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World War One Military Awards - Accounts and Recollections
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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.
How Lance Corporal Albert Joynson, Of The 1st Battalion Northumberland
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, Yorkshire.
How Sergeant Alfred Bull, of the 2nd Battalion East Surrey Regiment,
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 post.
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.
How Gunner Arthur John Roberts, Of The Royal Garrison Artillery,
Won 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.
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.
How Second Lieutenant Benjamin Handley Geary, Of The 4th Battalion
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 bayonet.
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 responsibility.
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 communication trench.
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.
Like 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.
How 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 Shea.
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.
How Lieutenant C. A. Phillips, Of The ¼th Battalion, Welsh Regiment,
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 entirely.
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.
How Second Lieutenant Cecil Frederick Holcombe Calvert, Of The 3rd
Battalion, 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 galleries. Second 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.”
How Acting-Corporal Cecil Reginald Noble And Company Sergeant Major
Harry Daniels, Of The 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own)
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 appalling loss.
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.
How 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 getting away.
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.
How Private 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 mishap.
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.
How 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 bombardment ceased.
Captain Sturges is thirty-one years of age, and his home is at Headington, Oxford.
How Major Charles Allix Lavington Yate, Of The 2nd Battalion, The King’s
(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 Xerxes.
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.
How 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.
How 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.
Here 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 the roadway.
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.
How Lance-Corporal David Finlay, Of The 2nd Battalion The Black Watch,
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 abandoned.
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 Victoria Cross.
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.
How Captain Douglas Reynolds And Drivers T. H. C. Drain And F. Luke,
Of 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 1914.
How 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 gallant one.
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.
How Captain Edward Kinder Bradbury, Sergeant David Nelson And Battery
Sergeant-Major 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.
How Sergeant Edward John Clarke, Of The 15th Hussars, Won The D.C.M.
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 falling back.
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.
How 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 soldier’s ambition.
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 greengrocer’s assistant.
How 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 unscathed.
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.
How 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 widely deplored.
How 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 notable.
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 was addressed.
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.
Corporal-now 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.
How Lance Corporal Fred Aspinall, Of The 15th Hussars, Won The D.C.M.
During 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 the Munsters.
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 retreat.
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 fire.
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 possible.
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.
How Company Sergeant Major Fred Seaman, Of The 2nd Battalion
Coldstream 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.
How Company Sergeant Major Fred Smith, Of The 1/5th Battalion South
Lancashire 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 miles away.
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 farmhouse.
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, Lancashire.
How Company Sergeant Major Fredrick Barter, Special Reserve, Attached
1st 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 d’Ouvert.
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 Rue’d’ Ouvert.
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 Barter.
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.
Any 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 assumed name.
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 handed.’
“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.
How 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 October 1914.
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.
When not soldiering, Private Neville, who at the time of these gallant exploits was in his thirty-second year, lives in London.
How Private Frederick William Owen Potts Of The 1/1st
Berkshire 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 de Lisle.
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 Dorset’s.
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 stranger.
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 lines.
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 for him.
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 hill.
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.
However, 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.
How Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Harold Wooley, Of The 9th Country Of
London Battalion, The London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles)
Won 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 Cross.
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 forget.
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 the 17th.
Towards 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 relief came.
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 Force.
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.
How Major George James Christie, Of The 9th Argyll And Sutherland Highlanders
(T.F.), 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 developments. Presently 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 and east.
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 arrived.
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.
How Acting Corporal George Dagger, Of The 1st Battalion Duke Of
Cornwall’s 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 grave.”
Corporal Dagger, who was twenty-eight years of age, worked for some time in Bath before joining the Army.
How Major George Harold Absell Ing, Of The 2nd Dragoon Guards
(Queen’s 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 invaluable service.
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.
How Bombardier George King, Of
The Royal Field Artillery,
Won 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.
How Battery 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 of age.
How Gunner George Leonard Pond Of The Royal Field Artillery,
Won 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.
Gunner-now 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.
How Second Lieutenant Gilbert Stuart Martin Insall, Of The No.11
Squadron 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 determination.”
How Private H. J. Hastings, Of The 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire And
Buckinghamshire 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 his head.
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 before.
Private Hastings, who a few days later was wounded in the arm, though only slightly, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous gallantry.”
How Squadron Sergeant Major Harry Croft, Of The 5th Dragoon Guards,
Won 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 dreary winter.
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 again.
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 attention.
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 attentions.
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 Saltley, Birmingham.
How 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 against them.
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.”
How Captain Henry George Moreton Railston, Of The 1st Battalion, Rifle
Brigade, 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 action.
