stood up, for the first time since he had
been wounded, and tugged away desperately at the handle of the shovel.
after going a few yards, he was forced to lie down and rest, and decided
to wait until nightfall before continuing his journey.
Then he started off again, and yard-by-yard dragged his burden
down the hill, stopping every few paces to rest, for he was very weak
and his wounded leg was causing him intense pain.
Bullets from the Turkish snipers hummed continually past him,
but, happily none hit him, and at last, after three hours toil and
suffering, he reached a little wood, where he reached a little wood,
where he was in comparative safety and was able to stand upright.
A little farther on he was
challenged by a British sentry, and found that he was close to one of
our advanced trenches. He
explained matters to the sentry, who summoned some of his comrades, and
they brought a blanket, and, lifting Andrews on to it, carried him into
the trench. There
everything that kindness could suggest was done for him and his gallant
rescuer; and when the two had rested a little, they were placed on
stretchers and carried to the nearest dressing station, from which they
were afterwards sent to hospital in Malta.
Private Frederick William Owen
Potts, who, for this amazing feat of heroism and endurance, in its way
the most extraordinary of the war, was awarded the Victoria Cross, is
twenty-two years of age, and joined the Berkshire Yeomanry four years
ago. At the time of his
enlistment Potts could claim the distinction of being the youngest
trooper in the Yeomanry, and he can now claim that of being the first of
that splendid force to win the Victoria Cross.
Before the war he was employed in the Pulsometer Engineering
Company’s works at Reading.
Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Harold Wooley, Of The 9th Country
Battalion, The London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles)
the V.C. At Hill 60
Early in the eventful August of 1914, a young undergraduate of
Queen’s College, Oxford, the son of a country clergyman, and who, but
for the outbreak of war, would have been by this time a clergyman
himself, joined the 5th Battalion Essex Regiment, and went
with them to Drayton, near Norwich, where that unit was to undergo its
training, under the command of Colonel J. M. Welch.
His stay with the 5th Essex was very brief, however,
for on August 26th he was transferred to the Queen
Victoria’s Rifles. This
young man was second Lieutenant Geoffrey Harold Woolley, who was to have
the honour of being the first territorial officer to win the Victoria
The Queen Victoria’s Rifles
crossed the Channel in November 1914, and in due course proceeded to
take their turn in their trenches with the regular battalions of the 5th
Division, to which they were attached, where they came in on occasion
for some pretty severe shelling. But
they were not employed in attack until the affair at Hill 60 in the
following April, which was an experience none of them is ever likely to
Hill 60-a hill, by the way, only by
courtesy, since it is, in point of fact, merely on earth heap from the
cutting of the Ypres-Lille Railway-lies a little to the west of Klein
Zillebeke and just east of the hamlet of Zwartlehen, the scene of the
famous charge of our Household Cavalry on the night of November 6th
1914. Its importance was
that it afforded an artillery position from which the whole German front
in the neighbourhood of Chateau Hollebeke could be commanded.
At seven o’clock in the evening of
April 17th the British exploded seven mines on the hill,
which played havoc with the defences, blowing up a trench line and 150
men, after which under cover of heavy artillery fire, the position was
stormed by the 1st West Kent’s and the 2nd
King’s Own Scottish Borderers, who entrenched themselves in the shell
craters and brought up machine guns.
During the night several of the enemy’s counter attacks were
repulsed with heavy loss, and fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place;
but in the early morning the Germans succeeded in forcing back the
troops holding the right of the hill to the reverse slope, where,
however they hung on throughout the day.
In the evening the West Kent’s and the King’s Own Scottish
Borderers were relieved by the 2nd West Ridings and the 2nd
Yorkshire Light Infantry, who again stormed the hill, under cover of
heavy artillery fire, and drove the enemy off with the bayonet.
But Hill 60 was of vital importance to the enemy if they intended
to maintain their Hollebeke ground, and on the 19th another
fierce attack was made on it, with the support of artillery and
asphyxiating bombs. T was
repulsed, but the hill formed a salient, which exposed our men to fire
from three sides, and all through the 19th and 20th
a terrific cannonade was directed against them. In the evening of the latter day came another determined
infantry attack, while all the night parties of the enemy’s bomb
throwers kept working their way up to our trenches.
At 9.30 that night two companies of
the queen Victoria’s under Major Rees and Captain Westby, received
orders to advance from their trenches and take up a position close to
the top of the hill. Although
the distance to be traversed was only some 200 yards, so terrible was
the fire to which they were exposed, that it took them two hours to
reach the post assigned to them, where they dug themselves in close to a
huge crater made by one of the British mines which had been exploded on
midnight Sergeant E. H. Pulleyn was ordered to take sixteen men to the
very crest of the hill, some twenty yards away, to fill a gap in our
trenches line there. A
withering fire was immediately opened upon the party by the enemy, who
were not thirty yards distant, and only the sergeant and eleven of his
men reached the position, while of the survivors five fell almost
immediately. Pulleyn and
the remaining six maintained there ground for a few minutes, when,
recognizing the impossibility of holding it longer, they retired and
rejoined their comrades, carrying their wounded with them.
Both Major Rees and Captain Westby
had already been killed, and of 150 riflemen who had followed them up
that fatal hill, two-thirds had fallen.
The remainder held on stubbornly, however and so accurate was
their fire that the Germans did not dare to advance over the crest.
But the crossfire to which our men were exposed was terrible;
never for a moment did it slacken, and man after man went down before
it. When day began to break
there were but thirty left.
It was at this critical moment that
an officer was seen making his way up the hill towards them.
The men in the trench held their breath; it seemed to them
impossible that anyone could come alive through the midst of the fearful
fire which was sweeping he slope; every instant they expected to see him
fall to rise no more. But
on he came, sometimes running, sometimes crawling, while bullets buzzed
past his head and shells burst all about him, until at last he climbed
the parapet and stood amongst them, unharmed.
Then they saw that he was second Lieutenant Woolley, who learning
that their officers ad been killed, had left the security of his own
trench and run the gauntlet of the enemy’s fire to take charge of that
gallant little band.
His arrival put fresh heart into the Queen Victoria’s, and
there, in that trench, choked with their dead and wounded comrades,
shelled and bombed and enfiladed by machine guns, this Oxford
undergraduate, the two brave N.C.O.’s, Pulleyn and Peabody, and their
handful of Territorial, held the German hordes at bay hour after hour,
repelling more than one attack, in which the young lieutenant rendered
excellent service by the accuracy of his bomb throwing, until at last
Of 4 officers and 150 N.C.O.’s and
men who had ascended the hill the previous night, only 2 N.C.O.’s and
24 men answered the roll call. But, though they had suffered grievously, the battalion had
gained great honour, both for themselves and the whole Territorial
Second Lieutenant-now Captain-Woolley
had the proud distinction of being the first Territorial officer to be
awarded the Victoria Cross; while Sergeant Pulleyn and Corporal Peabody
each received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for “the great gallantry
and endurance displayed, and for the excellent service rendered, in the
flight for the possession of Hill 60.
Other decorations, which have fallen
to the share of the Queen Victoria’s Rifles up to, the end of 1915
are: Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Shipley-C.M.G.; Captain S. J.
Sampson-Military Cross; Sergeant E. G. Burgess-D.C.M.
Major George James Christie, Of The 9th Argyll And Sutherland
Won The D.S.O. At The Second Battle Of Ypres.
During the night of May 9th-10th 1915, a
draft of thirty men belonging to the 9th Argyll and
Sutherland Highlanders (T.F.), all burning to take their share in the
great battle which had been in progress for nearly three weeks, joined
their battalion, which was occupying dugouts n the Zouave Wood near
Hooge. At dawn the new
arrivals were allocated; before midday they were fighting for their
lives; and when evening came only two of them were fit for service.
For that day was a terrible ordeal for those gallant Territorial.
Early in the morning the German artillery began a heavy
bombardment of the British trenches on either side of the Ypres-Menin
Road, which in places were soon almost demolished, and the bombardment
was followed up by an attack under cover of gas.
Between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. the 9th Argyll’s were
ordered to reinforce the 2ns Cameron’s with two companies, and “A”
Company and “D” Company were accordingly dispatched, under the
command of Major Christie. Through
a terrific shellfire, Major Christie led his men to a position astride
the Menin Road, two hundred yards west of Hooge, where the Cameron
headquarters were. Here
they dug themselves in, while the major went forward for further orders.
At 9.30 he was ordered to lead one company forward to reinforce a
trench south of the Menin Road, and between it and the Sanctuary Wood,
which was reported to be breaking.
“A” Company, being stationed on the south side of the road,
was chosen, and advanced in short rushes, with cries of “Good old 9th
Argyll’s!” The advance
lay over a bare slope right to the ridge opposite Chateau Hooge, without
a ditch, or hedge even, to afford cover from view, and was accomplished
under a most murderous fire. But
though comrades were falling to right and left of him, not one of those
brave Scotsmen wavered, but only became the keener to come to close
grips with the Huns.
They were only just in time, for the
gas, on top of the terrible shelling, had been more than flesh and blood
could endure. The trench,
which they had come to save, had broken, and the men were falling back.
At sight of the Argyll’s, however, they raised a cheer, and
passing through them, the Territorial dashed into the trench, bayoneted
or chased out those Germans who had already gained a footing there, and,
setting up their machine guns, began to mow down the advancing enemy
with them and rifle fire. The
Huns, astonished at this unexpected resistance, fell back in confusion,
and the Argyll’s and Cameron’s, having done what they could to
repair the damage done to the trench by the enemy’s shellfire, awaited
they saw, to their astonishment, a strong force of men in Cameron kilts,
advancing through the Bellewarde Wood, north of the Menin Road, toward
the trenches occupied by the 91st.
Uncertain as to whether they were British or Germans, they
refrained from firing, until volley upon volley from the trenches of the
91st told them they were the enemy in disguise.
Meanwhile “B” and “C”
Companies of the 9th Argyll’s had advanced from Zouave Wood
to the trenches, which Major Christie’s men had dug near the Menin
Road. On the way, their
gallant and much loved Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Clark, and shells
killed another officer. Major
Christie, who had hurried back to report the new attack, dispatched
“D” Company to reinforce the 91st; but, notwithstanding
the assistance of the Territorial, the latter were driven from their
trenches by the determine attacks of the kilted Germans.
The 9th Argyll’s and 2nd Cameron’s,
though now exposed to an enfilading fire from north of the Menin Road,
gallantly held their trenches against every attack, until night fell,
and piles of corpses beyond their entanglements bore eloquent testimony
to the deadly work of their machine guns and rifles.
They had themselves lost heavily, however.
Among the slain was Colonel Campbell, commanding the Cameron’s,
who was killed by a shell, which had landed right in the middle of a
machine gun team, who work he was directing.
At 2 a.m. relief arrived, and Major
Christie, whom the death of Colonel Clark had left in command of the 9th
Argyll’s, led his sorely tried men back to their dugouts in Zouave
Wood. In that and the
previous days fighting the battalion had had twelve and some three
hundred men killed and wounded. Thee
losses were considerably increased during the next two days, May 11th
and 12th, when, their position having been located by a
captive kite balloon sent up by the enemy, the wood was raked by a
terrific shelling, which seemed to search every yard of it.
Major Christie’s own dugout was twice blown in, but, happily,
he escaped without injury. When
the shelling creased, hardly a tree of that wood remained standing; all
was a jumble of broken timber and undergrowth, beneath which lay dead
men, broken rifles and equipment, and torn sandbag.
On the 16th the 9th Argyll’s were sent to
the rest camp at Poperinghe. But they were not permitted to enjoy even so much as one
whole day’s rest, as, scarcely had they arrived, when orders came to
join the 10th Brigade at La Brique.
Just after dawn on May 24th,
while they were occupying the support trenches northeast of Saint-Jean,
the enemy started bombarding our front with asphyxiating shells and
immediately afterwards gas was released from the cylinders against the
whole three miles of front from Shelltrap Farm to the Bellewaarde Lake.
After the gas came a violent bombardment from north, northeast
Seeing that the troops in the first line trenches were beginning
to give way, Major Christie at once resolved to repeat that dash to the
rescue, which had saved the Cameron’s trench at Hooge a fortnight
before, and having adjusted their respirators, the territorial doubled
across the shell swept ground which lay between them and the fire
trenches. The sight which
met their eyes as they reached them was terrible, for maimed and gassed
men were lying everywhere. But
they lost no time getting to work, and, lining the broken parapet,
opened a withering fire on the advancing Germans.
The enemy fell back, but soon it became apparent that their
artillery was concentrating on that particular trench, while, though the
German infantry fell in heaps before our fire, they continued to advance
in ever increasing numbers. Major
Christie saw that, if the trench was to be held, more men must be found
to replace those whom we were losing every minute.
As all communication with the rear had been cut, he left one of
his officers in charge, and ran back to the support trench, in search of
stragglers. He found a few
odd lots of the Dublin Fusiliers and of his own battalion and rushed
them forward. But still
there were not sufficient rifles to line the parapet, so out into the
fire swept open went the major again, searching for men-men with rifles.
In a small isolated trench he found another odd lot, gassed and
half dazed, but, though for the moment the poor fellows could be of
little use, they had rifles, and, pouncing upon them, he was leading
them forward, when he was hit in the leg by a piece of shell and fell to
the ground. But the odd lot he was leading went on and reached the
trench, and it seems to have been largely through the assistance
rendered by them that the German hordes were held off until relief
Major Christie did what he could for
himself with a tourniquet, until Drummer Bell, of the Argyll’s came
out of the trench to his assistance and after rendering first aid, went
away and returned with two men of their battalion carrying a stretcher.
Lifting the wounded officer on to this, they set out for the
nearest dressing station; but so tremendous was the fire through which
they had to pass, that they were obliged several times to stop and take
refuge in a ditch or under a hedge.
Major Christie begged the men to leave him and look after
themselves; but these brave fellows indignantly refused to do, and,
though all three were wounded, they managed to stagger on with their
load until they reached the dressing station.
Drummer Bell, who repeatedly interposed his own body between his
wounded officer and the enemy’s fire, was subsequently awarded the
Distinguished Conduct Medal and the French Croix de Guerre.
Major Christie, who received the
Distinguished Service Order, is a native of the Vale of Leven, and the
youngest son of Mr John Christie, of Levenfield, Alexandria,
Dumbartonshire, chairman of the United Turkey Red Company, Limited, and
its thirty-five years of age. He
served for a number of years with the Alexandria and Renton Company of
Volunteers, retiring with the rank of honorary major.
He is a good shot and won several prizes at the Dumbartonshire
Rifle Association meetings at Jamestown.
At the outbreak of war he volunteered for service, and went into
training with his old regiment at Bedford, proceeding to the front in
February 1915. He was immensely popular with the 9th
Argyll’s, alike for his dauntless courage and his solicitude fro their
comfort, and it is indeed regrettable that the injuries he received will
prevent him from leading them again.
Acting Corporal George Dagger, Of The 1st Battalion Duke Of
Light Infantry Won The D.C.M. At La Bassee
The men of the fair West Country have ever responded nobly when
their Sovereign required their services, whether on land or sea, and
many a mother in the ancient city of Bath is today mourning the loss of
one or more of her sons. Among
them is Mrs. Arthur Dagger, two of whose three soldier sons, Sergeant
Arthur Dagger, of the Somersetshire Light Infantry, and Corporal George,
of the 1st Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry,
have already given their lives for King and country.
But at least she has the consolation of knowing that they fought
right valiantly, and that the younger, ere he fell, had won for himself
a foremost place on the British roll of honour.
Corporal George Dagger’s D.C.M. was awarded him for gallant
conduct in somewhat unusual circumstances.
During the fighting at La Bassee on December 16th
1914, the company to which he was attached found themselves suffering
many casualties from hand grenades discharged at them from what they had
supposed to be an unoccupied trench, lying between our trenches and
those of the enemy, at a distance of some fifty paces, but into which a
number of German bomb throwers had contrived to crawl.
These enterprising gentry having at length been driven out, the
officer in command of the Cornwall’s decided that the trench must be
filled in without delay, otherwise the bomb throwers would be certain to
return when darkness fell; and he called for volunteers to perform this
dangerous duty. Corporal
George Dagger was the first man to offer himself, and having been placed
in charge of the digging party, he crawled out to the trench and
remained there for three hours until the work was finished, during the
whole of which time he was exposed to a very heavy fire.
Unhappily, Corporal Dagger did not
live very long to wear his well-earned decoration, as he was killed
early in the following April, not long after his return to the front
from a brief visit to his wife at Northfleet, Gravesend.
In an interesting letter to the dead hero’s mother, published
in a Bath Chronicle of April 17th 1915, the widow writes:
“I hope you will try and bear up, as I know you have lost one son
already. It is a terrible
war. I greatly sympathize
with you, as I have lost a brother as well out there.
But I did hope and trust that my husband would come back.
I received a very nice letter from his officer, which gives
George great praise. All
his officers speak well of him. The
chaplain of his regiment buried him, and a cross has been erected over
his grave. The officer has
sent on his D.C.M. ribbon; he had it cut from his tunic.”
A comrade of the deceased in the
Cornwall’s Private R. B. Allen, writing from Flanders, also refers to
Corporal Dagger’s death, and says: “He was killed by a sniper’s
bullet o the 7th of April, and we have laid him to rest in
the grounds of a big chateau, and were are going to get flowers for his
Corporal Dagger, who was
twenty-eight years of age, worked for some time in Bath before joining
Major George Harold Absell Ing, Of The 2nd Dragoon Guards
Bays), Won The D.S.O. At The Second Battle Of Ypres
On the evening of Wednesday, May 12th 1915, the 28th
Division which held that part of our line from a point northeast of
Verlorenhoek to the Bellewaarde Lake, and which had been fighting
continuously since April 22nd, went into reserve, its place
being taken by the 1st and 3rd Cavalry Divisions,
under general de Lisle. It
was a difficult line to defend, since there were no natural advantages
and our trenches were to a large extent recently improvised.
This cavalry were very speedily to discover to their cost, for
early on the following morning a terrific bombardment began against
their front, shells of every description raining down in a continuous
stream. The brunt of the
bombardment fell on the 3rd Division, and the 3rd
Dragoon Guards, I the 6th brigade, were almost buried alive
beneath the debris of their parapet.
But farther north, where the 2nd Dragoon Guards were
posted, close to the Ypres-Zonnebeke road, the shelling was also very
heavy, and about 8 a.m. part of the regiment on their right began to
retire, their trenches having been rendered untenable.
The retirement might easily have become a general one, had not a
brave officer of the Queen’s Bays, Major Ing, at great personal risk,
saved the situation. Leaving his own trench, he ran out into the open road,
standing there, with shells every moment bursting around him, stopped
the retirement of some forty men and directed them to take shelter, some
in shell holes and others in ditch beside the road on their flank.
By this prompt and gallant action, for which he was subsequently
awarded the Distinguished Service Order, Major Ing rendered a most
Major Ing entered the 2nd
Dragoon Guards in September 1900, and served in the South African War,
in which he was slightly wounded, and for which he received the
Queen’s Medal with five clasps. He
was promoted captain in February 1914, and attained his present rank in
August 1911. He is
thirty-five years of age, and his home is at Crockham Hill, Kent.
Bombardier George King, Of
Royal Field Artillery,
the D.C.M. At Le Touquet
No fact has been more strikingly demonstrated in the War than the
really wonderful manner in which the British soldier has been taught to
think and act for himself. Unlike
the German who is to often a mere machine, working only under the
direction of his superior and destitute of the least initiative, our men
never lack enterprise and resourcefulness, as the following incident,
which occurred at Le Touquet, near Armentieres, on October 18th
1914, will show.
Towards noon on the day in question,
the battery of the R.F.A. to which Bombardier George King belonged
received orders to support the 10th Infantry Brigade in their
attack on the German position. The major commanding the battery proceeded to the observation
post, which was on the roof of a barn situated on the left bank of the
river Lys, to observe and control the fire of his men, and Bombardier
King accompanied him at his telephone operator.
On reaching the barn, it was found that the only way to get into
communication with the first line trenches was to get a wire laid across
the river, as no boat was available, Bombardier King recognized that the
difficulty could only be overcome by swimming, and though the river was
deep and rapid, he without a moment’s hesitation threw of his cap and
tunic and picking up a coil of wire, plunged into the water and swam
across. On reaching the farther bank he had to ascend a slope on
which high explosive shells from the German batteries were continually
bursting, and make his way to within five hundred yards of the first
line trenches, in order to connect the coil of wire he carried with the
infantry wire. But this
dangerous task he accomplished without mishap, and the communication
having been thus established, he ran down the slope, swam back to the
barn, and resuming his cap and tunic, took up the telephone and occupied
himself with despatching the observation officer’s instructions to the
gunners. In the course of
the afternoon the barn was completely demolished by German shellfire,
but happily none of the observation party was hit.
Bombardier King was awarded the
D.C.M. “for conspicuous enterprise.”
This however was not the only honour, which awaited him, as not
long afterwards the Czar conferred upon him the Cross of St. George (3rd
class). Bombardier-now Corporal-King is twenty-four years of age and
a resident of Leicester.
Quartermaster, Sergeant George Mitchell,
Of The Royal
Field Artillery, Won The D.C.M.
By the 18th of September 1914, the worst of the
fighting on the Aisne was over, and the battle so far as the British
forces were concerned, had degenerated into sullen trench warfare, with
little prospect of any important movement on either side.
On the part of the Germans, the operations resolved themselves
into persistent bombardments by day and occasional infantry attacks by
night. In the matter of
artillery, we were at a great disadvantage, for not only had the enemy
far more guns than we possessed, but they had brought up their bug
8-inch howitzers, which they had used at Maubeuge Instead, therefore, of
shelling the enemy’s trenches, our artillery was obliged to devote
most of its time to keeping down the German gunfire, and it was only
very rarely that it was able to take the offensive.
On Monday, September 21st,
a day on which, to the great relief of our troops, who had been drenched
to the skin by days of incessant rain, the weather took a turn for the
better, the 135th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, which
during the advance to the Marne and Aisne, had been attached to our 1st
Cavalry Division as Horse Artillery, received orders to send a section
of guns to report to the officer in command of a Battery of Royal Horse
Artillery at the village of Paissy.
On arriving there, the officer in question informed Lieutenant
Rogers, who was in charge of the section, that his battery had been so
mercilessly shelled that he had been obliged to order the men to leave
their guns and take shelter in caves in the cliffs, and told him that he
had better take his guns back, as it would be simply suicide to go out
into the open. The section
was on their way back to rejoin their battery, when a Staff Colonel of
Artillery, who ordered them to return to Paissy, met them.
He and Lieutenant Rogers took the two guns into action in the
open to the right of the village, and then proceeded to a haystack, from
which they observed and corrected the firing, leaving the section in
charge of Battery Quartermaster Sergeant George Mitchell.
Mitchell took the horses and the first line wagons into the
village, and placed them under shelter of the cliffs, and then returned
to the guns and took charge of one of them.
The village of Paissy stands not far
from a ridge where some of the most severe close fighting of the past
week had taken place, and all over the No Man’s Land between the
opposing lines the dead bodies of the German infantry were still lying
in heaps where they had fallen. The guns had been placed in the open on
some ploughed land, as there was no cover thereabouts to afford them
concealment. Behind them the ground was level for about twenty paces; then
there was a drop of five or six feet into a sunken road, and on the far
side of the road a steep grass slope.
This slope and the ground all round the guns were so pitted with
shell holes that it resembled the lid of a pepperbox.
The guns had not been long in
action, when they were “spotted” by a German observation balloon,
and while field guns shelled them with shrapnel from their front, two
batteries of heavy howitzers enfiladed them from the direction of
Cerny-en-Laon, the huge shells screaming through the air with a noise
like the rush of an express train.
It may here be mentioned that two or three days later four 6-inch
howitzer batteries, which Sir John French had asked for, arrived from
England, but for every shell of this type that we were able to fire the
Germans fired twenty. Nevertheless,
though shells were bursting all about them, Mitchell and his men
gallantly kept their 18-pounders in action, and continued to fire for
nearly two hours, when the task which had been allotted them-that of
drawing the fire from some of our infantry who were digging themselves
in a new position-having been performed, they were ordered to leave the
and take shelter in the village.
The order to retire came not a
moment too soon, for scarcely had the men crossed the sunken road in
their rear and begun to descend the slope, when a howitzer shell fell
right upon one of the guns which they had just left, smashing it to
pieces. Had its crew been
still working it, every one of them must have been instantly killed.
However the section was not to come off scathes that day, for
though the fire of the British guns had been silenced, the salvos from
the howitzer batteries continued, and our men had just reached the
ammunition wagons which Mitchell had left in the village, when a shell
struck the house outside of which one of them stood, blowing half the
building down, burying the wagon beneath the falling masonry, and
wounding five men.
Early in April 1915, Battery Quartermaster Sergeant Mitchell
again displayed great courage and coolness under fire at Petit Port, in
Flanders, in dressing the wounded when the wagon line of his battery was
being heavily shelled, and for his consistent gallantry, the
Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded him.
He is a Scotsman, his home being at Hawick, and is thirty years
Gunner George Leonard Pond Of The Royal Field Artillery,
The D.C.M. At The Battle Of The Aisne
On Sunday, September 13th, the 115th
Battery of the Royal Field Artillery crossed the Aisne with the main
body of our army, and on the Monday night at dusk a section of guns
pushed up the farther slopes to a stone quarry on the top of a hill
about a mile beyond the village of Vendresse, to Support the right of
the First Corps, which, after many hours stubborn fighting, had secured
a position running from a point on the north east of Troyon to La Cour
de Soupir. Arrived at the
quarry, the guns came into action and fired a few shells at the German
trenches near the Chemim des Dames, the only reply being a shower of
bullets, which whistled harmlessly over the gunners heads.
About three o’clock on the morning
of the 15th, the remainder of the guns and wagons were
brought up, though, as the ground hereabouts was far too rocky to be dug
up, the only cover that could be contrived for them was a small bank of
earth. After an hour or so,
the guns came into action and shelled the enemy’s position for a
while, again without eliciting any reply from the German artillery.
Then the word was given to stand at ease, ad the gunners left
their pieces to enjoy a chat with their infantry escort, composed of
detachments from two battalions of the 1st Brigade, the 1st
Scots Guards and the 1st Black Watch.
Soon, however, the guns were booming again, and on this occasion
the enemy’s artillery made ample amends for their previous silence.
For from behind a hill across the valley, not a mile away, a
perfect tempest of shells of every description came screaming through
the air, tearing immense holes in the rocks around them and sending the
infantry scampering for what little cover was to be found.
The only substantial cover anywhere at hand was at the bottom of
the hill; but as the sole means of getting there was a narrow lane,
which was being simply swept by the enemy’s fire, it was courting
death to attempt to reach it. About
forty horses to another battery were in this lane, in a terrible tangle;
some of them had already been wounded, and all were frantic with terror.
Several of the men in charge of them had been killed, and though
the survivors were making desperate efforts to get the horses away, they
were too few to control the terrified animals, who were on the point of
stampeding. Observing the
state of affairs, a gunner of the 115th Battery, named George
Leonard Pond, and three other men ran down to their assistance, and
under the direction of one of their officers, who, though badly wounded,
had remained on duty, they succeeded in preventing a stampede and in
getting the horses under cover. Many
of the poor animals, however, had been so badly injured that they had
subsequently to be destroyed.
Pond then returned to his battery,
whose 18-pounders had been p[luckily endeavouring, though with but scant
success, to keep down the fire of the huge howitzers behind the opposite
hill, but had now abandoned the task as hopeless, the major in command
having been killed, and the captain stunned by a piece of shell.
As he came up, he saw a “coal
box” burst under the pole of an ammunition wagon, knocking the wagon
over; but, hurrying forward, he picked up the shells that had fallen
out, replaced them and closed the lid for safety.
This done, he reported himself to one of his surviving officers,
and learned that all his comrades but two had reached cover at the foot
of the hill. The officer
sent him down the hill to tell a sergeant to collect as many as possible
and withdraw the guns and wagons by hand.
The right and left sections-four guns and four wagons were
successfully removed without any casualties, although every few seconds
the men had to leave them and make a bolt for cover to dodge the shells. But it was not until darkness fell that the centre section
could be got away, some of the wheels having been damaged.
Corporal Pond, who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for
conspicuous gallantry,” is twenty-seven years of age, and his home is
at Landport, Portsmouth.
Second Lieutenant Gilbert Stuart Martin Insall, Of The No.11
Royal flying corps, Won The V.C. Near Achiet
A splendid example of skill and intrepidity of our younger airmen
was given on November 7th 1915, near Achiet.
Second-Lieutenant Gilbert Stuart Martin Insall was patrolling in
a Vickers fighting machine, accompanied by first-Class Air Mechanic J.
H. Donald as gunner, when he sighted a German machine, which he at once
pursued and attacked. The
German pilot cunningly led the Vickers machine over a rocket battery,
but, with great skill, Lieutenant Insall dived and got to close range,
when Donald fired a drum of cartridges into the German machine, which
had the effects of stopping its engine.
The German pilot the dived through a cloud, followed by
Lieutenant Insall, and Donald again opening fire, the German machine was
brought down heavily in a ploughed field four miles southeast of Arras.
On perceiving the Germans scramble out of their machine and
prepare to fire, Lieutenant Insall dived to five hundred feet, thus
enabling Donald to open fire on them at close range.
The Germans thereupon took to their heels, one assisting the
other, who was apparently wounded.
Other Germans at the daring enemy directed heavy rifle fire, but,
in spite of this, Lieutenant Insall turned again, and an incendiary bomb
was dropped on the German machine, which was last seen wreathed in
smoke. The victor then
headed west, in order to return over the German trenches, but, as he was
at an altitude of two thousand feet, he dived across them for greater
speed, Donald firing into the trenches as he passed over.
The German fire, however, damaged the petrol tank, and with great
coolness Lieutenant Insall landed under cover of a wood, five hundred
yards inside our lines. The
German artillery started to shell our machine as it lay on the ground,
and it is calculated that some one hundred and fifty shells were fired
at it, but no material damage was done.
A good deal, however, had already been caused by rifle fire, but
during the night it was repaired behind screened lights, and at dawn
Lieutenant Insall flew his machine home.
This most gallant young officer was subsequently awarded the
Victoria Cross, “for most conspicuous bravery, skill and
Private H. J. Hastings, Of The 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire And
Light Infantry, Won The D.C.M. Near Zonnebeke
If, on July 23rd 1914, anyone had informed Mr H. J.
Hastings, then pursuing the peaceful occupation of a telegrapher at the
Central Telegraph Office, Newgate Street, that on that day three months
it would be his destiny to take the lives of no less than nine of his
fellow men, and to feel not the least compunction for so doing, he would
have enjoyed a hearty laugh at the prophet’s expense.
But then, on July 23rd 1914, no one in Newgate Street
dreamed that we were on the verge of the greatest war of modern times,
and that in less than a fortnight the British Empire would be fighting
for its very existence.
On the outbreak of war, Mr. Hastings
was one of the first to answer Lord Kitchener’s call for men,
enlisting in the 2nd Oxfordshire Light Infantry.
He went to France with one of the first drafts, saw service at
the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne, had his trousers ripped above
the knee by a fragment of shell and his water bottle smashed by a
shrapnel bullet, and on the evening of October 23rd found
himself with his battalion entrenched near Zonnebeke, some five to the
northeast of Ypres.
It had been a day of desperately hard fighting; the Germans, for
the most part new levies, though mown down in swathes by our fire,
coming on again and again with the utmost courage and determination, and
it was not expected that the night would pass without a renewal of their
attacks. Private Hastings
had already made something of a name for himself by his cool courage and
the excellence of his marksmanship, and he and two other men entrusted
with the task of holding a culvert over a brook and a narrow footpath
connecting the enemy’s line with ours, From which screened the mouth
of the culvert in direct front, but they had to hold the gaps on each
bank. Hastings, having been
given a free hand, put up some barbed wire over their side and across
the brook and built a sod barricade.
Scarcely had these preparations been
completed, when two companies of the enemy advanced to the attack.
He waited until they were almost level with him and he had them
black against the sky, and then opened fire.
One of his comrades stood by to keep him supplied with
ammunition, but by the time he had fired twenty-six rounds, the Germans
had had enough of it and retreated.
On going out to ascertain the loss he had inflicted on them, he
found nine Huns, one of whom was an officer. Lying dead and another
wounded. They were all from
the 223rd and 235th Regiments-two corps raised
since the outbreak of war-and most of them mere lads, in new uniforms.
With the assistance of another man he carried the wounded German
into the British lines next day, together with five others, who had
fallen in a previous attack. They
were very grateful, and one of them called him: “Kind Kamerad!”
Their friends in the German trenches were much less appreciative,
for they fired upon Hastings and the other soldier.
The next night the enemy made
another attack, this time from a slightly different direction.
As the advance was beginning, Hastings saw two men approaching
along the side of the brook, and under the impression that they were
from his own battalion, he allowed them to come quite close, when he
called out: “Hullo! How
many of you are out?” One
of the men looked up in surprise and said something in German, upon
which Hastings fired at him; but, being so close, the bullet passed over
The German immediately levelled his rifle, and he and Hastings
fired together. The Hun’s
aim was bad, his bullet striking the bridge above, but the
Englishman’s bullet took effect; and with an oath, his adversary fell
and rolled into the brook, where he was drowned.
His comrade made off.
The enemy’s attack that night was
a very determined one, and they advanced to within twenty yards of our
trenches before the withering fire, which they encountered, drove them
back. Hastings, on his
part, accounted for a dozen, four of whom were killed; for, after the
attack had been broken up, he crawled out to where the dead men were
lying and got their shoulder straps with regimental numbers for
information. His “bag”
in two nights thus totalled twenty-three, fourteen of whom would never
see the Fatherland again, and he had thus taken a spacious revenge for
the loss of a great friend and fellow telegraphers.
John Holder, who had been killed at his side a little while
Private Hastings, who a few days
later was wounded in the arm, though only slightly, was awarded the
Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous gallantry.”
Squadron Sergeant Major Harry Croft, Of The 5th Dragoon
The D.C.M. At Zillebeke
At the end of February 1915, the 5th Dragoon guards
were in the trenches near Zillebeke, performing more or less cheerfully,
the work of infantry, as they had been doing all through that long and
Meantime, they themselves were
receiving a lesson on the imprudence of yielding to a temptation to
admire the landscape, whe the enemy’s trenches were not a hundred
yards from their own, and there happens to be a wood affording admirable
cover for snipers in between. For
whenever one of them chanced to raise his head above the parapet, a
rifle, and as often as not two or three together, cracked
Among the trees, and if he escaped
with a bullet hole through his cap or an ugly furrow along his cheek, he
might consider himself fortunate.
The unwelcome attentions of the
marksmen in the word were becoming a serious nuisance, and Squadron
Sergeant Major Croft made up his mind to put a stop to it.
He did not believe that the shots came from isolated snipers,
since it is seldom that two or more snipers fire almost simultaneously,
as so frequently happened in this instance, and came to the conclusion
that the Germans must have an advanced post somewhere in the wood.
Accordingly, on the afternoon of February 27th, he
went out to endeavour to locate it; but before he had penetrated more
than a few yards into the wood he was seen and fired upon by the
Germans, and obliged to return. However,
he had noted the direction from which the shots came, and that night he
crept over the parapet of the British trench and crawled into the wood
The task in which he had undertaken
always very dangerous work-was rendered the more hazardous by the fact
that there was a bright moon. But, on the other hand the wood had been so damaged by
shellfire, that fallen trees and broken branches were lying everywhere,
and on a dark night it would have been almost impossible for him to move
about without making a noise which would have attracted the enemy’s
Slowly and cautiously, Croft made
his way through the wood, and had come within thirty yards of the German
entanglements, without seeing any signs of an advanced post, when
suddenly he heard voices quite close to him; and there, only a few paces
ahead, was a trench filled with Germans.
Croft had not brought his rifle with
him, since it would have hampered his movements; but he had provided
himself with a couple of revolvers, and drawing these, he took cover
behind a tree and began blazing away at the astonished Germans.
Shrieks and curses told him that some at least of his shots had
not been wasted, and in a minute or two the enemy, evidently under the
impression that they had been surprised by a party of our men, got out
of the trench and made off to their own lines as quickly as they could.
Nor do they appear to have returned it; anyway the 5th
Dragoon Guards had no longer any reason to complain of their unwelcome
Squadron Sergeant Major Croft was
awarded the D.C.M. for “conspicuous gallantry,” the official
announcement of this honour adding that “he had been noted for courage
and enterprise on previous occasions.”
The brave sergeant major is a Warwickshire man, his home being at
Commander Henry Peel Ritchie Won The V.C. At Dar-es-Salaam
It is significant of the broad range of British naval power that
although eleven Victoria Crosses had been won by officers and men of the
fleet in the first two years of the war, the only one earned within two
thousand miles of the British Isles was that of the unfortunate Flight
Sub-Lieutenant Warneford for destroying a Zeppelin single handed at
Brussels. The very first naval V.C. of the war-the first, that is in
point of winning, though not in the date of award-was won in the
tropical East African port of Dar-es-salaam, where operations against
the most prosperous of Germany’s colonial possessions, exceeding in
area the whole of the German Empire in Europe, were begun at an early
stage of the conflict.
The hero of this notable exploit, so
typical of the breed of men who man our fighting ships, was Commander
Henry Peel Ritchie, a gunnery officer of some distinction and second in
command of the battleship Goliath-which vessel, it may be recalled, was
torpedoed and sunk by a Turkish destroyer in the Dardanelle’s in May
1915. During the closing
months of 1914 the Goliath was employed on the East Coast of Africa as a
support for the cruisers employed in rounding up the German
commerce-raider Konigsberg, and a detachment of her crew, under
Lieutenant-Commander Paterson, was actually present when that vessel was
at last located and barricaded in the lower reaches of the Rufigi River.
When this work had been accomplished, Commander Ritchie was
detached from the Goliath and put in independent command of the armed
auxiliary vessel Duplex, with instructions to proceed to Dar-es-Salaam
and destroy any enemy vessels that might be found there.
It was known, not only that craft operating from this port had
been used to keep the Konigsberg supplied with fuel and provisions while
she was at sea, but also that they might be employed for running
supplies down the coast to her now that she was interned.
The destruction of the Konigsberg had already been fully detailed
in this work, and it may be remembered that although she was
successfully “bottled up” in November 1914, it was not until the
following July that there arrived from England the special, shallow
draught monitors required for dealing with her in concealed positions.
Having arrived in the neighbourhood of the German port, Commander
Ritchie at once set about the execution of his task.
It was impossible for such a large vessel as the Duplex to go
into the harbour and examine the many creeks that led into it, and the
Commander therefore fitted out a small steamboat with a maxim gun,
protected her sides as best he could with the material at his disposal,
and, on November 28th made his way into the hostile haven and
proceeded about his business, accompanied by two other tiny craft in
support. It was a day
worthy in every respect of the name of the place-which means “Adobe of
Peace”-for not only was the weather perfect, but, save for those three
invading steamboats, there was not a sign of life to be seen. This was a reception for which commander Ritchie and his men
were altogether unprepared. They
had expected to have to fight every inch of the way, and it is still a
secret in possession of the enemy why they were allowed to steam
uninterruptedly round the harbour, sinking or irreparably damaging every
floating thing they came across.
Nevertheless, that is what happened.
Not a shot was fired while the work of destruction and demolition
was in progress, although the pinnaces had to make their way into narrow
creeks in which they might easily have been ambushed and enfiladed from
either side. Commander
Ritchie however was not for taking any chances.
The absence of opposition struck him as altogether uncanny, and
he scented a trap. Therefore,
when he had thoroughly scoured the main creek running into the harbour
and sunk nearly everything in it, he appropriated two steel lighters,
which he found there, and had them firmly lashed to the steamboat, one
on either side. The real
effect of this was to convert the boat into a miniature armoured craft.
Besides that, the barges lay deeper in the water than the
steamboat itself, and this too, was a most useful circumstance.
The character of the inner recesses of the harbour and of the
creeks was by no means well known, and by lashing the boat between
lighters of greater draught than itself it was assured that if the
exploring party got into shallow water they would be the first to strike
the bottom, leaving it possible for the steamboat to get safely away by
cutting the lashings.
Slowly and deliberately the strange
and ungainly triptych made its way down the creek again and into the
open harbour; and it was not until then that the troubles of the cutting
out expedition began. Why
the defenders held themselves back so long we do not know, but at all
events, they began to make up for some lost time as soon as Commander
Ritchie’s queer looking craft passed out of the creek into the open. A heavy fire was opened from every point of the compass.
From huts and houses, from wooded groves, from the hills
surrounding the town, and even from the cemetery, came a hail of bullets
and shells from rifles, machine guns and field pieces.
Had it not been for Commander Ritchie’s foresight in
appropriating those two lighters for the protection of his little craft,
it is quite certain that none of the party would have got back to the
Duplex, and even as it was the defence proved hopelessly inadequate.
The enemy’s positions were cunningly concealed, and even if
they could have been located the little maxim would have been useless
Under the heavy fire many men were wounded more or less severely.
Commander Ritchie himself was one of the first to be hit, though
not badly enough to have to give over the direction of operations; and
when, shortly after, first Petty Officer Clark and then Able Seaman
Upton were so severely injured that they had to leave their places at
the steering wheel, the Commander himself took charge of it until his
eighth wound knocked him out altogether.
As the steamboat crossed the open
waters of the harbour the enemy’s fire redoubled in intensity.
The single gun had long ago been disabled; Commander Ritchie was
wounded in half a dozen places; Sub-Lieutenant Loyd had been placed hors
de combat by a bullet that missed his heart only by a quarter of an
inch; and most of the petty officers and men were injured more or less
severely by rifle and maxim fire and flying splinters.
