Sergeant Alfred Bull, of the 2nd Battalion East Surrey
Regiment, Won The D.C.M. At Stanbroek Molen
action at Stanbrock Molen, on March 12th 1915, was only one
of the subsidiary operations in the great battle of Neuve Chapelle.
Nevertheless, it produced some fierce and sanguinary fighting,
and afforded not a few opportunities for individual distinction.
One of these fell to the share of Sergeant Alfred Bull, of the 2nd
East Surreys, who found himself with seven men, all that were left of
five officers and eighty-five men, isolated in a trench, parts of which
had been demolished by shell fire, within thirty yards of those of the
enemy. It was a situation
to test the courage and endurance of the boldest, and man would have
accounted it no shame had the little band surrendered.
But no thought of yielding ever entered Bull’s head, and though
the trench was choked with the dead bodies of their comrades, and though
rifle and machine gun bullets came streaming through the gap in the
broken parapet until there was not one of the defenders but could show a
wound-the sergeant himself being wounded in the knee with grim
determination they stood their ground, resolved to die, every man at his
And their heroism was not in vain, for as
dusk was falling, and they were momentarily expecting the enemy to rush
the trench in overwhelming numbers and bayonet every one of the
survivors, relief occurred, and the position which they had so bravely
defended was saved.
Sergeant Alfred Bull, who was awarded the
Distinguished Conduct Medal, “for conspicuous gallantry,” is
twenty-eight years of age and a Londoner, his home being at Stoke
Newington. Extracted from 'Deeds That
Thrill The Empire'
Second Lieutenant Benjamin Handley Geary, Of The 4th
Battalion, East Surrey Regiment (Attached 1st Battalion) Won
The V.C. At Hill 60
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
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 flare lights go up, to lead them
across the middle crater and attack the Germans on the right, while he
himself attacked on the left. Lieutenant Geary rejoined his men and directed some of them
to dig a trench in the rear of and commanding the middle crater.
While they were engaged on this work, which was carried out under
a heavy fire, a German flare light went up and afforded the young
officer an excellent view of the portion of the trench which the Germans
had captured. Observing
that on the side nearest to him the parapet of the trench had been
destroyed by shellfire as to afford the occupants very little
protection, he directed a man to load for him, and began potting away at
the Huns with considerable effect.
Then, ordering the man who had been loading for him to continue
firing in his place, he went away and posted another man in a position,
which would enable him to fire into the communication trench down which
the enemy would have to retire. As
he was returning, he found some of the Queen Victoria Rifles-a
Territorial battalion which greatly distinguished itself and suffered
cruel losses on that terrible night-carrying up ammunition, but
uncertain as to the whereabouts of their comrades.
He directed them and then went to the left crater, where he found
his men holding on most gallantly, but in sore need of ammunition.
Meanwhile, he had been expecting to see the flares go up-the
signal for him to lead his men across the middle crater to attack the
Germans in conjunction with Major Lee-but, as none appeared, he went to
find that officer, and learned that the enemy had already evacuated the
portion of the trench they had captured and had retired to their
From this, however, they were keeping up a
storm of grenades, which would make it very difficult for us to hold the
trench, which they had abandoned. Going
back again to the left crater, he found his men so reduced in numbers
and so short of ammunition that he saw that, unless they were speedily
reinforced, they would be obliged to withdraw from the crater and dig
themselves in behind it. He was on his way to inform Major Lee of the necessity of
doing this without delay, as the day was now beginning to break, when he
was severely wounded by a bullet in the head, an injury which put him
out of action and subsequently deprived him of the sight of an eye. His men, however, succeeded in holding the crater which they
had so gallantly defended until relief arrived.
Second Lieutenant Geary was awarded the Victoria Cross “for
most conspicuous bravery and determination at Hill 60,” the Gazette
adding that the attacks upon the crater were repulsed “mainly owing to
the splendid personal gallantry and example of Second-Lieutenant
Geary,” who “exposed himself with entire disregard to danger.”
Some five months previously to gaining the Victoria Cross at Hill 60,
this most gallant young officer had given an earnest of the wonderful
courage and sang-froid, which characterized his actions upon that
occasion. He volunteered for a scouting expedition to reconnoitre the
German trenches, which were about one hundred and thirty yards from our
own lines. Flattened to
earth, he crawled forward by slow stages, and succeeded in reaching the
enemy’s parapet and, looking over it, perceived a mackintosh supported
by a detached bayonet. Without
a moment’s hesitation, Lieutenant Geary seized this bayonet and
succeeded in bringing back the trophy to his own battalion.