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 Battalion.
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.
How Private Henry Devenish Skinner, Of The 14th South Otaga Regiment,
N.Z.R., 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 counter attacks!
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, Gus Levett.
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 amongst them.
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.
How second Lieutenant Henry Morrant Stanford, Of The Royal Field
Artillery, 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 Aldringham, Suffolk.
How Captain Herbert Davies Of The 1/8th Battalion Royal Warwickshire
(T.F.) 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 trying experience.
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 reconnaissance. At 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 made prisoner.
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 and care.
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 sight.
“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.
The 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 thousand yards.
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 cruiser.
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 up!”
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 the seaward.
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.
How Sergeant Horace Albert Shooting Thompson, Of The Royal Field Artillery
Won 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.
How Bandsman Thomas Edward Rendle, Of The 1st Duke Of Cornwall’s
Light 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!
How Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hotham Montagu Doughty Wylie C.B.,
C.M.G., Of The Royal Welsh Fusiliers, And Captain Garth Neville
Walford, 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.
Brave Captain 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.”
How Sapper Harry Epstein, of the Royal Engineers, Won The D.C.M.
At Hill 60
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.
It 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, Cheetham, Manchester.
How Second Lieutenant Rupert Price Hallowes, Of The 4th Battalion M
Middlesex Regiment, Won The Military Cross At Hodge (July 1915)
And 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.
How Corporal I. C. Allpress, Of The Royal Horse Artillery,
Won 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 perish. Soldiers! 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.
How Corporal J. A. Selwood, Of The 1.4th Battalion Gloucestershire
Regiment, 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.
How Lieutenant James Anson Otho Brooke, Of The 2nd Battalion The Gordon Highlanders
Won 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.
How Private James William Collins, Of The 1st Battalion Leinster
Regiment, 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.
How Acting Corporal James Enticott, Of The 3rd Hussars, Won The
D.C.M. 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 (Guards) Brigade.
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.
How Private James Lavin, Of The 1/5th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers,
Won 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 British trench.
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.
How Second Lieutenant James Leach And Sergeant John Hogan, Of The
2nd 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 British.
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 dozen men.
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 perilous enterprise.
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.
How Corporal James Upton, Of The 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters,
Won 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 British soldier.
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.
How Sergeant John Crane, Of The 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers,
Won 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 day.
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.
How Lieutenant John Henry Stephen Dimmer, Of The 2nd Battalion
King’s 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.
How Private John Kendrick Of The Royal Army Medical Corps,
Won 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 very alarmed.
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 drove away.
Private Kendrick was awarded the D.C.M. He is thirty years of age and is a resident of Glasgow.
How Sergeant John Matthews, Of The Leinster Regiment,
Won 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 bayonet.
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 our dead.
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.
How Acting Corporal John Henry Drew Williams, Of The Royal Engineers,
Won 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 Headquarters.
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.
How Corporal John William Windell, Of The 2nd Battalion South
Lancashire 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.
How Company Sergeant Major Joseph Barwick, OF The 1st Battalion Scots
Guards, 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 recovered.
Sergeant Major Barwick, who is thirty-three years of age, is a Yorkshire man, and was born at Burley in Wharfedale, near Leeds
How Lance Corporal Colgreve Won The D.C.M. Near Hollebeke For
Rallying Indian Troops
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 personal example.
No man ever deserved his honour more than that which Lance Corporal Colgrave brought to the 5th Lancers that day.
How 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 excellently. The 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.
How Lance-Corporal Leonard James Keyworth Of The 24th (County Of
London) Battalion The London Regiment (The Queen’s) (T.F.), Won The
V.C. At Givenchy
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 Regiment.
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.
How 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.
The Romantic Adventure Of Lieutenant D’Oyly-Hughes In The Sea
Of 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.
A 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 it.
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 any attention.
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 worthily earned.
How Lieutenant Smyth, Of The 15th Sikhs, Won The V.C. And Ten Brave
Indians 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 1915!
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 been surpassed.
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 instantly.
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.
How Lieutenant Commander M .E. Nasmith Won The V.C. For His Exploits
In 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 torpedo.
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 bottom.
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 happened.
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.
How Major Borrett Of The 2nd Battalion K.O.R. Lancaster Regiment, Won
The 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 simultaneously. Major 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.
How Major Haig, Of The Royal Garrison Artillery, Won The D.S.O.,
And 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 trenches.
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 Nottingham.
How Lieutenant Maurice James Dease, Of The 4th
Battalion 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 Bridge.
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.
How Naik Sar Amir, Of The 129th Duke Of Connaughts Own Baluchis,
Won 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.