Nevertheless, the strange little craft stood gallantly on, and it
was not until she was nearing the mouth of the harbour that the
commander was compelled to give in, rendered unconscious through loss of
blood. As he fell from his
post at the wheel, Petty Officer Clark, whose wound had been roughly
bandaged stepped into it, and successfully piloted the steamboat out of
the reach of the enemy’s fire and into the safety of the open sea.
For his “most conspicuous
bravery” Commander Ritchie was worthily awarded the Victoria Cross.
“Though severely wounded several times,” ran the statement in
the London Gazette, “his fortitude and resolution enabled him to
continue to do his duty, inspiring all by his example, until at his
eighth wound he became unconscious.
The interval between his first and last severe wound was between
twenty and twenty-five minutes.”
He was in fact wounded in the forehead, in the left hand (near
the thumb, which is shortened in consequence), in the left arm (twice),
the right arm, and the right hip, while the hits that finally bowled him
over were two bullets through the right leg, which had been broken in
two places five years before by an accident on service.
He was six weeks in Zanzibar Hospital, and then, rapidly
recovering his fitness, returned to service in May 1915.
Petty Officers Thomas James Clark
received the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for gallantry returning to the
wheel after being wounded, and Able Seaman George Edward Upton, who was
the first to relieve him after he was injured, was awarded the
Distinguished Service Medal. The
last named, unfortunately, was lost when the Goliath was sunk.
Many other brave deeds were done in the course of these
operations, in which the small armed vessel Helmuth and a steam cutter
from the cruiser Fox were also engaged.
On one occasion the Fox’s cutter came under fire from both
sides, and a stoker was mortally wounded.
In such a small craft the loss of a stoker means the loss of the
only man appointed to keep the fires going, and if she had come to a
standstill in her then precarious position there is little doubt that
everyone onboard would have been killed.
In spite of the very heavy fire, therefore, Lieutenant Eric Reid
Corson crept forward from the stern sheets, and, seizing the dying
stoker’s shovel, proceeded to tend the fires and so brought the boat
safely out of action.
He was awarded the Distinguished
Service Cross, as also were Lieutenant Herbert Walter Julian Orde
(severely wounded on this occasion, and subsequently lost with the
Goliath), and Sub-Lieutenant Clement James Charlewood, of the Royal
Naval Reserve, who extricated the Helmuth from a dangerous position.
A second Conspicuous Gallantry Medal went to Leading Seaman
Thomas Arthur Gallagher, coxswain of the Fox’s steam cutter who, in
the words of the official report, “when twice wounded, and under
galling fire, remained at the tiller, and with the utmost coolness
steered the boat through the danger zone.”
Captain Henry George Moreton Railston, Of The 1st Battalion,
Won The D.S.O. At The Grafenstapel Salient, Near Ypres
On the night of April 28th-29th 1915, the
11th Brigade composed of the London Rifle Brigade
_Territorial), the 1st Somersetshire Light Infantry, the 1st
Rifle Brigade and the 1st Hampshire, dug themselves in on a
new line, some five thousand yards in extent, in the very narrow salient
by Grafenstafel, east of St. Julien, on the right of the northern
section of our front. Next
day the brigade was badly shelled, the London Rifle Brigade alone losing
one hundred and seventy men; while on the 30th it had to face
a German thrust from St. Julien which the Territorials drove back with
machine gunfire. During the
two following days the Brigade enjoyed a period of comparative repose,
though the whole of the afternoon of May 2nd the German
aeroplanes were continually hovering over their trenches, practically
unmolested by our aeroplanes and anti-aircraft guns, which were engaged
elsewhere. No one doubted
that his or her appearance heralded another tempest of shelling, and
early on the following morning it duly burst.
About 4a.m. on May 3rd,
Captain Henry George Moreton Railston, who was in command of a
detachment of the 1st Rifle Brigade which occupied a section
of the first line trenches some two hundred yards in extent, had just
lain down to snatch of hours sleep after a busy night in superintending
the strengthening of the defences, when he was awakened by a sentry,
with the news that the Germans were advancing all along our front, and
were scarcely seven hundred yards distant.
Captain Railston had, the previous day, got the range of various
pints between the opposing lines, and, springing to his feet he, passed
it down the trench, and the “Greenjackets” opened fire on the
advancing masses. He himself picked up a rifle and brought down a German
officer and two of the men whom he was leading; but his satisfaction at
this success was discounted by his own servant, who was “spotting”
for him, being shot dead at his side.
Directly afterwards some of the German heavy guns opened a
tremendous enfilading fire on our trenches from behind two houses on our
right flank, blowing down both the parapet and the parados of the
trench, and next demolishing the traverses one after another.
A battery of German field guns then came into action on a ridge
opposite our lines, about seven hundred yard distant, and as each
traverse crumbled into dust before the fire of the heavy guns, proceeded
to pour a rain of shrapnel upon the unfortunate occupants of the
shattered trenches. Captain
Railston reported the desperate condition of affairs to Battalion
Headquarters by telephone, the wires of which were shortly afterwards
cut and all further communication suspended.
The men about him were now falling fast, and presently a shell
burst in his own traverse, in the midst of five men.
The outer pair on each side was killed, but, marvellous to
relate, the centre man, though knocked down by the concussion, was
uninjured. All the men who
were unwounded worked like heroes-some firing, other bandaging the hurts
of their injured comrades, and to hers again collecting the ammunition
from bandoliers of the killed and wounded and laying it under the
parapet, in readiness for those who were still left to use.
All this time the shelling was
continuous and very accurate, every shell taking effect on some part of
the trench. From our own
artillery there was no reply at al.
What few guns we had hereabouts had apparently been put out of
The trench was soon in a fearful
state; most of the parapet and parados had been levelled almost with the
ground, while the traverses had been blown down, and were choked with
earth, water, dead and wounded, equipments, ammunition and so forth.
The Germans were, meanwhile
advancing all along our front, and concentrating in considerable numbers
on some dead ground among the standing crops, which we had not time to
level, about two hundred and fifty or three hundred yards away.
Those directly in front of the trench apparently numbered from
six hundred to eight hundred. Captain
Railston was kept very busy bandaging the wounded, giving morphia to the
bad cases, and collecting their ammunition, with the assistance of the
only man left alive in his traverse.
About 10 a.m. it was reported to him that scarcely a man remained
unwounded in the right section of the trench.
In his own part of it there was only one rifleman and two
signallers beside himself and soon afterwards a shell burst in the
signallers dug out, blowing one man to bits and badly wounding the
other. He looked about for
the last remaining rifleman to help him to lift the injured signaller
into his own dug out, which was still intact, though full of wounded
men, and found that he, too had been hit.
He bandaged up the signaller and gave him some morphia, and then
found that he was all alone. Not
a single man was in sight, or at least, not a man capable of keeping his
feet. He worked his way
along the debris of the trench to his left, intending t find where the
nearest men were, and of getting a message through to Battalion
Headquarters, and finding three of his men about fifty yards along the
trench, sat down and talked to them for some time, the shelling being
too heavy jut then for anyone to move about at all. Presently, when it temporarily subsided a little he made his
way along further to the left, and found the remnant of two and a half
platoons of Territorials, who were attached to his company. They told him that they had had their two officers killed,
and all their N.C.O.’s and half of their men either killed or wounded.
He found their captain, who had been hit through the head, not
quite dead, and was proceeding to do what little he could for him, when
a shell struck the parapet, blowing it in on top of the two officers,
and they had to be dug out. When
he had been extricated from the debris, the unfortunate Territorial
captain was dead.
Captain Railston remained with the
remnant of the Territorials for some time, as they had no officers or
N.C.O.’s left and was very disheartened.
He ordered them to fix bayonets and get their ammunition out, so
as to be in readiness to repel an attack, and told them that there were
large reinforcements on their way up, and that all would soon be well.
He then made another attempt to get into touch with Battalion
Headquarters, and working further along the trenches, came upon three
men of the next company in a trench on his side of a gap of ten yards in
the parapet. They reported
that there was not a man of their company left alive on the other side
of the gap. The shelling
became again too hot for him to move, and the German guns had the range
of the gap to a yard, as many of the less severely wounded men were
trying to make their way along the trench and over a small barricade by
this gap to the dressing station, which brought them in view of the
battery on the ridge. Captain
Railston remained with the three men, all squatting in a very narrow and
none too deep trench, while all the wounded men who could manage to
crawl came along the trench behind them and across the gap, in order to
reach the dressing station. Many
of them were killed in making the attempt.
The three men with whom he had previously stayed and the
remainder of the Territorials were soon al killed and wounded, leaving a
gap of four hundred yards of trench unoccupied save by himself and these
three men, two of whom were killed in the evening.
The Germans continued to rain shrapnel upon the trench, and in
particular upon the gap, and many of the men lying badly wounded near it
were wounded again or killed outright.
Captain Railston was himself wounded by a piece of shrapnel in
the fleshy part of his arm, and had eight holes made by shrapnel in the
back of his khaki jacket as he stooped down in the trench.
Between bouts of shelling he and his three comrades kept on
shooting at the advancing Germans, running up and sown the trench and
firing several rounds of rapid whenever an advance was attempted, by
which ruse they succeeded in deluding the enemy into the belief that it
was still well defended.
About midday the shelling abated,
and an orderly threw a message wrapped round a stone cross the gap to
Captain Railston. The
message asked for a report of the situation, and he wrote one and threw
it back. About an hour
later some men began to crawl across the gap to reinforce the brave
quartet, a manoeuvre that Captain Railston in the message that they had
just sent had reported as impossible.
The first seven men were all immediately killed or wounded, upon
which Captain Railston ordered the others not to attempt to cross the
gap and to retire. About 2.30 p.m. he decided that his last report had probably
failed to reach Battalion Headquarters, and determined to try and get
across the gap, on order to make his way with her and report personally.
This he succeeded in doing in safety, being the only man who had
crossed it without being hit. The trench on the rather side was so blocked up with mud and
water and dead and wounded men, that he could only make his way along it
at intervals. So he crawled
along the ground behind the trench, reached the battalion headquarters
dug out and reported the situation.
At dark-about 8 p.m.- a battalion
came up to support the few survivors in the battered trenches, and
between two and three hours later, in accordance with a prearranged plan
the whole British force, with the exception of the 12 Brigade on our
left, which was the pivot of the operation, retired to a new position in
the rear, the occupation of which, by abandoning the untenable salient
greatly strengthened our line.
Captain Railston and what was left
of his command marched from 10.30 p.m. to 4 a.m. the next morning, the
latter part of the journey being performed in a deluge of rain.
The past week had certainly been a
sufficiently eventful one for Captain Railston, he having had several of
the narrowest escapes fro death imaginable.
On April 26th two bullets passed through his cap.
On the 27th a shell burst in his dug out, burying him
under three feet of earth and debris, but providentially leaving his
mouth and nose, across which a board had fallen, free, so that he was
able to breathe. His
burberry, which he was using as a pillow, was riddled through and
through with holes; his pack, which was underneath the burberry, had a
huge hole in it, and most of his equipment was smashed to pieces.
He was wounded very slightly in the knee by a piece of shell;
otherwise, he was dug out intact. O the 28th he had another narrow shave, a bullet
passing through the pocket of his coat.
Captain Henry George Moreton
Railston, whose splendid gallantry and coolness throughout the terrible
ordeal, which we have just described, was recognised by the
Distinguished Service Order being conferred upon him, is a son of
Colonel Henry Edward Railston (formerly of the Cameronians), of Fosse
House. Stow on the wold,
Gloucestershire. He was
born in 1885, educated at Wellington College and Sandhurst, and entered
the 1st Rifle Brigade in 1904, becoming Captain in October
1913. From March of that
year until the outbreak of war he acted as adjutant to the 5th
Captain Railston’s younger
brother, Lieutenant Spencer Julian Wilfrid, of the 18th K.G.O.
Lancers, was at home on leave from India when war was declared, and
succeeded in getting attached to the 4th Dragoon Guards.
On October 30th he lost his life in a most gallant
attempt to rescue a wounded peasant woman, who in very heavy village
fighting had got between the British and the German lines.
Lieutenant Railston left the cover of his trench to do this, and
was almost immediately riddled with bullets from a machine gun.
This heroic young officer, who joined the Army in 1907, was one
of the many god all round sportsmen who have given their lives for their
country-a very fine horseman, a good polo player and big game shot, and
at one time champion light weight boxer of India.
Private Henry Devenish Skinner, Of The 14th South Otaga
Won The D.C.M. At Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli
At the beginning of august 1915, the British Headquarters Staff
at Gallipoli, having received intelligence that the Turks were massing
forces for a new attack, resolved to anticipate them by a great
offensive movement. The
plan adopted involved four separate actions.
In the first place, a feint was to be made at the head of the
Gulf of Saros, as if to take the Bulair lines in both flank and rear.
Next a strong offensive would be assumed by the troops in the
Cape Helles region against their old objective, Achi Baba.
These two movements were intended to induce the Turks to send
their reserves to Krithia, and enable the left wing of the Anzac Corps
to gain the heights of Koja Chemen and the seaward ridges, and a great
new landing to be effected at Suvla Bay.
If the Anafarta hills could be captured, and the right of the new
landing force succeed in linking up with the Australasian left, with any
reasonable good fortune, it could be a mater of time before the western
end of the peninsula would be in our hands, and the European defences of
the Narrows at our mercy.
The great movement
began in the afternoon of August 6th, with a general attack
by the Allied forces at Cape Helles upon the Turkish position at Achi
Baba. At 4.30 p.m.; when
this action had well started the 1st Australian Brigade
advanced to the attack of the formidable Turkish trenches on the Lone
pine Plateau, a position which commanded one of the main sources of the
enemy’s water supply, and rushing across the open, amidst a veritable
hail of shell and bullets from the front and from either flank with
irresistible dash and daring, carried them with the bayonet, and what is
more, maintained their grip upon them like a vice during six days of
Magnificent as was this achievement, it was in essence only a
feint to cover the movements of General Godley’s New Zealand and
Australian Division on the left, which, as night was falling, began its
march up the coast towards the heights of Koja Chemen.
This force was divided into right and left covering columns and
right and left columns of assault.
With the right column of assault, which was under the command of
Brigadier General Johnston, and was to push up the ravines against the
Chunuk Bair ridge, were the 14th South Otagos, and in the
ranks of the South Otagos marched Private Henry Devenish Skinner, the
hero of the gallant deed which we are about to relate.
By ten o’clock on the morning of
the 7th-a day of blistering heat-the gallant New Zealanders
had carried the hog’s back known as the Rhododendron Ridge, just to
the west of Chunuk Bair, and a dawn on the 8th, having been
reinforced by the 7th Gloucester’s and the 8th
Welsh (Pioneers)-two of the battalions of the New Army-the Maori
contingent and the Auckland Mounted Rifles, they advanced to the assault
of the crest of Chunuk Bair, and, after a desperate struggle, carried
that also, and through a gap in the hills were able to catch a glimpse
of the blue waters of the Dardanelle’s.
But our losses had been very great, the Wellington Battalion,
which had marched out of the Anzac lines on the 6th seven
hundred strong, being now reduced to fifty-three, while the 7th
Gloucester’s, in the words of Sir Ian Hamilton, “consisted of small
groups of men commanded by junior non-commissioned officers and
privates,” every single officer and senior N.C.O. having been either
killed or wounded.
That night the 14th South
Otagos received orders to take over the trenches just on the reverse
side of the crest of Chunuk Bair, and scrambled up the slopes in the
dark, through the midst of the dead and wounded who littered them.
Immediately on reaching the trenches, Private Skinner was sent by
a captain of the Sherwood Foresters to find the headquarters of the
South Otagos and deliver a message.
On the way he was three times stopped and covered in mistake for
a Turk, but he delivered his message and returned safely, stumbling
repeatedly over the dead as he walked.
During the night the battalion repulsed a counter attack and dug
themselves deeper in. Towards
dawn Skinner caught sight of a small fire just in front of our lines,
which he though might be attracting the enemy’s fire, and having
passed the word down the trench several times that he was going out to
extinguish it, in order to prevent his comrades shooting him under the
impression that he was a Turk, he crawled out, accompanied by his chum,
On reaching the fire they found that
it was a dead man burning-the head thrown back towards them, the eyes
staring, the white face covered with dust, and the fists tightly
clenched above the chest, which was burning with a small livid flame.
At that moment one of their own
comrades fired at them at a range of ten or fifteen yards, the bullet
grazing Levett’s check and striking the ground between Skinner’s
hands and knees, throwing up sand and dust.
They crawled back and worked until dawn, strengthening their
defences. Then came a
violent bomb attack, during which skinner crawled out of the trench and
lay just behind the parados. This
was followed by an infantry charge, which the New Zealanders drove back
with rifle fire. A wounded
man, who was lying exposed to the fire of the enemy’s snipers a
hundred yards from the trench, lost his reason and attempted to shoot
himself; but one of the Anzacs, at great risk to himself, most gallantly
ran out and took his rifle from him.
An elderly man in a trench behind them also lost his senses and
kept firing wildly over their heads.
The Turkish artillery shelled them
heavily, and shrapnel about four inches above the knee tore the left leg
of Skinner’s knickers, and his leg grazed.
A sniper, some sixty yards off, who had already killed about a
dozen of the New Zealanders, fired at him, the bullet smashing his
bayonet, which lay across his temple, knocking him down, and wounding
him on the top of the head. The
wound, though a slight one, bled a good deal.
It was now about three o’clock in
the afternoon. At 10 a.m.
reinforcements had arrived, but since that time no one had been able to
cross the fire swept ground between the troops on the crest of Chunuk
Bair and their supports at Apex. A
second detachment had been set up, but had vanished under the terrible
shrapnel, machine gun and rifle fire concentrated upon them into a
hollow on the right of the slope, where it was supposed they were still.
The New Zealanders had no water and were suffering terribly from
thirst, and were exhausted by their desperate exertions of the past two
days, and, unless reinforcements reached them, their prospect of
retaining the ground they had won was very slight. The officer commanding the South Otagos wished to send back a
dispatch to Divisional Headquarters at Apex, and a captain wanted a
message conveyed to the reinforcements who were believed to be in the
hollow. He called for a
volunteer, and Skinner at once afforded himself.
Crawling to the end of the trenches, he made a dash across a
stretch of fairly level ground, which ended in a gully, where he would
be comparatively safe. The
sniper, whose bullets had so nearly cut short his career a little while
before, was on the alert, and immediately let drive at him, but failed
to hit him, and he reached the shelter of the gully with no worse
mischief than the loss of his hat. This gully, in which our men had suffered terrible losses,
was so choked with dead and wounded that he had to pick his way amongst
them. The Ghurkas, three
days dead, were ghastly sight. Skinner
saw a New Zealander in a sitting position, but quite dead.
He met a friend there, shot through the leg and through the
lungs, but still cheerful. Many
of the wounded were delirious; one cried for warm milk; almost all were
calling for help. He took
one man’s water bottle to get water from a well.
Lower down some of the wounded told him that he could not leave
the gully, as the Turks held its lower end and had snipers on the watch
for anyone who attempted to climb out.
He took the water bottle back unfilled, and began to climb up the
long, steep slope, which led to the hollow.
About half way up the snipers opened fire upon him, and he
started to run, bounding along so as to dodge the bullets, and reaching
the hollow, where the reinforcements to whom he was to deliver his
message were supposed to be, and flung himself flat on the ground.
On recovering his breath, he looked about him for the
reinforcements, but the only troops he saw were an officer and some
twenty or thirty men belonging t an English regiment-all stone dead!
A couple of milk cans filled with water for the firing line lay
As he lay there alone with the dead,
shrapnel burst just above him, and he knew it would be unsafe to remain
longer. So leaving this
gruesome hollow, he began to run down the slope towards Apex.
Scarcely had he shown himself than a Turkish machine gun opened
fire and played upon him for the whole of the one hundred and fifty
yards which lay between him and safety, while he was also exposed to a
heavy rifle fire. But,
marvellous to relate, he was not touched, and Divisional Headquarters
presently beheld a hatless young man, with a blood stained bandage round
and over his head, his face streaked with dry blood, and the left leg of
his knickers torn almost to shreds, come panting up with a torn scrap of
paper-the all important dispatch for which this heroic New Zealander had
so readily risked his life clutched tightly in his right hand.
Private Henry Devenish Skinner was
awarded a most richly deserved Distinguished Conduct Medal, the official
announcement adding, “his bravery and devotion to duty had been most
marked.” He is
twenty-nine years of age, and his home is at Wellington.
second Lieutenant Henry Morrant Stanford, Of The Royal Field
Won The Military Cross At Neuve Chapelle And Rouges
The splendid work of the officers in charge of the forward
observation stations of our artillery-work frequently performed under
the most perilous and trying conditions imaginable-has been recognized
by the award of a number of honours to these brave men.
Probably one of the youngest to be thus distinguished is
second-Lieutenant Henry Morrant Stanford, of the 32nd Battery
R.F.A., who received the Military Cross, “for consistently gallant
conduct both at Neuve Chapelle and again, on May 9th 1915,
during the operations near Rouges Bancs.”
On March 10th 1915, the
British captured the village of Neuve Chapelle-or what had once been a
village, since so terrific had been our artillery preparation, that in
parts it was now only a rubbish heap and our front was advanced a full
mile. But our ultimate
objective-the possession of the Aubers Ridge and, with it, the driving
of a great wedge into the German line-had still to be accomplished; and
the enemy held the bridge heads of the Des Layes, which flows between
Neuve Chapelle and the ridge, the Bois du Biez, a considerable wood
mainly of saplings, on the other side of the river, and strong positions
around the village of Pietre and the neighbouring cross roads, and so
covered the approach to Aubers.
Since no further advance could be
attempted until our artillery had cleared the way, as it had done so
effectively on the preceding day, early on the morning of the 11th
our guns directed their fire towards the Bois du Biez the positions
around Pietre; and it fell to the duty of Second-Lieutenant Stanford to
lay a telephone wire from his battery across country to Neuve Chapelle
village, since all the other wires had been cut by shellfire, or else
the observing officer at the end of them had been killed.
This dangerous task he successfully accomplished, with the
assistance of a bombardier and two other men, and then proceeded to the
observing station, a tall and very much battered house in Neuve Chapelle,
which in happier times had been used as a school.
Here he took up his post on the top storey, and remained there
during the greater part of the day, observing the effect of his
battery’s fire and shouting his directions to the telephone orderly,
who waited on a ladder beneath him.
From his post he could see the
British front line trenches, situated about one hundred yards away on
the south-eastern outskirts of the village and eight hundred yards
beyond them, across open fields, those of the enemy, while two or three
hundred yards behind these was the Bois du Biez, where more than one
German battery was concealed. He
was far from being allowed to perform his work unmolested, for the enemy
soon became aware that the house was being used as an observation
station, and at times it was pretty badly shelled, while rifle bullets
pattered frequently against the outer walls.
In the course of the day the
telephone wire was cut in several places, and the lieutenant and a
gunner went out to repair it. They
were on a hedged road, with a couple of partially ruined houses on
either side, when four 6-inch shells came along, two of which landed on
the houses on their right and two on those on their left. They had a narrow escape, but coolly went on their work, and
notwithstanding that the first shells were soon followed by others,
mended six other breaks before they left this very unhealthy spot.
This brave young officer again performed excellent work during
the attack on the German position at Rouges Bancs on May 9th
1915, when, according to the Gazette, “the accuracy of the wire
cutting by the 32nd Battery Royal Artillery was due to his
precise observations.” He is only twenty-one years of age, and his home is at
Captain Herbert Davies Of The 1/8th Battalion Royal
Regiment, Won The Military Cross
It is probably given only to those who have actually been at the
Front and are acquainted with the conditions that prevail there to
appreciate fully all that is implied in the wording of the official
announcement of the award of the Military Cross to Captain Herbert
Davies, of the 1/8th Warwick’s; “for conspicuous
gallantry and resource on many occasions when on patrol duty in front of
the trenches, and notably on the night of June 20th-21st
1915, when he carried out a very daring reconnaissance close to the
River Douve. From his
knowledge of German he obtained very valuable information from the
enemy’s conversation, after passing over ground lit by flares and
constantly swept by gunfire.” We
have here a record of a single act of bravery, and testimony to
conspicuous gallantry and resource “on many occasions,” and under
conditions calculated to test the nerve and resolution of the boldest of
men to the uttermost. For
it is one thing in the heat and excitement of battle, when possibly
there is not time for any but lightning reflection, to perform a brave
and noble action, and quite another to go forth, in the dead of night,
from the shelter of one’s trench in the No Man’s Land lying between
the opposing lines and confront the unknown dangers that lurk there. All soldiers will agree that the latter is by far the more
In trench warfare the night is
always the most anxious and trying time.
During the day, save for intermittent shell and rifle fire and
the ever present danger from snipers, things are not so terrifying;
indeed, an occasional daylight visit to the trenches might leave the
impression that, when not engaged in making or repelling an attack, the
men were reasonably safe. But
with the fall of night the sentries in the trenches are increased, and
each side sends out patrols to its front, for the purpose of guarding
the ground in the immediate vicinity of its own wire entanglements, lest
the enemy should make an attempt to cut them, or be permitted to draw
near enough to hurl bombs or grenades into the trenches.
It was not, however, to patrolling of this nature that Captain
Davies devoted his attention, but to what is understood as
nightfall he would leave his trench, make his way through our own barbed
wire, and with infinite caution advance towards he German lines.
In order to do this, he had often to pass around parties of Huns
as well as screens of the enemy, consisting of groups of two or three, a
few yards apart from each other. Having successfully evaded these, he had then to negotiate
the German wire entanglements before being able to crawl near enough to
the enemy’s parapet to overhear the conversation that was going on, or
a favourite practice of his bomb the astonished occupants previous to
his own withdrawal.
If it were a most difficult and
dangerous under taking to reach the enemy’s parapet, it was infinitely
more so to return to the British lines after throwing bombs, for the
explosion in their trench would, of course, show the Germans that at
least one of the foe was close to their parapet of wire.
For with, a fierce rifle and machine gun fire would be turned
upon the particular sector involved; flares of the parachute and other
varieties would be thrown up to illuminate the ground; the German
patrols and sentry screens knowing that their vigilance had been at
fault, and that their line had been pierced would be on the acutest qui
vive, and hours of danger, doubling and nerve strain would have to be
endured by the daring scout before he could reach the British trenches.
On one occasion, in June 1915,
Captain Davies went on a reconnaissance, starting shortly after sundown
and not returning until just before “Stand-to.”
It was in the neighbourhood of Messines, and the object of his
expedition was to determine the nature of certain works upon which the
Germans were suspected of being engaged.
The opposing trenches hereabouts were some three to four hundred
yards apart; those of the enemy being situated on the Messines ridge and
overlooking ours. About
midway between the lines, but, at the point from which Captain Davies
started, somewhat nearer to the British, a small river ran through a
slight dip in the ground, which was mostly broken meadowland, the grass
being from four to six inches long.
Flattened to earth, the daring
officer began to wriggle his way through the grass.
Before starting, he had divested himself of his cap and tunic,
and was dressed only in shirt, riding breeches and gaiters.
For arms, he carried two “Savage” magazine revolvers, one in
either hand. The night,
though fine, was exceptionally dark, and the maintenance of direction
consequently very difficult. However, he crossed the river, and made his
way successfully to the German lines, and having accomplished his
mission, started to crawl back again.
Unfortunately, having of necessity to pursue a serpentine course
in order to avoid the German sentries, he lost his bearings, and
presently discovered that, instead of making for the river, he had
worked back towards another part of the enemy’s trenches.
Just then, happening to glance aside, he found himself face to
face with a couple of German sentries, who lay motionless upon the grass
within a few paces of him. One,
who wore a soft Bavarian cap, was lying with his elbows on the ground
and his head resting on his hands; the other, quite flat, with his chin
on his hands. At the same
moment the Huns caught sight of the British officer, and snatched at
their rifles, while Captain Davis, resting his elbows on the ground,
levelled his revolvers. In
the circumstances the Germans had no chance, and before they could even
raise their weapons the revolvers had spoken and decided the matter.
The shots, of course, put the Huns
on the alert, and Captain Davies had a pretty exciting time of it; but
eventually he succeeded in reaching our lines, to the great relief of
his company, who had begun to fear that he had been either killed or
On another occasion, this time
during the day, the trench on the left of that occupied by Captain
Davies Company was shelled with exceptional violence, and a considerable
number of our brave fellow men lay out. Together with another officer, Lieutenant Richardson, Captain
Davies, who had formerly been in medical practice, courageously
volunteered to cross the open ground that separated the two trenches-a
distance of from sixty to eighty yards and succour the wounded.
The danger of the undertaking may be gauged from the fact that
the German trenches at this point formed a kind of semi circle and
overlooked the two British trenches, which faced the centre of this
semicircle, so that anyone going from one trench to the other would be
in full view of the whole of this sector of the German lines.
Having provided themselves with large satchels, containing
dressings, chloroform, and surgical instruments, which they slung over
their shoulders, the two officer set out, being joined just as they left
the trench by a third officer, a young second-lieutenant.
Their appearance in the open was the signal for a storm of
bullets and rifles and machine guns, and before they had covered a third
of the distance, the second lieutenant was shot through the calf of the
left leg. Captain Davies at
once stopped, and kneeling beside his comrades, with bullets buzzing
continually past his head, quickly removed the puttee from the injured
leg and dressed the wound. Then
leaving the wounded officer under the care of Lieutenant Richardson, in
a spot where some odd sandbags afforded them partial cover, he took the
latter’s satchel and continued his perilous journey alone.
The worst part of it came at the
finish, when, to gain the trench, he had to cross an open road with a
ditch on either side, which was set by machine gun fire.
The ditches were crossed by planks, but Captain Davies only made
use of that across the nearest one, when, having gained the road, he
rushed across it and took a flying leap over the farther ditch.
That leap probably saved his life, for, though he was unwounded,
he had had a marvellous escape, as his clothes were afterwards found to
have been torn in several places by bullets, and had he turned aside to
cross the second plank, he would almost certainly have been killed.
Having gained the trench, Captain
Davies was occupied for several hours in attending the wounded, some of
whom had sustained terrible injuries, one unfortunate man having no less
than fourteen, including a fractured jaw, a compound fracture of one of
his arms, and abdominal wounds. In
the absence of a medical officer, Captain Davie’s services were
invaluable, and more than one man probably owed his life to his skill
Instances might be multiplied of the extreme daring, coolness and
resource of one who may be regarded as having no superior as a fearless
scout. No one, in fact,
could more fully justify the encomium of the Gazette: “Conspicuous
gallantry and resource on many occasions.”
It is this same gallant officer who
has had the distinction of being the subject of an article entitled,
“The Skipper: a Sketch from the Front,” in Punch, of August 11th
1915, from which we extract the following:
“Like all great men, he has
characteristics peculiar to himself, but does not affect the monocle-for
which we were devoutly thankful. His
principal hallmark was a riding crop, from which he never parted.
But we had to get to the trenches, and in front of them, for the
Skipper to come into his own. None
of us could understand why but he seemed to regard the ground between
our trenches and those of the Germans as peculiarly and exclusively his.
He knew German like a native, and in season and out of season, in
wet weather or fine, with the falling of the shades f night came the
call of adventure to him, and off he would go, sometimes with an escort
for some of the distance, and often without, and we would lose sight and
knowledge of him till possibly startled by the sound of exploding bombs
and hurried firing of rifles, at which happening our senior subaltern
(whose love for the skipper exceeds the love of women) would proceed to
a sap head to await tidings, and later welcome and heave a heavy sight
of relief as the rotund and muddied figure of the Captain Loomed into
“It would require a book to detail
all the adventures of the Skipper in Tom Tiddler’s Ground-as we called
it. His lonely scrap with
the big German patrol he dismissed quite briefly.
The bombing of enemy listening posts was too common a feat to
deserve notice. What,
however, was more to his taste was a visit to the enemy trench, when he
bombed a complete section and brought back as trophies the contents of
an enemy’s pockets, the enemy’s rifle, several hair brush bombs, and
what was of a greater import, valuable documents and correspondence.
“For months past we have said to
ourselves, ‘What of the Skipper?’
And now, lo and behold, we have it in black and white.
He has been awarded the Military Cross.
What deeds we are wondering, must be done that shall merit the
D.S.O.? What must attain to merit a Victoria Cross?”
Captain Herbert Davies, who saw
service in the South African War, is forty-one years of age, and lives,
in less stirring times, at Brixton Hill.
Hopeless Fight Of The Little “Pegasus” With The “Konigsberg”
Some of the noblest deeds of heroism in British history have been
performed in the face not only of heavy odds, but the certain defeat;
and not the least of these was the plucky but hopeless fight, which the
little Pegasus put up against the German cruiser Konigsberg.
The Pegasus was a third class
cruiser, of 2,125 tons, launched in 1897.
During the opening weeks of the war she had done much good
service on the East Coast of Africa, destroying the German port of Dar-es-Salaam,
and sinking a gunboat and a floating dock in the harbour.
She had too, made a special point of searching for the Konigsberg,
a German vessel of 3,350 tons, launched in 1905, and carrying ten
4.1-inch 35 ½ -pounder guns against the eight 4-inch 25-pounders of the
Pegasus. While out at sea
the two vessels had often been in wireless touch, and the Pegasus had
urged the enemy to come and make a square fight of it; but to no
purpose. The Konigsberg
preferred to keep her distance.
Then, the Pegasus being an old ship,
with machinery that had always been troublesome, there came a time only
a few weeks after the outbreak of war-when she had to go into harbour to
pull herself together. In
the middle of September 1914, she steamed into Zanzibar and came to
anchor. All the fires were
allowed to die out, for the boilers were sadly in need of cleaning,
while the engines stood in need of many minor repairs.
There is good authority for the
statement that the Pegasus had no sooner come to anchor than the owner
of a native dhow, bribed with a gift of two hundred rupees, left the
port to convey the intelligence to the German cruiser. However
that may be, at daybreak on Sunday, September 20th 1914, the
Konigsberg appeared off the entrance to the port of Zanzibar, and
quickly settling the account of a little tug boat that was employed as a
patrol, opened her broadside on the Pegasus from a distance of nine
Onboard the Pegasus everyone was at
his war station in a minute; but it would have taken hours to get up
steam from her cold boilers and unlighted furnaces, and she had to do
her best as and where she stood. She was absolutely outclassed fro the start.
Her guns, though almost equal in calibre to those of the German
cruiser, were obsolete by comparison, and the Konigsberg was able to
shell her from a distance, which her 4-invh guns could not cover.
For twenty-five minutes the Konigsberg poured in her relentless
broadsides, steaming slowly until she had reduced the range from nine
thousand to seven thousand yards; and still the shell of the Pegasus
failed to reach her. The
shot fell harmlessly into the water hundreds of yards short of the enemy
The poor little Pegasus was in a bad
way from the start. The enemy’s shooting was not good, but with the advantage
of range they were able to take their own time, and the British ship
soon began to suffer severely. One
of the first to be hit was the gunnery officer, Lieutenant Richard
Turner, whose legs were shattered by a shell.
As he lay stricken and bleeding to death his thoughts were all
for the honour of his ship and his service.
“Keep it up lads,” he called to his men.
“We’re outclassed and done for; but d--- them, and keep it
So, having asked for brandy and a
cigarette, Lieutenant Turner died; but the men “kept it up.”
In fifteen minutes all the guns of the Pegasus had been silenced,
and not one of their shells had reached the enemy, whose guns had a
range greater by two thousand yards.
The cruiser’s flag was shot away from his staff.
Instantly a Marine ran forward, seized the flag, and waved it
aloft; and when he was struck down another came and took his place.
The flag flew until the end.
There was no braver man that day
than the medical officer of the Pegasus, Staff Surgeon Alfred J. Hewitt.
Nearly al the casualties occurred on deck, and there he was from
the start to the finish, giving what help he could to the wounded men.
On one occasion he was holding a ruptured artery in the neck of
one man, and, with his other hand, staunching the flow of blood in the
leg of another, while his assistants went for bandages.
He could do nothing to help in the fighting, but there was
certainly no braver man in the ship.
When she had fired about two hundred shells, the Konigsberg
withdrew, leaving the Pegasus a battered and fast sinking wreck.
At the beginning of the action there were 234 officers men
onboard the British vessel, and of these 35 were killed and 53 wounded.
The proportion of casualties was high; but it would have been
greater if the Konigsberg had had sufficient pluck to say and carry on
with her work. She left it
half finished, apparently fearing the approach of British vessels from
No officer or man was rewarded for
the fight the Pegasus made; but it will be admitted that those who stand
up unflinchingly to odds in this manner are at least equally worthy of
recognition with, let us say, those who approach an unsuspecting enemy
in an invisible submarine. Sir
Richard Grenviille was beaten when he fought his great fight of the
“one against fifty-three; “but the story of his defeat is one of the
proudest in our naval history. The
Pegasus, like Grenville’s Revenge was lost, but she was lost in glory.
Sergeant Horace Albert Shooting Thompson, Of The Royal Field Artillery
The D.C.M. Near Neuve Chapelle
On a fine day at the beginning of Aril 1915, the 64th
Battery, Royal Field Artillery, were indulging in a rest at the rear of
their gun position, a little to the southwest of Neuve Chapelle.
Their guns were concealed behind a row of tall trees, which they
fondly imagined effectively screened them from the wire of the
observation posts of the German Artillery.
On this matter, however, they were soon to be disillusioned, for
presently an 11-inch shell came screaming through the air, and passing
over the battery, burst in a field behind it.
The men immediately jumped up and ran to their guns, just as a
second shell fell a little way off on their left front.
The German battery had evidently not yet got the range, but they
found it right enough with the next shell, which alighted in the middle
of the British position, wounding Sergeant Thompson in the inside of the
right knee, and two of his gunners also, and blowing out the back of an
ammunition wagon, which is set on fire.
Recognizing that there was not a
moment to lose, since, if the flames reached the ammunition a frightful
explosion would follow, Sergeant Thompson, notwithstanding the pain of
his wound, at once hurried to the burning wagon and assisted by the
major in command of the battery, began removing the shells.
The risk they ran was terrible; indeed, it was a kind of race
with death. But, happily
they won, and succeeded in removing all the ammunition beyond the reach
of the flames.
Sergeant Thompson, who was awarded
the Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous gallantry,” is
thirty-one years of age, and his home is at Farnborough, Kent.
Bandsman Thomas Edward Rendle, Of The 1st Duke Of
Infantry, Won The Victoria Cross At Wulverghem
By the middle of November 1914, the first battle of Ypres was
over, and the tide of the German attack had receded and lay grumbling
and surging beyond the defences which it had so lately threatened to
overwhelm. But if the infantry on either side were now comparatively
inactive, the artillery bombardment still continued with varying
intensity, and day and night hundreds of shells were bursting along the
length of each line, and scores of men were being killed and wounded.
It was a fine frosty morning at the
beginning of a cold “snap” which had succeeded several days of snow
and rain, and the 1st Cornwalls, in their trenches near
Wulverghem, were beginning to congratulate themselves that they were at
length able to keep dry. “It
is an ill wind,” however, and the one good point about the recent bad
weather was that it had made the ground so soft that the enemy’s high
explosive shells sank deeply in it before they detonated, and expended
most of their energy in an upward direction, throwing up pyramids of
mud, but doing comparatively little damage.
Now, however, on falling on the frozen earth, they carried
destruction far and wide, as the Cornwallis learned, to their cost, when
presently a battery of heavy howitzers began to shell them fiercely.
Bandsman Thomas Edward Rendle was
engaged in attending to one of the wounded, whose number was increasing
every minute, when a huge shell struck the parapet not far from him,
blowing the top completely in and burying several wounded men beneath
the debris. Without waiting
to look for a spade or to summon assistance, for he knew that there was
not a moment to be lost, the bandsman ran to the rescue, and began
digging away furiously with his hands, and burrowing through the fallen
earth to reach his unfortunate comrades.
Soon his fingers were raw and
bleeding from such unaccustomed work, while he laboured at the imminent
risk of his life, since the fall of the parapet had, of course exposed
him to the fire of the enemy’s snipers, and every time he rose to
throw away the soil bullets hummed past his head.
But he toiled on heroically until every man was got out, and even
then, though utterly exhausted by his exertions, he remained on duty,
administrating what relief he could to the sufferers.
Bandsman Rendle was awarded the
Victoria Cross, “for conspicuous bravery,” and well indeed did he
deserve to have his name inscribed upon the most glorious roll of honour!
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hotham Montagu Doughty Wylie C.B.,
Of The Royal Welsh Fusiliers, And Captain Garth Neville
Of The Royal Field Artillery, Won The V.C. At Sedd-El-Bahr
About one o’clock on the morning of Sunday,
April 25th 1915, the transports containing our Mediterranean
Expeditionary Force dropped anchor at a point five miles from the shores
of the Gallipoli Peninsula, and by the time the first streaks of
dawn-the dawn of the last day which many a brave man was ever to
see-appeared in the eastern sky, boats and destroyers crowded with
troops were stealing in towards the land.
Fierce was the resistance of the
Turks at each of the six landing places-from Gaba Tepe, on the north
side of the Peninsula, to Beach S in Morto Bay-but at Beach V, which at
its southern extremity is commanded by the castle and village of Sedd-el-Bahr,
and where our men were exposed to every type of converging fire, it was
the fiercest of all. Here
fell Brigadier-General Napier, Captain Costeker, his brigade-major,
Lieutenant-Colonel Carrington smith, commanding the Hampshire Regiment,
and many other distinguished officers.
Here a whole company of the Munsters was practically wiped out
and a half company of the Dublin Fusiliers reduced, by midday, to
twenty-five effectives; and when the morning of the 26th
dawned the disembarkation was still in its first stage, and the remnant
of the leading party-the survivors of the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers
and of two companies of the Hampshire’s had been crouching for many
hours behind a steep sandy bank at the top of the beach, the cover
afforded by which had alone preserved them from being annihilated.