After possessing himself of the bayonet, he had intended to enter
the trench itself, but as he was still leaning over the parapet to
satisfy himself with regard to its formation, a figure suddenly appeared
round the corner of the trench not a dozen yards away, upon which
Lieutenant Geary ducked down and wriggled back to the British lines with
all possible expedition. 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.
from 'Deeds That Thrill The
Private Edward Dwyer, Of The 1st Battalion East Surrey
Regiment, Won The V.C. At Hill 60
About three miles
to the southeast of Ypres and just east of the hamlet of Zwartelen,
where our dismounted Household Cavalry made their decisive charge on the
night of November 6th 1914, lies an earth heap from the
cutting of Ypres Lille railway, some 250 yards long by 200 yards deep,
which is known to fame by the name of Hill 60.
Desperate, indeed was the fighting of which Hill 60 was the scene
towards the end of April 1915. Its importance to the British consisted
in the fact that it afforded an artillery position from which the whole
front in the neighbourhood of the Hollebeke Chateau could be commanded,
and we were determined to get possession of it.
Accordingly, bout seven o’clock in the evening of April 17th
we exploded seven mines on the hill, which played havoc with the
defences, blowing up a trench line and 150 of the enemy with it, and
enabled our men to win the top of the hill, where they entrenched
themselves in shell craters and bought up machine guns.
Next day the enemy delivered a series of most determined counter
attacks, which resulted in desperate fighting at close quarters.
But they were all repulsed, and by the evening the Germans had
been driven from the slopes of the hill, and the Glacis was littered
with their dead. However,
the position was of far too much importance to the enemy for them to
desist from their efforts to recover it, and during the next three days
our troops had no respite. All
through the 19th and 20th they were subjected to a
terrific bombardment from three sides, and lived through a veritable
inferno; while on the evening of the latter day they were called upon to
withstand another fierce infantry attack.
The 1st East Surreys were terribly hard pressed, and
Lieutenant George Roupell won the Victoria Cross, as described
elsewhere, for the splendid courage and tenacity with which, though
several times wounded, he held his post with the remnants of his company
until he came. But he was
not the only member of his battalion to gain the crown of the British
A lad of nineteen, Private Edward Dwyer,
who earlier in the day had displayed great gallantry in going out into
the open, under heavy shellfire, to bandage the wounded, found himself
alone in his trench, from which his comrades had been driven by a strong
party of German bomb throwers. The Germans were in a trench only some fifteen or twenty
yards distant, so close that Dwyer could hear them talking; and the
brave lad, aware that if they took his trench behind would be at their
mercy, resolved to hazard his own life to save his comrades.
Collecting all the grenades he could find, he climbed on t the
parapet of the trench and began throwing them at the Germans. His appearance in this exposed position was, of course, the
signal for a hail of bombs; but happily the Germans aim was bad, while
his own throwing was most accurate and effective.
In fact, he succeeded, single handed, in keeping the enemy at bay
until reinforcements arrived, and the trench he had so heroically
defended was saved. Dwyer
was wounded on April 27th, and sent to the military hospital
at Etretat, and it was not till nearly a month later that he learned
that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross, “for most conspicuous
bravery and devotion to duty.” The
King himself, at Buckingham Palace, on June 28th 1915, His Majesty
shaking hands with him very cordially and complimenting him on his
performance, decorated him. While
in England, he rendered excellent service at recruiting meetings.
Private, now Lieutenant, Dwyer is the youngest soldier who has
ever been awarded the Victoria Cross. He
was born at Fulham, where his parents still reside, on November 25th
1995. He enlisted in the
Army when he was only sixteen, previous to which he had been a
greengrocer’s assistant. Extracted
from 'Deeds That Thrill The
Sergeant Walter Edward Packard Of The 1st Battalion East Surrey
Regiment Won The D.C.M. At Richebourg L’Avoue
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.
Extracted from 'Deeds That
Thrill The Empire'
The East Surrey Regiment
East Surrey Regiment-Regimental District No.31-is composed of the 31st
and 70th regiments. The
31st were originally Marines, and were formed into a regiment
of foot in 1715. Their
first important fighting was at Dettingen, where they gained the
approbation of George II., and at the same time as a consequence the
sobriquet of the young Buff’s, the king having mistaken them for the
famous 3rd Regiment. Fierce fighting, too, did they have at Fontenoy, where it is
recorded, only eleven men of the grenadier company came out of action.