How 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 one.
How Second Lieutenants Pendavis And Pepys And Private Hall
Killed Thirty-Seven Germans
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, Oxfordshire.
How Sergeant Percy Reginald Pike, Of The 113th Battalion he London
Regiment (Princess Louise’s Own Kensington Battalion), Won The
D.C.M. 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 returned.
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.
How Private 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.
How Private Jacob Of The 1st Sherwood Foresters (Notts And
Derbyshire 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 Sherwood Foresters.
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 heart.”
Private Leonard Keysor’s Remarkable Bombing Feat At Lone Pine
Trenches, 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 occurrence.
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 continuously.
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.
How Private Lynn, Of The 2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers,
Won 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 saved. Meanwhile, 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.
How Private Wilson, 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry,
Won The V.C.
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.
How flight Sub-Lieutenant R. A. J. Warneford, R.N., Destroyed A
Zeppelin 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 Honour.
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.
Hon The Rev. Edward Noel Mellish, Temporary Chaplain To The Forces,
Won 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 had won.
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 with blood.
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 bashed in.”
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 hold out.
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.
How Private Robert Green, Of The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards,
Won 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.
How Private Ross Tollerton, Of The 1st Battalion Cameron
Highlanders 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 Berry-au-Bac.
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 ambition.
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 present.
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 dressing station.
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.
How Sergeant S. Lemon Of The 2nd Battalion Scots Guards,
Won 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 bodies.
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 Scots Guards.
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 and devotion.”
How Corporal Sam Schultz, Of The 10th Canadian Battalion, Won The
D.C.M. 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.
Corporal 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.
How Second-Lieutenant H. V. H. Throssell, Of The 10th Australian Light Horse,
Won 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 barricades.
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.
Second-Lieutenant-now Lieutenant-Throssell 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.
How Quartermaster Sergeant Downs, OF The 1st Battalion Cheshire
Regiment, 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.
How Drummer Spencer John Bent, Of The 1st Battalion, East Lancashire
Regiment, 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.
Drummer 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 cover.
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.
How Company Sergeant Major Stanley George Glover, Of The
2nd 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 them.
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.
How Sergeant Major Stanley John Parker, Of The 1st Battalion,
Wiltshire 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, Wiltshire.
How Lance corp. T Willis, Of The 2nd Battalion Manchester
Regiment, 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 recorded here.
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.
How Acting Lance-Corporal Terence Giles OF The Royal Army Medical
Corps, 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 Headquarters.
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.
How Quartermaster Sergeant Thomas William Fitzpatrick, Of The 2nd
Battalion, 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 flank.
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 great execution.
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.
How Lance Corporal Thomas Charles Fox, Of The 1/8th Battalion, Worcester
Regiment (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.
How Sergeant Tom Edward George Hayward, Of The 7th London Regiment
(T.F.) 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.
How Trumpeter Waldron, Of The Royal Field Artillery,
Won 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 soldier.
How Lance Corporal Victor Gray, Of The 4th Battalion Middlesex
Regiment, 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.
How Lance Corporal Walter James Branker, Of The 2nd Battalion
Northamptonshire 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 Peterborough.
How Private Walter Watson Cairns, Of The 1st Scottish Rifles (The
Cameronians), Won The Distinguished Conduct Medal At La
Boutillerie, Near Laventie
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.
How Sergeant Walter Edward Packard Of The 1st Battalion East
Surrey 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.
How Lance-Corporal William Angus, of the 8th (Lanark) Battalion Highland
Light 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 fiendish inhumanity?
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 might.
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 supply.
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 King himself.
How Sergeant William Harry Frederick Barclay, Of The (4th) Battalion, East
Yorkshire 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 Hun.
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 recovered.
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 country.
How Acting Sergeant William Fisher, Of The 4th Middlesex, Won The D.C.M.
At 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 combat.
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.
How Sergeant William Fuller Of The Welsh Regiment, Won The Victoria Cross
At 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 front.
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 ridge.
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.
How Second-Lieutenant William Edmund Gray, Of The 2nd Battalion The
Rifle 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 inferno!
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, near Windsor.
How Captain William Henry Johnstone, Of The Royal Engineers, Won
The 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 Vregny plateau.
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.
How Lance Corporal William Walter James Milner Of The 1st Battalion
Royal 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 infantry attack.
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.
Lance-corporal 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.
How Sergeant William George Reeves, Of The 2nd Battalion, Royal West
Surrey 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 Bush, London.
How Sergeant William Edward Riley, Of The 2nd Battalion Border
Regiment, 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.
How 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 wear.
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 comrade.
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.
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