But cramped and stiff though they were, tormented by thirst, and
subjected to a heavy and unceasing fire, our men were still full of
fight, for with them were brave and devoted officers-Lieutenant Colonels
Doughty-Wylie and Williams, of the Headquarters Staff, and Captain
Walford, Brigade Major, R.A. who, with sublime indifference to their own
danger, had been striving all through that day and night of ceaseless
peril to keep their comrades in good heart.
And now, when it was daylight once more, these officers proceeded
to organise an attack against the hill above the beach.
Fortunately, it happened that at about this same time
arrangements had been made for the warships to begin a heavy bombardment
of the Old Fort, the village of Sedd-el-Bahr, the Old Castle, north of
the village, and of the ground leading up from the beach, under cover of
which our men, most gallantly led by Lieutenant Colonel Doughty Wylie
and Captain Walford, succeeded by 10 a.m. in gaining a footing in the
village. They had to
encounter a most stubborn resistance, and suffered heavy losses from the
fire of cleverly concealed riflemen and machine guns.
But though many fell, their comrades, supported by the terrific
fire from the huge naval guns, continued to press on breaking in the
doors of the houses with the butts of their rifles and routing the
snipers out of their hiding places at the point of the bayonet; and soon
after midday they penetrated to the northern edge f the village, whence
they were in a position to attack the Old Castle and Hill 141.
Walford had already fallen, and now when, owing so largely to his
inspiring example and splendid courage, the position had been almost
won, Lieutenant Colonel Doughty-Wylie, who, with a little cane in his
hand, had led the attack all the way up from the beach through the west
side of the village, under a galling fire, was shot through the brain
while leading the last assault. But
out men, undeterred by the fall of their leaders, pushed resolutely
forward, and fighting their way across the open in the most dashing
manner, before 2 p.m. had gained the summit and occupied the Old Castle
and Hill 141.
Both Lieutenant Colonel
Doughty-Wylie and Captain Walford were awarded the Victoria Cross, the
official announcement stating that “it was mainly due to the
initiative, skill and great gallantry of these two officers that the
attack was a complete success.”
Sapper Harry Epstein, of the Royal Engineers, Won The D.C.M.
Saturday May 8th 1915, was an eventful day for our
army in Flanders, for early that morning the Germans began an attack in
overwhelming force upon the 28th Division, which resulted in
the whole of the British centre, after an heroic resistance and terrible
losses, being driven in, and our line forced back west of the vitally
important Frezenberg Ridge, which covered all the roads from Ypres by
which our supplies and reinforcements travelled.
It was likewise an eventful day for sapper Harry Epstein of the
royal Engineers; indeed, it may be doubted whether, during the present
war, any British soldier has undergone a more nerve shattering
experience, or escaped death, in various forms, in more miraculous a
fashion, than did Sapper Epstein in the course of some twenty minutes of
that May morning.
It all happened in a trench at the
foot of Hill 60, at the southwest extremity of the Ypres salient.
Hill 60 is only a Hill by courtesy, being no more than an earth
heap from the cutting of the Ypres-Lille railway.
But it was a very important place, since it afforded an artillery
position from which a considerable part of the German front could be
commanded. On the evening
of April 17th, it was captured by the British and gallantly
held against a series of the most desperate counter attacks, which were
accompanied by so terrific a bombardment that for four and a half days
the defenders lived through a veritable hell.
But what shell and rifle and machine gun fire had failed to
accomplish, poison gas did, and on May 5th the enemy
recaptured the greater part of the hill. And thus it was that a couple of days later Germans and
British found themselves occupying parts of the same trench, both having
erected barricades at their respective ends, to guard against any
unwelcome attentions on the part of their neighbours.
In the course of that afternoon,
while Epstein and some of his comrades of the 5th Company
Royal Engineers were resting previous to their night work, orders
suddenly came for a non-commissioned officer and six sappers to proceed
to the Brigade headquarters and make preparations for the blowing up of
some German barricades, and Epstein was selected as one of the party.
On arriving there they prepared two
charges of gun cotton, one weighing forty pounds and the other a trifle
less, and placed the slabs of the explosive in wooden boxes which
Epstein constructed, with holes bored through them to let in the primers
and detonators. One of
these charges was to be laid against the German barricade, the other
against the British; the former was to be blown up first, and the moment
this had been done, the British barricade would also be blown up, and
our men, headed by a grenade party, would burst in upon the astonished
Huns, while another party of the British simultaneously attacked from
the other side of the trench, and so cut the enemy off. Their
preparations competed, they started off for the trench, carrying the
charges, electrical leads, detonators and all the rest of the
paraphernalia connected with a demolition party, and reached it in
safety, passing on their way through a lane of dead, who lay everywhere
along it and the railway cutting. The
corporal in charge of the Engineers and Epstein then proceeded to lay
the first charge against our own barrier, a task of no small danger,
since the Germans were throwing bombs all the time.
was now about half past two in the morning, and the time fixed for the
attack was approaching. The
officer in command called for two volunteers to carry and lay the second
against the enemy’s barricade, and, if successful in this
undertaking-and it was a very big “if” indeed-to set the fuse.
Epstein was the first to volunteer, another sapper named Warrel
immediately following his example; and it was then arranged that, if
they failed, two more of the Engineers should make the attempt, and in
the event of a second failure, the remaining two; but that, if they were
successful, they should get back as quickly as possible past our own
barricade, which would then be immediately blown up.
In order that the reader may
appreciate the perilous nature of the duty required of these two brave
men, we may here observe that they had no means of knowing what dangers
they might not have to encounter between the two barricades, except that
the enemy’s bombs were continually falling there; nor did they known
definitely how far it was to the German barrier. They calculated, however, that it was about ten yards, and
had prepared the charge accordingly with two detonators, in each of
which was a safely fuse which would take roughly thirty seconds to bur
through. Within that time
they would of course have to get back behind their own barrier, or they
might be blown to bits.
Epstein having handed his watch and
chain, diary, and other belongings to one of his friends, with
instructions to whom they were to be sent in case he never returned to
claim them, he and his comrade started for the unknown, the last words
of the officer in command being “Goodbye and good luck to you!”
Epstein climbed over the British
barricade and lowered himself gently down; the other sapper followed,
and side-by-side they began to crawl along, carrying the charge between
them. Both knew that it was
touch and go with them, but both were perfectly cool and collected.
Every foot of the way had to be
covered as noiselessly as possible, for the Germans were certain to be
on the alert, and they well knew that their lives depended on their
preventing any intimation of their approach reaching the enemy’s ears.
Gradually they drew nearer the
barrier, and were just congratulating themselves on having reached it in
safety, when, to their astonishment, they found that it was not a
barrier at all but merely a huge traverse!
The two men looked at each other,
but neither spoke, for each read the unshakable determination in the
other’s eyes. Then they
began to crawl around the traverse, Epstein leading the way, for these
was room for only one to pass at a time.
Their situation was now more perilous than ever, for they knew
not who might be lurking, and they had nothing with which to defend
themselves. Slowly and
fearfully they rounded it, and perceived, some ten yards ahead, a second
traverse, but no sign of a barrier.
Undismayed, the brave fellows kept on and had just reached the
second traverse, when, with a tremendous explosion, two German bombs
dropped immediately behind them, smothering them with earth, but happily
doing them no harm.
By this time they had crawled twice
the distance they had counted upon, and still there was no barrier; but
they had passed their word “to do or die” and neither of them
thought for a moment of turning back.
And now, as Epstein peeped cautiously round the second traverse,
he caught sight of the barrier ten yards further on. But he saw something else too-something, which made his
heart, brave though he was, well nigh stand still.
For in the barrier were two loop holes, one some two and a half
feet above the ground, the other about as high again, to allow of a man
firing through them either kneeling or standing.
And from these loopholes the Germans had a view straight up to
the traverse, the trench itself being perfectly straight and only just
wide enough for Epstein to crawl along the bottom.
However, for the two Engineers to
remain where they were would be fatal, as the enemy bombs were falling
still, and if one of them hit the charge they would be blown to the
skies. And so, with a
glance at each other, they crawled on and had got about halfway to the
barrier, when a great uproar told them that the attack had begun.
This they calculated would be
certain to divert the attention of the Germans momentarily at least-from
the loop-holes and resolved to make the most of their chance, they
crawled forward as fast as they could, laid the charge against the
barrier, and were just on the point of setting the fuse, when there came
a defining roar and they found themselves once more smothered with
earth. The British had
blown up their barricade! What
had happened was this:
The officer in command of our men
mistaking, as they all had, the first traverse, ten yards away, for the
German barricade, and seeing the two bombs fall in the trench, naturally
gave Epstein and his companion up for lost, and when the attack began he
concluded that there was nothing to be done but to blow up his own
barrier and let the grenade party through.
Had the German barricade really
stood where our men supposed it to be, there would have been no hope for
the two adventurous sappers, for the explosion of forty pounds of gun
cotton would kill every living thing within a radius of ten yards; but
someone’s prayers must have been answered that night, for, as events
turned out, they were not ten but thirty yards away, and only got
covered with earth.
Recovering from his astonishment,
Epstein was once more on the point of setting the fuse, when round the
corner of the second traverse came the officer at the head of the
grenade party his eyes alight with the joy of battle and shouting at the
top of his voice for more grenades. Of course, the Germans at once hurried to the loopholes in
their barrier, and just as Epstein had managed to crawl back a couple of
feet, he saw, to his horror, the muzzle of a rifle poked through the
upper one. What he suffered
in the next few moments may be imagined.
He did not dare to rise, for if he had, he would have placed
himself on the same level as the rifle, but out the corner of his eye,
he saw the barrel being gradually depressed until it was pointed
straight at his head. A
kind of stupor appeared to come over him, and he lay there with closed
eyes almost waiting for the bullet, it seemed impossible that the German
could miss. And then Bang! And he was nearly blinded with earth; the bullet had passed
an inch in front of his head and buried itself in the ground.
At once Epstein seemed to be galvanized into action, for without
giving the German time to take aim again he sprang to his feet, and in
two bounds had reached the traverse, just as several bullets flattened
themselves against the sandbags.
Scarecely had he reached it,
however, that he felt on the point of collapsing, and it was only with
difficulty that he succeeded in making his way back to his comrades,
amid the din of a furious conflict, artillery, machine guns, rifles,
bombs, grenades, the shouting of the officer and the cries of the
wounded-all blending together in one huge volume of sound.
Sapper, now Lance Corporal, Epstein,
who thus came safely through one of the most terrible ordeals which can
ever have confronted a British soldier, and was subsequently awarded a
richly deserved Distinguished Conduct Medal, is twenty-three years of
age and a Lancashire man, his home being at 56, Cheetham Street,
Second Lieutenant Rupert Price Hallowes, Of The 4th Battalion
Regiment, Won The Military Cross At Hodge (July 1915)
The Victoria Cross At Hooge (September 1915)
The summer campaign of 1915 in the West on the British section of
the allied front made comparatively little difference to the contours of
our line as marked upon the map. Nevertheless,
if measured by the gain or loss of ground, the fighting was of slight
importance, it was often a desperate character and productive of heavy
casualties. This was
particularly the cause in the Hooge area, lying on either side of the
Menin-Ypres road, where fighting of a fierce and sanguinary character
went on intermittently all through the summer months.
Thus, on the last day of May we captured the outbuildings of the
chateau, and, after being driven out, recaptured them again on the night
of June 3rd. On
the 16th we attacked with some success south of Hooge, and
carried one thousand yards of German front trenches and part of their
second line, and afterwards repulsed a strong counter attack.
On the 18th of the same month we made some progress
north of the Menin-Ypres road; while on July 19th, an enemy
redoubt at the western end of the Hooge defence was successfully mined
and destroyed, and a small portion of their trenches was captured.
In this action an officer of the 4th Middlesex, one of
the battalions of the 3rd Division, Lieutenant Rupert Price
Hollowes, won the Military Cross by the daring bravery he displayed when
the Germans delivered their counter attack.
Perceiving that owing to our shortage of bombs, the enemy were
approaching down the communication trench, he left his own trench, and
with the most perfect indifference to the risk to which was exposing
himself, went out into the open and fired at them, killing or wounding
several. Later, he assisted
in the repair of the communication trench and in rebuilding a parapet
that had been blown in by a shell, both under very heavy fire; while
throughout the night he rendered great assistance in keeping in touch
with our supports and in supplying bombs.
Fierce fighting again occurred at Hooge between July 30th
and August 9th, but after that there was relative quiet along
this part of our front until the last week in September, when a strong
offensive movement was undertaken by us, with the object of detaining
the left wing of the Duke of Wurtemberg’s command and preventing the
German from sending reinforcements southwards to the La Bassee district
where the main British advance was about to begin.
At four o’clock on the morning of
the 25th, our artillery preparation began, and soon after
4.30 the British infantry advanced to attack, the 14th
Division on the left against the Bellawaarde Farm, and the 3rd
Division, which included the 4th Middlesex, against the
enemy’s position north of Sanctuary Wood, on the south side of the
Menin-Ypres road. The
charge of our infantry carried all before it, and the whole of the
German first line trenches were soon in our hands.
But the enemy had concentrated a mass of artillery behind the
lines, and our new front was subjected to so heavy a bombardment that
the gains on our left could not be held, though south of the highway the
3rd division still clung to some of the ground it had won,
and managed to consolidate its position.
Between that day and October 1st,
during which time the trenches held by the 4th Middlesex were
subjected to four heavy and prolonged bombardments and repeated counter
attacks, Second-Lieutenant Hallowes again most brilliantly distinguished
himself, “displaying,” in the words of the Gazette, “the greatest
bravery and untiring energy and setting a magnificent example to his
men.” On the night of
September 26th-27th, perceiving two wounded men of
the Royal Scots lying out in the open, he left his trench, and, under a
fierce rifle fire, coolly superintended their removal to a place of
safety. Scarcely had he
returned to the trenches, than the Germans another severe bombardment,
and shells of every description came raining down.
The range was very accurate, and fearing that some of the men
might begin to flinch, Lieutenant Hallowes, utterly regardless of his
own danger, climbed on to the parapet to put fresh heart into them.
“He seemed to be everywhere giving encouragement to
everyone,” wrote private of his battalion.
Lieutenant Hallowes also made more
than one daring reconnaissance of the German position, and when the
supply of bombs was running short, he went back, under very heavy
shellfire, and brought up a fresh supply.
For six days this most heroic
officer braved death successfully, but such entire disregard of danger
as he displayed cannot long be continued with impunity, and on the
seventh (October 1st) he met his inevitable end.
He was a hero to the last, for we are told “even after he was
mortally wounded he continued to cheer those around him and to inspire
them with fresh courage.”
The Victoria Cross, for which he
appears to have been recommended after the fighting on September 25th,
was awarded him posthumously, “for most conspicuous bravery and
devotion to duty,” and no one will be inclined to dispute his right to
a foremost place on our most glorious roll of honour.
Rupert Price Hallowes was born at
Redhill, Surrey, in 1880, the youngest son of Dr. F. B. Hallowes of that
town, and was educated at Hailrybury College.
He reenlisted in the Artists Rifles on August 6th
1914, two days after the outbreak of war, and was sent to France at the
end of the following December. On
April 7th 1915, he was given a commission as second
lieutenant in the 4th Middlesex.
Like so many very brave men, he appears to have been a singularly
modest one, and even after winning the Military Cross could not be
persuaded by his relatives to tell them anything of the gallant action
for which it had been awarded.
Corporal I. C. Allpress, Of The Royal Horse Artillery,
The D.C.M. Near Krithia
After the first movement against Krithia on April 28th
1915, the line held by the Allied forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula
extended from a point on the coast three miles northeast of Cape Tekke
to a point one mile north of our front being held by the French.
No movement of any importance occurred on the two following days,
which were spent by the Allies in consolidating and strengthening the
positions gained and landing reinforcements.
But at 10 p.m. on the night of May 1st, the Turks
began shelling us heavily, and half an hour later, just before the moon
rose, their infantry attacked in great force and with the utmost
determination. Their German
officers had issued an eloquent invocation to the Turkish rank and file,
who were exhorted, by one mighty effort, to fling all the invaders back
into the sea: “Attack the enemy with the bayonet and utterly destroy
him. We shall not return
one step, for if we do, our religion our country and our nation will
The world is looking at you!
Tour only hope of salvation is to bring this battle to a
successful issue, or gloriously to give up your life in the attempt!”
The plan of attack was for the Turks
to crawl forward on hands and knees, under cover of their artillery fire
until the time came for the final rush to be made.
They advanced in a three deep formation, and the first line had
no ammunition, so that the men might be forced to rely on the bayonet.
The right of the 86th
Brigade whom the artillery bombardment had fallen most heavily, had also
to bear the chief imnpact of the Turkish charge, and for a moment an
ugly gap appeared in our line; but a brilliant bayonet charge by a
Territorial battalion the 5th Royal Scots, cleared the enemy
from the trenches he had occupied and, with the assistance of the 1st
Essex, the front was soon restored.
The storm next broke violently
against the French left, south of the Krithia road, and the Senegalese,
who held the first and second line trenches, supported by British
artillery, were driven from them. Here,
at a place which we had named Stone Ridge, Corporal Allpress and a
comrade belonging to “B” Battery, R.H.A., were occupying a dug out,
which served as an observation station for their battalion in the rear,
Allpress observing, while the other man worked the telephone. The wave of Turks dashed over the first line trenches and on
to the second, which they also carried; and the observation post became
an island in a sea of men. Happily,
this particular spot was only crossed by three of the enemy, whom the
artillerymen disposed of with their revolvers.
A bullet in the throat, however, killed Allpress’s comrade,,
and he was left alone. Nevertheless,
this brave fellow, undisturbed by the extraordinary situation in which
he found himself-one man in the midst of thousands of fanatical enemies,
some of whom might at any moment discover his whereabouts-calmly assumed
the double duty of observer and telephone operator, and continued to
watch the fire of his battery and communicate his directions to the
gunners throughout the remainder of that night, the whole of the
following day, and the succeeding night.
And when, on the second night, the Allies and the lost trenches
retaken delivered a successful counter attack, there was Corporal
Allpress still alternatively observing and telephoning-an example of
coolness and courage which would be indeed difficult to beat.
Corporal Allpress was awarded the
Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for great gallantry and devotion to
duty,” thus adding yet another honour to the long list of decorations
won by the R.H.A. since the beginning of the war.
Corporal J. A. Selwood, Of The 1.4th Battalion
Won The D.C.M. Near Le Gheir
On the night of April 20th-21st 1915, an
officer, a corporal named Selwood, and fourteen men of the 1/4th
Gloucester’s were occupying an advance post behind some old ruins near
Le Gheir. Towards morning
it became very misty, and the sentries reported that they could not see
beyond the ruins. The
officer observed; “I wonder how things are looking behind there?”
upon which Corporal Selwood volunteered to go and ascertain.
He accordingly made his way through the ruins and peered about
him, listening attentively but all seemed quiet.
Soon after Selwood’s return the officers in charge of the party
left his men for a few minutes, and during his absence one of the
sentries called the corporal’s attention to certain suspicious sounds
coming from the far side of the ruins, and expressed his opinion that
some of the enemy were near our wire. Selwood at once set off again to investigate, ad flattened to
earth, wriggled along for some distance, until he came to a low wall,
about two feet six inches high. Just
as he reached it, a flare was sent up outer lines, and by its light he
saw a party of Germans on the other side of the wall-that is to say,
within a couple of feet of him-in the act of throwing hand grenades.
Quick as thought, he levelled his rifle and emptied the magazine
into them; and the Huns, deceived by his rapid fire into the belief that
they had to deal with perhaps a dozen or more of the British, instead of
one man, forthwith made off, but not before they had fired in reply and
wounded Selwood in the right forearm.
But for his courage in going out so promptly to verify the
sentry’s report, the advance post would almost certainly have been
surprised and captured. Corporal
Selwood, who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for
“conspicuous gallantry,” is twenty-seven years of age, and his home
is at Staple Hill, near Bristol.
Lieutenant James Anson Otho Brooke, Of The 2nd Battalion The
The V.C. Near Gheluvelt
A lull in the firing on October 28th 1914 was the
herald of perhaps the greatest struggle of the campaign in the West.
The enemy was concentrating his forces for a tremendous attack
upon the British lines along the Ypres front, and for five days from
October 29th the Kaiser was to be present with his troops, to
stimulate them to one supreme effort, which would open the coveted road
to Ypres. The Kaiser’s presence was signalised on the morning of the
29th by a grand assault along, and on either side of, the
Menin Road. The six
regiments in the front line, which met the full force of the attack,
were the Black Watch, 1st Coldstream Guards and 1st
Scots Guards to the north of the road, and the 1st
Grenadiers, 2nd Gordon’s and 2nd Scots Fusiliers
to the south. In reserve
there were the Border Regiment in Gheluvelt, and the 2nd
Scots Guards to the south of it. At
5.30 a.m. the Germans began their advance under cover of a thick fog.
On getting past the first line without a shot being fired, they
stationed their machine guns in the houses by the roadside in the rear.
Then, without any warning, the British regiments on the immediate
right and left of the road found themselves assailed by a storm of
bullets from machine guns in flank and rear.
The 1st Grenadiers, who
were stationed immediately to the south of the road, suffered very
severely. The thick fog
made it very difficult to accurately locate the enemy or to return their
fire. Captain Rasch, who
was now in command, decided therefore to withdraw the battalion into the
woods to the south, and with them, went the left flank of the
Gordon’s, under Captain Burnett.
The Germans were thus left to continue firing upon the trenches,
but when the fog suddenly lifted the situation became clear.
They ceased firing upon the empty trenches, and began to advance
southwards from the road, and also westward.
The 1st Grenadiers and
captain Burnett’s company of the Gordon’s at once came out of the
wood, and having formed up, charged and drove the enemy back to the road
in disorder. At the moment,
however, when victory seemed to be theirs, they were enfiladed from the
trench, which Captain Burnett’s company had recently occupied.
A great many were put out of action, and the survivors again fell
back to the south, closely followed by the enemy.
Throughout the morning the line swayed to and fro.
Once again the Grenadiers and Gordon’s reformed and drove the
enemy back to the road. But
just as our men were being pushed back once more by superior numbers,
Lieutenant James Anson Otho Brooke, of the 2nd Battalion the
Gordon Highlanders, who had been sent with a message from the right
flank arrived on the scene. Seeing
the overwhelming superiority in numbers of the enemy, and knowing that a
general counter attack could not be organized to prevent the Germans
from breaking through our line, Lieutenant Brooke, with great coolness
and decision, at once gathered a handful of men, consisting of servants,
cooks and orderlies, from the rear.
Amidst a hail of rifle and machine gun fire, he led them forward,
and after a second attack the lost trench was recaptured.
Unhappily, however, Lieutenant Brooke was killed, as also were
nearly all his men, but his most gallant services were promptly
recognized by a posthumous award of the V.C.
Private James William Collins, Of The 1st Battalion Leinster
Won The D.C.M. At St. Eloi
It is the proud boast of the British Army that it never lacks
leaders. Unlike the
Germans, whole companies of whom have been known to throw down their
arms when their officers and non-commissioned officers have fallen,
there is always some strong and dominant among the British rank and file
ready to spring into the gap in such an emergency, and, by his courage
and presence of mind, rally his comrades and inspire them to renewed
exertions. Nor do such
leaders always come from among the old campaigners, men who have under
fire more times than they can remember, and who have become so
familiarized with the sight of death that it has long since ceased to
have any terrors for them. Sometimes,
the soldier who so gallantly rises to the occasion is a mere lad, as the
following incident will show.
Early in the afternoon of February
14th 1915, during the desperate fighting at St. Eloi, a party
of the 1st Leinster Regiment, with a machine gun, were
defending one of the first line trenches, which had been subjected for
some hours to a terrific bombardment from the German batteries, in
preparation for an infantry attack.
Suddenly they received that the troops on their left, whose
trenches had been blown almost to atoms by the enemy’s guns, were
retiring, and directly afterwards the Germans began to advance in great
force. Rifle and machine
gun spread death amongst the oncoming hordes; but though the Germans
fell in heaps, their numbers were too great to be denied and they
continued to advance. It
was plain that the Leinsters must retire also, for the enemy outnumbered
them by at least twelve to one, and against such odds the most
indomitable courage could be of no avail.
It the trench were rushed, they would be bayoneted to a man.
But it was above all things necessary to effect an orderly
retirement; otherwise their fate would be sealed.
It was at this critical moment that Private James William
Collins, a young soldier of twenty-one happening to glance about him,
perceived that some of the comrades-raw lads who had come out with the
last draft and were now under fire for the first time-were beginning to
loose their heads. Without
a moment’s hesitation, young Collins leaped upon the parados of the
trench and stood there “like a bandmaster on a stool”-as one who was
present expresses it-in full view of the advancing enemy, now not fifty
yards distant, shouting encouragement and abuse at the men in the rich
vocabulary of the British “Tommy.”
A shower of bullets greeted his appearance, but he seemed to bear
a charmed life, for by some miracle not one touched him, and he remained
in his perilous position for some minutes until he had succeeded in
rallying the men, while the Germans, astonished at such reckless daring
and at their failure to bring him down actually came to a halt within
ten yards of the parapet.
Thanks to the gallantry and presence
of mind of this young soldier, the party was able to effect a safe
retirement, without sustaining any further loss.
The trenches captured by the Germans
did not remain long in their possession, for that same night they were
retaken by a dashing counter attack, and a terrible price exacted from
the enemy for his brief success.
Private now Corporal-Collins was
awarded the D.C.M. “for conspicuous gallantry and very great
daring.” He is a West
Countryman, his home being at Ford, Devonport.
Acting Corporal James Enticott, Of The 3rd Hussars, Won The
At Klein Zillebeke
Since the first days of the Battle of the Aisne, our cavalry have
had few opportunities to distinguish themselves in the saddle; but the
British trooper is also a mounted infantryman, and can fight with a
rifle as well as with a sword, and in the trenches of Flanders he has
performed work every bit as splendid, if not quite so dramatic as the
famous charge of the 9th Lancers and the 18th
Hussars at Coulommiers on September 7th 1914.
“With little or no experience of trench warfare,” writes
Major General Byng, commanding the 3rd division, “exposed
to every vagary of weather under a persistent and concentrated shelling,
the regimental officers N.C.O.’s and men, have undertaken this most
arduous and demoralising work with a keenness and courage which I place
on record with the greatest pride.”
October 30th 1914 was a
critical day n the great Battle of Ypres and a terribly trying
experience of trench warfare for the cavalry, who had to bear the brunt
of the fighting. At dawn
the German batteries opened so terrible a fire on the ridge of
Zandvoorde, held by the 3rd Cavalry Division, under General
Byng, that the trenches were soon rendered untenable, one troop being
buried alive, and the whole division was compelled to fall back a mile
to the ridge of Klein Zillebeke on the north.
The right of the 2nd Division was thus uncovered, and
had to retire to conform, and the situation became one of the great
danger. To reinforce
General Byng, the Scots Greys and the 3rd and 4th
Hussars were brought up, and, with their assistance, he succeeded in
holding the position until the evening, when he was relieved by the 4th
It was during the defence of the
Klein Zillebeke ridge that a young man of four and twenty, Acting
corporal James Enticott, of the 3rd Hussars, performed the
gallant action for which the Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded.
Enticott’s troop was posted close
to a farm house, which stood in the midst of a tobacco plantation on the
left flank of the regiment, which at that time was occupying the western
extremity of the ridge, and Enticott received orders to make his way to
a partially demolished trench in the centre of a field on their left,
and report on the movements of the enemy in that direction.
He had been there about a quarter of an hour, when the farmhouse
was heavily shelled by the Germans and burst into flames, while several
of the Hussars stationed in the surrounding plantation were either
killed or wounded.
The troop were obliged to retire to
the shelter of a wood some hundred yards in their rear; but Enticott
with his field glasses to his eyes pluckily remained at his post, though
presently the shells began falling thickly about him, and he was obliged
to bob down repeatedly to avoid being hit.
At length, he received a blow on the head, apparently from a
stone or a hard piece of soil, since the skin was not broken, which
rendered him almost unconscious for some minutes.
On recovering, though determined to continue his work, he decided
that it would be advisable to find a less dangerous observation post,
and getting out of the trench, made his way to a little brick shed a
short distance away. From
here he found, to his satisfaction, that he had an excellent view of the
enemy’s movement’s; and by the time that the officer in command of
his troop, who had been wondering what had become of him, came to fetch
him, he had gathered some most useful information.
Private James Lavin, Of The 1/5th Battalion Royal Welsh
The D.C.M. At Suvla Bay, Gallipoli
At the beginning of November 1915, the 15th Royal
Welsh Fusiliers were occupying a section of our front line at Suvla Bay,
Gallipoli. One trench,
which lay in a valley, was separated from those of the Turks by about
one hundred yards, and from it a disused sap ran out to within sixty
yards of the enemy. At the
end of this sap was an open field, half way across which stood a large
tree. It was the duty of
our patrols to proceed as far as this tree, and the Turkish snipers,
aware of this, had had the distances from the sap to the tree set and
kept up a steady fire, with the result that scarcely a night passed
without some of our men getting hit.
Sometimes, one or more Turks would conceal themselves behind the
tree and fire upon a patrol as it emerged from the sap, and since our
men, when they left our trench, never knew whether there were snipers
behind the tree or not, patrol duty in such circumstances was not
exactly a popular one. The
enemy, moreover, had contracted the disagreeable habit of creeping up
the sap and throwing bombs into our trench, until, what with the snipers
and the bombs, the life of its occupants was becoming a little too
eventful to be pleasant.
A daring Fusilier, Private James
Lavin, who had been wounded in the fierce fighting of the previous
August and had only recently returned to duty, determined to try and do
something to mitigate the nuisance, and one dark night, when out with a
patrol, he allowed his comrades to return without him, and hid himself
behind the tree. Presently,
some half dozen Turks, who had seen the patrol going in, came creeping
up behind them, with the intention of throwing bombs into out trench so
soon as the coast was clear. One
Turk entered the sap, while the others lay down about twenty yards from
it, ready to cover his retreat.
Perceiving this, Lavin crawled out
from behind the tree, and made a detour, which brought him between the
prostrate Turks and the sap. He
could hear the man who had entered the sap clicking his rifle, but the
night was too dark to make him out.
Lavin knew that we had a sentry on guard at the trench end of the
sap, and that if he fired up the sap, he might hit his own comrade;
besides, his orders were not to fire except in a case of most extreme
emergency, but to use the bayonet only. On the other hand, if the sentry heard a man coming along the
sap, he would think it was Lavin returning, since the patrol would
certainly have told him that one of them had remained behind. However, it was necessary to act at once, for at any moment
the Turk might throw a bomb and kill the sentry, and then rush past him
and fling more bombs into the trench itself.
Accordinly, he made his way up the sap as quickly and as
noiselessly as he could, but had proceeded only a few yards when, as ill
luck would have it, he kicked against an empty tin which someone had
flung down there. The Turk
turned round instantly, and the two men could now see each other quite
plainly. Before Lavin could
recover from his surprise at his misadventure with the tin, the Turk
levelled his rifle and fired point blank at him.
Happily, he missed, and the Fusilier dropping his own rifle,
sprang forward and grappled with him.
The struggle, though fierce, was
short, and Lavin, having succeeded in wrenching the rifle out of his
opponent’s hand, drove him at the point of the bayonet towards the
Meantime, a number of his comrades,
alarmed by the shot, came running for the sap, but Lavin called out to
them not to fire, as it was he with a prisoner.
When searched, the captured Turk was fund to be carrying two
bombs, so that Lavin’s fortunate intervention probably saved the lives
of several of our men. It appears, too, to have served as a salutary lesson to the
Turks, for after this incident the Welsh Fusiliers had no more trouble
with bomb throwers. Three
weeks later they were withdrawn from the Peninsula.
Private James Lavin, who was awarded
a well deserved Distinguished Conduct Medal, is thirty years of age, and
his home I at Goldings, Hertford.
Second Lieutenant James Leach And Sergeant John Hogan, Of The
Battalion, The Manchester Regiment, Won The V.C. At Festubert
By the end of the third week in October 1914, our 2nd
Corps, which had crossed the Bethune-La Bassee Canal some days
previously, had fought their way through the difficult country to the
northeast of it until they held a line pivoting on Givenchy in the
south, and then running east in a salient north of the La Bassee road to
the village of Herlies, whence it bent westwards to Aubers.
The 5th Division, which included the 14th
brigade, in which were the 2nd Manchester’s, was on the
right; the 3rd Division to the north of it.
The strength of the two divisions amounted to some 30,000 men.
Sir Horace Smith Dorrien’s aim had been to get astride the La
Bassee-Lille road in the neighbourhood of Fournes, and so, with the help
of the French 10th Army, to isolate the enemy on the high
ground south of La Bassee. But
he was not then aware how overwhelming were the forces opposed to him,
and he was soon obliged to forgo this plan, and to devote all his
energies to holding his ground.
On the morning of the 22nd,
the enemy made a determined attack on the southern part of the British
line, held by the 5th Division, and drove us out of the
village of Violaines, between Givenchy and Lorgies; but a dashing
counter attack, in which the 2nd Manchester’s greatly
distinguished themselves, prevented their advancing farther.
That night, however, Smith-Dorrien withdrew to a new line running
from just east to Givenchy, by Neuve chapelle to Fauquissart.
The Manchester’s were posted near Festubert.
On the 24th the enemy attacked heavily all along this
new line, and fierce and obstinate fighting continued with little
intermission during the remainder of their month.
On the 27th, the Germans, coming on in great force,
got into Neuve Chapelle, from the greater part of which, however, they
were ejected on the following day, after desperate hand to hand
fighting, by three native battalions of the Lahore Division of the
Indian Corps, which had been brought up to support the exhausted
Next morning on our right at
Festubert, the 14th Brigade were fiercely attacked, the
trenches of the Manchester’s being assailed with especial violence.
Second Lieutenant James Leach, a lad of twenty, recently promoted
to a commission in the Manchester’s from the ranks of the 1st
Northampton’s, occupied with thirty-four men an advanced trench,
which, after being subjected to a very heavy shelling was attacked by
between two and three hundred of the enemy.
The Manchester’s put up a right gallant fight, and received the
advancing Huns with so withering a fire that before the latter reached
the parapet fully half of them must have fallen.
But the odds against our men were still too great to be denied,
and, by sheer weight of numbers, the remainder of the Germans succeeded
in carrying the position and forcing them to retire down the
communication trench to the support trenches, with the loss of about a
The position was very important, and
the men who had been forced to retire were determined to make every
effort to recover it. Headed
by Lieutenant Leach and Sergeant John Hogan, a veteran of the South
African War, they made with these object two gallant counter attacks;
but the Germans had brought up machine guns, and each attempt failed.
Two brave failures against a much
superior force, strongly posted and assisted machine guns, would have
left any regiment with its honour intact, but that kind of negative
glory did not satisfy Lieutenant Leach.
He had made up his mind to retake the position at all costs.
He waited until night fell, and then crept cautiously up to
ascertain what the Germans were doing.
The result of his reconnaissance was not exactly encouraging,
since he found the enemy in the occupation of three out of the four
traverses. He therefore
decided to do nothing for the moment, and crept back as quietly as he
had come. At eleven
o’clock the young officer made another journey of inspection, and on
this occasion he found the Germans occupying all the traverses.
Thereupon he decided upon action, and, sending for Sergeant
Hogan, called for ten volunteers. They
were readily forthcoming and the little party of twelve set out their
Lieutenant Leach conducted his men
along the communication trench, which led into the right of the
advantage trench. They had
to crawl all the way, for fear of alarming the Germans.
His plan was to push the enemy as far to the left as he could,
and entrap them in the cul-de-sac formed by the traverse on the left.
The Germans were taken completely by surprise, and, after some
stern bayonet work, the little band succeeded in pushing the enemy into
the next traverse. The
lieutenant and the sergeant now went forward alone.
They had reached a point where the captured trench turned sharply
at right angles. Leach was
armed with a revolver, and was able to reach his hand round the corner
and fire along the sections without exposing himself.
The Germans, being armed only with rifles, could not shoot
without exposing part of their bodies.
Meanwhile, Hogan watched the parapet
to ward off attacks from above since it was quite possible that the
Germans might climb over from the section and shoot the two men from
above, or take them in the rear; but nothing untowed happened and they
advanced to the next section. Taking their stand at the next corner, they repeated the
manoeuvre, Leach being now obliged to fire with his left hand.
Another section was won, and then came the advance to the third.
During their progress Hogan put his cap on the end of his rifle,
and raised it above the parapet, with the object of letting his comrades
behind know how far they had progressed, so that they would not sweep
the part of the trench, which had been retaken with their fire.
All the while the Germans kept up “an inferno of bullets” to
borrow Hogan’s own expression-and at places fierce hand to hand
encounters between them and the two heroes occurred.
But they all ended in the discomfiture of the Huns, who were
finally driven along the left traverse until they could get no farther,
and Leach and Hogan had them at their mercy.
Then the Germans decided to surrender.
Leach was surprised to hear a voice calling in English:
“Don’t shoot sir!” The
speaker turned out to be one of his own men who had been taken prisoner
in the morning. He had been
sent by the German officer to say that they wished to surrender.
Proceeding round the corner of the traverse, the young lieutenant
found the officer and about fourteen Huns on their knees, with their
hands raised in supplication. At
sight of him a chorus of “Mercy” arose the word these gantry usually
employ when cornered by the British.
Leach told them to take off their equipment and run into the
British main trench. This
they did with all speed, being evidently in fear of being shot down by
their comrades in the German trenches.
Leach then learned that two more of his men had been captured by
the Germans that morning, and that the officer who had just surrendered,
and who could speak English, had promised them “a good time” when
they were sent to Berlin as prisoners.
In all, Leach and Hogan killed eight of the enemy, wounded two,
and made sixteen prisoners, besides regaining possession of an important
advance trench. For his
magnificent work they were each subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross,
and well did they deserve the coveted bronze medal. They had been brave as few men have been, and had risked
their lives freely at the call of duty.
Lieutenant Leach may be said to have
been in the Army, for his father was colour-Sergeant in the King’s
Royal Lancaster’s. As a boy, he lived in Manchester and attended the Moston Lane
Boy School. Some years ago
his family removed from Manchester, and young Leach eventually joined
the 1st Northampton’s.
He went to France as a corporal, having received his stripes
within six weeks of the war breaking out.
He was shortly afterwards promoted sergeant, and on October 1st
was gazetted second lieutenant in the 2nd Manchester.
Sergeant Hogan is thirty years old.
He was a postman in Oldham until he rejoined his regiment as a
reservist on the outbreak of war. He
is a very modest hero. “I
only did what others would have done and what others have done,” he
remarked. That is the
spirit of brave men and of brave deeds.
Corporal James Upton, Of The 1st Battalion Sherwood
The V.C. At Rouges Bancs
On Sunday May 9th 1915, in conjunction with a forward
movement of the French troops between the right of our line and Arras,
our 1st Corps and the Indian Corps attacked the German
position between Neuve Chapelle and Givenchy, while the 8th
Division of the 4th corps attacked the enemy’s trenches in
the neighbourhood of Rouges Bancs to the northwest of Fromelles.
Our artillery preparation at Rouges Bancs began shortly before 5
a.m., and half an hour later our infantry advanced to the assault of the
German trenches, which were separated from ours by a distance of some
250 yards, the intervening ground being destitute of every vestige of
cover. The East Lancashire
and two companies of the 1st Sherwood Foresters started the attack; but
the artillery preparation had been altogether inadequate, and our men
came up against unbroken wire and parapets.
Many casualties occurred during the advance, and many more during
the subsequent retirement.
About 7 a.m., after a second
bombardment of the enemy’s position, the remaining two companies of
the 1st Sherwood foresters scaled the parapet and lined up
about thirty yards in front of it, where they lay down in a shallow
trench, to await the order to advance.
With them was a young Lincolnshire man, corporal James Upton, who
on that day was destined to win the most coveted distinctions of the
The ground in front of the
Sherwood’s was strewn with the wounded, some of them terribly
mutilated, and their cries for help were heartrending.
At last Corporal Upton could listen to them no longer; come what
might, he was resolved to go to their succour.
Crawling out of the trench, he made
his way towards the enemy’s lines, and had not gone far when he came
upon a sergeant of the Worcester, who was wounded in the thigh, the leg
being broken. Upton
bandaged him up as well as he could an old flag and put his leg in
splints, which done, he carried him on his back to out trench and
consigned him to the care of some comrades.
Then, discarding his pack and the rest of his equipment, which
included a couple of jam tin bombs, he went out again and found another
man, who had been hit in the stomach.
As this man was too big and heavy to carry, he unrolled his
waterproof sheet, placed him on it, and dragged him in.
Going out for the third time, e was proceeding to carry in a man
with both legs shattered, and had got within ten yards of the trench,
when a high explosive shell burst close to them.
A piece of it struck the wounded man in the back, killing him
instantaneously, and giving Upton, though he escaped unhurt, a bad
shock. This obliged him to
rest for a while, but soon as he felt better the heroic non-commissioned
officer resumed his work of mercy, and venturing out again into the fire
swept open, succeeded in rescuing no less than ten more wounded men.
During the remainder of the day until eight at night he was
engaged in dressing the serious cases in front of our trenches, exposed
the whole time to a heavy artillery and rifle fire, from which, however,
he emerged without a scratch.
Sergeant John Crane, Of The 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers,
The D.C.M. At Festubert
Early on the morning of December 19th 1914m Sir John
Willcocks, commanding the Indian Corps, decided to take advantage of
what appeared to him a favourable opportunity to attack the advanced
trenches of the enemy. The
British position at the time on this part of our front extended from
Cuinchy on the south, to the west of Neuve Chapelle on the north,
passing through Givenchy and a little to the east of Festubert.