Four years later they served at Minorca, then, after a short
sojourn at home, in Florida, and the Carib War in St. Vincent, where
they did good service. In
1776 they were quartered in Canada, some garrisoning Quebec, others
participating in the misfortunes which attended General Burgoyne’s
army at Saratoga. In 1794
the flank companies served at Martinique, Guadaloupe and St. Lucia, and
returned home in 1797, “reduced to a mere company.”
Soon after a 2nd battalion was formed, which obtained,
for the East Surrey the Peninsular distinctions on their colours.
They fought at Talavera; at Albuhera the 31st
alone of the splendid regiments that charged against the advancing
column of the enemy “being formed in column, stood their ground,”
and escaped the disastrous onset of the French cavalry.
Yet their loss was very heavy, and-as had been recorded in
connection with the “Die Hards,”-“at the close of the action the
dead and wounded men of our gallant 31st and 57th
Regiments were found lying in two distinct lines on the very ground they
occupied when fighting.” In
his account of the action, Lord Wellesley wrote: “This little
battalion alone held its ground against all the Colonnes en masse.”
The story of “Vittoria” and “The Pyrenees,” of
“Nivelle” and the “Nive,” has before been told, and the 31st
bear these names on their colours.
At St. Pierre they formed part of the right wing under General
Byng, and the important part they played in that most brilliant victory
may be gauged by the fact that when their gallant leader was elevated to
the percentage as Earl of Stafford, the regimental colours of the
regiment formed a portion of his coat-of-arms.
They fought at Orthes, and bear that name as well as the
“Peninsula” on their colours. Like
many other 2nd battalions they were disbanded at the Peace,
leaving a record of services of which any corps might be proud.
The 1st battalion meanwhile had been serving in
Sicily, Egypt, Spain, Genoa, and various other places, all of them
witnesses to the courage and discipline of the regiment, though the
names of none of them are found amongst the distinctions. In 1824 they were ordered to India under Colonel Pearson and
Major McGregor, and wee on the ill-fated Kent East Indiaman when she
foundered. As the official
record expresses it: “In the midst of dangers against which it seemed
hopeless to struggle-at a time when no aid appeared, and passively to
die was all that remained-each man displayed the manly resignation, the
ready obedience, and the unfailing discipline characteristics of a good
soldier.” Fortunately the
great majority were saved, only seventy-six out of a total of nearly
five hundred being lost. During
their stay in India they took part in the Afghan and Sikh Wars, and were
with Pollock’s avenging army after the massacre of Cabul.
They fought at moodkee; at Ferozeshah fell Major Baldwin of the
regiment; at Ailwal they were remarked as being “emulous for the
front;” “Sobraon” gives the final gleam to the lustre of their
Indian achievements. Then
followed a period of comparative peace till, in May 1855, they arrived
in the Crimea. In this war
they took part in the assaults on the Redan of the 18th of
June and 8th of September, and bare “Sevastopol” in
commemoration of their gallant conduct.
After peace was declared they were dispatched to the Cape and in
1858 to Bombay, their next service of note being the China Campaign of
1860. Here they were in the
First Division, and after the fall of the Taku Forts marched to Tientsin,
detachments being subsequently stationed at Ho-see-woo and Yung-tsan to
keep the road clear between that city and our camp.
The regiment returned home in 1863, since which date they have
not been engaged in any operations, which call for notice.
The 70th-the 2nd
battalion of the East Surrey Regiment-was formed in 1756 from the 2nd
battalion of the 31st, so that the recent amalgamation has
replaced it in its original position.
Colonel Archer cites the fact that a few years after the
incorporation of the regiment, “five companies were embarked on board
a naval squadron as reinforcements for Madras, but nothing more is known
of them.” In 1764 the 70th
were ordered to the West Indies, where they remained for some ten years,
subsequently serving for four years in Canada, during which time they
received the territorial designation of “The Surrey Regiment.” To anticipate for a moment the order of events, we find that
in 1812 they were officially styled the “Glasgow Lowland Regiment,”
but during a subsequent sojourn in Canada-namely in 1825-they received
their original and present title again.
In 1794 they took part in Sir Charles Grey’s expedition in
Martinique, and during the operations connected therewith gained the
distinction of “Guadaloupe.” For
many years following their sphere of duty lay mainly amongst our various
colonies and possessions, chiefly in Canada.
In 1848 the 70th were ordered to India, and during the
mutiny were engaged on the Pewhawar frontier.