The attack was at first successful, but by the evening determined
counter attacks had driven the Indian Corps back to its original line;
and by ten o’clock the next morning, the Germans, following up their
advantage, had captured a large part of Givenchy and driven a wedge
north of the town which exposed the right flank of the Dehra Dun
Brigade, stationed to the northeast of Festubert. All the afternoon of the 20th these troops
suffered severely, being, in the words of Sir John French, “pinned to
the ground by artillery fire.” But,
towards evening, strong reinforcements, which included the 2nd
Munsters, were hurried up to their support; and in the early hours of
the 21st this battalion was ordered to recapture a line of
distant trenches, from which the Indians had been driven on the previous
Just before the order came, a young
sergeant of the Munsters, John Crane, had been sent with a message to
the 2nd Brigade on their right, and when he returned, he
heard that his battalion had charged though no one knew where it had
gone or what had happened to it. The
darkness had simply swallowed it up. The sergeant reported himself to Major Ryan, D.S.O., of the
Munsters-a gallant officer who unhappily fell a victim to a sniper’s
bullet a few weeks later-at the Brigade Headquarters, and when the
forenoon passed without bringing any news of the lost battalion, Major
Ryan, becoming very anxious asked Crane if he would go out and try to
locate it before darkness set in, telling him that he might take any one
with him whom he wished. Lance
Corporal now Sergeant, Eccles at once agreed to accompany him, and about
three o’clock in the afternoon they set off, having first taken off
all their equipment, in order not to impede their movements.
The ground in front of the British
lines was so swept by shell and rifle fire that they found it necessary
to make a wide detour, until they came to an old trench of ours, along
which they advanced for some five hundred yards, when, not having seen
any signs of the Munsters, they got out again, and with bullets humming
all around them, made their way by short rushes, for some distance
across the open ground until they came upon their battalion, or rather
the remnants of it. For it
had been badly cut up, and was besides in a very precarious position,
having lost its way and being completely isolated.
They returned to their Brigade Headquarters ad reported
accordingly, and were asked to go out again and guide their comrades
back, while arrangements were being made for troops to cover the sorely
tried battalion’s withdrawal. And
this task they successfully accomplished, under a heavy fire and through
a very difficult country, displaying, says the Gazette, “great
courage, endurance and marked resource.”
Subsequently, notwithstanding the
fatigue, which they must have been suffering, they took out
stretcher-bearers and brought in a number of wounded, including the
colonel and the adjutant.
Sergeant Crane, who is only
twenty-three years of age, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal,
“for conspicuous gallantry and ability,” and a similar honour was
conferred upon Lance-Corporal Eccles.
Lieutenant John Henry Stephen Dimmer, Of The 2nd Battalion
Royal Rifle Corps Won The V.C. At Klein Zillebeke
On the morning of November 10th 1914, the 2nd
Kings Royal Rifles, who had been attached to the sorely shattered 4th
(Guards) Brigade relieved the London Scottish in the section of the
trenches at Klein Zillebeke which the Territorial had held so gallantly
in the face of heavy and persistent shelling.
The machine gun section, which was in charge of Lieutenant
Dimmer, took over from the Scots about noon, and that officer lost no
time in pacing his two Vickers machine guns in position.
The German trenches opposite to ours had been dug behind a bank
on the edge of a woo, known to our men as the Brown Road Wood, and the
trees of which, though it was already the second week in November, were
still well covered with leaves. A
great number of the trees had, however, been broken down by the fire of
our artillery; indeed, as viewed from the British trenches, the wood
appeared almost impassable. The
No Man’s Land between the hostile lines presented a curious and
gruesome spectacle, being covered with shell holes and littered with the
unburied bodies of fallen Germans-in heaps and singly-many of which had
probably lain there since the desperate and sanguinary fighting of the
last days of October.
During the afternoon of the 10th
the new arrivals were very badly shelled, and also much annoyed by the
attention of the German snipers, a corporal of the K.R.R.’s named
Cordingley, being shot dead by one of these gentry, while Lieutenant
Dimmer had two narrow escapes, the bullet on each occasion passing
through his cap. On the 11th
they were shelled all day, the bombardment being particularly severe in
the afternoon. On the 12th,
on which day the enemy began a series of attacks on the Klein Zillebeke
positions and along the whole of our line towards Messines, all was
quiet until noon, when the German artillery started a violent
bombardment of the “Green Jackets” trenches.
This continued for about half an hour, when it slackened, and the
enemy’s machine guns began to pour a torrent of bullets through the
gaps in the British parapet made by their artillery fire.
Then 1 p.m., the Prussian Guard, in mass formation, advanced from
the wood, the men marching shoulder to shoulder in perfect order, as
though they were on parade.
At once the British machine guns
began to spit death amongst them, Lieutenant Dimmer firing one of the
guns himself, and the storm of bullets tore through their serried ranks,
mowing them down as corn falls before the sickle.
But still they came on, and presently the lieutenant’s gun
jammed, owing to the belt getting wet.
In a moment he had climbed onto the emplacement a large
adjustable spanner in his hand, and got the deadly weapon again in
working order; but, as he did so, a rifle bullet struck him in the right
jaw. Heedless of the pain,
he began pouring a fresh stream of lead into the advancing masses, but
he had not fired many rounds when the gun stuck when traversing. Reaching up to remedy the stoppage, he was hit again by a
rifle bullet, this time in the right shoulder.
But he got his gun going again for all that, and before that
blast of death the Huns fell in swathes.
Then a shrapnel shell burst above him, and he was hit for the
third time, three bullets lodging in his injured shoulder.
But, with the blood streaming from his wounds, the heroic officer
went on firing his gun, until, when within fifty yards of our trenches,
the Germans suddenly broke and ran for cover.
Their artillery covered their retreat with a rain of shrapnel,
and Lieutenant Dimmer’s gun was hit and destroyed, and his face
spattered with splinters of broken metal.
Exhausted with pan and loss of blood, he lost consciousness for a
time, but oncoming to insist on proceeding to Brigade Headquarters to
report in person to the Earl of Cavan, commanding the 4th
(Guards) Brigade. Scarcely, however, had he made his report when his strength
gave out, and he collapsed and was taken to the dressing station.
Happily, the most gallant officer, whose magnificent courage and
tenacity were recognized by the award of the Victoria Cross, has since
made a complete recovery, and after being attached for a time to the 6th
Battalion of the K.R.R.C. at Sheerness, he had been sent to Serbia,
where doubtless fresh opportunities for distinction await him.
Lieutenant-now Captain-John Henry
Stephen Dimmer, who is thirty-two years of age, having been born in
London on October 9th 1884, was formerly in the ranks, from
which he was promoted Second Lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle
Corps in February 1908, becoming Lieutenant in July 1911.
Previous to joining the Army, he was for four years in the office
of a firm of civil engineers in Westminster.
Private John Kendrick Of The Royal Army Medical Corps,
The D.C.M. At Steinstratte
Splendid indeed have been the services rendered to their sick and
wounded comrades by the devoted members of the Royal Army Medical corps. Surgeons, hospital orderlies and ambulance men have all alike
laboured with an untiring energy, an absolute forgetfulness of self, and
contempt for danger, which are beyond all praise.
On the morning of October 25th
1914, Private Kendrick, with the other stretcher-bearers of No.2 Field
Ambulance, received orders to proceed from their bullets at Boesinghe to
that part of the Allied line held by the British, in order to collect
the wounded. The regimental
medical officer having asked for a man to be left to assist him, Private
Kendrick was detailed for the duty, and helped to carry two wounded men
of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and five badly wounded Germans from
the firing line to a small house a little distance in the rear. To remove them to hospital was impossible, for the reserve
trenches were being heavily shelled by the enemy, and before they had
covered half the distance both the wounded men and their attendants
would in all probability have been blown to fragments.
As our troops were on the point of being relieved by the French,
and the services of the surgeon and his assistants were required
elsewhere, Private Kendrick volunteered to remain in the house with them
until such time as they could be removed without danger.
But soon a terrible problem presented itself.
None of the wounded men had tasted food for many hours; and, what
was worse, one and all were consumed with a raging thirst, and their
cries for water were pitiful. Kednirck
distributed all his rations and the contents of his water bottle amongst
them, but this went but a very little way among seven, and he became
Kendrick searched the house; not a
morsel of food, not a drop of water, was to be found.
To obtain any he must make his way to the French trenches across
ground affording scarcely a particle of cover and on which shells were
falling in a never-ending stream. The
brave man wrecked little of his own life, but he trembled for the lives
of the helpless men, friend and foe alike, who had been committed to his
care. If he attempted to
reach the French trenches and were killed, what would become of them,
with no one to attend to their hurts no one to summon when an
opportunity for removing them in safety should arrive?
On the other hand, they could not survive many hours without
either food or water; by the next morning at farthest it was doubtful
whether any of them would be left alive.
He went to the door and looked out
to see if he could discern any signs of the enemy’s fire subsiding.
It was more violent than ever; the skies seemed literally to be
raining shrapnel; huge “Jack Johnson’s” churned up the ground on
every side. He turned back into the house, to be greeted with
heartrending appeals for water from both Briton and German.
That decided him; he would relieve their torment or perish in the
attempt; and promising them that they should soon have both water and
food; he started at a run for the French lines.
The distance was not far, but the
danger was great, and shells were continually bursting about him.
However, he reached the trenches in safety, explained the
situation to our gallant allies, and was readily provided with all the
food and water he could carry. On
his return journey, being heavily laden, he was, of course, obliged to
proceed more slowly; but the house without mishaps, to receive the
grateful thanks of the wounded men whom his heroism had preserved from a
lingering death. Next day,
and again on the following morning, did Private Kendrick run the
gauntlet of the enemy’s fire, and on each occasion he passed through
it scathes. Nevertheless,
during the second night he experienced a narrow escape.
A shell struck one of the gables of the house and nearly the
whole of that side of the building collapsed with a crash.
Providentially, the occupants were at the other end, or they must
have been buried beneath the ruins.
On the morning of October 27th,
Private Kendrick, who was beginning to wonder whether he had been
forgotten, determined to signal for assistance.
Having found in a drawer a piece of white cloth, he sewed to it a
Red Cross, made out of a red handkerchief which he happened to have
about him, and hoisted his improvised flag in front of the house.
It was seen towards midday by his Commanding Officer, Colonel
Mitchell, who happened to be passing in his car.
He brought the car up to the door, assisted Private Kendrick to
remove the wounded men to it, and conveyed them safely to the hospital
of the 2nd Field Ambulance.
Private Kendrick had been in
attendance on them since 5 a.m. on the 25th, or fifty-four
hours. The house and the
entire road on which it stood were still being heavily shelled as they
Private Kendrick was awarded the
D.C.M. He is thirty years
of age and is a resident of Glasgow.
Sergeant John Matthews, Of The Leinster Regiment,
The D.C.M. At St. Eloi
On February 14th 1915, the Leinsters, composed of two
companies, held a line of trenches covering the village of St. Eloi, on
the southern ridge of Ypres. These
trenches were numbered respectively from right to left, and Sergeant
John Matthews, the hero of the gallant deed we are about to relate, was
in the trench on the extreme left of his battalion; a trench on his
left, was held by a company of another battalion, and was about one
hundred and fifty yards away, the communicating trench leading to it
being full of slush and water.
That morning the German artillery violently bombarded and
attacked the regiment on the Leinsters left, partially driving them from
their trenches. This lasted
about two hours, after which all became quiet again.
About 3.30, just as the men in Sergeant Matthews trench were
engaged in the peaceful occupation of making tea, a hot drink of some
kind being sorely needed, as the day was bitterly cold and wet the
trench was half full of water, and they were drenched to the skin, the
enemy began a violent and continuous bombardment of the whole of our
line, which was followed by a fierce infantry attack.
The hostile trenches were not more than thirty yards apart, and
there were mined sapheads running up to within fifteen yards of ours.
Out of these sapheads rushed the German infantry, all fresh
troops, who had only recently arrived, and a desperate conflict ensued.
They were mown down in swathes by our machine gun and rifle fire,
while those who scaled the parapet were bayoneted by our men, who,
though cold and frost bitten, fought with splendid courage.
But they continued to attack in the most determined manner,
reinforcements continually coming up to replace those who had fallen,
and at last weight of numbers prevailed, and the Leinsters were obliged
to abandon four of their trenches.
Sergeant Matthews and his comrades still held their ground, but
they were in a most critical position, since the loss of the other
trenches had placed them practically in between two German trenches,
fully manned; while, when the enemy got into one of the trenches, they
were at their back and only thirty-five yards away.
Half of the Leinsters had consequently to turn about and fire as
rapidly as they could at the Germans at their back, while the rest had
to check the rush of the enemy from the front.
At their back they had of course no protection, and the Huns,
perceiving this, brought up machine guns and opened a murderous fire
upon them. In less than a
minute the trench was full of dead and dying men, and soon the only
defenders who remained fit for service were Sergeant Matthews, a
corporal named Clarke, and four men.
This little band found them
completely isolated, for the enemy’s shellfire had cut all the
telephone wires to Headquarters and the supports, and they could not
summon assistance. The
night was coming on, and they were thoroughly exhausted and chilled to
the bone, while their hearts were wrung by the moans of their wounded
comrades whom they could not spare a moment to attend to, since they
scarcely dared lift their eyes from the enemy’s trenches on either
front, but were obliged to keep on firing as rapidly as possible.
Several times the Germans tried to close round them, but they
still held them in check, though they feared that, when night fell, they
would soon succeed in rushing the trench.
Meantime, they could see the Huns
transferring the parapets of the captured trenches in preparation for
the British counter attack, which they knew would be delivered ere many
hours had passed. They were
carrying away their wounded and throwing the dead over the parapets.
The British wounded Sergeant Matthews and Corporal Clarke
encouraged them, by telling them that the Leinsters would be up shortly,
and that they would have an opportunity of getting at the Huns with the
From 4 p.m. until some time past
midnight they remained in this terrible situation, cut off from
everyone, kneeling and sometimes lying in ice cold water, with their
rifles so clotted with sand and grit that they were scarcely able to
open a single bolt, and their hands so numbed that they had very little
feeling left, but determined to die every man at his post rather than
surrender their trench. For
it was of the utmost importance to hold it to the last, since its
capture would enable the enemy to enfilade a trench on their left with,
in all probability, murderous effect.
Just as they were beginning to abandon all hope of anyone coming
to their relief, they heard the order “Charge!” ring out, and from
the shadow of a hedge some little distance away hundreds of figures with
fixed bayonets emerged into the open, and with ringing cheers swept down
upon the lost trenches. The
enemy, taken by surprise, could offer no effective resistance, and the
trenches were quickly carried at the point of the bayonet.
The defenders could hear the Huns shouting for mercy and their
agonizing cries as the avenging steel was driven home.
When morning broke the sight was a terrible one, the trenches in
parts being almost choked with the bodies of friend and foe.
The apostles of “Kultur,” who had afterwards trampled them
under their feet in the mud and slush, had shamefully treated many of
Sergeant now Company Sergeant
Major-John Matthews was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal “for
conspicuous gallantry.” He
is thirty-one years of age, and his home is at Cork.
Acting Corporal John Henry Drew Williams, Of The Royal Engineers,
The D.C.M. Near Wytschaete
From the first battle of Ypres to that of Neuve Chappelle, the
history of the War on the Western Front is a chronicle of small events-a
trench of two won here, a farm house there, a wood in a third place.
Yet these local actions exercised, from the British point of
view, a very real influence on the campaign.
Moreover, they were frequently characterized by fierce and
obstinate fighting, and furnished not a few opportunities for individual
distinction. The British
attack on the Petit Bois, a wood a little to the east of Wytschaete, on
the night of December 12th 1914, on which occasion an
intrepid Royal Engineer Acting-Corporal John Henry Drew Williams, won
the Distinguished Conduct Medal, is a case in point.
The fact that the Germans had been persistently annoying us from
this wood made its capture imperative.
The ground about here rose gradually from west to east, where the
village of Wytschaete stands, and the enemy commanded our position from
the ridge which runs north and south from the top of the wood on the
right and slightly southwest from here to Messines.
The Lincolns, who were holding the trenches opposite the wood,
were ordered to carry out the attack, supported by the Liverpool
Scottish, a Territorial Battalion, and William’s company of the royal
Engineers were to be in readiness to transfer the parapets of any
trenches captured and run up wire entanglements.
About seven o’clock in the
evening, William’s section officer called for four volunteers to go
out and cut the enemy’s barbed wire. Williams and three sappers at once volunteered, and were told
to report themselves to the colonel of the Lincolns at the Advanced
Headquarters. Here Williams
received his instructions, and twelve men and a sergeant were detailed
to assist him. He gave each
of them a pair of wire cutters, and they made their way to our first
line trenches, where they left their equipment behind the parapet, so as
not to impede their movements. Williams
then divided his party into two sappers, the sergeant and six of the
Lincolns being sent to the left, while he himself, with the remaining
sapper and the other six Lincolns, went to the right, that being the
longest way, namely, about 120 yards as against sixty.
They did not make a very auspicious start, as they were
“spotted” getting over the parapet, and a machine gun and several
snipers opened fire upon them. However,
none of them was hit, though William’s had his mouth and eyes filled
with dirt thrown up by the rain of bullets, and they crawled on, making
for the left hand corner of the wood.
They passed a machine gun, which was in a hedge about sixty yards
out, and also a sniper in a trench, which ran along the inside of a
hedge, reached the enemy’s barbed wire, which was of the knife rest
pattern, and cut the entanglements apart, placing them round the front
of some old shell holes. Then
leaving the only two men who had kept up with him to look for anything
they could find in the corner against the wood, Williams went off alone
to the right, making here and there gaps in the wire, and found a sap
head about four yards along running out from the wood, and a sniper in
it potting away at our lines. He
crawled past him without attracting his attention, and about twenty
yards further on came upon another sap.
While investigating it, the base of a three-inch shell was
suddenly thrown at him, which he picked up and put in his pocket, and on
looking in the direction from which it had apparently come, he received
a clod of earth in the face. He
pushed himself backwards with his hands for about a dozen yards, still
watching the sap and wondering why the Germans did not shoot; but after
lying still for a while, he concluded that they must have taken him for
an animal of some kind and started off again towards the right.
This time he had better luck and
found a trench running out at right angles from the wood.
Crawling along it, he came into the enemy’s main front trench,
which was in a terrible state, being half full of water.
On his right en were baling out the water and using very bad
language, and he remarked that many of the swear words they employed
were English. Crawling out
of the trench, he made his way into the wood, where he cut several
telephone wires which he ran into, and found that, though the enemy had
dug outs and communication trenches in the wood, there were no
entanglements. Fearing that
he might lose his way if he went any further, he returned to the spot
where he had left his two men, and they went back to our lines and made
their report to Captain Tachell, of the Lincolns, who complimented
Williams very warmly.
They party which had been sent out to the left had returned some
time before, but their report was not very clear, so the officer asked
Williams if he would take his own men out and investigate for himself.
On their way they came across a dead pig, which had got itself
entangled in our wire about twenty yards out, and, farther on, the
bodies of several dead Frenchmen, which had lain there since the
fighting in the early part of September.
Reaching the hedge, which was about sixty yards from our lines,
Williams found that the enemy had made a trench on the inside and had a
covered machine gun emplacement in the right hand corner (it was this
machine gun which did so much damage when the attack began), but no
other obstacle in our way. He
again made his report, and then went out and cut gaps in our own wire,
so as to enable our men to deploy from several different places.
Meantime, orders had been given to
the Lincolns to get out of their trenches and lie down in front of the
wire. But the noise they
made in doing so attracted the attention of the enemy, and this started
a premature attack, in which Williams found himself mixed up, with only
a pair of wire clippers in his hand.
The attack on the right was
successfully pressed home, but the left fared badly, being held up by
the machine gun in the hedge, which caused a great number of casualties.
A sergeant at William’s side fell, hit in the ribs, and the
engineer carried him to a shell hole just in front of our barbed wire,
to which place of refuge he presently returned with a private, who had
been wounded in the ankle, and left him there to keep the sergeant
company, promising to send a stretcher party for them.
Then having made his way to the right and informed the officer
commanding there that the left was unable to advance any further, he
went back to our lines, got a stretcher party and led them to the spot
where he had left the two wounded men.
They were conveyed to a cottage about 250 yards behind our lines,
which was being used as a temporary hospital.
There were several staff officers there, who all shook hands with
Williams and complimented him on the courage and ability he had shown
that night, and his name and number were taken and sent to General
Williams, who went out with the
Expeditionary Force in August and had been in the thick of the fighting
ever since, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, promoted
sergeant, and placed in charge of several bridges on the Yser Canal,
which were frequently shelled by the enemy and in need of repair.
The three sappers who accompanied him on that eventful night were
awarded the Russian Cross of St. George (Third Class).
Williams, who is thirty-four years of age, is a Kentish man, his
home being at Tonbridge.
Corporal John William Windell, Of The 2nd Battalion South
Regiment, Won The D.C.M. Near Neuve Chapelle
On a misty morning towards the end of October 1914, when our
Second Corps, under Sir Horace Smith Dorrien, in the La Bassee district,
was struggling heroically to maintain its ground against vastly superior
numbers, the 2nd South Lancashire’s, one of the battalion s
of the 7th Brigade, were holding a line of trenches a little
to the east of Neuve Chapelle, which village had been captured by our
men a few days before. The
ground on their front was undulating meadowland, dotted here and there
with farms and cottages, and on their left flank, about fifty yards in
advance of the trenches, was a tobacco-plantation.
About 9.30 a.m., just as Corporal John Windell, of the South
Lancashires machine gun section, was engaged in mounting a gun in the
roof of a farm house, standing in a road about four hundred yards behind
our first line trenches, the news came that under cover of a mist a
strong force of the enemy had crept through the tobacco plantation and
surprised and captured the adjoining trench.
In order to escape being enfiladed, our line for some distance on
the right of the captured trench was obliged to fall back to the road on
which the farmhouse stood, and an officer told Windell that a Maxim had
been left in a house just in advance of the abandoned trenches.
It was, of course, of great importance that this gun should not
be allowed to fall into the hands of the Germans, who would naturally
turn it upon our troops, while, on the other hand, if two or three of
our men could get back to the house and work the gun, severe loss might
be occasioned the enemy, and possibly any further advance on their part
held up until reinforcements could arrive.
Accompanied by the officer and a private, Windell left the farm
and ran across the four hundred yards to open ground, which lay between
him and the abandoned Maxim. The
ground which they had to traverse was being very heavily shelled, and
huge holes yawned on every side, and they passed on their was a dead
officer and several dead men, who had been killed by shellfire during
the retirement. They reached the house in safety, and the first sight, which
met their eyes as they entered, was the lifeless body of the machine gun
sergeant of their battalion propped up against the wall just inside the
door. Hastening up to the
roof, where the Maxim was mounted, they saw that a number of Germans had
already dug themselves in about two hundred and fifty yards on their
right front, while further away a considerable body of the enemy were
advancing in massed formation, with the evident intention of occupying
our abandoned trenches. The
gun was at once trained upon the latter, and with deadly effect; but
presently a hail of bullets began to sing past their ears or patter
against the roof, and, glancing in the direction from which the leaden
shower was coming, they sae that it proceeded from a house about five
hundred yards away, where a machine gun was mounted.
They accordingly turned their Maxim against this new target, and
a duel ensued between the two weapons of destruction, which in a few
minutes ended in the German one being entirely silenced, the men working
it having no doubt been all placed hors de combat.
The victory was, however, achieved only just in time, for the
German infantry, whom their fire had momentarily thrown into disorder,
had now rallied and were coming on again. Once more the Maxim began to spit death amongst the advancing
hordes, mowing them down in their serried ranks like corn and completely
crumpling up the advance, which recoiled in disorder. On this occasion, they were not under the necessity of giving
them time to rally, and they continued to pour a stream of bullets into
the discomfited Huns until reinforcements arrived, and the abandoned
trenches were reoccupied, by which time they had emptied twelve boxes of
ammunition. Meanwhile our
artillery had begun to shell the trench, which the enemy had captured
with lyddite, with the result that the Huns were speedily driven out,
and the whole line was once more in our possession.
On the other hand, the German guns had begun to direct their
attention to the house from which Windell and his comrades had done such
splendid work, and it was soon being heavily shelled.
Windell was, therefore reluctantly obliged to leave the gun, and
make his way across the open to Headquarters, to report that the house
could not be held. After
half an hour or so the fire adapted, upon which, accompanied by another
man, he went back to the house, and finding that, though the building
had been terribly knocked about, the Maxim had sustained no damage,
succeeded in getting it safely away.
Corporal-now sergeant-Windell was
awarded a well-earned Distinguished Conduct Medal for the gallantry and
ability, which he had displayed in this occasion.
Although belonging to a Lancashire regiment, he is a Londoner,
his home being at Hackney. He
it twenty-five years of age.
Company Sergeant Major Joseph Barwick, OF The 1st Battalion
Won The Military Cross At The First Battle Of Ypres
A striking illustration of the almost incalculable debt, which
the British Army owes to the courage, ability and devotion to duty of
its veteran non-commissioned officers, is furnished by the series of
valuable services which gained Company Sergeant Major Joseph Barwick, of
the 1st Scots Guards, the Military Cross during the First
Battle of Ypres.
On October 26th 1914, the
1st Scots Guards were stationed, with the rest of the 1st
Brigade, a little to the north of Gheluvelt, and sergeant Major Barwick,
who is a crack shot, was engaged in sniping from the upper portion of a
damaged cottage some distance in advance of our first line trenches.
While thus employed, he noticed that the Germans had broken
through on the right of the position occupied by his battalion, which
could necessitate an immediate change of front, and at once resolved to
run back and warn his company commander.
He had to traverse a distance of some three hundred yards, over
perfectly open ground, in full view of the enemy.
But, though bullets were whistling past his head all the time, he
reached the trenches without mishap, and having made his report,
volunteered to go back to the battalion headquarters, eight hundred
yards distant, for reinforcements.
The ground over which he had to pass was being very heavily
shelled, but he accomplished the double journey in safety, and, on his
return to the firing line, found that, thanks to the warning which he
had brought, our position had been changed in time, and that all the
Germans who had broken through on our right flank-some four hundred in
number-had been either killed or made prisoner.
During the next few days the 1st
Brigade was very heavily engaged and suffered terrible losses,
particularly on October 31st, when the Germans made a furious
attack in great force upon Gheluvelt, and the whole of the 1st
Division was obliged to fall back to a line resting on the junction of
the Frezenberg road with the Ypres Menin highway.
The 1st Coldstreams were practically wiped out as a
fighting unit, and every single officer of Sergeant Major Barwick’s
company of the 1st Scots guards either killed or severely
wounded as to be unfit for duty. Barwick
had therefore to take command of the remnant of his company, a position
that he held from November 2nd to November 10th.
During this period, he, at great personal risk, acted as observer
for the artillery supporting his brigade, and every morning sent
sketches of any new positions and saps made by the Germans during the
night. The information he
furnished proved of the highest value, and enabled the artillery to
render the successive positions occupied by the enemy untenable, and
prevented them from massing for an attack on this portion of our front.
This brave non-commissioned
officer’s services were lost to his country for a time on November 10th
on which day he was wounded by shrapnel in no less than thirteen places-viz,
seven in the left leg, one in the right leg, and five in the left arm!
Happily none of his wounds was of a very serious nature, and he
Sergeant Major Barwick, who is
thirty-three years of age, is a Yorkshire man, and was born at Burley in
Wharfedale, near Leeds
Lance Corporal Colgreve Won The D.C.M. Near Hollebeke For
In no respect has the Great War changed established ideas more
than in the uses of cavalry. In
the opening rounds of the great contest, the retreat from Mons, the
advance from the Marne, and the battle on the Aisne, both the British
and German cavalry played their time-honoured role of reconnoitring,
skirmishing, preceding an advance or covering a retirement.
But when the great German “hack
through” to Calais began with the onslaught on the British Army in
front of Ypres. Imperious
necessity dictated a new employment for th4e British cavalry.
The comparatively small infantry force was insufficient to hold
the great length of line and cavalry had to be used to fill up the gaps.
By the last week of October cavalry held a critical part of the
British position southeast of Ypres.
But if it was an innovation for a
cavalryman to discard his mount and man a trench like a “foot slogger,”
what is to be said of a cavalryman who in an emergency turned himself
into the leader of an Indian infantry regiment and extricated his
charges from a highly critical situation?
It was Lance Corporal Colgrave, of the 5th Lancers,
who performed this feat, and in case the authorities answered the
question with the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
On October 30th 1914, the
Germans were preparing their terrific onslaught of the next day by a
heavy attack on the trenches held by the cavalry near Hollebeke.
According to the reports of prisoners, at least forty thousand
men were massed on a narrow front, and the artillery concentration was
such as no troops had yet faced in warfare.
An incessant rain of high explosive shells deluged the British
trenches, which were not the elaborate and intricate under ground
warrens they became at a later stage.
They were little more than rough ditches, which were quickly
blotted out, burying their defenders in their debris.
The 5th Lancers suffered peculiarly heavily.
Without being able to reply in kind they had to hold on while
suffering continual casualties, and wondering (at least the survivors)
whether they would be able to back the inevitable attack when it came.
At length the grey line surged from
the edge of a wood where the enemy had been massing.
In close formation, and advancing with the most unflinching
determination and contempt for the gaps torn in their lines, the Germans
pressed forward and reached the first line held by the 5th
Lancers. The remnant of the
defenders was unable to withstand the shock of the assault, being at
once overwhelmed by mere numbers, but the second line, some distance
behind, held firm, awaiting their turn.
At this critical juncture a
battalion of Indian infantry was sent up in support.
These gallant troops had only been in France a few weeks; they
were strange to the land, the trying climate, and the novel conditions
of warfare. Now, in their
first taste of an actual battle, they were subjected to a fire so
galling, that the most seasoned troops would have experienced the
greatest difficulty in maintaining their cohesion.
As it was, the terrible casualties
among the officers of the Indian battalion led to instant confusion.
The men were willing to go anywhere, but did not know where to
go. As they met the Lancers
retiring to trenches further back, they were smitten with uncertainty,
and for a moment panic threatened and they broke.
Colgreve, retiring with his
regiment, which had scattered into groups, saw the Indians passing him
in utter disorder. Without
a moment’s hesitation he ran in among them, striving by word and
action to calm them, restore confidence, and give them their directions.
Finding themselves under a leader, the Indians recovered their
nerve, formed up and followed him.
Despite a withering fire the band maintained their order and
discipline and reached the appointed place.
Colgrave then went back and rallied
other bodies with similar success.
The Indians responded immediately to his orders, the German
attack was eventually beaten off, and a critical situation was restored
by his prompt action. Only
once was his good work interrupted-when he saw an Indian officer,
severely wounded, lying helpless o the ground.
Despite the infernal hail of bullets and high explosives, he
carried the wounded man to the shelter of a trench.
This fine feat inspired the Indians as much as Colgrave’s
No man ever deserved his honour more
than that which Lance Corporal Colgrave brought to the 5th
Lancers that day.
Lance-Corporal Jacka Won The V.C. By Capturing A Trench
On May 10th 1915, the Turks outside the parapet, all
the men who were throwing bombs being wounded, overwhelmed a small party
of the 14th Australian Battalion, who were holding a short section of
trench at Courtney’s Post. Seven
or eight Turks then jumped in, and this section o the trench was for the
moment left only to a wounded officer, who went to see the situation.
This officer, coming back through the communication trench said:
“They have got me; the Turks are in the trench.”
Lance-Corporal Jacka immediately
jumped from the communication trench up to the step, or bench, behind
the last traverse of the section of the fire trench, which had not yet
been reached by the Turks. He was exposed for a moment to the Turks rifles at a distance
of three yards. The Turks
were afraid to cross round the traverse, and he held them there for a
considerable time alone. Meanwhile
the word had gone back, “Officer wanted.”
Lieutenant Hamilton saw the Turks jumping into the trench and
began firing with his revolver, but the Turks shot him through the head. A second officer was sent up.
Then Jacka shouted: “Look out, sir, the Turks are in here.”
The officer asked Jacka if he would charge if he (the officer)
got some men to back him up, and Jacka said: “Yes.”
The officer’s platoon was following him, and he called for
volunteers. “It’s a
tough job. Will you back
Jacka up?” One of the
leading men answered: “It’s a sink or swim; we will come, sir,”
and the leading three men went forward.
The moment the leading man put his head round the corner he was
hit in three places and fell back, blocking the trench.
The exit from the trench at this end
now being well held, Jacka jumped back from the fire trench into the
communication trench. The
officer told Jacka that he would hold the exit and give the Turks the
impression that he was going to charge again. Jacka said he would make his way round through a
communication trench to the other end of the fire trench at the rear of
the Turks. This plan worked
officer’s party threw two bombs and fired several shots into the wall
of the trench opposite them. Jacka
made his way round, and a moment after the bombs were thrown he reached
a portion of the trench just behind the Turks.
The party in front shots and charged, but when they reached the
trench only four Turks came crawling over the parapet.
These Turks were shot, and Jacka was found in the trench with an
unlighted cigarette in his mouth and with a flushed face.
“I managed to get the beggars, sir,” he said.
In front of him was a trench literally blocked with Turks.
He had shot five, and had just finished bayoneting the remaining
two. One of them was only
wounded, and was taken prisoner.
Lance-Corporal Leonard James Keyworth Of The 24th (County Of
Battalion The London Regiment (The Queen’s) (T.F.), Won The
One of those acts of almost incredible bravery and contempt for
death, the account of which reads more like a page from the most
extravagant of the romances of adventure than sober fact, was performed
during the British attack on the enemy’s position at Givenchy on the
night of May 25th-26th 1915.
The hero of it was a young Territory of twenty-two, Lance
Corporal Leonard James Keyworth, of the 24th Battalion London
Keyworth’s battalion having
already made a successful assault on a part of the German line,
determined to follow up this success by a bomb attack.
The bomb throwers, to the number of seventy-five, advanced to the
attack from a small British trench situated on a slight hill, less than
forty yards from the enemy’s first line trenches; but though the
distance was short, the ground between had been so badly cut up by shell
fire that they could not progress very rapidly, and before they were
half way across, the majority of them had already fallen beneath the
withering fire from rifle and machine gun which was opened upon them.
But the rest, undismayed by the fate of their comrades, came
bravely on, and among them was Lance-corporal Keyworth.
Halting a few yards from the
parapet, Keyworth began to throw his bombs.
Then, springing on to the top of the parapet itself, he took
deliberate aim at the Germans beneath him and rained his deadly missiles
upon them with the most murderous effect. When his stock was exhausted, he leaped down, replenished it
from the bag of some dead or dying comrade, and then returned to the
attack. For two hours he
continued thus, hurling, it is computed, 150 bombs on the panic stricken
Huns, until the trench was a veritable shambles, shocked with the bodies
of the dead and of shrieking, mutilated watches, and presented an easy
prey. And, marvellous to
relate, though out of his seventy-four comrades no less than fifty-eight
were either killed or wounded, and though he was continually standing
fully exposed on the top of the parapet, so near to the Germans they
could well nigh have touched him with the muzzles of their rifles,
Keyworth escaped without a scratch, which goes to show that dare devil
bravery such as he displayed on this occasion is often its own
justification, creating as it does in the minds of an enemy a degree of
amazement and consternation which renders him quite incapable of
opposing it with his usual coolness and courage.
Lance Corporal Keyworth, who joined
the 24th London Regiment at the beginning of the war, was
born at Lincoln on august 12th 1893.
Lieutenant Singleton, R.N., Won The D.S.O. On The River Tigris
There is an old saying which declares, “The frontiers of the
British Navy are the coasts of the enemy.”
True enough in principle, it falls far short of the whole truth,
for the British seaman can adapt himself to make effective use of any
sort of water that will float even a raft.
Out in one of the backwaters of the war, on the River Tigris,
Lieutenant Mark Singleton, R.N., proved once again that the junior naval
officer of today is as keen and efficient in what is called “boat
work” as any of his predecessors, who in the old days, cut out enemy
ships from under the guns of their protecting forts.
The Turks had been driven from the
lower reaches of the Tigris, and had retreated inland, so that it was no
longer possible for our warships to reach them with their guns.
This, however was not allowed to prevent the Navy from giving the
Army every assistance in its power, and a number of picket boats and
small tugs were secured, some from the ships themselves and some from
neighbouring ports, and converted into miniature warships by the
mounting of one or two light guns. The command of one of these little boats, the Shaitan, was
given to Lieutenant Singleton; and, with his tiny crew, he proceeded to
show that the officers and men of the British Navy are just as happy and
invincible when they are manoeuvring up a river as when they are
scouring the broad bosom of the open sea.
After the enemy had been driven
back, defeated and demoralized from Kurnah, our forces pressed on
rapidly in order that he might have no opportunity to rally his
retreating troops. Thanks
to speed and skilful handling, the Shaitan was able to get ahead of the
other Turkish gunboat Marmariss, a vessel much larger and more
powerfully armed than herself, which ended her day on the bed of the
river sunk. At the approach of the British flotilla the Turkish forces
fled; but the Shaitan pursued her way with all possible speed through
the town of Amara, which flanked the river on both sides, her small guns
firing on the hostile forces whenever they showed themselves. So rapidly did she gain o the flying Turks, that she
presently got into a position where her guns commanded the line of their
retreat, and there followed the rather ludicrous spectacle of 11 Turkish
officers and 250 en laying down their arms to this pigmy, improvised
warships rather than run the gauntlet of her small but well served guns.
The days work resulted in the occupation of the importantly
situated of Amara, and with it the capture of a garrison which numbered
over a thousand, including the Governor of the place itself and the
commander-in-chief of the forces that had been driven out of Kurnah.
Towards this, Lieutenant Singleton and the Shaitan had “largely
contributed,” to say nothing of the sinking of the Marmariss and the
capture of a Turkish transport. For
his skill and energy the officer was appointed to the Distinguished
Service Order, being one of the first naval men to be decorated for
river work in the war.
Romantic Adventure Of Lieutenant D’Oyly-Hughes In The Sea
Marmora Which Won For Him The D.S.O.
It may be doubted whether any member of the Distinguished Service
Order ever went through a more thrilling series of adventures in winning
the honour than did Lieutenant Guy D’Oyly-Hughes on the might of
August 21st 1915. This
young officer had been second in command of submarine E11 when that
vessel cruised about the Sea of Marmora in May, destroying a number of
Turkish warships, transports and store ships, and for his services then
he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
August found him again in those waters in one of His Majesty’s
submarines, and on the night in question the vessel was lying at the
extreme eastern end of the Sea of Marmora, to the south of the Bosphorus,
near a coast which was skirted by a railway connecting Skutari with
Ismid. At this time Turkish
shipping was suffering acutely from “nerves” as the result of the
activities of our underwater craft, and Lieutenant D’Oyly-hughes
suggested that as there was for the moment little scope for their
energies at sea, considerable damage and inconvenience might be caused
to the enemy if they could send a landing party ashore and blow up part
of the railway line. What
is more, he offered his own services as a “landing party.”
In the dead of night the submarine
moved cautiously in towards the shore and proceeded to disembark the
“party.” There has
never been a stranger one in history.
A raft had been prepared, and upon this the lieutenant placed his
clothes, his weapons-a service revolver and a sharpened bayonet-an
electric torch, and a whistle, as well as the charge of explosive by
which he hoped to blow up the railway line; and when the submarine
stopped some sixty yards from shore he slid over the side and swam
towards the hostile coast, pushing his raft in front as he went.
His first landing place was
unsuitable, for the cliffs rose almost perpendicularly from the beach.
He therefore put to sea again and swam slowly along, still with
his raft, looking out for some more favourable spot; and, having found
it, waded ashore, dressed himself, and set off with his equipment to
scale the cliffs.
stiff climb brought him safely to the top, and after half an hour’s
cautious advance he found himself alongside the railway line.
His main objectives was a bridge which carried the line across a
deep valley-if he could destroy that the railway would probably be
useless for months; but as he crept along the line he heard voices, and
saw three men not many yards ahead who had evidently been set as a guard
against such attacks as this. With
this evidence that precautions had been taken by the enemy, Lieutenant
D’Oyly-Hughes decided to spy out the land round the viaduct before
deciding on his course of action, and making a wide detour to avoid any
further guards along the railway, presently arrived within full view of
He saw at once the impossibility of
attempting to carry out his task. A
bright fire was burning at the near end of the viaduct, and a large
number of men were working in the vicinity. He could not possibly have
approached it without discovery, and so was compelled to abandon that
project. He had one narrow
escape while on this expedition, for he had stumbled into a poultry yard
and roused its inmates to clamour; but fortunately it failed to attract
Carefully making his way back to the
spot where he had left the explosive charge, he decided to use it
against the weakest spot in the railway line that he could find.
Creeping silently along, and examining each yard of the track as
he went, he presently came to a spot where the line was carried over a
small gully by means of a brick archway.
It was no more than 150 yards away from the three guards he had
encountered before, but he got down into the gully, out the charge in
position, and muffled the fuse pistol as well as he could with some rag
so as to deaden the sound.
In the silent night, however, the
report made a startling and penetrating “bang” and scrambling out of
the hollow as quickly as he could he found himself pursued by the three
Turks. It was a race for
life, the Englishmen stumbling along in the dark over unfamiliar ground,
the enemy not far behind taking occasional shots at him with their
rifles. Once he turned and
let fly two rounds from his revolver; but these had no effect, and
seeing the impossibility of getting in safety down the steep slope he
had had to climb when landing, he kept beside the railway until it
brought him close to the beach.
Then he made straight for the sea
and plunged in-some three quarters of a mile from the spot where his
boat was waiting for him. He
swam straight out to sea for a quarter of a mile and then blew his
whistle; but the boat was too far away, and cliffs intervened, and it
was not heard. Those
onboard however, did hear the explosion of the charge, which scattered
fragments round them, although they were nearly half a mile from the
gully where the guncotton had been placed.
By this time day was breaking, and
Lieutenant D’Oyly-Hughes, exhausted by his trying experiences and
weighed down by his clothes, risked a return to the beach, where he
waited in safety for a time to rest himself. Then leaving his pistol, bayonet, and torch behind, he struck
out to sea again, making along the coast in the direction where he had
left his boat. Every now
and again he blew his whistle, but the submarine was lying in sheltered
bay between high cliffs, and it was not until the officer had actually
rounded the point that the whistle was heard.
The submarine immediately began to
back out to meet him, but at that moment men on the shore began to fire
at it with rifles, and in the misty light of an early morning it seemed
to the lieutenant that three small boats were coming out of the bay to
search for him. What he
actually saw was the high bow, the gun and the conning tower of the
submarine; but believing that the enemy were chasing him in rowing
boats, he at once made for the shore and landed for a third time.
As soon as he had climbed a few feet
out of the water he discovered his mistake.
Giving a loud shout he dived in again, and at last was picked up
in an extremely exhausted condition and taken onboard the submarine
after having been swimming for nearly a mile in his clothes.
The Navy had always prided itself on
being an amphibious force, but not one man ever before demonstrated the
truth of the claim so brilliantly, nor had the D.S.O. ever been more
Lieutenant Smyth, Of The 15th Sikhs, Won The V.C. And Ten
The Indian Distinguished Service Medal, At The Ferme Du Bois
There are no finer fighting men in our Indian Army than the
Sikhs, the descendants of those fierce, long haired warriors who fought
so stubbornly against us at Firozshah and Chilianwala, and afterwards
stood so loyally by the British Raj in the dark days of the Mutiny.
And there are no finer officers in the world than the men who
lead them, for no youngster stands a chance of being gazetted to a Sikh
regiment who has not shown that he possesses in a marked degree all the
qualities which are likely to ensure the confidence and devotion of
those whom he aspires to command.
When the first Indian contingent
disembarked at Marseilles in the early autumn of 1914 there were some
arm chair critics who expressed doubts as to whether, under conditions
of warfare so totally different from those with which he was familiar,
the native soldier might not be found wanting.
But these sceptics were speedily confounded for, however strange
and terrifying might be the sight of the destruction wrought by hand
grenades and high explosive shells, however trying the long vigils in
trenches knee deep in mud and water, the Sepoy accepted t all with
Oriental stoicism, and wherever his officer led, he cheerfully followed,
though it was into the very jaws of death.
And on many a desperate enterprise,
on many a forlorn hope, did these officers lead him, but surely on none
more so than that on which Lieutenant Smyth, of the 15th
Sikhs, led his little band of dark skinned heroes on May 18th
On the previous night a company of
the 15th, under Captain Hyde Cates, had relieved a part of
the 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry in a section of a
trench known as the “Glory Hole,” near the Ferme du Bois, on the
right front of the Indian Army corps.
Here for some fighting of a peculiarly fierce and sanguinary
character had been in progress; and the position of affairs at the
moment when the Sikhs replaced the Highlanders was that our men were in
occupation of a section of a German trench, the remaining portion being
still held by the enemy, who had succeeded in erecting a strong
barricade between themselves and the British.
Towards dawn Captain Cates observed
that the Germans were endeavouring to reinforce their comrades in the
trench, as numbers of men were seen doubling across the open towards its
further extremity. He
immediately ordered the Sikhs to fire upon them, but in the dim light
they presented exceedingly difficult targets; and when morning broke, it
was ascertained that the German trench was packed with men, who were
evidently meditating an attack. Shortly
afterwards, in fact, a perfect hail of bombs began to fall among the
Indians, who replied vigorously and, to judge from the shrieks and
curses which came from the other side of the barricade, with
considerable effect, until towards noon their supply of bombs began to
fail, many of them having been so damaged by the rain which had fallen
during the night as to quite useless.
The situation was a critical one; only the speedy arrival of a
bombing party from the reserve trenches could enable them to hold out.
Te reserve trenches were some 250
yards distant, and the ground between so exposed to the fire of the
enemy as to render the dispatch of reinforcements a most desperate
undertaking. Twice had the
Highland Light Infantry made the attempt, and on both occasions the
officer in command had been killed and the party practically wiped out.
Nevertheless, the Sikhs were resolved to take their chance, and
on volunteers being called for such was the magnificent spirit of the
regiment that every man stepped forward, though no one doubted that, if
his services were accepted, almost certain death awaited him.
Ten men were selected and placed under the command of Lieutenant
Smyth, a young officer of one and twenty, who had already distinguished
himself on more than one occasion by his dashing courage.
The names of these ten heroes deserve to be remembered.
They were: Sepoys Fatteh Singh, Ganda Singh, Harnam Singh, Lal
Singh, Naik Mangal Singh, Sarain Singh, Sapooram Singh, Sucha Singh,
Sunder Singh, and Ujagar Singh.
At two o’clock in the afternoon
Lieutenant Smyth and his little band set out on their perilous
enterprise, taking with them two boxes containing ninety-six bombs.
The ground, which they had to traverse, was absolutely devoid of
all natural cover. The only approach to shelter from the terrific fire which
greeted them the moment they showed their heads above the parapet of our
reserve trenches was an old partially demolished trench, which at best
of times was hardly knee deep, but was now in places literally choked
with the corpses of Highland Light Infantry, Worcester, Indians and
Germans. Dropping over the
parapet, they threw themselves flat on the ground and painfully wriggled
their way through the mud, pulling and pushing the boxes along with
them, until they reached the scanty shelter afforded by the old trench,
where they commenced a progress which for sheer horror can seldom have
By means of pagris attached to the
boxes the men in front pulled them along over and through the dead
bodies that encumbered the trench, while those behind pushed with all
their might. The danger was
enough to have appalled the stoutest heart.
Rifle and machine gun bullets ripped up the ground all around
them, while the air above was white with the puffs of shrapnel.
If a single bullet, a single fragment of shell, penetrated one of
these boxes of explosives, the men propelling it would infallibly be
blown to pieces.
Before they had advanced a score of
yards on their terrible journey Fatteh Singh fell, severely wounded; in
another hundred, Sucha Singh, Ujagar Singh and Sunder Singh were down,
thus leaving only Lieutenant Smyth and six men to get the boxes along.
However, spurred on by the thought of the dire necessity of their
comrades ahead, they by superhuman efforts, succeeded in dragging them
nearly to the end of the trench, when, in quick succession, Sarain Singh
and Sapooram Singhh were shot dead, while Ganda Singh, Harnam Singh and
Naik Mangal Singh were wounded. The
second box of bombs had therefore to be abandoned, and for the two
remaining men to hal even one box along in the face of such difficulties
appeared an impossible task. But nothing was impossible to the young lieutenant and the
heroic Lal Singh, and presently the anxious watchers in the trench ahead
saw them wriggling their way yard by yard into the open, dragging with
them the box upon the safe arrival of which so much depended.
As they emerged from the comparative
shelter of the trench a veritable hail of lead burst upon them; but,
escaping it as though by a miracle, they crawled on until they found
themselves confronted by a small stream, which at this point was to deep
to wade. They had,
therefore, to turn aside and crawl along the bank of the stream until
they came to a place, which was just fordable.
Across this they struggled with their precious burden, the water
all about them churned into foam by the storm of bullets, clambered up
the further bank, and in a minute more were amongst their cheering
comrades. Both were unhurt, though their clothes were perforated by
bullet holes; but it is sad to relate that scarcely had they reached the
trench than the gallant Lal Singh was struck by a bullet and killed
For his “most conspicuous
bravery” Lieutenant Smyth received the Victoria Cross, and each of the
brave men who accompanied him the Indian Distinguished Service Medal,
and we may be very certain that “ne’er will their glory fade” from
the proud record of our Indian Army.
It is, we may mention, the universal opinion of the men of the 15th
Sikhs Sahib bears a charmed life, since again and again he has escaped
death by a hair’s breadth, on one occasion a match with which he was
lighting a cigarette being taken out of his fingers by a bullet.
Lieutenant Commander M .E. Nasmith Won The V.C. For His Exploits
The Sea Of Maemora In The E11
The Prime Minister was able to announce early in November 1915,
that over two hundred Turkish warships, transports and supply ships had
been sunk or damaged by our submarines in the Dardanelle’s and the Sea
of Marmora. This was the
result of almost exactly six months constant effort, and because the
total was so great, it might with some show of reason be assumed that
the task itself was a fairly simple one.
The story of every individual submarine, however, brings home
very forcibly the reality of the ever-present dangers that had to be
faced and circumvented, and the manner in which E11 won the V.C. for her
commander and a decoration for everyone else onboard is second to none
in this respect.
The spring of 1915 found the E11
attached to the Fleet in the Mediterranean, and, with Lieutenant
Commander Martin Eric Nasmith in charge, she proceeded to make history
at a rapid rate. It was in
the middle of May that she left for her perilous passage through the
Dardanelle’s, and before she was through them she ran across her first
patch of excitement. When
the Narrows had been successfully negotiated, and the submarine rose to
get fresh bearings, two battleships were seen to be lying a little
further on. Such an
opportunity was not to be let slip without an effort, and, necessarily
keeping the periscope above water, Lieutenant Commander Nasmith at once
proceeded to put his boat in a suitable position for launching a
Unfortunately, the Turks sighted the
periscope a minute or two too soon, and instantly the battleships began
blazing away with their light guns as hard as they could.
At the same time they “upped anchor” and got under way, so
there was nothing for it for the E11 but to dive and hide her until the
furore had subsided. She was far too slow to catch the battleships if she ran
submerged, and if she rose to the surface, she would almost certainly
have been breached by a shell. After
a little, therefore, she gently settled herself on the bottom of the
Straits, and there she remained until dusk.
That same evening she pushed on into
the Sea of Marmora, where for several days she alternately rested and
cruised about without finding anything that was worth the expenditure of
a torpedo Lieutenant Commander Nasmith made Constantinople the centre of
his operations during the whole of this raid, and his first reward came
one Sunday morning, just before half past six, when a big gunboat was
seen cruising off the port. The
submarine was ready for instant action, and in less than a minute the
fatal torpedo was under way. At
6.25 the gunboat was hit; at 6.30 she had sunk-but not without giving
the E11 something of a shock. While
she was heeling well over to the water’s edge, a shot was fired that
went clean through the submarine’s periscope, carrying away about four
inches of the diameter a few feet from the base, and leaving the rest
standing. Had the shot
struck about six feet lower, it would very probably have made a breach
in the conning tower, and so rendered the submarine helpless, as she
would not have been able to dive.
The very next day brought an
adventure, which, if it was not so exciting, at any rate did not lack in
interest. A big steamer was
sighted making her way from Constantinople towards the Dardanelle’s,
and the E11 came to the surface a short distance ahead, fired a shot
across her bows, and brought her to a standstill.
There happened to be a facetious American newspaper correspondent
on board, and when Lieutenant Commander Nasmith hailed, “Who are
you?” meaning, of course, to inquire what the ship was and what was
her business-this gentleman replied by giving his own name and that of
the paper for which he was working.
This was not good enough for the
E11. A few more questions
elicited the fact that the ship was a Turkish transport, the Nagara, and
when he got as far as that, Nasnmith promptly replied; “Right, I am
going to sink you.” “May
we have time to get off?” Queried
the newspaperman, by this time rather subdued.
“Yes,” came the answer from the submarine, “but be d---
quick about it.”
The Turks were so quick that they
upset two of their boats in lowering them, and capsized several men into
the water, though all of them managed to get into safety again.
Them Lieutenant Commander Nasmith went on board the ship to see
what she carried. There was
a six-inch gun, destined to strengthen the forts on the Dardanelle’s;
there were several sets of mountings for weapons of large calibre; and
there was a great quantity of ammunition for heavy guns on its way to
the Dardanelle’s. The
ship was in fact, loaded from keel to upper deck with a war material;
and when the crew-and the American correspondent-had withdrawn to a safe
distance, the submarine drew off, fired a torpedo, and sent the ship to
The must audacious act of the E11
was her raid on Constantinople itself.
Early one morning, while she was slowly cruising off the mouth of
the harbour, she hailed a Turkish merchantman to stop; but the enemy
ignored the demand and ran for all he was worth towards the harbour,
with the E11 in hot pursuit. It
may have been this incident that gave Nasmith his inspiration; but
however that may be, the E11 found herself early one morning lying
actually within the port of Constantinople itself.
Observations were cautiously taken, and it was seen that a number
of enemy transports were lying alongside the wharves and that some of
them actually had troops onboard.
Tricky currents traverse the harbour
of Constantinople, and although the E11 fired two torpedoes, neither of
them hit the object at which it was aimed.
Nasmith’s intention was, of course, to sink the transports; and
although the first torpedo did not do that, it blew up a barge with such
force that the transport Stamboul, lying close by, was so badly damaged
that she had to be run ashore in order to save herself from sinking.
The second torpedo did not hit a ship, bit it exploded against
the quayside and destroyed a considerable length of it.
In the Turkish capital itself the
moral effect of this attack was tremendous.
Hearing the explosion of the two torpedoes and the noise of the
guns which the Turkish batteries went on firing long after the E11 was
safely out of sight, the civil population jumped to the conclusion that
the Allied fleet had arrived before their city. Thousands of them fled to the hills behind the town; most of
the shops put up their shutters; and after the Turkish officers had
vainly attempted to control the panic stricken soldiers onboard the
transports with their swords and revolvers, all the men were marched
ashore and the transports left empty.
It was several days before the capital settled down again.
This by no means ended the thrilling
experiences of the E11. Before she set out on her return journey from the Sea of
Marmora she had sunk in all one large gunboat, three store ships, and
one ammunition ship (the Nagara), and had forced another store ship to
run ashore; and when, on her way back, she was about to enter the
Dardanelle’s again, Lieutenant-Commander Nasmith sighted another
transport coming up astern, and he waited until she came along and then
torpedoed her and sent her to the bottom.
In all, the E11 destroyed eleven ships no bad record for a small
vessel with a crew of thirty officers and men, who had to face the
gravest perils single handed from the time they entered the
Dardanelle’s until they left them.
On the way out these perils were
encountered in a most alarming from.
As the E11 was making her way seawards beneath the surface, those
on board became aware of a resistance, which was not of the sea, and
every now and then a faint bump was heard against the vessel’s side.
Instinctively and instantly everyone on board realized what had
The submarine had fouled the cable by which a floating mine was
chained to its anchor on the seabed, and the cable, instead of slipping
past the smooth hull, had somehow become entangled in the forward
hydroplanes. Anyone of
those ominous bumps might suffice to explode the mine and send the
submarine to the bottom like a log.
It was impossible for Nasmith to manoeuvre his boat in an effort
to get rid of the thing, for he was passing through the most thickly
mined area of the whole Straits, and any deviation from the set course
would almost certainly have taken the boat straight to destruction.
Nor could he rise to the surface and send a man out to detach the
machine, for the churning screws of the patrol boats could be heard
overhead. There was nothing
for it but to carry on as slowly and as carefully as possible and to
trust to Providence.
For eleven miles the submarine crept on with sudden death
dangling from her bows-a death from which those on board were saved only
by the lightness of the bumps by which the mine had announced itself.
A sharp blow would have detonated it.
One can imagine what feelings of relief were when the boat at
last reached an area where she could “break surface” in safety.
Once afloat again, it did not take long to disentangle the cable
and drop the mine over the side.
His splendid services brought
Lieutenant-Commander Nasmith the award of the Victoria Cross, while the
two other officers onboard, Lieutenant Guy D’Oyly-hughes and
Lieutenant Robert Brown (R.N.R.) received the Distinguished Service
Cross. All the petty
officers and men were granted the D.S.M.
Major Borrett Of The 2nd Battalion K.O.R. Lancaster Regiment,
D.S.O. At Zillebeke, On February 18th 1915
After the failure of the prolonged and savage effort of the
Germans to break through the French and British lines round Ypres in
October and November, a period of comparative quiescence followed.
Winter made operations on a large scale almost impossible, and
the attentions of the enemy were drawn to the Eastern Front, where a
similar onslaught against Warsaw met the fate of that against Ypres.
In February, however, there was a renewal of local activity, and
the war of sapping and mining reached a climax on the 18th,
when a trench at Zillebeke held by a certain British regiment was blown
bodily into the air. The
position, which faced the famous Hill 60, then in German hands, was one
of the great importances; it’s loss meant a serious gap in our system
of defences and enabled the enemy to enfilade the advanced trenches to
right and left. It was imperative that the lost trench, though more like a
ditch than a trench as the result of the explosion should be retaken.
The attack was entrusted to Major
Borrett’s company, which was in reserve about two miles in the rear.
The order was communicated during the night, and at dawn the
company left its trenches. Major
Borrett had no illusions as to the difficulties and risks of his task.
The enemy had had time to establish themselves in the captured
trench, to reorganise its defences, and to bring up the machine guns,
which are an integral, indeed the essential, part of their equipment.
A February dawn, when the sun’s pale rays strike through a
thick curtain of heavy rain, is hardly the condition to instil
enthusiasm into sleepy, tired an drenched British soldiers; but the men,
with the prospect of warm work ahead of them, felt themselves masters of
their fate, and a few simple words from Major Borrett put them on
excellent terms with themselves. The
one thing needful was to be on even better terms with the enemy.
The two miles of soaked fields, dripping woods, quagmires and
shell swept roads had to be covered, though the road itself was speedily
abandoned as little more than a death trap.
The communication trenches were ditches in which the men waded up
to their waists, but Major Borrett inspired them by his example and a
few cheerful words.
At length our second line trench was
reached, a short hundred yards from the place where the Germans imagined
they secure in their new stronghold.
A communication trench connected the two trenches at this point,
and Major Borrett decided himself to lead a storming party up this
communication trench while the rest of his command rushed the German
trench in the open. On his
word of command the two companies leaped to their feet and raced across
the intervening space, throwing bombs as they went. In a minute there was a desperate scuffle on the parapet and
bombs, grenades, and bayonets competed in deadly rivalry.
Then the enemy lost heart, broke and fled with yells; hand
grenades, as parting gifts, whizzing past their ears.
Meanwhile the Major himself and his bombing party were engaged in
the most critical and difficult part of the operation.
The communication trench was handful of water, and though its
windings kept the attackers from the view of the enemy until the last
moment, the Germans lobbed over bombs over the top of the parapet, which
caused many casualties. The
Major, leading the men, had a series of narrow escapes, but at length
the last turn was reached, and with as shout the party hurled itself and
a cloud of bombs and grenades against the German barricade.
No man has ever yet done justice to
the pandemonium, which ensues when men armed with every kind of
explosive fight each other in a confined space.
All the more wonder, then, that Major Borrett kept his head,
continued to direct and encourage his men, and at length discovered the
German officer in command and singled him out as a worthy rival. Then
ensued what can only be described as a freakish incident in modern war-a
full dress duel between the respective commanders.
At point blank range the two men raised their revolvers and fired
Borrett dropped his weapon, shot through the shoulder, but his rival
flung up his arms, and fell back into the mine stone dead.
The death of their leader struck dismay into the surviving
Germans and as the news of the loss of the main trench reached them they
gave way. Many surrendered,
and of the rest most were shot down as they tried to escape.
Major Borrett’s wound was serious,
but happily not fatal, and with returning health came the knowledge that
his fine leadership and the brilliant exploit of his men had been
accorded the recognition they deserved.
Major Haig, Of The Royal Garrison Artillery, Won The D.S.O.,
Corporal William Scothern The D.C.M., At Frezenberg
The honours conferred upon the officers and men of the Royal
Horse and Royal Field Artillery during the present war have been very
numerous; that fewer have fallen to the share of their comrades of the
Garrison artillery must be ascribed to the fact that, with them,
opportunities for individual distinction are far less frequent.
For as, the following incident abundantly proves, whenever any
occasion demanding courage and coolness of the highest order arises, the
Garrison “gunners” will never be found wanting.
At about 4 a.m. on the morning of
April 24th 1915, at Frezenberg, near Ypres, corporal William
Scothern, of the 122nd Heavy Battery of R.G.A., set out in
company with his commanding officer, Major Haig, for their forward
observation-post. The enemy
had used gas heavily that morning, and a Canadian battalion stationed
some distance in advance of the observation post had been badly cut up
and obliged to evacuate their trench and retire behind it.
The poisonous fumes still impregnated the air, and Major Haig was
so overcome by them that he was compelled to return to the battery and
rest for a while, after which he pluckily rejoined the corporal.
The ground all around the
observation post where these two men worked presented a gruesome
spectacle. Great craters
made by the German shells yawned on every side; between them and the
trenches lately evacuated by the Canadians, and now occupied by the
enemy, the place was strewn with the bodies f the gallant fellows from
over the sea, some lying motionless, others gasping and choking in the
throes of most agonizing of deaths-the death by gas poisoning; on their
left, the ground was covered with dead horses, while a little to the
rear the flames from a blazing farm house lighted up the scene.
Scarcely a thousand yards separated
them from the Germans, and between them and the enemy there was not a
single British soldier. All
day long the ground was heavily shelled, while at intervals the deadly
gas clouds, which had served the Huns so well in the morning, came
floating towards them. Yet
all day long these two brave men-the major, with his field glasses to
his eyes, observing the effect of his battery’s fire, the corporal at
the telephone, communicating his officer’s instructions to the gunners
in the rear-stuck to their work. The
fire of the enemy damaged Several times the telephone wires, and
corporal Scothern was obliged to go out into the open to repair them.
On one of these occasions he was hit in the thigh, but, happily,
the wound was only a slight one, and did not prevent him from completing
his work and re-establishing the interrupted communication with his
battery. And soon he had
the satisfaction of seeing the great howitzer shells once more come
sailing over his head, to drop with deadly effect upon the German
At length, about 6 p.m. they
received orders to retire,, and packing up, returned to the battery
which, thanks to their heroism, had rendered such good service that day.
The official report of the award of
the D.C.M. to Corporal Scothern states that it was bestowed “for
conspicuous gallantry on many occasion, and especially on the 23rd-24th
April 1915, near Frezenberg,” to duty to all.”
Major Haig was awarded the D.S.O.
Corporal Scothern, who is thirty years of age is a resident of
Lieutenant Maurice James Dease, Of The 4th
The Royal Fusiliers Won The V.C. At Mons
On reaching Mons on August 22nd 1914, the part
assigned to the British force was that of extending the French line in a
northwesterly direction. The
line taken extended along the line of the canal from Conde on the west,
through Mons and Binche on the east.
From Conde to Mons inclusive was held by the Second Corps, and on
the right of the Second Corps from Mons the First Corps was posted,
while the 5th Cavalry Brigade was at great Binche.
The forward reconnaissance was entrusted to Brigadier-General Sir
Philip Chetwode, with the 5th Cavalry Brigade, and with the
assistance of a few squadrons, sent forward by General Allenby, most
useful work was done. Several
encounters took place, in which the British showed to great advantage,
and some of the squadrons penetrated as far as Soignies. It was evident from the start that the area, which covered
the loop of the canal, had been marked down by the enemy as the weakest
point in the defence. If
they succeeded in crossing the canal close to the salient, the British
would perforce have to abandon the line of defence along the straight
reach to Conde. For the time being, therefore, it was resolved to confine all
efforts to the salient. With
dawn on Sunday, August 23rd, came the first shell in the
great battle of Mons. The
bombardment increased as the morning advanced, and when at 8 a.m. fresh
batteries came into action, the first infantry attack was launched
against the Nimy Bridge, at the northwest corner of the canal loop.
The northern side of the canal, throughout the entire length
covered by the attack, is dotted with small fir plantations; and,
screened by these; the enemy poured a deadly fire from machine guns on
our troops, besides massing infantry attacks at whatever point they
chose. With superior
numbers Von Kluck could afford to throw away life freely, and about nine
o’clock four battalions were suddenly flung at the head of the Nimy
It was only defended by a single
company of the Royal Fusiliers, under Captain Ashburner, and a machine
gun in charge of Lieutenant Dease.
As the enemy advanced in close column their font sections
collapsed under the deadly fire poured into them by the British machine
guns and rifles. They fell
back in haste to one of the plantations, and then after half an hour
advanced in extended order. The
attack was checked, but not stopped.
As Captain Ashburner was hard pressed on the Nimy Bridge, Second
Lieutenant Mead was sent with a platoon to support him.
He was at once badly wounded in the head; but after being
dressed, returned to the firing line, where in a few moments he was shot
through the head and killed. Captain
Bowdon-Smith and Lieutenant smith then came up with another platoon, but
within ten minutes they were both badly wounded.
The position was now growing very desperate.
Lieutenant Dease had been hit three times while working his
machine gun, Captain Ashburner was wounded in the head, and Captain
Forster, in a trench to the right, had been shot through the right arm
and stomach. Towards midday
the attack against the straight reach of the canal became general, and
the German infantry, coming out from the cover of the fir plantations,
worked their way to within a few hundred yards of the water, and from
the cover of the trees kept up a continuous rifle and machinegun fire. They made no real advance, but when the Nimy salient was
abandoned the retirement of the troops to the left of it became
imperative. This however,
was no easy matter. Before
they reached cover they had to cross two hundred and fifty yards of flat
open ground, which was swept by a storm of shrapnel and machinegun fire.
Lieutenant Dease, who had stood by his gun all through, was now
quite unable to move, having been hit no less than five times.
Lieutenant Steele, who alone of the whole section was neither
killed nor wounded, caught him up and carried him from the fire zone to
a place of safety, and here he subsequently succumbed to his wounds.
For the most gallant part he took in the defence of the Nimy
Bridge a posthumous award of the V.C. was made.
Naik Sar Amir, Of The 129th Duke Of Connaughts Own Baluchis,
The Indian Order Of Merit (2nd Class) At Hollebeke
October 31st 1914 was probably the most critical day
in the three weeks of obstinate and sanguinary fighting which is known
as the First Battle of Ypres. Early
in the morning fighting began along the Menin –Ypres road, southeast
of Gheluvelt, and a little later an attack against the place developed
in overwhelming force, with the result that the line of the 1dt Division
was broken, and it was driven back to the woods between Hooge and
Veldhoek. Ts retirement
exposed the left of the 7th Division, and the Royal Scots
Fusiliers were cut off and destroyed; while it was only by the most
heroic efforts that the right of the 7th and General de
Moussy’s troops of the 9th French Corps on its right were
able to hold their ground. Farther
south, the 3rd Cavalry Division, under General Allenby, was
also desperately hard pressed. It
had the whole of the Allied line to hold from Klein Zillebeke by
Hollebeke to south of Messines, and the only reinforcements it could
call upon were two battalions from the 7th Indian Brigade,
which had been sent to its support some days previously, and were
already in a somewhat exhausted condition.
Nevertheless, they acquitted themselves right valiantly, and two
men of the 129th Baluchis Sepoy Khudadad and Naik Sar Amir-brought
great honour to that fine corps, the former winning the Victoria Cross,
and the latter, whose gallant deed we are about to relate, the Indian
Order of Merit (Second Class).
About one o’clock in the
afternoon, Naik Sar Amir was in charge of the Baluchis machine gun
section’s mules which were under cover about three hundred yards
behind the spot where the guns were in action, when two men belonging to
the crew of one of the guns came running back, and told him that it had
been hit direct by a shell and rendered useless.
The officer commanding the section (Captain Dill, D.S.O. who was
afterwards killed) had sent them back to ask the commanding officer to
arrange for another gun to be sent up.
The two men hurried off, and Naik Sa Amir at once went forward to
the remaining gun, to ascertain if it were still in working order and
whether more ammunition or anything were required.
When he arrived within some twenty-five yards of the emplacement,
he saw that the ground directly in front of it was littered with dead
and wounded Germans, who, advancing in massed formation, had been mown
down like corn by the fire of the murderous weapon, but that the enemy
had now opened out and were attacking from both flanks.
Soon afterwards they succeeded in rushing the trench, and killed
the havildar and four men, who were working the gun, who, scorning to
surrender, fought to their last gasp.
Seeing that there were not enough of
our men at hand to retake the trench, Sar Amir waited for a while in a
cottage close behind the emplacement, and then, accompanied by one of
the sepoys who had been carrying up ammunition, made his way back to the
mules, and ordered all the kit to be loaded up.
Meanwhile the Germans had opened a hot fire on them, and the
sepoy and three bullets through his puggree, but were not hit.
When everything was ready, Sar Amir quietly marched the mules
back to the new line, which had been taken up by his regiment.
When he started retiring, the Germans were only some eighty or a
hundred yards away on his right flank, and were not forgetting to remind
him of their proximity; but the bullets, which hummed past, appeared to
disturb him not at all. He
reached our lines, and having inspected the mules and equipment reported
to the adjutant that, though both guns had been lost, together with the
men who had actually been working them, everything else had been brought
back safely. Later in the
day it was ascertained that he had been slightly wounded in the knee by
a bullet, but had thought so little of his hurt that he had not
considered it necessary to report it.
Nsik-now Havildar-Sar Amir, whose gallantry and coolness on this
occasion gained him the decoration so much coveted by every native
soldier, is a Jowaki Afridi, and his home is at the village of Sherakhal,
in the Kohat district of the Northwest Provinces.
He is twenty-three years of age.
Lance-Corporal O’Leary, Of The Irish Guards, Won The V.C.
Before the Great War was a month old the critics and all the
experts had formally decided that men had ceased to count.
They were never tried of telling us that it was purely an affair
of machines of scientific destruction, and that personal courage was of
no avail. Gone were the
days of knightly deeds, of hair’s breadth adventures, of acts of
individual prowess. They
told us so often and with such persistence that we all began to believe
them, and then one day the world rang with the story of Michael
O’Leary’s great exploit, and we knew that the age of heroes was not
yet passed. Once more
science had been dominated and beaten by human nerve and human grit.
The school for heroes is not a bed
of roses and O’Learys was no exception.
He was in the Navy, then he served his time in the Irish Guards,
and after his seven years he went to Canada and joined the Northwest
Mounted Police. By this
time he was twenty-five he had sampled most of the hardships that this
soft age still offers to the adventurous and given proof of the
qualities which were to make him one of the outstanding figures of the
“Great Age.” A long and
desperate fight with a couple of cutthroats in the Far West had revealed
him to himself and shown his calibre to his friends.
The “Hun-tamer” was in the making.
On mobilization in August O’Leary
hastened to rejoin his old regiment, and by November he found himself in
France with the rank of lance corporal. His splendid health, gained in
the open air life of the Northwest, stood him in good stead during the
long and trying winter; but the enemy, exhausted by their frantic
attempt to “hack away” through to Calais, gave little trouble, and
O’Leary had no chance to show his metal.
With the spring, however, came a change, and there was
considerable “liveliness” in that part of the line held by the Irish
Guards. The regiment was
holding important trenches at Cuinchy, a small village in the dull and
dreary country dotted with brickfields, which lies south of the
Bethune-La Bassee Canal. On
the last day of January the Germans attempted a surprise against the
trenches neighbouring those of the Irish Guards.
The position was lost and was to be retaken so that the line
should be re-established. There
was much friendly rivalry between the Irish Guards and the Coldstreams,
who had lost the ground; but at length it was decided that the latter
should lead the attack, while the Irish followed in support.
The morning of February 1st,
a day destined to be a red-letter day in the history of the British
soldier broke fine and clear, and simultaneously a storm of shot and
shell descended on the German trenches, which were marked down for
recapture. For the wretched
occupants there was no escape, for as soon as a head appeared above the
level of the sheltering parapet it was greeted by a hail of fire from
the rifles of our men. O’Leary,
however, was using his head as well as his rifle.
He had marked down the spot where a German machine gun was to be
found, and registered an inward resolve that that gun should be his
private and peculiar concern when the moment for the rush came.
After a short time the great guns ceased as suddenly as they had
began, and with a resounding cheer the Coldstreams sprang from the
trenches and made for the enemy with their bayonets.
The Germans, however, had not been completely annihilated by the
bombardment, and the survivors gallantly manned their battered trenches
and poured in a heavy fire on the advancing Coldstreams.
Now was the turn of the Irish, and quick as a flash they leapt up
with a true Irish yell. Many
a man bit the dust, but there was no holding back that mighty onslaught
which swept towards the German lines.
O’Leary, meanwhile, had not forgotten his machine gun.
He knew that it would have been dismantled during the bombardment
to save from being destroyed, and it was a matter of lie and death to
perhaps hundreds of his comrades that he should reach it in time to
prevent its being brought into action.
He put on his best pace and within a few seconds found himself in
a corner of the German trench on the way to his goal.
Immediately ahead of him was a
barricade. Now a barricade is a formidable obstacle, but to O’Leary,
with the lives of his company to save, it was no obstacle, and its five
defenders quickly paid with their lives the penalty of standing between
an Irishman and his heart’s desire.
Leaving his five victims, O’Leary started off to cover the
eighty yards that still separated him from the second barricade where
the German machine gun was hidden.
He was literally now racing with death.
His comrade’s lives were in his hand, and the thought spurred
him on to superhuman efforts. At every moment he expected to hear the sharp burr of the gun
in action. A patch of boggy
ground prevented a direct approach to the barricade, and it was with
veritable anguish that he realized the necessity of a detour by the
railway line. Quick as
thought he was off again. A
few seconds passed, and then the Germans, working feverishly to remount
their machine gun and bring it into action against the oncoming Irish,
perceived the figure of fate in the shape of Lance-Corporal O’Leary, a
few yards away on their right with his rifle levelled at them.
The officer in charge had no time to
realize that his finger was on the button before death squared his
account. Two other reports
followed in quick succession and two other figures fell to the ground
with barely a sound. The
two survivors had no mind to test O’Leary’s shooting powers further
and threw up their hands. With
his two captives before him the gallant Irishman returned in triumph,
while his comrades swept the enemy out of the trenches and completed one
of the most successful local actions we have ever undertaken.
O’Leary was promoted sergeant before the day was over.
The story of his gallant deed was
spread all over the regiment, then over the brigade, then over the army.
Then the official “Eye-witness” joined in and told the world,
and finally came the little notice in the Gazette, the award of the
Victoria Cross, and the homage of all who know a brave man when they see
Second Lieutenants Pendavis And Pepys And Private Hall
Two young officers and a private soldier of the 3rd Oxford and
Buckinghamshire Light Infantry performed a particularly gallant and
enterprising action in the early hours of November 3rd 1914,
during the first battle of Ypres. About
5 a.m. that morning a sentry reported that the enemy were entrenching
themselves in a wood directly in front of the trenches occupied by the
battalion. He could hear them not far off.
On learning this, Second Lieutenant Pendavis at once volunteered
to go out and ascertain if the information were correct; and another
young officer, Second Lieutenant Pepys, and a private named Hall offered
to accompany him. They
discarded their overcoats, and the officers having substituted
bandoliers and rifles and bayonets for their Sam Browne belts and
revolvers, the three climbed over the parapet, and creeping cautiously
forward, came upon a strong party of Germans engaged in digging a trench
within forty yards of the British trenches.
Making their way as noiselessly as possible through the scrub,
they got within some fifteen paces of the unsuspecting enemy, when the
two young officer took cover behind trees, a little distance apart,
kneeling, levelled their rifles; the private lay along the ground
between them and a little way behind.
All three rifles rang out almost simultaneously, and, at that
point blank range, with deadly effect.
The Germans were taken utterly by surprise, and owing to the
thick mist and the rapidity of the firing, they probably imagined that
it was an attack in force.
Some bolted, leaving their rifles
behind them, while those who stood their ground fired wildly.
One of them, however, caught sight of Lieutenant Pepys and took
careful aim at him; but; happily Lieutenant Pendavis got in his first
shot, and the German dropped dead before his finger could press the
trigger. Finally, the rest
of the Huns made off, leaving no less than thirty-seven of their number
dead or dying on the ground-a fine bag, to fall to only three
“guns,” not one of whom had received so much as a scratch.
For his splendid piece of work each of the two officers was
awarded the Distinguished Service Order while Hall received the
Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Lieutenant Hugh Valentine Pendavis, who at the time was only
nineteen years of age, and must be one of the youngest officers who has
ever received the D.S.O. is a son of Archdeacon Pen Davis, of Bicester,
Sergeant Percy Reginald Pike, Of The 113th Battalion he
(Princess Louise’s Own Kensington Battalion), Won The
Near Rouges Bancs
The British attack on the enemy’s position near Rouges Bancs on
May 9th 1915, was a very disappointing and a very costly
business, most of the ground which the valour of our infantry had won
having to be subsequently abandoned, owing to the weight of the German
gunfire. In this action a
Territorial Battalion, the 13th (Kensington) of the London
Regiment, on the extreme British left, covered itself with glory,
performing, according to the general commanding the Fourth Corps-Sir
Henry Rawlinson a feat of arms surpassed by no battalion in this great
war.” The Kensington
carried three lines of German trenches with the bayonet, and held them
until they were rendered untenable by shell and machine gun fire, when
they fell back with but four company officers left.
On that day one D.S.O. and no less than four D.C.M.’s were won
by these gallant Territorials among the recipients of the latter
decoration being Acting Sergeant Percy Reginald Pike, who gained it in
the following circumstances:
Acting Sergeant Pike was on the
right flank of his battalion, in charge of three blocking parties, each
consisting of a lance corporal, six bombers and six men with spades, and
picks, whose duty it was to block a captured trench as soon as the
bombers had driven the enemy for a sufficient distance along it.
On reaching the German trench, the bombers got to work at once,
and had driven the Huns back for about one hundred yards when they ran
short of the bombs. Pike
called for a volunteer to fetch a fresh supply, and three men at once
offered themselves for this most dangerous mission an mounted the
parapet together. But they
got no further, for one of the cunningly concealed machine guns on the
flanks of the German position, whose enfilading fire wrought such havoc
among our troops that day, was immediately turned upon them, and all
three fell riddled with bullets.
Undismayed by the fate of his
comrades, Pike determined to go himself, and leaving a corporal in
charge of the party, he, in his turn, mounted the parapet and succeeded
in getting safely over it. The British lines were some two hundred and fifty yards away,
and the ground between was being very heavily shelled, to prevent
reinforcements being sent to our men in the captured trenches. But for part of the way he was able to make use of a ditch,
filled with water and half choked with dead bodies, and he succeeded in
gaining our trenches and in returning with two sacks of bombs and
grenades, and with a promise from an officer of the 2nd
Scottish Rifles that he would send a machine gun to his assistance.
The machine gun and its team arrived just as the bombs were
giving out again, and the trench was blocked and the gun mounted.
Pike remained with the Cameronian’s assisted them in working
the gun until the order to retire came.
The Kensington’s came out of that terrible ordeal reduced to a
mere shadow, and out of Sergeant Pike’s party only two men besides he
Sergeant Pike, who received his
medal “for conspicuous gallantry and ability,” is twenty-six years
of age, and his home is at Shepherd’s Bush, London.
Cooney, OF The 2nd Grenadier Guards, Won The D.C.M. At Ypres
Until August 1914, it was assumed that in warfare
stretcher-bearers were immune from all risks save the unintentional.
They might be hit in the course of their merciful work by shells
or bullets meant for the active forces, but civilized armies refrained
from firing purposely on those employed in carrying away the wounded.
The Great War, however, with the new
German code of military ethics, brought the poor stretcher-bearer into
the vale of sorrows. His risks are multiplied a hundredfold, both because the
entire area of a modern action is incessantly swept by shellfire, which
does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, and because
the Germans deliberately aim at making the recovery of wounded an
exceedingly difficult task. Stretcher-bearers
have laid their lives in thousands in this war, and there arduous work
has been frequently recognized by the grant of a distinction such as
came to Private Cooney, of the stretcher-bearer section of the 2nd
Grenadier Guards. He left
for the front a fortnight after his regiment, but arrived in time to
take part in the perilous retreat from Mons.
He was present at the stubborn tussle on the Aisne, and then
moved with his regiment to the region of Ypres, when the great German
attempts to hack they way through to Calais began about the 20th
of October. The next day,
October 21st, attempt began with heavy attack to the east of
Ypres. The Germans massed
in their usual close formation made a desperate attack on the trenches
of the 2nd Grenadiers, which formed a line through a small
wood on the left and had the shelter of two hedges on the right.
In font were a large farmhouse and two smaller houses. The enemy’s charge carried them almost up to the trenches
of the Guards, but there unable to stand the withering fire; they broke
and retired in all haste. The
Guards, seeing them waver, sprang from their shelter and charged.
Cooney and the other stretcher-bearer followed up behind, for the
German artillery immediately intervened with heavy shrapnel fire to
protect their own retreating forces and prevent the British advance.
In a few minutes there were many
casualties and Cooney was soon busy.
He and another stretcher-bearer carried several wounded men into
one of the houses, though it must have seemed a miracle.
Dodging shrapnel bullets is as impracticable as dodging
raindrops. Cooney was, of
course, unarmed, and his sole badge of office was his white armlet with
the red letters “S.B.” Once
upon a time, before the Germans came, those magic letters meant a
certain of safety for their wearers, who were respected by the foe.
But times have changed.
To and fro went Cooney ad his helper
between the house and the sodden fields with their burden of dead and
wounded. Bur at length the
inevitable happened. Cooney
was struck in the left arm. The
pain was intense, and for a moment he gave himself up for lost.
Then discipline and courage told, and he resumed his work, his
left arm limp at his side. A few minutes later he was hit again, this time in the chest.
He dropped at once, and overcome by pain and exhaustion, waited
for what seemed his inevitable end.
And then the old hero’s though
that man is master of his fate, and that he lay among men in worse
plight than himself, drove away his pain, fatigue and apprehension, and
spurred him on to further effort. He
picked himself up and roughly bandaged his wounds.
Then, slowly and in great anguish, he and his companion went on
with their work, bandaging the wounded, picking them up and carrying
them slowly and carefully to the ruined house.
His moral strength sustained him when physical strength had
departed, or he would never have survived that day.
As it was, Private Cooney lived to
learn that ha very gallant conduct had not passed unnoticed.