In 1863 they were with Sir Duncan Cameron in New Zealand, and
took part in the attack on the Gate Pah, the evacuation of which by the
Maories was discovered by Major Greaves of the regiment, who, regardless
of the possible fatal result to himself, made a reconnaissance of the
position. Returning to
England in 1866, they remained on this country for some five years in
1871 being again ordered to India. In the Afghan campaign of 1878-79 the 70th were in
the Candahar column, and afterwards served with the Thull Field Force.
Their last active service was in the Egyptian campaign of 1884,
during which they acquitted themselves with great credit, under General
Graham, in the fighting which took place round Suakin, Hasheen, and
How Private Frederick Ruffell, Of The 2nd
Battalion East Surrey Regiment Won The D.C.M. At Spanbroek Molen
Another of the countless instances which the Great War
has afforded of the readiness with which our brave fellows are prepared
to risk their lives to succour their wounded comrades was given by
Frederick Ruffell, a young private f the 2nd East Surreys, in
the 28th Division, during the attack on the German position
at Spanbrock Molen, on March 12th 1915. This action was one
of a series of movements along the British front designed to support the
great attack on Neuve Chapelle, by preventing any sudden massing of
reinforcements on the part of the enemy. It had been intended to begin
the attack soon after dawn, but owing to the bad weather, which would
have seriously interfered with artillery observation, it was three o’clock
in the afternoon before our men advanced. Ruffell did not take part in
the attack, being one of a small party who were left behind in the East
Surreys trenches. When it was over, he caught sight of two wounded men
lying about eighty yards out-midway between our own and the German
lines-and, though it was still broad daylight, and the ground destitute
of cover, the brave lad at once resolved to go to their assistance.
Climbing over our parapet, he threw himself flat on the ground, and
began to crawl towards his wounded comrades. He reached one of the men,
raised him up, and thought heavily fired upon succeeded in bringing him
safely back to our trench; after which he went out again, and through a
storm of bullets brought in the second. Private Ruffell, who was awarded
the Distinguished Conduct Medal, "for conspicuous gallantry,"
is only eighteen years of age, and is, therefore, one of the youngest
soldiers who has received this covered honour. He is a North Londoner,
his house being at Clapton.
Extracted from 'Deeds That
Thrill The Empire'
How Lieutenant George Rowland Patrick Roupell, Of
The 1st Battalion East Surreys Won The V.C. And Company
Sergeant Major Alexander John Reid, Of The Same Battalion, Won The D.C.M.
At Hill 60
There has been no more obstinate and Sanguinary
fighting on the blood soaked soil of Flanders than that which took place
towards the end of April 1915, for the possession of the coveted
position known as Hill 60, two miles east of Ypres; and in that
desperate conflict there is no more stirring episode than the Heroic
defence of one of the forward trenches by a company of the 1st
Battalion East Surreys, during the night of April 20th-21st.
That the East Surreys were enabled to hold the post against overwhelming
numbers and in the face of the greatest difficulties was mainly due to
the splendid gallantry and devotion of two men., Lieutenant George
Rowland Patrick Roupell and Company Sergeant Major Alexander John Reid,
the first of whom was stationed on the left of the position, and the
second on the right. Except for the discharge of a few shells from the
batteries on either side, the forenoon of April 20th had been
very quiet; but about four o’clock in the afternoon the German
artillery began a terrific bombardment of our position, which was the
only two evidently the prelude to a determined counter attack to regain
possession of the Hill. For several hours shells of every description
rained upon the British trenches; but though some battalions suffered
severely the East Surreys had but few casualties. Their comparative
immunity did not continue long, however, for at dusk the counter attack
commenced, the method employed by the enemy being to send forward strong
parties of bomb throwers through a series of communication trenches
which ran from their trenches to ours. The trench occupied by the East
Surreys was assailed in the most desperate manner, and though the
bombers were received with a heavy rifle fire, they continued to advance
with the utmost courage and determination, and buried their deadly
missiles with great effect. Some of the bombs fell on the parapet,
portions of which they completely demolished, and others fell into the
trench itself, causing great havoc. On the right flank, where Sergeant
Major Reid was stationed, the position of affairs son became most
critical, for not only were the men falling fast, but ammunition was
running short. Unless reinforcements and a fresh supply of cartridges
could be brought up, it would be impossible to stem the advancing tide
of Germans much longer. But how was help to be summoned? The
communication trench leading to our reserve trenches had been so badly
damaged that it afforded little or no shelter, while in places it was
quite impassable; and the German shells seemed to be searching every
yard of the open. A man must bear a charmed life to cross it in safety.