Even before he was again wounded, not long after, he learned he
had been recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and the honour
was soon bestowed on one who had every title to it.
Private Jacob Of The 1st Sherwood Foresters (Notts And
Regiment), Won The V.C. At Neuve Chapelle
It is pathetic to reflect how many honours in the present war
have been conferred posthumously, the brave fellows whose heroic deeds
have so richly earned them having either been killed in the very action
in which they were performed, or almost immediately afterwards.
Such was the fate of Private Jacob Rivers, of the 1st
Private Rivers, who was thirty-four
years of age and unmarried, was a native of Derby.
He had already done twelve years service in the Army, having been
seven years in India with the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and afterwards five
years in the Army Reserve. At
the time when war broke out, however, he was free, and was in the employ
of the Midland Railway Company at Derby, working as a labourer on a
ballast train. But the old
fighting spirit was there, and when his country needed his services, he
was not the man to stay at home. He
was, indeed one of the first to volunteer, and was accepted by the 1st
Battalion Sherwood Foresters. Being
an experienced soldier, he was ready for service at once, and went to
France with one of the earliest drafts.
The letters he wrote home appear to have been few and confined to
news of a purely personal character.
Certainly, he made no attempt to describe his experiences, and
the greatest of all he never lived to tell.
This occurred on March 12th
1915, at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.
Observing a large number of Germans massed on the flank of an
advanced company of his battalion, Private Rivers, on his own
initiative, crept up to within a few yards of the enemy and hurled bomb
after bomb among them, throwing them into utter confusion and forcing
them to retire. This most
gallant action he repeated later on the same day, again causing the
enemy to retire, but, unhappily, not before a bullet had cut short the
career of one of the bravest of Britain’s sons.
“The only personal effects
belonging to the late Private Rivers which have been sent home to his
mother,” says a writer in the Derby Daily Telegraph,” are the metal
box containing Princess Mary’s Christmas gift to the soldiers and a
postcard, which he had recently received.
The box had a tragic interest, for a bullet has pierced it.
It is the habit of soldiers to carry this box in their breast
pocket, less as a shield against a possible bullet than as a convenient
means of carrying their tobacco, and the fact that there is a hole right
through it clearly indicates that Private Rivers was shot through the
Leonard Keysor’s Remarkable Bombing Feat At Lone Pine
Gallipoli, Which Gained For Him The V.C.
At the beginning of August 1915, the line held by the Australian
Corps at Gaba Tepe lay in a semi-circle, with the enemy’s trenches
close up to it, in some places as near as fifteen or twenty yards,
except in that part adjoining the shore, where the guns of our warships
kept the Turks at a distance. Bomb
fighting between them and the Anzacs was, therefore, of almost daily
One of the best bomb throwers among
the latter was Private Leonard Kevsor of the 1st Battalion
Australian Imperial force. On
August 7th-8th there was some fierce fighting of
this description in the south eastern corner of the Lone Pine trenches,
where our men were so hard pressed that a section of the outer trench
had to be abandoned, though they continued to prevent the Turks from
establishing themselves there. During
these encounters Keysor was in his element, not only throwing bombs, but
constantly smothering with his coat or sandbags those of the enemy which
had fallen in the trench, and often throwing them back.
Finally, when the enemy cut down the time of the fuses, he caught
several bombs in the air just as if they were cricket balls and hurled
them back before they burst.
In the course of these feats of heroism Keysor was twice wounded
and marked for hospital; but he declined to give in and volunteered to
throw bombs for another company, which had lost all its bomb throwers.
Altogether, he was throwing bombs for fifty hours almost
Private, now Lance-Corporal, Keysor,
who was awarded the Victoria Cross, “for conspicuous bravery and
devotion to duty,” is thirty years of age and a Londoner by birth, who
went to New South Wales three years ago, previous to which he had spent
several years in Canada.
Private Lynn, Of The 2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers,
The D.C.M., And The V.C.
Private Lynn, of the Lancashire Fusiliers, might almost have been
said that he was born a hero. From
the moment the Great War broke out and the British Expeditionary Force
landed in France, he attracted the attention of his officers and
comrades by his cheerfulness in adversity and his utter contempt of
danger. Indeed, he might
almost be said to have set up his own standard of courage, for the
magnificent exploit which brought him a hero’s death and the Victoria
Cross was but the crowning act of a life of heroism, and merely an
eclipse of his own previous records.
He wasn’t destined to be feted or acclaimed, to hear his name
become a household word, to see him the idol of admiring thousands.
Indeed, death robbed him of the knowledge that his supreme act of
self-sacrifice had not passed un noticed.
But wherever the English language is spoken the name of Lynn will
be held in honoured remembrance, for his life and death added a new page
to the long chapter of our national glory.
The campaign had not been a month
old when Lynn made his mark. The
regiment was strenuously engaged in the region of the river Aisne, and
the Germans were on the point of delivering one of their massed attacks
when his machine gun jammed, a habit to which even the best of machine
gun is addicted. The
situation was critical, for a machine gun is worth a thousand men at
such a moment quick as though Lynn dismounted his gun, carried it to the
rear under a heavy fire, repaired it with the calm precision of a boy
playing in his nursery, and returned in time to annihilate the attacking
column. For so valuable a
service he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
No one was more surprised than he when the good news was
announced, for to himself he pictured his deed as a simple act of duty,
neither requiring nor deserving any special recognition.
Of such staff are heroes made.
The long winter passed and with it a
period of cheerless days and sleepless nights in the welter of Flemish
mud. The spring dried the
ground. The weather became
warmer, and even the professional grumbler who flourish in every British
Regiment found him becoming moderately contended. And then, as the end of April was approaching, the enemy
showed that he had lost none of his cunning.
What he had lost was his sense of chivalry, even of soldierly
decency, and in a moment he told the world that there was no level to
which he would not stoop if military advantage might be snatched
thereby. He started out to
poison his foes with the most virulent gases his chemists and scientists
could find all the world knows the story of the second battle of Ypres,
how for three weeks our men, surprised and unprepared, held their ground
round the ruined city while the poisonous fumes rolled over them,
enveloped them choked and killed them.
On one of the most critical days of that most critical period the
Lancashire Fusiliers were peacefully making their tea in the trenches.
Some six hundred yards away was the enemy’s line.
There was a lull in the awful storm of shelling which had raged
incessantly for a week. Suddenly
the sentries called attention to a greenish yellow smoke of which was
rising from the German trenches. The
regiment had not had practical experience of the gas before, as they had
only just arrived at that part of the front.
Respirators of a sort had been issued to them the day before, but
their efficiency was uncertain, and, indeed, they were replaced by a new
pattern immediately afterwards. In
ignorance of what was happening the men watched the advancing cloud no
little curiosity. The
Germans were seen retiring from their front trench, and immediately Lynn
got his machine gun on to them with great effect.
In a few moments, however, the poisonous vapour was rolling over
the parapet, filing every hollow ground, and sinking to the bottom of
the trench. There was no
escape. The men choked and
blinded, fell writhing on the ground, and almost immediately came the
order to retire to reserve trenches.
Within a few seconds the trench was left to the dead, and dying,
and a mere handful of British soldiers, among them Private Lynn.
In the agony and confusion of that crisis Lynn realised that
behind that cloud of gas the enemy were advancing, and that the trench
was as good as lost. He
made up his mind that the trench should not be lost. There was no time to fix his respirator, though his eyes and
lungs were full of the poisonous fumes and his efforts to breathe
brought the blood to his mouth. One
by one his comrades succumbed and dropped, and soon he was alone.
The advancing Germans were near now, confident that their new
weapon had delivered their enemies into their hands.
They expected a trench empty except for corpses.
They were mistaken. The
very might and majesty of Britain stood waiting for them in the person
of a simple private soldier. With
a bound Lynn was on the parapet and had trained his machine gun straight
ahead through the gas. The
Germans could not see him they fell in heaps until the remnant lost
heart and retired defeated. No
German soldier set foot in that trench which the valour of one man had
reinforcements had been brought up, and the Lancashire Fusiliers
prepared to charge and recover the trench, which they had given up for,
lost. What was their
amazement on discovering it tenanted, not by the enemy, but by Lynn, now
in the last stage of exhaustion, but still fighting his gun from the top
of the parapet. They lifted
him up and tenderly carried him away to a dug out.
Not even then did the hero’s spirit fail him.
A short time after the alarm was given for a second attack. Lynn left the dug out at once and made a frantic effort to
reach his gun. It was too
late. The deadly poison had
done its work. Only those
that have seen the sufferings caused by gas poisoning can realize the
agonies he endured before death, more merciful than the Germans,
released him from his pain twenty-four hours later.
“Somewhere in France” Lynn
sleeps his last sleep, but he has a place in our hearts and memories, in
the imperishable records of our fighting race.
Private Wilson, 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry,
Following hard on the tracks of the German hosts defeated in the
great Battle of the Marne, the British Army, with its French Allies to
right and left, advanced to the river Aisne.
There they found the beaten enemy waiting for them, reinforced
and supported by a huge number of heavy guns originally destined to
destroy the defences of Paris. Is
spite of such formidable obstacles, however, our intrepid soldiers
crossed the Aisne under a terrible fire and established themselves
firmly on the northern bank. The country at this point is eminently suited for defence,
the ground slopes away from the river to a high ridge, which is
intersected by a number of ravines.
In those ravines are several villages, of which one named
Verneuil was the scene of the fine exploit, which earned the V.C. for
Private Wilson, of the 2nd Highland Light Infantry.
On September 14th 1914,
this latter regiment, with the King’s Royal Rifles and the Middlesex
regiment, suffered heavy losses from a hidden machine gun, which they
could not locate. Again and
again, when they attempted to charge, their lines was broken, men went
down little ninepins before the deadly hail, and the survivors were
forced to take cover they could behind haystacks or in ditches. Searching anxiously for the place where the gun was
concealed, Private Wilson detected moving figures in a little wood near
the British lines. He
reported his suspicious to his officer, who rose to examine the wood
through his glasses, but was instantly shot dead.
At the same moment Wilson fired at two figures now more clearly
visible, and brought down two German soldiers.
Then, springing from his shelter, he dashed towards the wood,
hoping to reach the gun before the Germans recovered from the surprise
of being detected. To his
own amazement, however, on reaching the brink of a little hollow, he
came on a group of eight German soldiers with two British prisoners.
Instantly Wilson decided how to act.
“Come on, men, charge!” he shouted, as though his regiment
was at his heels, and he rushed down on a little group.
His coolness was rewarded-the Germans threw up their hands in
prompt surrender, and Wilson had released the two British soldiers and
called up his comrades to secure the German prisoners before they
realized the trick he had played on them.
But his original object was still to be accomplished; from its
hiding place the machine gun continued to work havoc in the British
ranks, and leaving his prisoners with his comrades, Private Wilson set
out once more on his perilous quest.
A rifleman of the Kings Royal Rifles instantly joined him, and
together they pushed forward as rapidly as possible.
Soon they were detected and a storm of hail directed upon them;
the rifleman fell, fatally wounded but Wilson went on undaunted, dodging
the flying bullets and taking advantage of every scrap of shelter that
offered. At last he decided
he was near enough to his target, and, partly sheltered by a heap of
hay, he took careful aim at the grey figure operating the gun.
His first shot took effect, and the German dropped to the ground.
Another rose to take his place.
The Scotsman fired and again a German went down.
Another took his place, but only to share his fate.
Wilson’s aim was as accurate as though he were at the butts;
with six shots he brought down, one after another, the six Germans who
were operating the deadly gun. Then
he rushed forward to secure his prize, only to be confronted by a German
officer, who rose suddenly from his hiding place and fired at Wilson
point blank with his revolver. Luckily
hem missed-Wilson’s bayonet ran him through, and the gun which had
slain scores of his friends was at last in the hands of the gallant
Scot, who had risked his own life so freely to secure it.
For his cool and courageous conduct,
Private Wilson was awarded the V.C., and surely the coveted distinction
was never better earned.
flight Sub-Lieutenant R. A. J. Warneford, R.N., Destroyed A
And Won The V.C.
Although aerial warfare is so young as to have had scarcely any
history before 1914, it is doubtful if it will ever produce a more
brilliant or daring exploit than that which won the Victoria Cross for
Reginald Warneford. This
young officer was only entered into the Naval Air Service as a
probationer in February 1915, and within four months he had worthily
earned the highest award “for Valour” that the King could bestow.
It was the German custom to send
there he Zeppelin airships on short cruises over the North Sea in order
to get their crews into training for raids on England.
In the early morning of June 7th 1915, one of these
monsters was returning from such a cruise when Flight Sub-Lieutenant
Warneford, who was out on a lonely scouting expedition in a fast Morane
Monoplane, sighted her. The
intrepid airman, with nothing in sight to help him against the 600 foot
ship, did not hesitate a moment, but immediately set off in pursuit. As
he approached nearer and nearer the Zeppelin opened fire on him with
machine guns and heavier weapons; but still he kept on his one man
machine, aiming always to get above his enemy so that he might be able
to drop his bombs-the only weapons he carried.
The Zeppelin was flying her hardest
to reach her shed at Gontrode, a trifle to the south of Ghent; but as
she saw the little British monoplane gaining upon her, unharmed by the
fusillade from her guns, she made that manoeuvre which is one of the
Zeppelin’s best forms of defence.
She dropped a quantity of ballast and shot suddenly to a height
of six thousand feet.
The aeroplane is a slow climber
compared with a gas filled airship, but it was not in young Warneford to
give up the chase. He set
the nose of his machine into the air and doggedly followed his quarry.
At that moment he could hardly help thinking that his efforts
would be in vain; but suddenly, as they neared Ghent, the airship began
to glide towards the earth. Her station was almost in sight, where she would find herself
ringed by friends to protect her from her still silent pursuer.
This anxiety for safety spelt her
doom. As the Zeppelin
dipped earthwards, so Warneford flew on and higher on until at last he
was racing along fair above the German ship. It was just the position he had been praying for, and very
methodically and carefully, he began to drop his bombs.
Four of them he released in quick succession, and the Zeppelin,
fairly struck from a height of less than two hundred feet, was quickly
enveloped in a cloud of smoke. She
drifted on, unmanageable past the haven of refuge for which she had been
making, and Warneford, dropping still lower, loosed his last missiles
upon her; and what had been a majestic airship but a few minutes before
suddenly crashed to the ground a mass of twisted metal and blazing
fabric. Her crew of
twenty-eight officers and men were all killed in the fall or burned to
death in the flames, and by a great misfortune the flaring ruin fell
upon a convent in the Ghent Suburb of Mont St. Amand, causing the loss
of several innocent lives.
Warneford had accomplished his task
magnificently; but his own perils were not yet ended.
The violence of the explosion caused by his last attack on the
Zeppelin had been so great as to throw his aeroplane upside down in mid
air; but with coolness almost beyond belief he succeeded in righting
her-only to find that his petrol tanks had been drained dry while his
machine hung reversed in the skies.
There was nothing for it but to
plane to earth in the midst of territory thickly occupied by hostile
troops. Choosing his
landing place with deliberation; he came down perfectly; and, leaping
from his seat, preceded to fill his tank from the reverse tins of petrol
he carried. The British
reports say the task took him fifteen minutes; the French say
thirty-five; but however that may be, he accomplished it in safety, and
was able to soar into the air and away into safety just hurrying bodies
of the enemy opened fire on him with their rifles and machine guns.
He got back to his base unharmed, the first airman in history to
destroy a Zeppelin in flight.
This was not the only “record”
he made. Within thirty-six
hours of the airship’s destruction he had received the following
telegram from the King: “I most heartily congratulate you upon your
splendid achievement of yesterday, in which you, single handed,
destroyed an enemy Zeppelin. I
have much pleasure in conferring upon you the Victoria Cross for this
gallant act-George, R.I.
Never had the Cross been awarded so
quickly after the deed that earned it; never had the recipient been
advised of his distinction by a telegram from the reigning Sovereign.
The whole nation appalled both the award and the King’s
promptness in making it; and our Allies, the French, showed their
appreciation by making the gallant officer a Chevalier of the Legion of
Great as were these distinctions, however, Warneford was not
destined to enjoy them for long. Just
ten days later, while testing a new aeroplane at a Paris aerodrome, he
was dashed to earth from a height of seven hundred feet and killed
instantly, exactly four months and a week from the date of his entry
into the Royal Naval Air Service.
The Rev. Edward Noel Mellish, Temporary Chaplain To The Forces,
The V.C. At St. Eloi
On March 14th-15th 1915, the village of St.
Eloi, which lies along the Ypres-Armentieres road, a little to the north
of Wytschaete, was the scene of desperate fighting, when the Germans,
after a tremendous artillery preparation, followed by the explosion of
mines and a determined infantry attack in great force, succeeded in
capturing the greater part of our first line trenches, only to be driven
out of them again by dashing counter attack in the early hours of the
following morning. A little
more than a year later, on March 27th 1916, and the two
following days, St. Eloi was again the scene of a fierce and sanguinary
struggle; but on this occasion it was the British who were the
aggressors, and moreover, they succeeded in holding the ground that they
The main burden of the struggle was
borne by the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers-the famous
“Fighting Fifth” the 4th Royal Fusiliers, and some
Canadian battalions. But it
was the “Fighting Fifth” who was entitled to the lion’s share of
the victory, which the British achieved.
Supported by the Royal Fusiliers, they carried the first and
second lines of German trenches on a front of some 600 yards, capturing
many prisoners and causing great loss to the enemy.
Seldom, even in the present war,
have soldiers been called upon to undertake a tougher job that that
allotted to the Northumberland Fusiliers.
The enemy’s trenches were so ingeniously and elaborately
protected by wire entanglements that it seemed almost impossible to
reach them. But the
Fusiliers were not to be discouraged by obstacles, which no longer have
any terror for the British. It
was a painfully slow and dangerous ask to cut through the wire,
especially as our men were in full view of the enemy’s guns, which
belched forth a constant hurricane of shells.
At last, however, an opening was affected, and then, says a
Canadian officer who was present, “the Fusiliers went for the first
line of German trenches for all the world as though they were a football
team rushing a goal at a Crystal Palace Cup Tie final.
A large number of the brave fellows fell, for their bodies were
an easy target for the German machine gun guns and riflemen.
They had to make a dash over a stretch of ground which afforded
absolutely no cover; there was nothing between them and death but the
breeze of an early morning-that is the only word to describe it-and like
a wave they swept over the German trenches.”
The Huns, contrary to their usual practice, did not flinch before
the British steel, and a desperate hand-to-hand struggle ensued.
Finally, the superior bayonet work of our men gave them the upper
hand, but not until the trenches were choked with corpses and slippery
Subsequently, the trenches captured
by the Northumberland and Royal Fusiliers were taken over by the
Canadians, who gained further ground.
After exploding five mines in a direct line, which completely
shattered the German defences, the Dominion troops advanced, under cover
of a heavy artillery fire, and, though the enemy outnumbered them by at
least five to two, carried the position at the point of the bayonet.
Nor would they yield an inch of the ground which they had won,
though, as the position was of vital importance to the Huns, they made
desperate and repeated efforts to dislodge them.
Many acts of signal heroism were
performed during the Battle of St. Eloi.
When the telephone wires were cut, one man traversed two hundred
yards of open country under terrific shellfire, not once but three
times, to link up his battery. Cut
off from his comrades in an isolated trench, another man refused to
leave a wounded comrade, though the trench was being so heavily shelled
that he expected every minute to be his last, and finally succeeded in
dragging the wounded man back to comparative safety.
A young Staff officer, with the most incomplete indifference to
the shells which were falling all about him, reconnoitred the enemy’s
position and obtained information, which contributed materially to
ensure the success of the attack; and Canadians on several occasions
crawled out under a heavy machine gun fire to bring in wounded Germans,
one of whom-an officer-showed his appreciation of his rescuer’s
courage and humanity by endeavouring to shoot him!
But one of the bravest deeds of all-or rather series of deeds-was
that performed by an Army chaplain and former London curate, the Rev.
Edward Noel Mellish, attached to the Royal Fusiliers which was most
deservedly recognized by the Victoria Cross being awarded him.
During the three days fighting the
heroic “padre” went repeatedly under heavy and continuous shell and
machine gun fire between out original trenches, and those captured from
the enemy to tend and rescue wounded men.
He brought in ten badly wounded men on the first day from ground
which was literally swept by the fire of the enemy’s machine guns, and
the danger which he ran may be gauged from the fact that three were
actually killed while he was dressing their wounds.
The Royal Fusiliers were relieved on the second day, but he went
back and brought in twelve more wounded men.
Nor did he desist from his efforts until the end of the battle,
for on the night of the third day he took charge of a party of
volunteers, who went out to rescue the remaining wounded.
“Nothing could be finer,” says
an officer of the Northumberland Fusiliers, “than the way Chaplain
Mellish did his duty, and more than his duty, during the time that he
was stationed near us. Immediately
the troops captured the trenches, and while the wounded men were picking
their way painfully back, the enemy’s guns were turned on full blast,
and the intervening ground was deluged with shellfire and machine gun
bullets, not to mention shells or grenades that came from a portion of
trench still in the enemy’s hands.
Into this tempest of fire the brave parson walked, a prayer book
under his arm, as though he were going to a church parade in peacetime.
He reached the first batch of wounded, and knelt down to do what
he could for them. The
first few men he brought in himself without any aid; and it made us
think a bit more of parsons to see how he walked quietly under fire,
assisting the slow moving wounded and thinking more of saving them from
discomfort than of his own safety.
It was only when the ambulance parties were able to get out
during a lull in the fighting that he took a rest.
Next day he was out on the job as unconcerned as ever, and some
men of my regiment had reason to be graceful for his attentions to them
at critical moments. Some
of the men never have survived the ordeal had it not been for the prompt
assistance rendered them by Mr. Mellish. One story of a Cockney soldier who was aided by the parson is
worth repeating, because it is the best tribute to the parson that could
be put on record. When the
wonded man, who had hitherto been noted for his anti religious bias, was
safe in the base hospital, he had told his mates how he had been saved
and asked: “What religion is’e?”
he was told, and made the answer: “Well, I’m the same as in
now, and the bloke as sez a word again our church will ave is head
When the Rev. Noel Mellish, who is
thirty-four years of age, was gazetted Chaplain to the Forces, it was a
case of “back to the Army again,” since he was a soldier before he
became a clergyman, and, needless to say, a brave one.
He went out to South Africa in December 1900, and was among the
first recruits for Baden Powell’s Police, with whom he did a good deal
of block house and frontier work. Before leaving England, he had been in the Artists Rifles,
and so was well acquainted with military discipline and procedure.
One who served with him in the South African War speaks of him as
the bravest man he knew. On
one occasion, Boers surrounded a party of Baden Powell’s Police in a
farmhouse, and there was practically no chance for them.
Mr. Mellish was sent on what seemed a forlorn hope for
assistance. He got safely
through and delivered his message; but, though his duty ended there, he
made his way back to his comrades in the besieged farmhouse, to tell
them that relief was on the way and to do all he could to help them to
At the close of the war he returned
to England, but not long afterwards went out to South Africa again and
took an important post in the diamond mines at Jagersfontein; and there
was no man more esteemed and honoured all over the mine.
During the years he was at Jagersfontein he assisted at a church
and native mission, reading the lessons at the mission in the somewhat
fearsome language understood by the natives.
Despite long and arduous days in the mine, he made light of
sitting up all night by the bedside of a sick friend, and his life
generally at Jagersfontein was such as to justify the remark of one of
its inhabitants: “It is men such as Mr Mellish who restore one’s
faith in mankind.”
Returning to England, he studied at
King’s College, London, and in 1912 took Holy Orders and became one of
the curates at St. Paul’s Church Deptford, a parish with a population
of over 12,000, mostly poor people.
In his parish he was just as strenuous a worker as he has proved
himself on the field of battle. His
chief activities were in connection with the Church Lads Brigade, and
week in and week out he laboured to perfect the boys in their drill and
other duties. A fine
specimen of a man himself-he stands over six feet in height and is broad
and muscular-he taught his little band the value of discipline and “to
play the game.” He took
over an old public house at the back of the Empire Music hall, Deptford,
and converted it into a boys club.
The youngsters insisted on naming it after their captain, and so
the place is known as the “Noel Club.”
Mr Mellish is only the second
clergyman to win the Victoria Cross.
The first was an Irishman, the Rev. James Williams Adams, who won
it so far back as 1879, during the Afghan War.
Mr. Adams, who was known as the “Fighting Parson” shared all
the hardships of Lord Robert’s famous march from Kabul to Khandahar;
but it was at an earlier stage of the war that he gained the
much-coveted distinction. The
Afghans were pressing on the British force at the village of Bhagwana,
when two troopers of the 9th Lancers, during a charge, were
hurled, with their horses, into a deep and wide nullah.
Adams, without hesitation, went to their assistance, plunged into
the nullah, and, being an unusually powerful man, by sheer strength
dragged the men, one after another, from under the struggling animals.
The Afghans were close upon them and were keeping up a hot fire;
but Adams paid no heed to his own safety till he had pulled the almost
exhausted Lancers to the top of the slippery bank.
The same day he rescued another of the Lancers from the Afghan
horsemen. Lord Roberts
mentions the “Fighting Parson” and these incidents in his memoirs.
Mr Adams died in 1903, when rector of Ashwell, Rutland.
Early in the war the Rev. Noel
Mellish, whose parents reside at Lewisham, lost a brother, Lieutenant
Coppin Mellish, who came back from Canada to join the Army.
Private Robert Green, Of The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards,
The D.C.M. At Ypres
A Magnificent example of that dogged pluck and endurance for
which the British soldier is famous the world over was given by Private
Robert Green, of the King’s Company, 1st Battalion
Grenadier Guards, during the murderous fighting round Ypres, in the last
days of October 1914.
About seven o’clock on the morning
of October 28th some 150 officers and men of Private
Green’s battalion, who with some companies of the Gordon Highlanders
and the Black watch had pushed their advance to a considerable distance
beyond the British first line trenches, found themselves practically
isolated in a trench which they had hasyily constructed to defend
themselves, and in a most alarming position.
Facing them at a distance of not more than one hundred and fifty
yards was a German trench, packed with men, who opened a furious
fusillade every time a Guardsman showed his head above the parapet.
Some two hundred yards away on their left front, a machine gun
mounted in the attic of a detached house, which the enemy had occupied
spat death amongst them; while less than two miles off, the Germans
could be plainly discerned coming up in thousands.
From the Gordon’s and Black Watch, who were in the open some
way in their rear, they could expect no assistance, for the ground which
lay between them was swept by the enemy’s fire, and already the
Highlanders had been obliged to fall back, leaving the level plain
strewn with their dead and dying.
It was a critical situation; but the British Grenadiers have
never shrunk from a fight against odds however heavy, and they continued
to hold on to their trench with grim determination.
Officer sand men however were
falling fast. Almost at
Private Green’s feet, Captain Lord Richard Wellesley-a worthy
descendant of the “Iron Duke”-lay dead, with his head and shoulders
propped against the parapet of the trench; a little to his left, gallant
Major Stucley had fallen, to rise no more.
Presently Private Green himself was hit by a bullet in the left
shoulder, the wound, though not of a serious character, causing him
excruciating pain. An
officer, seeing what had happened, ordered him to go and have it
attended to’ but, for the first time since he had joined the Army
Private Green disobeyed orders. He knew that, in the desperate position in which they were
placed, every man was needed, every rifle shot was of incalculable
value; and he was resolved to “stick it” as long as he could stand
and see. And so when the
officer passed on, the brave fellow returned to his post, and,
notwithstanding the agony he was enduring, proceeded to fire with his
right hand, until after two hours heavy fighting, the enemy, by sheer
weight of numbers, obliged the whole British line to fall back and
occupied our trenches.
The lost trenches were regained the
following day by a dashing counter attack in the course of which
however, the 1st Grenadier Guards suffered severely, their
commanding officer being wounded and taken prisoner and the second in
command and another officer killed.
Private Green, who had already been
recommended for the courage and coolness he had shown in acting as
observer in a trench, under heavy artillery and rifle fire, during the
action at Kruiseik a few days previously, was awarded the D.C.M., “for
conspicuous gallantry in remaining in the firing line after being
wounded, although ordered away”; and in August 1915, he received a
further tribute to his bravery, in the form of the Russian Cross of St.
George (3rd Class). Private
Green is a native of Gloucestershire, and was born at Gatherington, near
Cheltenham, on January 7th 1887.
Private Ross Tollerton, Of The 1st Battalion Cameron
Won The V.C. At The Battle Of The Aisne
On Sunday, September 13th 1914, the British, in the
face of the fiercest and most determined opposition from the enemy,
forced the passage of the Aisne, and before nightfall the bulk of our
three Army Corps had crossed the river and entrenched themselves well up
on the farther slopes. Early
on the following morning a general advance was begun along the whole
western section of the Allied front, the most important offensive
movement being that entrusted to our First Corps, under Sir Douglas Haig,
which lay between Chavonne and Moulins. Its objective was an important highway called the Chemin des
Dames, or Ladies Road, four miles to the northward, the possession of
which would enable us to command the country between Soissons and
At 4 a.m. the 1st
Battalion Cameron Highlanders, who with the 1st Coldstreams,
1st Scots Guards and 2nd Black Watch, composed the
1st Brigade, had their breakfasts served out to them; and at
dawn the dawn of a wet, misty morning-the historic red tartans began
moving up the Vendresse valley. Among
the Cameron’s was a young Ayrshire man, Private Ross Tollerton, to
whom the impending action was to bring the crown of a soldier’s
Passing through the valley, the
Cameron’s mounted the steep ascent to the north, and immediately
deployed for action, the company to which Tollerton belonged in reserve.
Presently, however, it advanced and joined up with another
company under Major Maitland, close to the famous three haystacks, south
of the helmet of Troyon. Here
the mist lifted somewhat, and they began marching in a northwesterly
direction to the support of the 2nd Brigade, which was
already heavily engaged, the 1st Scots Guards reinforcing
their right. As they
advanced, they came under a very heavy shell and machine gun fire, and
Captain Matheson fell severely wounded.
Tollerton raised the wounded officer, and lifting him on to his
back carried him into an adjoining cornfield, where he laid him down
under cover of a small corn stack, and then returned to the firing line.
Scarcely had he rejoined his
comrades when he was hit in both the right hand and the right temple.
Nevertheless, when presently the Cameron’s received orders to
retire, the brave fellow, without a thought for himself, made his way
back to the wounded officer, and lay down beside him, to await a
favourable opportunity to carry him back to our lines.
He dared not raise his head, for the enemy surrounded them, and
their snipers would be very quickly picked him off; but he did all he
could for his helpless comrade.
Night came on, and he soon
recognized that, even under cover of the darkness, it would be
impossible to make his way with the wounded man through the German lines
undetected, and they were therefore obliged to remain where they were.
T was a miserable night, cold and wet, and they had nothing to
eat; but, by good fortune, Tollerton’s water bottle was nearly full,
so they did not suffer from thirst.
Towards dawn Tollerton saw a strong
force of Germans forming up directly in front of where they lay, with
the evident intention of making a counter attack upon the British, and
he was in dread lest they should deploy through the cornfield, in which
event he and Captain Matheson would most certainly be discovered.
But, to his great relief, they took the road down the valley.
The enemy bombarded our lines nearly
all day, and delivered a succession of desperate counter attacks against
our right, all of which were repulsed.
However, the fact that the British were obliged to remain on the
defensive, and did not attempt any further advance, deprived the two
Cameron’s in the cornfield of all hope of getting away for the
The day had been fine and less cold
than the preceding one; but towards evening rain came on and continued
intermittently until about nine o’clock on the 16th, with
the result that they were soaked to the skin and passed a wretched
night. By this time
Tollerton was so weak from loss of blood, exposure and hunger-he had
eaten nothing since his early breakfast on the 14th-that even
if the road to safety and been open, he would have had difficulty in
reaching the British lines himself; while to have carried the wounded
officer so far would have been a task altogether beyond his strength.
Happily, towards the afternoon the Germans in that quarter
retired, and between four and five o’clock he caught sight of a party
of our men digging a trench some distance off.
Although now so weak that he could hardly keep his feet, he
managed to make his way to them, and the officer in charge had a
stretcher fetched for Captain Matheson and sent Tollerton to the nearest
Private Ross Tollerton, who received
the Victoria Cross for his splendid gallantry and devotion, is
twenty-six years of age, and his home is at Irvine, Ayrshire.
Captain Matheson, whose life he
saved, obtained his commission in the Cameron’s in 1900, and served
with distinction in the South African War, for which he received the
Queen’s Medal with five clasps.
Sergeant S. Lemon Of The 2nd Battalion Scots Guards,
The D.C.M. At Neuve Chapelle
The Battle of Neuve Chapelle, which began in the early morning of
March 10th 1915, and lasted three days, will be long
remembered as the first occasion in the Great War on which we
successfully turned the enemy’s plan of massed artillery attacks
against himself. Four
shells to the yard was the British fire, and in this action alone there
was use of artillery than in a year and a half of the South African War.
Every variety of gun was employed-field gun, field howitzer,
sixty-pounder, coast defence gun-and so terrific was the bombardment
that in a little over half an hour the trenches along nearly three miles
of the German front, trenches upon which months of labour had been
expended, were reduced to a welter of earth, dust and horribly mutilated
Neuve Chapelle was a decisive
victory-though, owing to a variety of unforeseen circumstances, not
nearly so decisive as had been generally hoped for-but it was a terribly
costly one. Over 2,500 of
our gallant fellows lay dead upon the field; more than three times that
number were wounded. The
resources of the R.A.M.C. were, in consequence, severely taxed, for
there were thousands of stricken Germans as well as British in need of
Succour, and accordingly men were detailed from various regiments to
assist the field ambulances in the task of collecting the wounded.
Among them was Lance-corporal-now sergeant Lemon, of the 2nd
Lemon was a veteran of the Boer War,
and wore on his breast the South African medals conferred by Queen
Victoria and King Edward, and also the Long Service Medal, for he had
served his country for twenty-one years. He was now close upon forty, having been born a Headgrove,
Dorsetshire,in November 1875; but he did not spare himself, and laboured
at his work of mercy with the untiring energy of a man in the prime of
youth. Every day from March
10th to March 14th, with his hospital box slung
over his right shoulder and his capacious hospital water bottle over his
left, he went out to direct the stretcher-bearers and render first aid
to the wounded.
It was dangerous as well as arduous work, for during the greater
part of the time he was under fire, and sometimes, as he knelt to bind
the wounds or moisten the lips of some poor sufferer, a bullet would hum
past his head, or a sell so close as to cause him to hold his breath.
But for four days he met with no mishap. Then on fifth, just as he had picked up and attached to his
belt a German helmet, with the intention of keeping it as a souvenir of
the Great Battle, he felt a burning pain in his right thigh, and knew
that hr had received a souvenir of a different kind.
Most men would have promptly made
their way to the nearest field ambulance to have the wound attended to,
but Lennon happened to be of the stuff whereof heroes are formed.
He did not think f himself; he though only of the helpless men,
friend and foe, lying all around him, who so urgently needed his help,
and so long as he could crawl and see he was resolved to do his best for
them. And so, setting his
teeth, he limped on, but had gone but a few paces when he stumbled and
fell into a huge hole made by a high explosive shell, and when he tried
to rise, the effort was vain.
Happily, he was soon found and
carried to an ambulance and thence to hospital, and when the awards to
the heroes of Neuve Chapelle were distributed, Lace-Corporal Lemon was
not forgotten, the D.C.M. being conferred upon him, “for good conduct
Corporal Sam Schultz, Of The 10th Canadian Battalion, Won The
At The Second Battle Of Ypres
The glorious achievement of the Canadians in the desperate
battles of April 1915, is one that will live for ever in the annals of
the British Army. The Great
War has, indeed witnessed no more stirring spectacle than the
magnificent courage and tenacity with which, when their left flank had
been most dangerously exposed by the precipitate retirement of the
French before the first discharge of the diabolical poison gas, and it
appeared as though nothing could save the Canadians from being
overwhelmed and the British troops occupying the salient to the east cut
off, the heroic soldiers from over the sea held their ground and averted
the threatened disaster. How
the 10th and 16th Battalions charged at midnight
on April 22nd into the wood east of St. Julien and recaptured
the guns that had been left there; how the 1st Brigade-the 1st
and 4th Ontarios-carried the first German trenches and held
them until relief came two days later; how the 15th Battalion
(48th Highlanders), though sick unto death with the poisoned
fumes, rallied after their first retreat, and by an irresistible rush
with the bayonet, regained their position; and how the 13th
Battalion (Royal Highlanders) refused to give ground at all.
These are deeds, which will surely never be forgotten!
During these terrible days and
nights it is not too much to say that every man, from commanding officer
to private, acquitted himself like a hero; and not the least heroic were
the members of the medical staff and those who were detailed to assist
them. Among the latter was
Corporal Sam Schultz, of the 10th Battalion, who was replaced
in charge of some ten other medical orderlies and fatigue men at a
dressing station near Wieltje. This
dressing station was situated close behind the British lines, and within
scarcely more than a hundred yards of the Germans, and during the night
of April 24th-25th it was so heavily shelled that
in a short time it was practically blown to pieces, and Schultz and his
men were obliged to perform their difficult duties with the knowledge
that at any moment death or mutilation might be their fate.
Nevertheless, the brave corporal did not remain at his post
without flinching, displaying throughout the most admirable courage and
coolness, nor was it till the afternoon of the 25th, when
every wounded man had been removed, that he at length quitted it.
now Sergeant Sam Schultz, who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct
Medal, “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion,” is forty years of
age, and his home is at Calgary, Alberta.
Second-Lieutenant H. V. H. Throssell, Of The 10th Australian
The V.C. At Hill 60, Gallipoli Peninsula
In the latter part of the August of 1915 a brilliant movement was
carried out on the Gallipoli Peninsula by the troops under General
Birdwood’s command. Major-General
Cox had begun operations for the capture of Hill 60 on August 21st,
and to complete this task another attack was planned.
Hill 60, which lies to the north of the Kaiajik Aghala, overlooks
the Biyuk Anafarta valley, and was tactically of great importance. The attack was again conducted by Major-General Cox, and
under his command there were placed detachments from the 4th
and 5th Australian Brigades, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles
Brigade, and the 5th Connaught Rangers.
It was decided that the advance
should begin at 5 p.m. on august 27th, after being preceded
by a very heavy artillery bombardment.
The moment, however, that the British left the cover of their
trenches a very hot fire was opened on them from field guns, rifles and
machine guns, and this was followed before long by a storm of heavy
shell. On the right of the
attack a battery of machine guns opposed the detachment from the 4th and
5th Australian Brigades, and against the merciless firemen could make no
headway. In the centre,
however, by a most determined assault the New Zealanders had carried one
side of the topmost knoll. On the left a charge by two hundred and fifty
men of the 5th Connaght Rangers broke the Turkish resistance
by the suddenness of the attack and the compactness of its mass.
In five minutes the Irishmen had carried the northern Turkish
communications trenches, and they at once fought their way along the
trenches with bombs, opposing strong parties, which hurried up in turn
from the enemy supports and the reserves.
At midnight’s fresh troops were to have consolidated the hold
of the British on the hill, but unfortunately the Irishmen were out
bombed before then, and the 9th Austrian Light Horser were
driven back after making a gallant attempt to recapture the lost
communication trench. Nothing,
however, could move the New Zealand Mounted Rifles.
All through the night and all the next day they were subjected to
bombing, bayonet charges, rifle, shrapnel, and heavy shellfire.
But they clung to their one hundred and fifty yards of trench
with the greatest gallantry, with only a sandbag barricade separating
them from the Turks.
At 1 a.m. on the morning of August 29th the 10th
Australian Light Horse made their memorable advance to recapture the
lost communication trenches on the left.
Having rushed into the trench held by the New Zealanders, they
dashed across the sandbag barricade amid the cheers of the Maorilanders;
and then, by shooting, bombing and bayoneting, they drove the Turks in
headlong flight down the trench for about three hundred yards to the
right. When the advance
first began Second-Lieutenant Throssell was in the second line in charge
of the digging party, and under his supervision the men now set to work
to build up another sandbag barricade.
To give his men some protection in their work, Second-Lieutenant
Throssell stood by them with a rifle, and every Turk who attempted to
come round the traverse was shot down.
Finding that these methods of attack were costing them dear, the
Turks massed round the right angle of the traverse and began to attack
the barricades with bombs. The
rest of the trench was also hotly engaged.
The Turks opened a heavy rifle fire, and by continuous bomb
attacks, advanced as near as possible to the whole line of the trench.
The trench was a veritable inferno, but the men were most hotly
engaged on the extreme right, where, with Captain Fry, Second-Lieutenant
Throssell had tried hard to raise some covering as a shelter against the
bombs. This task was of the
utmost danger, for bombs were lobbed with deadly accuracy into the
trench, and were actually caught and thrown back by Second-Lieutenant
Throssell, with Corporals Ferrier and McNee and Troopers Macmahon and
Renton. When a bomb fell
into the trench and could not be traced in the darkness,
Second-Lieutenant Throssell shouted the order “Down!”
They at once flung themselves full length on the ground and
waited for the explosion, a second or two later.
Men, however, were falling fast, but though Captain Fry was
killed, Second-Lieutenant Throssell never failed in directing his men.
He had been three times wounded, and
Ferrier, who was an expert in bomb throwing, had had his arm shattered
by a bursting bomb. Nearly
every man in the trench had suffered some injury, but the gallant and
dogged defence of the 10th Light Horse was still kept up.
The overwhelming onslaughts of the Turks, who in numbers were
superior, necessitated two retirements, and once again Second-Lieutenant
Throssell stood by his men, rifle in hand, while they raised the sandbag
The long drawn out fight against desperate odds continued into
the second day, and at the height of the struggle the Turks rushed
forward in a furious counter attack, which tried to courage and
endurance of the men to their uttermost limits.
Reinforcements at length came, and
Second-Lieutenant Throssell retired to have his wounds dressed, but he
insisted on returning to the trench afterwards.
This trench, which Second-Lieutenant Throssell and the men of the
10th Australian Light Horse had so gallantly captured and
held, gave the British possession of Hill 60.
had been promoted from the ranks, and much more credit is due to him for
his strong leadership and unflagging energy in so trying to struggle.
For his most conspicuous courage and coolness he was deservedly
awarded the V.C.
Quartermaster Sergeant Downs, OF The 1st Battalion Cheshire
won The D.C.M. At Ypres
One of the great lessons of the present war had been the repeated
demonstrations which it has afforded of the enormous importance of the
machine gun, which, in the opinion of some military experts may well
come altogether to supplant the rifle in the defence of entrenched
positions. One of these
deadly weapons light enough to be carried and worked at a pinch by a
single brave and determined man, and small enough to be concealed in
places where it would be impossible for any larger piece of ordnance to
find cover, is capable of annihilating a whole battalion in a
surprisingly short space of time and the immense numerical superiority
which the Germans possessed in them at the beginning of the war
undoubtedly contributed very largely to their success in the early weeks
of the campaign on the Western Front.
Most happily for the British, this
superiority, which has since been much reduced, was to some extent
counterbalanced by the wonderful efficiency of our machine gun sections,
which in accuracy of fire, coolness, courage and enterprise were more
than a match for those of the enemy.
When all alike were admirable, it is not easy to discriminate,
but mention may be made of the excellent work formed by that of the 1st
Battalion Cheshire Regiment, the credit of which was mainly due to
Quartermaster Sergeant Downs, D.C.M.
In the retreat from Mons the
Cheshire’s suffered severe losses, and their machine gun section was
practically wiped out; but Quartermaster Sergeant Downs, nothing
daunted, for with set to work to train, in the field, a new section, and
succeeded so well that the battalion was enabled to bring five machine
guns to play against an fierce attack of the Germans at Ypres.
It was in the course of this terrible three weeks struggle that
Quartermaster Sergeant Downs performed the gallant action, which won him
the D.C.M. When, under the
pressure of overwhelming numbers, the British had been obliged to
evacuate the trenches on his left, and the Cheshire’s machine gun
section, after striking to their work with dogged courage, had been
nearly all killed or wounded, Downs continued to work his gun alone, and
poured so accurate and deadly a fire into the advancing Germans that he
succeeded in holding them in check until reinforcements could be hurried
up and the trenches reoccupied. The
official announcement of the distinction conferred upon him states that
by this “conspicuous gallantry” he had “secured the general line
from being broken.”
The Gazette adds that Quartermaster
Sergeant Downs “had shown marked ability in machine gun work
throughout the campaign,” and, indeed, the invaluable service he
rendered at Ypres was preceded and followed by much excellent work
elsewhere. Thus, at the
village of Violanes, near La Bassee, he placed one of his machine guns
at the top window of a house and concealed another in a pit, so as to
command the La Bassee road; and when, shortly afterwards, the Germans
advancing in great force, had obliged the Cheshire and Manchester to
retire, they were thrown into such confusion by the murderous fire which
the hidden machine guns suddenly opened upon them, that the
Manchester’s were able to counter attack and hold them in check until
their supports came up.
This gallant non commissioned
officer appears to have had some strange experience.
On one occasion he and some of his section spent five days on a
haystack, engaged in covering the advance of his battalion.
During the whole of this time they were under very heavy
shellfire, one shell actually hitting the stack on which they lay.
But though a howitzer battery hard by had three guns hopelessly
damaged by the enemy’s fire, none of his machine guns were put out of
action, and they wrought great execution among the Huns at a range of
some eight hundred yards. On
another occasion he and his section were in the trenches east of Ypres,
without relief, for fifteen days, during which they sustained a number
of casualties. In fact,
when they were relieved, there were only Downs and one other man left
out of the whole of the original machine gun section.
Quartermaster Sergeant downs, who is
thirty years of age, is a native of Denton, Cheshire, and received his
education at St. Lawrence’s church School in that town.
As a lad he was employed in a hat shop, and afterwards went to
sea, as a steward on an Atlantic liner.
He joined the Army about eleven years ago.
Drummer Spencer John Bent, Of The 1st Battalion, East
Won The V.C. Near Le Gheir
On the night of November 1st-2nd 1914, a
platoon of the 1st East Lancashire’s, one of the battalions
of the 11th Brigade, posted on the left of our 3rd
Corps, was holding one of the first line trenches near Le Gheir, which
on the previous day the 4th Division had taken over from the
right flank of the 1st Cavalry Division.
Spencer John Bent, who had been having a particularly strenuous time of
it of late, had gone to a dug out to get some sleep.
Scarcely, however, had he dozed off than he was awakened by the
sound of men hurrying up and down the trench, and, starting up,
discovered that his comrades were abandoning it.
There was no officer in the trench, and the platoon sergeant
having to visit an advance post, someone had passed the word down the
line that the battalion was to retire, and the men were obeying what
they believed to be their orders.
Bent started to follow them; but,
remembering that he had left behind him a French trumpet, which he had
picked up and carried about with him for some time, he decided to risk
the chance of a bullet rather than lose it, and went back to fetch it.
When he got into the trench, he caught sight of a man crawling
towards him round the corner of a traverse.
Thinking that he was a German, he waited until he had come close
up to him, and then, holding his rifle to his head, demanded who he was.
He found that he was his platoon sergeant, who told him that no
orders to retire had been given.
Bent at once jumped out of the
trench, and ran after his comrades to call them back.
While thus engaged, an officer came up, and, on learning what had
happened, told him to fetch some of the men back while he went after
others. Eventually, they
brought them all safely back and awaited developments.
In early morning, the German
artillery shelled them for a few minutes, after which the infantry,
evidently under the pleasing illusion that the trench had been
abandoned, and that they had only to walk in and take possession,
advanced in mass formation, doing the goose step.
Our men reserved the fire, and meantime a machine gun was brought
up and placed in position. When
the unsuspecting Huns were about four hundred yards off, machine gun and
rifle fire was poured into them, mowing them down in heaps, and speedily
changing their stately goose step into an undignified scramble for
But very soon afterwards the East
Lancashire’s found themselves exposed to a heavy and continuous
bombardment from every description of gun; and the officer, the platoon
sergeant and a number of men were struck down.
Drummer Bent thereupon took command of the platoon, and with
great courage, coolness and presence of mind, succeeded in holding the
position and in repelling more than one attack by the enemy, until he
was relieved later in the day.
Bent’s gallant conduct on this
occasion was preceded and followed by several other acts of conspicuous
bravery. On October 22nd,
he carried ammunition to a patrol that had been cut off by the enemy.
Two days later, he brought up food and ammunition to a first line
trench, under a very heavy shell and rifle fire; while on November 3rd
he brought in several wounded men who were lying exposed in the open.
One of these men, Private McNulty, he rescued in a singular
manner, though it would appear to have been one which this resourceful
young hero had employed with success on other occasions.
McNulty had fallen some thirty yards
from the British trench, and, in attempting to lift the wounded man on
his back, Bent slipped and fell. While
lying on the ground, several bullets whistling just over him warned him
that to rise again would be to court almost certain death.
And so, instead of getting up, he adroitly hooked his feet under
McNulty’s armpits, and working his way backward with his hands,
dragged him to our trench, where he left the wounded man in charge of a
comrade and went off to fetch a surgeon to attend to him.
Drummer, now Sergeant, Bent’s
consistently heroic conduct was rightly judged to be worthy of the very
highest recognition and the Victoria Cross was duly awarded to him.
He is twenty-three years of age, and his home is at Ipswich.
Company Sergeant Major Stanley George Glover, Of The
Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers Won The D.C.M. At St. Eloi
The victory of Neuve Chapelle advanced the British line for a
distance of a mile along a three-mile front; but this result was not
achieved without several attempts on the part of the enemy to recover
the ground, which had been lost. Failing
in this, they endeavoured to seek compensation for their defeat by
ousting us from our positions at other points of our line; indeed, the
most severe counter attack was not at Neuve Chapelle, but fifteen miles
north, where the village of St. Eloi stands on the southern ridge of
Ypres. On March 14th,
when the mists lay thick on the flats, the Germans concentrated a great
mass of artillery against the section of our trenches occupied by the 27th
Division, which included the 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers.
At five in the afternoon a terrific bombardment began, our barbed
wire defences being swept away like matchwood and our parapet were
exploded beneath a mound, known as the “Mound of Death,” which was
part of our front to the southeast of the village, and also beneath a
part of our trenches immediately to the right of that occupied by a
company of the 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers, completely
demolishing it. Between the demolished trench and the German lines was a mass
of debris; old and new saps, barbed wire, broken “knife rests,”
which had supported it, sandbags, old trenches evacuated by us a month
earlier, and so forth.
The bombardment and explosion were
followed by a fierce infantry attack, the way being led by parties of
bomb throwers. The bombers
came up out of the saps, which ran quite close up to the demolished
trench, and those in it who were left alive were compelled to retire,
leaving the Irish Fusiliers exposed to a flank attack.
While a party of bombers war pursuing the retiring British,
another party to the number of forty or fifty, advanced against the
Irish Fusiliers, the officer in command of whom was killed by a bullet.
But a brave non-commissioned officer, Company Sergeant Major
Glover, at once assumed command, and under his direction, the Irishmen
opened so effective a fire on the advancing bombers, that when within
some thirty yards of the trench they turned and ran back to the shelter
of the saps from which they had emerged. Only about half a dozen reached them, however, the rest being
shot down, some being killed as they were re-entering the saps.
Meanwhile, nearly the whole British
line had been driven from their trenches, and the Irish Fusiliers found
themselves in danger of being surrounded.
Sergeant Major Glover stood in the centre of the trench, with his
rifle in his right hand, the bayonet resting on the parados, and held up
his left as a signal to his men to cease firing on the retreating
bombers, in order to husband their ammunition.
There was no other way to do this, as the noise was so terrific,
while the ground was shaking as though an earthquake was in progress.
He then stationed as many as there was room for to defend the
rear of the trench, which had become their front for the time being,
detailed four or five to fire over the extreme right of the parapet, and
the rest from what was the proper front.
A little later they were practically encircled by the enemy, and
Glover had to keep on diverting his men from parados to parapet, and
then to parados again, which he did by tapping them on the shoulder and
pointing out what was required of them.
The difficulties of the situation were increased by the fact that
they were hard pressed for room, having several casualties lying at the
bottom of the trench.
The Germans delivered two determined
attacks on the rear of the trench, but were repulsed on each occasion by
the brave little band of Irishmen, which only numbered between thirty
and forty men. Our men were
also subjected to some attention from the enemy’s artillery, and on
one occasion a high explosive shell fell among a German bombing party in
the vicinity of the demolished trench.
When darkness fell they expected
almost every moment that the enemy would rush the trench in overwhelming
numbers; but happily, no such attempt was made, and about 2 a.m. on the
morning of the 15th the British counter attacked, and by
daybreak we had recovered all the lost ground, which was of material
importance. Had the counter
attack been more completely successful, Glover and his men would have
been in danger of being driven into the enemy’s lines, or the Germans
who were between them and the British would have been driven back on to
Sergeant Major Glover was awarded
the D.C.M. for “conspicuous gallantry and marked ability,” and the
Medaille Militaire of France was also conferred upon him.
He has recently completed seventeen years service in the Army,
twelve of which were spent in India, where he distinguished himself in
the School of Musketry. He was wounded on May 4th 1915, during the second
battle of Ypres.
Sergeant Major Stanley John Parker, Of The 1st Battalion,
Regiment Won The D.C.M. At Neuve Chapelle
On the night of October 22nd 1915, our 2nd
Corps, under Sir Horace smith-Dorrien, which since the 19th
had held a line pivoting on Givenchy in the south, and then running east
in a salient to the village of Herlies, where it bent westwards to
Aubers, was obliged, by the pressure of overwhelmingly superior numbers,
to withdraw to a new position extending from just east of Givenchy by
Neuve Chapelle to Fauquissant. Two
days later, early on the morning of the 24th, the enemy
attacked in great force all along this new line; but the well directed
fire of our artillery prevented them from getting to close quarters.
In the evening, however, a most determined attack was made upon
the 3rd Division, the fighting being particularly fierce at
the village of Neuve Chapelle, where the 1st Wiltshire’s
were entrenched. With the
assistance of the 1st Royal West Kent’s, they succeeded in
driving the Germans off. But
during the next two days their trenches were heavily and persistently
bombarded with high explosive shells, with the result that they were
blown to pieces and the battalion suffered heavy casualties.
On the second night, the company to which Sergeant Major Parker
was attached was relieved and went into reserve behind the village,
which was by this time in ruins and in parts blazing fiercely.
Next day the battalion on the left of the Wiltshire’s was so
heavily shelled that it was obliged to abandon its trenches, and though
it subsequently succeeded in retaking them, early in the evening it was
driven out again, and the trenches occupied by the Germans.
Some of the enemy even penetrated into the village, which,
however, was quickly cleared by Sergeant Parker’s company.
About 5 p.m. the adjutant of the
Wiltshire’s, taking with him Sergeant Major Parker and thirty men, set
out to make an attempt to recover the lost trench.
On their way through the village they passed a brewery, which was
burning fiercely. The
flames revealed their approach to the enemy, who opened fire, severely
wounding two of the party. The
adjutant then asked Parker, who knew the ground, to lead the way; and
after going another hundred yards, the sergeant major took the party
into a communication trench, which ran parallel with the road.
Here they were, of course, under cover, and, proceeding along it
for a short distance, they got out again, crossed the road, and lined up
along a bank running at right angles to the trench occupied by the
Germans and about sixty yards from it.
In a few moments the adjutant gave
the order: “Come along, Wiltshire’s, charge!” and across the
intervening ground the brave West-Countrymen dashed, the adjutant, the
sergeant major and seven other men forming the front line.
The officer, after emptying his revolver at the enemy, was
climbing into the trench, when he received three bullet wounds in the
lung, right shoulder and left leg; but the others, led by Parker, rushed
the trench, bayoneting every German who resisted and driving the rest
out in confusion.
The trench secured, the sergeant
major went to attend to his wounded officer, who was lying out under
fire, and drew him along the ground into a slight hollow, where he was
in comparative safety, and where Parker bandaged his wounds.
The officer, it is pleasant to record, subsequently recovered and
received the Distinguished Service Order for his part in this brilliant
piece of work.
Sergeant Major Parker, who was
awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous
gallantry,” is thirty-one years of age, and his home is at Tisbury,
Lance corp. T Willis, Of The 2nd Battalion Manchester
Won The D.C.M. Near Richebourg
Except for the desperate struggle around Hooge at the end of July
and the beginning of August, in which our New Army won its spurs, though
at a heavy cost, the summer of 1915 witnessed little fighting of a
serious nature along the British section of the Western front.
Nevertheless, the everyday incidents of trench warfare, such as
artillery observation, bomb throwing, mining, patrol and reconnaissance
work, frequently afforded opportunities for individual distinction, and
scarcely a day passed without some conspicuously brave action being
performed. Among these, the
exploit that gained Lance-corporal T. Willis, of the 2nd
Manchester’s, the Distinguished Conduct Medal well merits to be
About nine o’clock on the morning
of June 22nd, Lance corporal Willis went from the British
lines to reconnoitre the ground and to ascertain the position of an
enemy saphead. Flattened to
earth, he crawled along for about fifteen yards, when he came to an
empty communication trench. Down
this he made his way for a distance of some fifty yards, and then,
crawling over the top, began to creep towards the German saphead.
Frequently he stopped and lay perfectly still for a while,
pretending he was one of the dead, of whom there were many lying about.
At last, when he had come so close to the enemy that this ruse
could avail him no longer, he turned and began to make his way back.
But after he had got about one hundred yards from the saphead, he
saw a box of machine gun ammunition, and close to it came across three
belts stretched, out and covered with clay.
He decided that there must be more ammunition lying about, and,
making a search, found two more boxes, and at 11.45 brought all three
boxes with belts complete into our trenches.
About one o’clock, Willis crept
out again to the place where he found the ammunition, being convinced
that the machine gun to which it had belonged must be somewhere about.
Ina spot about thirty yards behind it, where the ground raised
somewhat and brought him within full view of the enemy, he came across
five dead bodies within a small space.
Lying across the legs of one of the dead, he saw what appeared to
be two sandbags. He tried
to push the sandbags off, but finding that there was something hard
inside, cut them open and discovered a machine gun.
With the gun, he promptly rolled down the slope and got into a
ditch, along which he dragged his find into our trenches.
Not content with having twice risked his life that morning, a
little later this brave fellow went out for the third time, and
returned, bringing with him two boxes each containing thirty bombs
which, like the machine gun and its ammunition, had been left behind
after a recent unsuccessful attack on the enemy’s lines.
Lance Corporal, now Corporal,
Willis, whose home is at West Ealing, served with the Manchester
Regiment for over five years in India. During the present war he had been wounded three times.
While carrying despatches at Neuve Chapelle he was hit in the
knee by shrapnel, and later was wounded in the forehead and back.
Acting Lance-Corporal Terence Giles OF The Royal Army Medical
Won The D.C.M. Near Zonnebeke
The splendid qualities of the brave and devoted stretcher-bearers
of the R.A.M.C. were strikingly exemplified in the murderous fighting in
Western Flanders in October and November 1914.
Their untiring energy their indifference to danger, their
presence of mind, and their resourcefulness were beyond all praise, and
the debt of gratitude under which they placed their comrades in the
fighting line can scarcely be over estimated.
Many a sore stricken soldier would
have been left to perish miserably on the blood soaked battlefield had
not some gallant Red Cross man risked death or mutilation to carry him
to the ambulance wagon.
The splendid manner in which the
stretcher squads performed their task was the more commendable since
they were often terribly overworked, and there was, at the time, a great
shortage of non-commissioned officers in the R.A.M.C., so that privates
were sometimes called upon to undertake duties which would, in ordinary
circumstances, have been discharged by sergeants.
Thus it happened that on the night of October 26th
1914, Terence Giles, of No. 6 Field Ambulance, who had lately been
appointed acting lance corporal and placed in charge of 120 men
stationed in dug outs between the town of Ypres and the firing line,
found himself at the head of a bearer subdivision on the way to the
trenches of the 6th Brigade to the East of Zonnebeke, to
collect and forward the wounded to the nearest Field Ambulance
Passing through Zonnebeke to the
outskirts of the polygon lately the scene of some most desperate
fighting, and which was to witness more desperate fighting in the days
to come, they came to a halt under cover of some houses.
Here they left the ambulances, with the officer who was in
command of the party and about thirty men, and proceeded some way up a
road on their left, in order to get into communication with the
Regimental Aid Post. On
reaching the end of cover they halted, and a cycle orderly was sent
forward to ascertain the number of wounded at the Regimental Aid Post.
Information had previously been received that the road ahead of
them was a very dangerous piece of ground, and this was confirmed when,
shortly afterwards,, the cyclist returned with the news that before he
had gone far he had been “spotted” by the Germans and his cycle
struck by several bullets, though he himself had, happily, escaped
injury. Another man was despatched, this time on foot; and he
succeeded in getting through to the wounded-who were in a little half
ruined house just behind our trenches-and in bringing back two of them
and the information that there were a number of others there.
The stretcher-bearers were then despatched, in twos to make their
way best they could to various parts of the firing line. Giles himself reached the Aid Post by way of the road, and
returned with a wounded man on his back.
He then went back and started for the ambulances with two others,
less severely injured, whom he supported by placing his arms around
their waists and their round his shoulders.
They had not gone far, however, when the church of Zonnebeke,
which the enemy had been shelling for some time, burst into a bright
blaze, masking the road as light as day.
A storm of bullets from a German on the tip of a rise some two
hundred and fifty yards away warned them they had been seen, and they
lost no time in taking refuge in the ditch by the roadside, where they
remained for some twenty minutes, with bullets whistling incessantly
over their heads and rattling against a wire fence just behind them.
At the end of that time, as the ditch was half full of water, and
they were nearly numbered with cold, Giles, fearing the consequences to
his wounded comrades if they stayed longer, decided that they had better
take their chance, though the firing continued as fiercely as ever.
With considerable able difficulty he got the half frozen men out,
and they then resumed their slow and perilous journey which they
completed in safety, though had a narrow escape, his coat being
perforated by a bullet, which, however did not touch his body.
Having seen the men that he had
rescued placed in the ambulance wagon, this brave man faced the danger
of the bullet swept road for the third time, and presently returned
supporting an officer, who had been wounded in leg and foot.
On the following day Giles again
distinguished himself by the coolness and courage he displayed in taking
up stretcher-squads to remove the wounded belonging to a battery in
action, which was being heavily shelled by the enemy; and the official
announcement of the decoration conferred upon him for his “highly
commendable conduct on October 26th” added that he “had
constantly performed god work.”
Acting Lance Corporal, now Sergeant,
Giles who was awarded the D.C.M., is twenty-seven years of age and a
Londoner, his home being at Wood Green.
Quartermaster Sergeant Thomas William Fitzpatrick, Of The 2nd
Royal Irish Regiment, Won The D.C.M. At Mons
Towards noon on Sunday, August 23rd 1914-the day of
the Battle of Mons- Quartermaster Sergeant Thomas William Fitzpatrick,
of the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish, which, with the other three
battalions composing the 8th Brigade-the 1st
Gordon’s, the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers and the 4th
Middlesex-held that part of the British line which lay between the
western suburbs of Mons and St. Ghislain, reached the trenches with
supplies and reported himself to the adjutant of his regiment.
In the course of conversation that officer told Fitzpatrick that
a “brush” with the Germans was expected that afternoon, as our
cavalry patrols had brought in reports of masses of the enemy moving
into the woods in front of our centre, and of columns on the march
eastward towards Binche, and westward towards the Conde canal; and he
ordered him to send all the commissariat wagons, which he had just
brought back out of the firing line.
Fitzpatrick gave instructions to that effect, but asked
permission to remain himself with the battalion, which was granted.
About forty minutes after midday the
first shots of the battle were fired, and soon between five and six
hundred German guns were in action all along the front of twenty-five
miles, and shells of every description were falling upon the British
lines in an unceasing stream. Presently,
the grey masses of the German infantry began to advance, and though, as
they approached our trenches, they were mowed down in swathes by rifle
and machine gun fire, supports were at once hurried up, and the grey
lines pushed resolutely on.
Since a quartermaster sergeant is
not allotted to the firing line, Fitzpatrick had remained on the road in
front of which the Royal Irish were entrenched, watching the progress of
the attack through his field glasses.
Towards 1.30 p.m. he saw that the Germans seemed to be enveloping
his battalion on both flanks, and that the Irishmen, who were falling
fast, must soon be forced to retire. He immediately collected all the cooks, drivers, and so forth
whom he could find, and taking up a position at a point where the road
to Mons was intersected by another running north and south, caused rapid
to be opened over the heads of his comrades in the trenches on the
advancing Germans. This had
the effect of checking the enemy immediately in front of him, but the
trenches of the Royal Irish continued to be shelled very heavily, while
their parapet was being gradually wiped away by machine gun fire.
About 2.30 the enemy came on again-this time in
extended order and half an hour later Fitzpatrick was informed
that his comrades had been obliged to retire from the trenches on his
left, and that the position he now occupied was an exposed salient.
At the same moment he saw the Germans working round his right
Hastily collecting about fifty men,
for by this time most of his original party had been either killed or
wounded, he took up a position a little to the rear of the first one,
and recommended rapid fire, with such excellent results that the German
attack again failed, and they fell back to the shelter of a wood.
Fitzpatrick was then told that one of our machine guns was on the
road abandoned, all its team having been killed.
He at once went and got it repaired, and only just in time, as
directly afterwards the enemy advanced once more, in greatly increased
numbers. He had the gun
laid on them, and they retreated with considerable loss, though not
before his little party had sustained a number of casualties, and the
owner of an adjoining house had been shot dead while in the act of
giving one of the wounded a drink of water.
Fitzpatrick then advanced to another position on the farther side
of the Mons road, which afforded better cover.
Between 3 and 4 p.m. the Germans
made a desperate flank attack on the Gordon Highlanders, who were posted
on the right rear of the Irish. But they were driven back in disorder,
and retired to about seven hundred yards from Fitzpatrick’s party to
redress their shattered ranks. Towards
dusk they again advanced against the gallant little band of Irishmen,
which, though sadly reduced in numbers, still contrived to hold them in
check, thanks to the well-directed fire of the machine gun, which did
After this last attack Fitzpatrick
found that of the fifty men he had rallied at 3 p.m., twenty had been
killed outright, while of the survivors only about a dozen were
unwounded. Nevertheless, he
maintained his ground, in anticipation of yet another onslaught from the
enemy, until about an hour before midnight, when the General retreat
began, and he received orders to retire.
He had been fighting almost continuously for more than nine
hours, and that night he marched seventeen miles.
It is pleasant to record that the
splendid services of this gallant Irishman on that memorable day
received full recognition. For
not only was the Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded him by his own
Sovereign, but he also received the Medaille Militaire from the French
President and the Cross of St. George (Third Class) from the Czar, and
was besides, promoted to the rank of lieutenant and appointed adjutant
of his battalion. He is
thirty-six years of age, and like so many other brave men who have
distinguished themselves during the present war, hails from County Cork.
Lance Corporal Thomas Charles Fox, Of The 1/8th Battalion,
(T.F.), Won The D.C.M. At Douve
Except at Ypres and Festubert, in the Artois and the Argonne, the
late spring and summer of 1915 witnessed little fighting of any
importance on the Western front. The
guns on either side, however, were seldom silent for long together;
sniping went on continually; while our working parties and patrols,
which were out on most nights, often had exciting experiences.
On the night of June 24th-25th,
a party of the 1/8th Worcesters, consisting of an officer, a
young lance-corporal, Thomas Charles Fox, and three privates, were on
patrol duty in front of the Douve trenches, when suddenly a heavy shell
and rifle fire was opened from the German lines in support of a bombing
party, which came rushing down a road on the patrol’s right.
The officer in charge of the patrol was crawling along just in
front of Lance Corporal Fox, when suddenly he rolled over, shot through
the heart. Fox had just
crawled up to him, to ascertain if he were still alive, when a shrapnel
shell burst just on front of them, one of the pieces striking on the
left elbow and rendering his arm useless. Determined that his unfortunate officer should receive decent
burial, Fox grasped him by the collar of his tunic with his right hand
and started to drag the body in; but he got hung up in our barbed wire,
and in his efforts to free himself, injured his only serviceable hand
badly. He got free at last
and had made his way to within a few paces of our parapet, drawing his
burden after him, when he came across a man whom he recognized as one of
those who had gone out with him, lying to all appearances dead.
On examining him, however, he found that though severely wounded,
he was still alive, upon which he left the body of the officer and with
bullets buzzing continually past his head and shells bursting all about
him, supported his wounded comrade into the trench.
Here he reported to an officer about the dead man lying a few
yards out, and then, though in great pain and faint with loss of blood,
walked a mile and a half to a dressing station, from which he was sent
to the Base.
Lance Corporal Fox, who is only
twenty years of age, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for
conspicuous gallantry.” His
home is at Redditch.
Sergeant Tom Edward George Hayward, Of The 7th London
Won The D.C.M. At Festubert
During the fierce fighting in the Festubert district, which began
on the morning of Sunday May 16th 1915, with the attack of
the infantry of the Indian Corps and the 2nd Division of the
1st Corps upon the German trenches extending from Richebourg
L’Avoue southwards, and continued for ten days, the “Shiny
Seventh” performed some excellent work, and two of its members,
sergeant now Lieutenant Hayward and Private Day, won the Distinguished
Conduct Medal. Sergeant
Hayward’s decoration was gained in the following circumstances:
The most successful part of the
attack was that carried out by the 22nd Brigade, on our
right, against the Rue d’Ouvert, to the southeast of Festubert; and at
about three o’clock on the afternoon of the 16th two
platoons of Hayward’s company were sent to reinforce some regular
troops in a German communication trench which had been captured that
morning. The journey to the
communication trench was not a pleasant one, as the enemy were
endeavouring to place a barrier of fire between the 22nd
Brigade and its supports. But they reached it without sustaining any casualties, and
after proceeding for some little distance along it, received orders to
attack a neighbouring farmhouse, which the Regulars were bombarding with
a trench mortar, occupy an orchard adjoining it, dig themselves in, and
hold it as long as possible. Leaving
the trench, Hayward and his men preceded, in single file, for about
fifty yards along a road running at right angles to the orchard, and
then making a right turn, crossed a wide ditch between four and five
feet deep which divided the orchard from the road.
As they emerged from it, the Germans, who opened fire upon them
and began throwing hand grenades, saw them.
Hayward was wounded in the right forearm by a piece of a grenade,
but, notwithstanding the pain of his wound, he most pluckily remained at
the head of his men, using a revolver which he happened t have with him
in place of his rifle.
Despite the heavy fire of the enemy,
the party advanced across the orchard, until a line of barbed wire
arrested their further progress. Taking what cover they could find, they held their ground for
some time, but were eventually obliged to retire. On reaching the communication trench, they found that the
regulars had evacuated it, and that they were isolated in the midst of
the Germans. But
Hayward’s coolness and courage extricated his men from their perilous
situation, and they succeeded in reaching the British lines in safety,
though during their retirement they were very heavily shelled.
Sergeant Hayward was awarded the
Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous gallantry,” the
official announcement of his decoration adding that he had “displayed
great coolness and bravery, and set a fine example to the men with him
of devotion to duty.” He
was subsequently given a commission in the 4th Battalion
Royal West Kent Regiment. He
is only twenty years of age.
Trumpeter Waldron, Of The Royal Field Artillery,
The D.C.M. At Le Cateau
On the day of Smith Dorrien’s gallant rearguard action at Le
Cateau (August 26th 1914), when for more than eight hours our
Second Army corps held in check four German corps, the British
artillery, though even more hopelessly outmatched than were the
infantry, made a superb stand, and it was largely due to the devoted
courage with which they covered the retreat that our hard pressed troops
were able to escape envelopment. It
was on this occasion that, as is related elsewhere, Captain Douglas
Reynolds and Drivers Luke and Drain, of the 37th Battery
R.F.A., each won the Victoria Cross; but they were not the only members
of that same battery to earn distinction.
Very early in the action, after the
5th Divisonal Artillery had received the order that there
would be no retirement, a young trumpeter named Waldron was detailed to
act as communicating file between the captain in command of the guns and
the quartermaster sergeant in charge of the wagon teams and gun limbers,
which were sent about two thousand yards to the rear of the firing
stations. Both the British
guns and the reserve positions were subjected to a most terrific
shelling by the enemy; high explosive shells ploughed up the earth all
about the young trumpeter, and the sky above him was white with the
puffs of bursting shrapnel. But,
with all the sang-froid of a veteran of twice his years, he stood his
ground, holding a spare horse by the bridle, and, to all appearance,
perfectly unmoved by the possibility that every moment might be his
last. At length, perceiving
his dangerous position, the captain in command of the guns ordered him
to the rear with the wagon teams.
Very reluctantly he obeyed, but only
remained there for a time, and later in the day, although wounded, he
returned to the firing stations, leading a horse that was required.
For the conspicuous courage and
coolness, which he had shown, Trumpeter Waldron was awarded the
Distinguished Conduct Medal, and no one can doubt that the honour was
most thoroughly deserved.
For though many face death readily
enough with comrades by their side, courage of a very high order is
required to face it alone, and for hours at a time, as did this young
Lance Corporal Victor Gray, Of The 4th Battalion Middlesex
Won the D.C.M. At Kemmel
Among the many splendid examples of our gallant fellows
cheerfully risking their own lives to save those of their comrades which
the war had witnessed, that given by Lance Corporal Victor Gray, of the
4th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, on April 28th
1915, at Kemmel, is one which ought to be remembered.
Between two and three o’clock in
the afternoon of that day it was found necessary to put a charge of
dynamite into a German sap, which was working its way into a British sap
head. About two hours after
the explosion the sergeant in charge of the working party and three
officers went down the mine gallery to ascertain the result, leaving
Lance Corporal Gray in charge of the men at the top of the shaft.
They had been gassed! Gray
immediately called the working party to the mouth of the shaft, and
ordering four of them to go down into the mine and get the men up,
hurried off to summon medical aid, and in default of finding a surgeon,
returned in about three minutes with two R. A. M. C. orderlies.
When he got back, he found that one of the three officers had
already been rescued, and that another was just being brought up the
shaft. Having helped to
raise him to the surface and seen the orderlies set to work to revive
him, he himself went down, to assist in recovering the third officer and
the sergeant. When however,
he reached the bottom of the shaft, he found that the two men who had
saved the officers were already so overcome themselves by the gas that
the must be got out without delay.
He therefore ordered their two comrades, who had remained at the
bottom of the shaft, to send them up; while he himself went down the
gallery to where the third officer lay and partly carried and partly
dragged him to the bottom of the shaft, and, with the assistance of the
others, sent him up also. By
this time however Gray and his brave comrades were so overcome by the
poisonous fumes that they recognized that it would be impossible for
them to get the sergeant out. Gray
therefore ascended to the surface, and sent down four men to the
assistance of the sergeant, he himself, though feeling desperately ill,
pluckily descending again and rendering them what little assistance he
could at the bottom of the shaft. Unhappily,
when the sergeant was brought up he was beyond the reach of human aid,
and all efforts to revive him proved fruitless.
Lance corporal Gray, who was
awarded the D.C.M., “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to
duty,” is thirty years of age. He
comes of a family of soldiers, his late father having served for
twenty-one years in the Grenadier Guards, while both of his two brothers
are at the Front. The elder brother, who was in the 2nd battalion
Rifle Brigade, greatly distinguished himself at the beginning of May
1915, and after being awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous
gallantry,” was promoted to the rank of captain; the younger is a
lance corporal in the Royal Fusiliers.
Mrs Gray has indeed reason to be proud of her brave sons.
Since the gallant action which we
have just recounted, Victor Gray has been transferred from the 2nd
Battalion Middlesex Regiment to the Royal Engineers.
Lance Corporal Walter James Branker, Of The 2nd Battalion
Regiment Won The D.C.M. At Neuve Chapelle
The British artillery preparation, which preceded the Battle of
Neuve Chapelle, was probably the most terrific in the history of modern
warfare. At the end of it,
along the greater part of the German front there were no trenches left,
only a welter of debris and mangled corpses, while most of the village
was a mere rubbish heap. Nevertheless,
tremendous as had been the bombardment, there were places here and there
in the defences where the high explosive shells had failed to do their
work, and one of these was in the northern corner of Neuve Chapelle.
Here the enemy’s trenches and barbed wire entanglements were
still intact, as the 2nd Scottish Rifles-the old Cameroonians
found to their cost, when they advanced to the assault and came up
against unbroken wire and a hail of lead from rifles and machine guns.
Heroically did that splendid corps, which has on its regimental
rolls the names of Lord Hill, Lord Wolseley and Sir Evelyn Wood, strive
to break through the obstacle some of the men tearing at the wire with
their naked hands. But it was all, alas! To
no purpose, and they were obliged to fall back, with terrible losses.
About half an hour later they made a
second attempt, and Lance Corporal William James Branker, of the 2nd
Northampton’s, volunteered to accompany them.
They reached the wire entanglements, but were unable to advance
any further, and all that was left of “B” Company, to which Branker
had attached himself, was one officer, three non-commissioned officers,
and twenty-one men. The
lance corporal’s blood was up, however, and scarcely had the remnant
of the shattered battalion reached the shelter of the British trenches,
when he volunteered to go out alone and bomb the enemy.
Dropping over the parapet, he went forward some way, and sent two
of the deadly missiles through the air.
They fell short, however, whereupon, with a sublime indifference
to danger, he ran as far as the enemy’s wire, and, standing there,
with bullets whistling past him, threw the remainder of his bombs, and
then ran back to our trenches for a fresh supply.
His chum, Private Mead, offered to go with him, and the two brave
men made their way through the entanglements to within ten paces of the
German trenches, where they threw their bombs with deadly effect.
Mead, having exhausted his supply, was returning for more, but
was shot dead before he had gone half way.
Branker at once ran to his fallen comrade, but finding him beyond
the reach of human aid, went back to our trenches, and after a short
rest, came out again and succeeded in bombing the Germans out of their
trenches, killing many of them and taking eighty-five prisoners.
Lance Corporal Branker, who was
awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous
gallantry,” is twenty-five years of age, and his home is at
Private Walter Watson Cairns, Of The 1st Scottish Rifles (The
Won The Distinguished Conduct Medal At La
On the night of October 21st-22nd 1914, the
1st Scottish Rifles took up a position at La Boutillerie,
near Laventie, on the left of our second Corps, which was already
beginning to feel the surge of the great German advance, so soon to
sweep down upon it in all its violence.
Shortly after sunrise, shells began to burst unpleasantly close
to the Cameronians, followed by the news that the Germans were
approaching in great force. Their
situation was most critical, since they had not sufficient time to dig
themselves in the previous night and were lying behind head cover.
Orders were therefore given to the captain of the company to
which Private Walter Watson Cairns, a young soldier from Glasgow, was
attached to take two platoons out as far as possible, and hold the enemy
off as long as he could, in order to give the battalion time to get in a
line of trenches dug. By
this time the Germans could be seen preparing to attack, and while the
rest of the Cameronians wielded pick and shovel for dear life-for the
shells were now falling thick and fast about them-the two platoons moved
off in skirmishing orders towards the village of Le Mesnil.
Cairn’s section added as an advanced line of scouts, and came
in contact with the enemy about three hundred yards from the village,
upon which their section commander directed them to move round a farm
which they had just reached, and line the farther end of the field of
beet. Scarcely had they
done so, when the Germans began to advance, but they received them with
rapid fire and drove them back. Meanwhile,
however, the platoon on their right was forced back and Cairn’s
platoon found them in danger of being surrounded.
They received the order to retire by sections, but when his
section, after crawling through the beet, rose up with the intention of
seeking cover behind a hedge, a terrible machine gun fire was opened
upon them, and in a few moments half of them were either killed or
wounded. Someone shouted
Carine’s name, and looking round, he saw a sergeant named Sadler lying
against the hedge mortally wounded.
The dying man asked him to carry him back, and Cairns lifted him
up, but found that he was too heavy for him.
He accordingly asked another private named Jackson to help, and
together they carried the sergeant down the road along which their
comrades were retiring, men falling about them every moment, and found
shelter behind a haystack. Here
they laid him down, and Cairns bandaged the unfortunate man as well as
he could, and stayed with him until he died.
Just then his company officer came up, and directing one man to
remain with the wounded, told the rest to take up a position in
skirmishing order, as the enemy ere again advancing.
This they did, and opened a well-directed fire on the Huns, who
now begun round their right flank, with the intention of enveloping
them. Observing this, the
captain ordered his men to retire by sections, while still keeping up a
hot fire, but almost immediately afterwards he was shot down, as were
all the non commissioned officers who were left.
Cairns took charge of the survivors, and directed them to take
cover in a ditch, half the men retiring at a time, while the others
continued to fire. This
ditch, in which he found a lance corporal and fourteen men, all that
were left of the platoon, ran towards the enemy and then took a sharp
turn to the left, and following it to see whither it led, Cairns found,
to his intense relief, that it led down to where the Cameronians were
digging their trenches. He
returned to his comrades with this welcome information, and they managed
to regain the battalion without sustaining any further casualties.
Private-now Corporal Cairn’s, who was awarded the Distinguished
Conduct Medal, is twenty-two years of age.
Sergeant Walter Edward Packard Of The 1st Battalion East
Regiment Won The D.C.M. At Richebourg L’Avoue
In mid-October 1914, our Second corps, under Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien,
occupied a line, which extended from Givenchy in the South, northeast to
the village of Herlies, and thence northwest to Aubers.
To hold this position and prevent
the enemy from breaking through to Bethune and the West, Smith-Dorrien
had only at his disposal the 3rd and 5th
Divisions-a total perhaps of thirty thousand men-while opposed to him
was the entire left wing of the Crown Prince of Bavaria’s huge army,
which in the course of the ten days struggle which followed, was
reinforced by the whole of the German 14th Corps, a division
of another corps and a brigade of a third.
The first big German attack was delivered on the morning of
October 22nd, when the 5th Division on our right
was driven out of the village of Violaines, about a mile north of
Givenchy. But a dashing
counter attack by the 3rd Worcester and the Manchester
prevented the enemy from advancing.
Late in the afternoon, just as dusk
was falling, the Germans advanced in great numbers against the 1st
east Surreys, who were entrenched east and west of the road from
Givenchy to Lorgies, and close to the ruined village of Richebourg
l’Avoue. In preparation
for the assault their artillery had been bombarding the trenches of the
East Surreys all day with high explosive shells, until in places they
were nothing but a mass of debris and mutilated bodies.
Nevertheless, thanks to the bravery and resourcefulness of a
young non-commissioned officer of the battalion, Acting Sergeant Walter
Edwards Packard, the attack was not only beaten back, but also ended in
an utter fiasco.
Packard was sergeant of the machine gun section of the East
Surreys, whose guns played upon the advancing enemy with great effect,
until, when within about eighty yards of our trenches, the Huns threw
themselves flat on the ground, to avoid our fire and to take breath for
the final rush.
Now it happened that between the
hostile trenches, and at right angles to them, there was a wide ditch of
some little depth, and it occurred to Packard that if he could get a
machine gun down the ditch which began at the foot of our parapet and
continued up to that of the Germans-he would be able to enfilade the
enemy with most deadly effect when they got up to charge. He determined to chance it, and, with the assistance of a
private, got the gun over the parapet, unseen by the enemy, and down the
ditch, until he was nearly opposite the prostrate line of Huns.
Then he mounted the gun and began blazing away.