Darkness fell-the intense darkness of a night
unrelieved by moon or stars, and the obscurity was rendered the more
profound by the smoke from the bursting shells. This made matters even
worse for our men, for they had no very light pistol with them. There
they stood, firing only when they felt certain that a cartridge would
not be wasted, and waiting for the rush they knew must overwhelm them,
no matter how gallantly they might struggle. It was then that company
Sergeant Major resolved to take the fearful risk of crossing the zone of
fire to our reserve trenches. Leaving the trench, he started at a run
across the open, which was so torn up by the terrific shelling to which
it was being subjected that it was fast becoming a mass of huge holes,
and negotiating these craters successfully, a fall into one of which
might have entailed a sprained ankle or even a more serious injury,
reached our supports, hastily explained the critical situation of
affairs, and hurried back with what men and ammunition he could obtain,
and a promise that further reinforcements should be sent for.
He regained the trench in safety, and not a moment too
soon, for the East Surreys were falling fast, and but few cartridges
remained in their bandoliers. He posted the men he had brought with him
in the places where they were most needed and distributed the
ammunition; but he very soon perceived that, unless further aid could be
obtained, it would be impossible to hold the trench. He therefore again
made the hazardous journey to our supports ad returned with a party of
the Bedfords. By this time the trench was reduced almost to ruins and
littered with the dead and wounded. But the arrival of the Bedfords, who
brought with them a Very light pistol and very lights as well as a
further supply of ammunition, put fresh heart into the survivors of the
gallant little hand. With the aid of the very lights they were now able
to estimate the strength of the enemy, who they saw, outnumbered them by
two or three to one; and, towards dawn, after consolation of the
Bedfords, the brave sergeant major for the third time ran the gauntlet
of the enemy’s fire, and guided a party of the Queen Victoria Rifles,
under the command of a major, to the assistance of his hard pressed
comrades. The arrival of these last reinforcements probably saved the
situation, for, as day was breaking, the Germans made a most determined
attempt to carry the trench, only, however to be repulsed with
considerable loss. While the right of the East Surreys was being so hard
pressed, their comrades on the left were in equally desperate case. But
here again the heroism of one man saved the situation. During the
terrific bombardment of our position, which preceded the German counter
attack, Lieutenant Roupell was wounded in several places; nevertheless,
he refused to quit his post and led his men in repelling a determined
assault by the enemy. During a lull in the bombardment he retired to
have his wounds dressed, when the surgeon who attended him did
everything possible to dissuade him from returning to the firing line.
He insisted on going back, however, and when towards evening he saw that
it was impossible for his men to hold their ground unless assistance
could be procured, he, though faint from loss of blood, made his way,
like Sergeant Major Reid, across the shell swept open to the reserve
trenches and brought up reinforcements; with the aid of these he held
the position throughout the night. At two o’clock in he morning of the
21st, the East Surreys were relieved by the Devons, when it
was found that only a mere handful of them had come scathless through
that terrible ordeal. Two of their officers had been killed and three
wounded, while one hundred and twenty-five N.C.O.’s and men were
killed, wounded, or missing. In short, that gallant company, as a
fighting unit, had ceased to exist. Lieutenant Roupell was awarded the
V.C., for "most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty,"
while Company Sergeant-Major Reid received the D.C.M., for conspicuous
gallantry and valuable service." Company Sergeant Major Reid, who
is twenty-nine years of age, is a Londoner. Extracted from 'Deeds That
Thrill The Empire'
E. CURTIS (Private,
now Corporal) 2nd Battalion East
At Onderbank Spruit, on February 23rd 1900, Colonel R.
H. W. H. Harris, C.B., was severely wounded, and lay during the whole
day in an exposed position, and under a heavy fire from the Boer posted
behind a breastwork at short range.
They fired at any one who gave any signal of life, and Colonel
Harris was hit eight ot nine times. Curtis made several ineffectual attempts to reach the wounded
officer, and at last succeeded in doing so.
Notwithstanding the fire directed upon him, Curtis attended to
the Colonel’s wounds, gave him a drink from his flask and endeavoured
to carry him to shelter. Finding
he was not equal to the task, he called for help, upon which Private
Morton immediately dashed out, and in spite of the Colonel’s
entreaties to them to leave him and not risk their lives, the two men
succeeded in carrying him to cover.
H.R.H. presented the Duke of York the
Victoria Cross to him at Pietermaritzburg on August 14th 1901.