He had emptied four or five belts of
ammunition, when, happening to glance to his left, he saw a strong party
of Germans creeping up the ditch towards him, from the direction of the
enemy’s trenches. They
were within twenty paces of him before he could swing round his gun and
turn it upon them. But once
he had done so, it was all over with them; in a minute or two the party
was literally wiped out.
Swinging the gun round again to his
first target, Packard waited until the order came for the Germans to get
up and charge. The moment
they rose to their feet, the machine gun began to vomit forth its
torrent of death, and before that murderous enfilading fire, where every
bullet accounted for its man, combined with that from the British
trenches, the Germans broke and fell back in disorder, leaving the
ground piled with their dead and wounded.
Sergeant Packard, who was awarded
the Distinguished Conduct Medal, for conspicuous gallantry throughout
the campaign, notably in the action, which we have just described, is
twenty-five years of age, and his home is at Balham.
He has served eight years with the 1st East Surreys.
Lance-Corporal William Angus, of the 8th (Lanark) Battalion
Infantry (Territorial force), Won The V.C. At Givenchy
Before the war broke out, there was, as will readily be
remembered, a decided disinclination in certain quarters to take our
Territorial forces quite seriously, and even our old friend Mr. Punch
could not resist the temptation of occasionally making their supposed
ignorance of their duties the object of his genial satire.
No one, of course, doubted their pluck or their patriotic spirit,
but there were many who contended that their brief period of annual
training was far too short to be of any real value, and that, in the
event of war, many months of strenuous work would be required to fit
them to take their place in the field by the side of seasoned troops.
Never were critics more speedily confounded.
For though, at the outset, necessarily much inferior in such
matters as marksmanship, quickness in taking cover and reconnoitring to
the regular soldier with months or sometimes years of continuous
training behind him, the intelligence and enthusiasm of the young man
from the office or the shop enabled him to master his duties with
astonishing rapidity, while in courage and tenacity he very quickly
showed that he had little or nothing to learn from his professional
comrade. Indeed, it was a
Scottish Territorial who was the hero of what, in the opinion of one who
witnessed it, must be regarded as one of the most magnificent acts of
gallantry and devotion that the modern battlefield has ever seen.
On the night of June 11th-12th
1913, during the engagement of Givenchy, a party of the Lanarkshire
Territorial (8th Battalion Highland Light Infantry), under
the command of Lieutenant Martin, a young officer whose unfailing good
humour and pluck had made him exceedingly popular, was sent out for the
purpose of destroying a German barricade.
Some sharp fighting ensued, and while this was at its height a
powerful German mine was fired, either intentionally or by accident.
When the Scotsmen returned to the
British trenches, it was found that Lieutenant Martin was missing, and
though several of his men volunteered to go back and search for him, and
crawled about in all directions in the darkness, they could discover no
trace of him. When day
broke, however, one of the British sentries caught sight of someone
moving in the midst of a mass of loose earth close to the parapet of the
German trench. It was the
missing officer, who had been wounded and stunned by the explosion of
the mine, and half buried by the debris, which it had raised, and who
now, having recovered consciousness, was endeavouring to work his way
clear of the earth which was pinning him down.
There he lay, right at the foot of
the German parapet, only some ten feet of earth between him and the most
pitiless enemy that ever waged an unholy war.
His very nearness to them hid him from their view, but already
they must of heard him moving, for presently, when the sun was a little
higher, the ugly head of the periscope with its ghoulish eye was thrust
up from the German trench, and leered at the wounded officers below.
A rifle rang out from the British lines, and a well-aimed bullet
smashed the periscope to pieces, and though the Germans essayed
repeatedly by the same means to ascertain Lieutenant Martin’s exact
position, our marksmen shattered each periscope the moment it appeared.
For the British had been fighting
the unspeakable Hun too long to entertain the illusion that the enemy
wished to discover where the wounded man lay with any idea of throwing
him a rope and drawing him in. They did not even expect them to be merciful and kill him.
No; they intended to leave him there in the cruel glare of a
cloudless June sky, to serve as a bait to lure some gallant British
soldier to his death; and it was to ascertain the spot upon which their
bombs might be most effectively thrown that they had used the periscope.
And meantime they diverted themselves by exercising their brutal
Teutonic wit at the expense of their hapless victim, and when he called
to them pitifully for a drink of water to quench his raging thirst, they
threw him, instead of a water bottle, an unlighted bomb!
Could the savages who rode with Attila have gone any further in
Presently there rose above the
enemy’s trench a loop holed steel shield, fenced in by many sandbags
to protect the marksmen who had been selected to shoot if any rescue
were attempted. A rescue by
daylight now, indeed, appeared hopeless, but to a man the lieutenant’s
company volunteered to rush the German trench at dusk, cost what it
But it was feared that before dusk
fell the wounded officer, if left there all day in the scorching sun,
might be beyond human aid; and so, towards midday, when the suspense had
become almost unendurable, permission was obtained for one of the brave
Scotsmen to attempt the apparently impossible task of bringing him
in-only one, for the commanding officer refused to consent to any more
of his men throwing their lives away.
There were many eager volunteers, but after some discussion,
Lance-Corporal William Angus, a young man born and bred in the
Lanarkshire town of Carluke, where Lieutenant Martin lived, was chosen.
An officer warned Angus that he was going to certain death, but
he was not dismayed. “It
does not matter much, sir, whether sooner or later,” was his firm
But before recounting this truly superb act of heroism, it may be
as well to describe more full y the scene of it.
The Germans were entrenched on a
bare, dry knoll, some seventy yards from the British, their trench
having a high irregular parapet, beneath which lay Lieutenant Martin,
now perfectly still. In
front of our lines, for a distance of some thirty paces, there grew the
self sown corn of the previous year’ harvest, rank with weeds and
affording good cover. But
for the remainder of the distance between the trenches every square inch
of the ground was commanded by the enemy’s fire, and there was no
shelter whatever. Arrangements
had been made for a heavy covering fire, which, it was hoped, would
prevent a single German raising his head above the parapet; the trench
was lined by our best riflemen, and on a ridge behind, and perhaps six
feet higher, a machine gun had been mounted.
But, however accurate this fire might be, it could not interfere
with the marksmen behind the steel shield or with the bomb throwers.
At two o’clock in the afternoon
Angus slipped over the British parapet, and, flattened to earth, began
to work his way toward the hostile trench, using every precaution that
training and skill have given to the soldier.
No finer tribute, indeed, could have been paid to the way in
which the young Territorial had been taught his business than the fact
that he reached the German parapet without drawing the enemy’s fire.
Quickly, but coolly, he did his work.
He was seen to touch the lieutenant’s arm and whisper to him.
Then he raised him up and placed a flask of brandy between his
teeth, and together they sat at the base of the parapet for a few
moments to gather strength for the fearful ordeal before them.
The enemy had heard their movements by now, but the storm of
bullets from the British trenches kept all German heads under cover.
However, at that moment, one of the Huns lobbed a bomb just over
the parapet. There was a
loud explosion, a cloud of dust, and Angus and the wounded officer,
realizing that it must be now or never, made their dash for safety, the
strong man supporting the weak and guiding his faltering footsteps.
And then the Germans made their mistake.
The fastest sprinter in the world would have had but not a chance
in a thousand of crossing that open space alive if only, they had been
content to leave the work of murder to their snipers.
Instead they threw more bombs, raising great pillars of smoke and
dust, which made it impossible for their riflemen to see where to aim,
though they emptied their magazines at random.
Suddenly, from out of the midst of a
cloud of dust, there emerged two figures, which stumbled pain crawl in;
Lance-Corporal Angus, rising sore wounded to his feet, became separated
from the officer. A dozen
bombs burst around him as he made for the trench at a different point;
but he left the line of fire clear, and rifles and machine gun poured in
a torrent of bullets, under cover of which he got in. He was wounded in no less than forty places, while his fellow
townsman, to save whom he had so gallantly faced almost certain death,
was wounded in three places. Happily,
neither was dangerously hurt, and both eventually recovered.
The heroic young Territorial received the Victoria Cross, “for
most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty,” at the hands of the
Sergeant William Harry Frederick Barclay, Of The (4th)
Regiment (T.F.), Won The D.C.M. At Armentieres.
After the second battle of Ypres, in which it had suffered severe
losses, the 150th Brigade, of which the 4th East
Yorkshire formed part, was dispatched to Armentieres.
On arriving there, Sergeant William Harry Frederick Barclay was
placed in charge of the listening and reconnoitring patrols of his
battalion, and night after night led them out towards the German lines,
harassing and bombing the enemy’s working parties.
On October 14th 1915, Sergeant Watson, of Barclay’s
company, taking advantage of a thick mist, had a party of men out in
front of our trenches to dig a wide ditch.
At about 9.30 a.m. learning that no covering party had been sent
out to guard against Watson’s men being surprised while at work,
Barclay went out alone towards the German lines which were about 250
yards distant from ours. He
succeeded in making his way unobserved to within about forty yards of
the hostile trenches, when suddenly the mist lifted and revealed about
150 of the enemy busily engaged in erecting wire-entanglements in front
of their trenches. Fortunately
for Barclay, they had not caught sight of him, and, throwing himself
flat on the ground, which at this particular spot was covered with long
grass, he crawled to a shell hole a few yards away, from the shelter of
which he fired four shots at the enemy, each bullet accounting for a
Their comrades, observing the sot
whence the shots had come, seized their rifles and opened rapid fire,
upon which Barclay jumped out of his shell hole and began to run towards
the British lines. Although
the mist-or what remained of it-rendered accurate shooting difficult, he
was hit before he had covered half the distance by an explosive bullet
in the left hip; but the wound was only a slight one, the bullet having
first come in contact with a clasp knife which he carried there. As the Germans were following him, he shouted to Sergeant
Watson to come to his assistance, and Watson came running up with about
twenty men. A hot skirmish
ensued, which ended in the retreat of the Huns, though not before Watson
and two of his men had been badly wounded.
Sergeant Barclay’s wound did not
necessitate his going to hospital, and after it had been dressed, he
returned to the firing line and resumed his duties.
Five days later he had a much more thrilling adventure.
About ten o’clock on the morning
of October 19th, Barclay accompanied by four men, Private
Thrussell, Donkin, Donnelly and Tate, went out to tap a German listening
wire, which he had discovered the previous night.
About fifty yards from our parapet there was an orchard,
extending for some 120 yards; that is to say, up to within eighty yards
of the German trenches. Private
Tate remained at our listening post, which was at the end of the orchard
nearest the British lines, but the others made their way to the far end
and close to the German listening post, without being observed by the
enemy. Thrussell then went
back to tell Tate, who was a telephone operator, where the wire was, in
order that he might make his report to headquarters.
While Thrussell was away, Donnelly
caught sight of a party of the enemy creeping towards them through the
grass. The three British
soldiers waited until the Germans were within twenty yards of them, when
they opened rapid fire, with such excellent effect that in about five
minutes the Huns had had more than enough of it, and those who were able
to crawled back to their own trenches.
The enemy then began to enfilade the orchard from opposite sides
with two machine guns, but finding that they could not dislodge the
adventurous trio, whom their discomfited comrades had probably magnified
into a considerable party, they had recourse to rifle grenades and
trench mortars. The range
was very accurate, and Barclay and his comrades felt as though they were
in an earthquake, fruit trees being blown out of the ground by the
roots, while the air seemed thick and bullets.
The sergeant decided that if he wished to get his little patrol
back alive it was high time to make a move; but though they set off
twice to crawl through the orchard, so heavy was the bombardment that
they were on each occasion obliged to retire to the shelter of the shell
holes in which they had taken refuge.
However, during a lull in the firing he heard of the shell holes
in which they taken refuge. However,
during a lull in the firing he heard Thrussell moaning and calling for
help, and at once resolved that they must get through at all costs.
He, Donnelly and Donkin accordingly started again and crawled as
far as the middle of the orchard, where they found poor Thrussell lying
face downwards, with the gaping wound in his back.
He begged Barclay piteously to carry him in and not leave him
there, and the sergeant readily promised to make the attempt.
He then lay down beside Thrussell, whom Donnelly lifted on to his
back, and began his journey towards the British lines. He had to drag himself along on his stomach the whole of the
way. Shells were bursting
about him all the time, but he reached the end of the orchard in safety,
where he caught sight of Private Tate lying in our listening post,
wounded, like Thrussell, in the back part of the muscle of which he had
been torn away by a bullet. Since
it was impossible for Barclay to carry two men in, he begged Tate to try
and get back himself, and the latter, by great efforts, succeeded in
doing so and was taken to the dressing station.
The most dangerous stage of Sergeant
Barclay’s journey now lay before him, namely some fifty yards of
perfectly open ground between the orchard and the British trenches.
It seemed well nigh impossible to get across without being hit,
but he determined to take his chance.
Donnelly crawled by his side until they were half way across,
when Barclay advised him to make a run for it.
He did so, and had just got to the edge of our sap (a little
shallow trench in front of the firing trench) when he received a bullet
in the hip, though, happily, the wound was only a slight one.
Barclay was now left alone with his
burden-Thrussell. The poor
fellow was dying, and clasped the sergeant so tightly round the neck
that the latter was obliged to raise to his knees to get his breath.
In this position he was seen almost immediately by the German
machine gunners, which at once opened fire.
Thrussell was hit again, this time in the leg, and a bullet
knocked Barclay’s cap off, just cutting the skin of his head.
He discovered afterwards no less than eleven bullet holes through
his coat, which was almost ripped to pieces.
He kept crawling on and reached the sap without further mishap,
when a shell burst directly over their heads, burying the two in the
loose soil. Their comrades
dug them out in a few minutes, and thus ended for Sergeant Barclay about
the most thrilling morning that a man could well wish to have.
It had taken him over three quarters of an hour to get Thrussell
in, during which the enemy kept up an almost continuous machine gun
fire, it was calculated, exploded over 150 shells and rifle grenades.
Unhappily, all his heroism did not suffice to save his injured
comrade, who was found to have been wounded in the stomach as well as in
the back of the leg. He died about an hour later, fully conscious, after thanking
Barclay for all that he had done for him.
Tate and Donnelly were invalided home to England, where they
Sergeant Barclays splendid gallantry
and devotion to duty on this and previous occasions won for him the
Distinguished Conduct Medal, for which he had already been recommended
after the affair on October 15th.
He is thirty-eight years of age, and is one of seven soldier
brothers, two of who have already given their lives for King and
Acting Sergeant William Fisher, Of The 4th Middlesex, Won The
Wolverghem, And Subsequently A Clasp To His D.C.M.
It is not only in the heat of battle, when the troops are
advancing to the assault of the enemy’s position in the face of a
deadly blast of shrapnel, rifle and machine gun fire, that heroic deeds
are performed; even in the course of such comparatively uneventful work
as trench digging, opportunities for earning distinction, and sometimes
unforgettable fame, have been known to present themselves.
A striking illustration of this
occurred on the night of November 17th-18th 1914,
near Wolverghem. Acting-Sergeant
William Fisher, a young man of twenty-one, of the 4th
Middlesex, which was entrenched opposite the village of Neuve Eglise,
received orders to send out a digging party to finish a communication
trench which ran across their right front.
It was an undertaking full of danger, for less than two hundred
yards separated the British from the German trenches, and the night
being fine and the ground covered with snow, every dark object stood out
in bold relief. Two
sections (twenty men and N.C.O.’s) were detailed for the work, which
proceeded for some time without interruption, when suddenly, towards
midnight, a heavy and continuous rifle fire was opened upon them.
Some of the working party took cover in the unfinished trench;
but others, losing their heads, started to regain the fire trench.
Then over the parapet of the
fire trench bounded a solitary figure, rifle in hand.
It was Sergeant Fisher, who believing that the enemy had
surprised his men, was hastening to their relief.
Right across the open he ran, an all too conspicuous mark against
the white carpet of snow, and, quick rallying the fugitives, led them
back to the communication trench, where he got the whole party under
cover. This accomplished,
he coolly proceeded to reconnoitre the ground between the communication
trench and the German lines, with the object of ascertaining of the
enemy were meditating a surprise attack, and then hurried back to the
fire trench to stop the firing which some of our men had, without
orders, opened in reply to the Germans.
Finally, he went out again to the communication trench and took
charge of the working party.
Now, all this time this intrepid
young man was running the greatest personal risk imaginable, being
exposed both to the fire of the enemy, and to that of some of his own
comrades; indeed, it seems little short of a miracle that he should have
escaped unhurt. Yet never
for a single moment do his coolness and courage appear to have failed
him, and few could have more richly deserved the coveted decoration
awarded him by his own Sovereign or the medal of St. George of the
second class, which was subsequently conferred upon him by the Czar.
On June 16th 1915, Sergeant Fisher was wounded near
Ypres, but fortunately his injuries were not serious, and seven months
after the gallant action, which gained him the Distinguished Conduct
Medal, he won a clasp to his decoration.
On the night of June 14th-15th
1915, some digging operations which were in progress near the British
first line trenches were continually being interfered with by the
discharge of a star shell pistol from the Germans lines.
Sergeant Fisher and Corporal Keep of his regiment determined to
endeavour to put a stop to this, and, each arming himself with a bomb,
they scaled the parapet of their trench and crawled to within easy
throwing distance of the hostile trench.
There they waited for some five minutes, until the German exposed
his position by discharging his pistol.
The moment he did so Fisher threw his bomb, which hit the parapet
of the trench exactly in front of the trail of sparks from the pistol,
and from the fact that no more star shells were sent up from that
section of the enemy’s trench during the rest of the night he
concluded that he had either killed his man or placed him hors de
Immediately afterwards, Corporal
Keep spotted a party of Germans just on his right, and managed to throw
his bomb into the middle of them, with the result that they scattered in
disorder, leaving behind them two wounded men, who lay there groaning
all night. Encouraged by
their success, the two non-commissioned officers returned to their own
trench, and having provided themselves with more bombs, crawled out
again and threw them into the German trench, with considerable effect,
to judge by the shrieks and curses which followed their explosion.
This exploit they subsequently repeated, making their third trip
out that night.
For the services they rendered on
this occasion Corporal Keep was awarded the D.C.M., and Sergeant Fisher
a clasp to his medal, as mentioned above.
Sergeant William Fuller Of The Welsh Regiment, Won The Victoria Cross
The Battle Of The Aisne
On Sunday, September 13th 1914, the greater part of
the British Expeditionary Force crossed the Aisne, and by the evening
the men had dug themselves in well up on the farther slopes; and early
next morning, while our engineers were busily strengthening the new
bridges and repairing some of the old, which the Germans had partially
destroyed, so as to enable them to bear the weight of heavy traffic, a
general advance was begun along the whole western section of the Allied
On the part of the British, the real
offensive was entrusted to the First Corps, under Sir Douglas Haig,
which had bivouacked on the northern bank of the river between Chavonne
and Moulins. Its objective
was the Chemin des Dames, or Ladies Road, four miles to the north, the
possession of which would give us command of the southern part of the
Craonne Palteau from Soissons to Berry-au-Bac.
The 2nd Brigade, supported by the 25th
Artillery Brigade, was to push forward fro Moulins on the extreme right,
and seize a spur east of the hamlet of Troyon, just south of the Ladies
Road, while the remaining two brigades of the 1st Division
advanced up the Vendresse Valley. The
6th Brigade, in the 2nd Division, was to occupy
the Ladies Road south of Courtacon, while the rest of the division
advanced up the Braye glen, and the 4th (Guards) Brigade, on
its left, supported by the 36th Artillery Brigade, took the
heights east of Ostel.
The movement began just before dawn,
and the Northampton’s captured the spur east of Troyon at the point of
the bayonet. But a
desperate resistance was encountered at Troyon itself, where there was a
sugar factory held in strong force by the enemy, and it was not until
midday that it was carried by the North Lancashires, when the 1st
and 2nd Brigades were drawn up on the line just south of the
Ladies Road. The 3rd
Brigade continued the line west of Vendresse and linked up with the 2nd
Division, which had met with such fierce opposition that its right was
hung up south of Braye, while its left was still some way from the Ostel
About four o’clock in the
afternoon a general advance of the First corps was ordered, and by
nightfall, though we had not succeeded in occupying the Ladies Road, we
had, in the words of Viscount French, “gained positions which alone
have enabled me to maintain my position for more than three weeks of
very severe fighting on the north bank of the river.”
But this success was not won without heavy losses, especially
among the commissioned ranks of the First Corps, the colonels of four of
its twelve battalions-those of the Black Watch, Royal Sussex, North
Lancashire and West Surreys-being all killed.
The 3rd Brigade, in
capturing the village of Chivy, had a particularly severe task, the
enemy being in immensely superior force and very strongly posted.
As the Welsh, in the centre, advancing by sections, neared the
crest of the hill behind which lay the village, Captain Mark Haggard, a
nephew of Sir Rider Haggard, ordered his men to lie down, and advanced
alone to reconnoitre the German position. Then he turned and shouted.
“Five bayonets, boys,” and the Welshmen, rising to their
feet, dashed forward, to be met by a withering machine gun and rifle
fire. Calling on his men to
follow him, Captain Haggard, who carried, like them, rifle and bayonet,
rushed forward to capture a Maxim gun, which was doing considerably
damage. But just before he reached it, he was struck by several
bullets and fell to the ground mortally wounded.
“Near me,” writes a private of the Welsh, whom had he been
stuck down almost at the same moment, “was laying our brave Captain,
mortally wounded. As the
shells burst over us, he would occasionally open his eyes between the
spasms of pain and call out weakly, “stick it, Welsh!”
Seeing Captain Haggard fall,
Sergeant William Fuller ran forward under tremendous fire, and, lifting
him up, carried him back about one hundred yards, until he gained the
shelter of a ridge, where he laid him down and dressed his wounds.
Captain Haggard begged the sergeant to fetch his rifle, which he
had dropped where he fell, so that the Germans should not get possession
of it; and this fuller succeeded in doing without getting hit.
He then, with the assistance of a private named Snooks and
Lieutenant Melvin, the officer in charge of the machine gun section of
the Welsh, carried Captain Haggard to a barn adjoining a farmhouse some
distance to the rear, which was being used as a dressing station.
Here he did what he could to relieve his sufferings, until the
evening, when the unfortunate officer expired, his last words being,
“Stick it, Welsh!” He was buried close to the farmhouse where he died.
Captain Mark Haggard, whose bravery
on the occasion cost him his life, was the third son of Bayell Michael
Haggard, of Kirby Cain, Norfolk, and was born 1876.
On the outbreak of the Boer War he joined the City of London
Imperial Volunteers, and went with them to South Africa, and in 1900
received a commission in the Welsh.
He became captain in 1911. He
was immensely popular in his regiment.
“We were prepared to follow him anywhere,” writes a private
of his company.
After Captain Haggard’s death,
Sergeant Fuller attended to two officers of the South Wales Borderers,
Lieutenant the Hon. Fitzroy Somerset and Lieutenant Richards, who were
both lying wounded in the same barn, until the ambulance came to remove
them. The barn was during
this time exposed to very heavy shellfire, and the following day, after
all our wounded officers and men had been got away, was blown to pieces
by German guns. He had also
under his charge about sixty women and children of the neighbourhood,
who had taken refuge in the cellar of an adjoining house, and whose
wants he supplied, until wagons were sent to fetch them away.
This house and, in fact, all the neighbouring buildings were
subsequently levelled to the ground by the enemy’s shellfire.
Sergeant Fuller, who for his
splendid gallantry was awarded the Victoria Cross, escaped unhurt on
September 14th. About
six weeks later (October 29th), during the desperate fighting
near Gheluvelt, he was severely wounded by a piece of shrapnel, while
dressing the wounds of a comrade named Private Tagge, who had been hit
in both legs during the counter attack by which we recovered most of the
trenches from which our 1st Division had been driven earlier
in the day. The shrapnel
entered the right side, travelled nearly twelve inches up under his
shoulder blade, and rested on the right lung.
Sergeant Fuller was sent home to Wales, and was operated on at
Swansea Hospital, where the shrapnel was extracted.
On his recovery, he was employed for some months on recruiting
duties in Wales, in which he was most successful.
Sergeant Fuller is thirty-two years
of age, and was born in Carnarvonshire, but his family has for many
years resided at Swansea.
Second-Lieutenant William Edmund Gray, Of The 2nd Battalion
Brigade, Won The Military Cross At Rouges Bancs
The British advance in the Festubert area on May 9th-10th
1915, was primarily designed to detain the German 7th Corps
in position, and prevent reinforcements in men and guns being sent
southwards to resist the French offensive in the Artois; but it had also
a subsidiary purpose, namely, the winning of the Aubers ridge, for the
sake of which we had fought the Battle of Neuve chapelle.
The first object was achieved, and the success of our Allies was
undoubtedly largely due to the fact that the British advance had
rendered it impossible for the enemy to strengthen their line to the
extent that they would otherwise have done.
But the second was not attained, for the strength of the German
position in the Festubert region, particularly towards Fromelles and the
northern part of the Aibers ridge, against which the 8th Division,
advancing from Rouges Bancs, directed our main attack, had been greatly
underrated. Here and there
ground was gained, notably by a Territorial Battalion, the 13th
(Kensington) of the London Regiment, who in most dashing manner carried
three lines of the enemy’s trenches with the bayonet.
But the tremendous bombardment which the German artillery
directed upon the captured trenches, combined with the withering
enfilading fire from machine guns mounted in fortified farm houses on
the flanks of their position, rendered them untenable, and by the
morning of the 10th we were obliged to relinquish all the
ground which the valour of our infantry had won.
Our gallant fellows had, however,
the consolation of knowing that they had accomplished and endured
everything that could possibly be expected of flesh and blood; indeed,
few actions in the Great War had been productive of more acts of heroism
and devotion. Several have
been described elsewhere in this work, but that performed by
Second-Lieutenant William Edmund Gray, of the 2nd Rifle
Brigade, ought not to be omitted.
Our artillery preparation began at
about 5 a.m. on the morning of the 9th, and half an hour
later our infantry advanced to the attack.
The moment they climbed the parapet and began to cross the two
hundred and fifty yards of absolutely open ground, which lay, between
them and the German first line trenches, they came under a terrific
fire, shrapnel and rifle bullets raking them from the front while
machine guns enfiladed them pitilessly from either flank.
The troops on the left of the 2nd Rifle Brigade, where
our artillery preparation had failed to destroy the enemy’s
entanglements, were obliged to retire, with terrible loss; but those of
the “Green Jackets” who survived the fiery ordeal succeeded in
carrying the German trench, which they had been ordered to take.
Second-Lieutenant Gray, who was in
charge of the machine gun section of his battalion, recognizing the
impossibility of getting his guns across, devoted himself to
reorganising the men who had been left behind, and a little later,
seeing that reinforcements were urgently needed if the captured trench
were to be held, he got together all the men he could find-about eighty
in number-and led them out into the death swept open. Across that fatal ground, thickly strewn with the dead and
dying bodies of their comrades, they made their way, men falling at
every step under the withering crossfire which raked it, and at last the
brave lieutenant found himself standing beside his commanding officer in
the comparative safety of the German trench.
But when he looked round for the men who had followed him, he saw
that scarcely a score had succeeded in winning their way through the
In the captured trench Lieutenant
Gray had the good fortune to discover a German machine gun, and with it
a plentiful supply of ammunition. He
lost no time in mounting it on what had originally been the parados of
the trench, but which our men were now engaged in converting into the
parapet; and when presently the Huns counter attacked, he hoisted them
with their own petard most effectively, and assisted to drive the back
with heavy loss.
As soon as darkness fell, the
lieutenant left the German trench, with some men of the machine gun
section, and crossing over to the British trenches, returned with his
own guns and mounted them, in readiness for another counter attack.
Although not so dangerous an undertaking as that of the morning,
this double journey was quite sufficiently dangerous to test the nerves
of the boldest, as the ground between the opposing lines was being
heavily shelled by the German artillery, with the object of preventing
our sending up reinforcements. At
dawn, after their lost trench had been subjected to a fierce
bombardment, the enemy counter attacked in great force, and eventually
obliged the Riflemen to evacuate it.
Lieutenant Gray was the last officer to retire, and his machine
guns continued to spit death among the advancing Huns until the latter
were within a few yards of the position.
Second-Lieutenant now Captain Gray,
who for his great gallantry and ability on the occasion, was awarded the
Military Cross, is thirty-one years of age, and his home is at Datchet,
Captain William Henry Johnstone, Of The Royal Engineers, Won
V.C. At Missy
The crossing of the Aisne began on September 13th
1914, along a section of the river, which lay between Soissons on the
west and Villers on the east. Along
this part of the river there are eleven road bridges, but the Germans
had destroyed those at Venizel, Missy and Vailly.
The Aisne valley, which runs east and west, is flat bottomed, and
varies from a mile to two miles wide.
The river is about one and seventy feet wide, but, being deep in
the middle, it is impossible to ford it.
The slopes, which rise up to a height of four hundred feet on
either side of the valley, are covered with patches of wood and are
broken up by numerous spurs. The position held by the enemy was a very strong one, being a
plateau on the heights to the north of the river, and from it all the
bridges could be brought under either the direct fire of field guns or
else the high angle fire of heavy howitzers.
The order having been given to advance and cross the Aisne, the 1st
Corps and the cavalry advanced on the river.
The 1st Division was directed to take its stand about
Chanouille, and pushed forward by way of the canal bridge at Bourg,
while the 2nd Division, destined for Courtecon and Presles,
advanced by way of Pont Arey, and for the canal to the north of Braye,
by way of Chavonne. The
cavalry and 1st Division met with but slight opposition on
the right, and by means of the canal, which crosses the river by an
aqueduct, found a passage. The Division was thus able to push on, with the Cavalry
Division on its outer flank, and drive the enemy before it.
The leading troops of the 2nd
Division reached the river on the left by nine o’clock.
By means of a broken girder of the bridge, which was not
completely submerged in the river, the 5th Infantry Brigade
crossed under fire from the enemy’s guns on the heights.
The crossing having been accomplished, a pontoon bridge was at
once begun, and was completed by five o’clock in the afternoon.
Out of the extreme left the 4th Guards Brigade met
with most determined opposition at Chavonne, and it was not till late in
the afternoon that a foothold was gained on the northern bank of the
river by ferrying a battalion across in boats.
At night almost the entire Division bivouacked on the southern
bank of the river, and only the 5th Brigade was left on the
north bank for the purpose of establishing a bridgehead.
Almost all the bridges which lay in the path of the advance of
the 2nd Corps were found to have been destroyed, except that
at Conde, which the enemy held in their possession until the end of the
battle. The 5th Division eventually crossed the river at
Missy. From the river,
however, the ground stretches back flat and exposed for three quarters
of a mile, and the 13th Brigade was unable to advance, as the
enemy opened a heavy fire from the opposite bank.
The 14th brigade, however, was directed to the east of
Venizel, and was rafted across at a less exposed point.
The 15th Brigade followed, and, later, both the 14th
and 15th Brigades assisted the 4th Division on
their left to repel a heavy counter attack delivered against the 3rd
Corps. On the morning of
the 13th the enemy was found to be in possession of the
The Engineers then undertook the repair of the road bridge at
Venizel, and the work was completed during the morning.
The bridge, however, had been damaged to such an extent that it
was left to the men to drag the gun across.
In the meantime a pontoon bridge was begun to close to the road
bridge, and this was completed at 5.30 p.m.
The 12th Infantry Brigade had crossed at Venizel, and
by one o’clock in the afternoon was assembled at Bucy Le Long.
At 2 p.m. they began an attack in the direction of Chivres and
Vregny, in the hope of gaining the high ground east of Chivres, and thus
continuing the advance further northwards.
Good progress was made until 5.30 p.m., but the enemy’s
artillery and machine gun fire then became so heavy that further
progress could not be made.
While the 10th Infantry
Brigade crossed the river and moved to Bucy Le Long, the 19th
Brigade moved to Billy-sur-Aisne. Before
dark all the artillery of the Division had been got across the river,
except for the heavy battery and one brigade of Field Artillery.
During the night the 5th Division took over the
positions, to the east of the stream running though Chivres, which had
been gained by the 12th Infantry Brigade.
With the fall of evening the enemy had retired at every point,
and entrenched on the high ground about two miles to the north of the
river. But detachments of
infantry were strongly entrenched in commanding places all down the
slopes of the various spurs with powerful artillery to support them.
All through the night of the 13th
and on the 14th and following days the Field Companies were
incessantly at work. Eight
pontoon bridges and one-foot bridge were thrown over the river under
very heavy artillery fire, and this was kept up continuously on to most
of the crossings when completed. The
three road bridges at Venizel, missy and Vailly, and a railway bridge
east of Vailly, were repaired for foot traffic.
The work done by the Royal Engineers was highly satisfactory, in
repairs and reconstruction and in other ways.
All through the 14th, until 7 p.m., Captain William
Henry Johnstone worked with his own hands two rafts.
He returned with the wounded from one side, to take back later
supplies of ammunition. By
this work, which was carried out under heavy fire, an advanced Brigade
was enabled to maintain its position across the river.
For his most gallant work Captain Johnstone was awarded the V.C.
Lance Corporal William Walter James Milner Of The 1st
Warwickshire Regiment, Won The D.C.M. Near Wieltje
In the early morning of May 2nd 1915-a perfect spring
morning, with a cloudless sky and a gentle north easterly breeze-a
violent discharge of poison gas against nearly the whole British from
east of Ypres was followed by heavy shellfire and a most determined
The gas attack began shortly before
3 a.m., when a large proportion of our men were asleep, and its advance,
aided by the breeze, was too sudden and rapid to give them time to put
on their respirators. The 7th Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders, who occupied the first line trenches near Wieltje, suffered
particularly severely, and orders were sent to the 1st
Warwick’s, who had been relieved from the firing line late on the
previous night and were now in dug outs about a mile to the rear, to
send them what assistance they could.
The colonel of the Warwick’s asked the machine gun officer to
try and get one of his guns up; but, as both the officer and the machine
gun sergeant had only just arrived from England, and were imperfectly
acquainted with the ground, the duty of leading the party was entrusted
to Lance Corporal Milner.
The gas cloud was now floating down
towards the Warwick’s, and after going a little way, some of the
party-lads fresh from home overcome by the poisonous fumes, began to
drop back. Thereupon Milner
took the gun from the Number 1, and shouting “come on, lads, follow
me, and you’ll be all right!” persuaded them to advanced got them
all safely through the gas. But,
as they approached the first line trenches, they had to run the gauntlet
of a terrific shelling, for the enemy’s artillery was, as usual,
endeavouring to place a barrage of shrapnel and high explosive between
the firing line and our supports. Once
more the younger soldiers began to shrink, and once more did the brave
lance corporal, with voice and gesture, nerve them to face the ordeal
before them. At last they
reached the trenches, where they received a warm welcome from what was
left of the unfortunate 7th Argyll’s, who had suffered
terrible losses; and Milner, mounting his gun on the parapet, began to
pour stream of lead into the advancing Germans.
Thanks in a great measure to his deadly shooting; the trench was
successfully held until dark, when relief arrived. Of the Warwick’s machine gun section one man had been
killed and two wounded.
Milner was promoted sergeant a day or two later, and subsequently
awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous
gallantry,” the Gazette adding that he had “shown the greatest
bravery and coolness, and given great encouragement to the men in his
command.” He is thirty
years of age, and his home is at Birmingham.
Sergeant William George Reeves, Of The 2nd Battalion, Royal
Regiment (The Queen’s), Won The D.C.M. At The First Battle
In the forenoon of October 31st 1914-the most critical
day in the whole of the long First Battle of Ypres-an attack in
overwhelming force developed against Gheluvelt, and the whole of our 1st
Division, stationed to the north of the village, was driven from its
trenches and forced to fall back to the woods between Hooge and Veldhoek.
The retirement of this part of our line exposed the left flank of
the 7th Division, to the south of the Gheluvelt cross roads,
and the Royal Scots Fusiliers in the 21st Brigade were cut
off and destroyed. About
1.30 p.m., after a fierce bombardment of their trenches, a determined
infantry attack was launched against the right of the 7th
Division, and the 22nd Brigade, of which the 2nd
Queen’s formed part, were forced to retire.
A dashing counter attack subsequently restored the line; but the
brigade was desperately hard pressed all day, though they were succeeded
in holding on to their recovered trenches until nightfall. Their
difficulties are much increased by the fact the enemy’s shellfire had
cut all the telephone wires communicating with the rear; and had it not
been for the brave fellows who volunteered to carry messages by hand,
all communication between the troops in the fire trenches and their
supports would have been suspended.
One of the most prominent of these gallant volunteers was
Sergeant William George Reeves, of the Queen’s, who repeatedly made
the dangerous journey between the firing line and Battalion
Headquarters, although so furiously was the ground which he had traverse
being shelled that he ran the risk of death or mutilation at every step. On returning from delivering one of his messages, Sergeant
Reeves was wounded; nevertheless, aware that very man who had sufficient
strength left to use his rifle was sorely needed, he refused to have his
wound dressed, and remained at his post until the enemy were finally
beaten off. Sergeant
Reeves, who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for
conspicuous gallantry,” was not long afterwards again wounded and
taken prisoner, and is now in Germany.
He is twenty-seven years of age, and his home is at Shepherd’s
Sergeant William Edward Riley, Of The 2nd Battalion Border
Won The D.C.M. At Gheluvelt
Very early in the morning of October 29th 1914, the
Germans began to cumulative attack upon the whole of the British line
before Ypres. A
particularly determined assault was delivered against the point of the
bastion in front of Gheluvelt, with the result that the 1st
Division was driven from its trenches, and the line swayed backwards and
forwards all the morning. The retirement of the 1st Division exposed the
left of the 7th Division; and the 2nd Border
Regiment, which was in reserve, was ordered up to the support of the
troops on the Menin side of Gheluvelt, who were being very heavily
shelled. The battalion advanced in three lines over open country to
the top of the ridge on which Gheluvelt stands.
The machine gun section was in the third line, and with it was a
young Gateshead man, Sergeant William Edward Riley, who was carrying a
tripod, with its two front legs over his shoulder and its rear leg
behind his back.
Captain Watson, the machine gun
officer, went into the village to speak to his commanding officer,
Lieutenant-Colonel Wood, C.M.G., and then signalled to Riley to bring up
the machine guns with all possible haste.
Riley thereupon took the two machine guns and their teams at the
double up the ridge, and through he village, and took up a position on
its outskirts about two hundred yards behind a line of our skirmishers,
who had hastily entrenched themselves, but on higher ground.
From here the enemy could be seen coming on in great force and in
massed formation over the open plain below, and it was obvious that
there was not a moment to be lost if their advance were to be checked.
The two machine guns at once opened fire, but unfortunately one
of them soon broke down and had to be sent back to be repaired.
Its team took cover in a ditch by the roadside, and Sergeant
Riley continued to work the other gun.
Captain Watson, an officer of the 2nd Gordon’s, with
the field glasses, and a soldier with a Marindin range finder observing
for him while he fired. Three
times was the position of the gun changed, so as to bring it to play in
turn upon different sections of the advancing masses, and so accurate
and deadly was Riley’s aim, that the gErmans were mowed down in
swathes, and the attack held up and finally beaten back.
Sergeant Riley, who four days later
was wounded at Veldhoek in the right leg and left foot, was awarded the
Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous gallantry and
ability,” and the Order of St. George (Fourth Class) was subsequently
conferred upon him by the Czar. He
is twenty-five years of age.
Sergeant William Spence Won The D.C.M. At Wasmes
The beginning of the retreat from Mons, so prolific in brave
deeds, witnessed few more deserving of being recorded here than that
which gained Sergeant William Spence, of the 2nd Battalion
West Riding Regiment, the D.C.M. which unhappily he was never fated to
All Sunday and Monday (August 23rd-24th),
a party of the West Riding Regiment had been engaged in holding a won
near Wasmes against an overwhelming force of Germans.
In the course of the fight the commanding officer was badly
wounded and would have fallen into the hands of the enemy, had not
Sergeant Spence gone to his assistance and brought him safely back under
a heavy fire. By the late afternoon of Monday, the gallant Yorkshire men,
decimated by shell and rifle fire, were so reduced in numbers that it
was impossible for them to hold the wood any longer. To retreat, however, was to expose them to be attacked in
flank and rear by a strong party of Germans, who had crept up under
cover of the trees. Lieutenant
Thompson, the officer commanding Sergeant Spence’s platoon, had been
killed, but the sergeant, assuming command, headed a desperate bayonet
charge which drove the enemy in rout and confusion from the position
they had taken up and assured the safe retirement from the wood off all
that remained of the gallant little band.
On evacuating the wood, our men crossed the railway line and
formed up on the lawn of as large house on its outskirts.
At the rear of the house was a narrow street, through which lay
their only hope of retreat’ but this street was found to be held by
the Germans, though they appeared to be unaware of the presence of the
British, being evidently under the impression that the whole party had
either been killed or made prisoners in the wood.
The wounded commanding officer, which had been laid behind a
small summerhouse, directed Private Foley to go out and see if there
were any chance of Sergeant Spence getting his men through.
Foley crept cautiously round the house, and presently returned
and reported that the street was deserted.
Sergeant Spence thereupon collected his men and rushed out; while
private Foley and Captain Taylor followed, supporting their commanding
officer, who could only walk with the greatest difficulty.
As they reached the garden gate, they heard the sound of firing,
and, on reaching the street, they found Sergeant Spence lying on the
pavement in a half fainting condition, with his left arm broken and
terrible wounds in his side. It
appeared that he and his men had run into a party of the enemy, who must
have come up the street just as Foley had finished reconnoitring it.
The Germans fired on the tree men struggling painfully along, but
happily, without effect, and then made off, leaving the remnant of the
Yorkshire men to effect their retreat in safety with their wounded
Sergeant Spence was awarded the D.C.M. “for conspicuous
gallantry,” but he never lived to receive that distinction, as he died
of his wounds on September 25th 1914.
He was thirty-three years of age and a resident of Halifax.