Charles Gudgeon, Of The 1st Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment, 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
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.
Extracted from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
David Brunton, Of The 19th Hussars, Won The D.C.M. At Le Bizet
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. Extracted
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Lance-Corporal David Finlay, Of The 2nd Battalion The Black Watch,
Royal Highlanders, Won The Victoria Cross Near The Rue Du Bois
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
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. Extracted from
'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
How Second Lieutenant Cecil Frederick Holcombe Calvert, Of The
3rd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, Attached 179th
Company, Royal Engineers, was Recommended For The D.S.O.
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.” Extracted
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.
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
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
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.
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
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. Extracted
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Private H. J. Hastings, Of The 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire And
Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, Won The D.C.M. Near Zonnebeke
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
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
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
they themselves were receiving a lesson on the imprudence of yielding to
a temptation to admire the landscape, where 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
Slowly and cautiously, Croft made his way
through the wood, and had come within thirty yards of the German
entanglements, without seeing any signs of an advanced post, when
suddenly he heard voices quite close to him; and there, only a few paces
ahead, was a trench filled with Germans.
Croft had not brought his rifle with him, since it would have
hampered his movements; but he had provided himself with a couple of
revolvers, and drawing these, he took cover behind a tree and began
blazing away at the astonished Germans.
Shrieks and curses told him that some at least of his shots had
not been wasted, and in a minute or two the enemy, evidently under the
impression that they had been surprised by a party of our men, got out
of the trench and made off to their own lines as quickly as they could.
Nor do they appear to have returned it; anyway the 5th
Dragoon Guards had no longer any reason to complain of their unwelcome
Squadron Sergeant Major Croft was awarded
the D.C.M. for “conspicuous gallantry,” the official announcement of
this honour adding that “he had been noted for courage and enterprise
on previous occasions.” The brave sergeant major is a Warwickshire man, his home
being at Saltley, Birmingham.
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Private Henry Devenish Skinner, Of The 14th South Otaga
Regiment, N.Z.R., Won The D.C.M. At Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli
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. Extracted
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Bandsman Thomas Edward Rendle, Of The 1st Duke Of
Cornwall’s Light Infantry, Won The Victoria Cross At Wulverghem
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!
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
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
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.
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Sergeant John Crane, Of The 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers,Won
The D.C.M. At Festubert
on the morning of December 19th 1914, 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.
That 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
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 anyone
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
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 and 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
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Lieutenant Smyth, Of The 15th Sikhs, Won The V.C. And Ten
Brave Indians The Indian Distinguished Service Medal, At The Ferme Du
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.
The 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.
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Lance-Corporal O’Leary, Of The Irish Guards, Won The V.C. At Cuinchy
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.
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. Extracted
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Lance-Corporal Jacka Won The V.C. By Capturing A Trench Single
May 10th 1915, the Turks outside the parapet, all the men who
were throwing bombs being wounded, overwhelmed a small party of the 14th
Australian Battalion, who were holding a short section of trench at
Courtney’s Post. Seven or
eight Turks then jumped in, and this section o the trench was for the
moment left only to a wounded officer, who went to see the situation.
This officer, coming back through the communication trench said:
“They have got me; the Turks are in the trench.”
Lance-Corporal Jacka immediately jumped
from the communication trench up to the step, or bench, behind the last
traverse of the section of the fire trench, which had not yet been
reached by the Turks. He was exposed for a moment to the Turks rifles at a distance
of three yards. The Turks
were afraid to cross round the traverse, and he held them there for a
considerable time alone. Meanwhile
the word had gone back, “Officer wanted.”
Lieutenant Hamilton saw the Turks jumping into the trench and
began firing with his revolver, but the Turks shot him through the head. A second officer was sent up.
Then Jacka shouted: “Look out, sir, the Turks are in here.”
The officer asked Jacka if he would charge if he (the officer)
got some men to back him up, and Jacka said: “Yes.”
The officer’s platoon was following him, and he called for
volunteers. “It’s a
tough job. Will you back
Jacka up?” One of the
leading men answered: “It’s a sink or swim; we will come, sir,”
and the leading three men went forward.
The moment the leading man put his head round the corner he was
hit in three places and fell back, blocking the trench.
The exit from the trench at this end now
being well held, Jacka jumped back from the fire trench into the
communication trench. The
officer told Jacka that he would hold the exit and give the Turks the
impression that he was going to charge again. Jacka said he would make his way round through a
communication trench to the other end of the fire trench at the rear of
the Turks. This plan worked
officer’s party threw two bombs and fired several shots into the wall
of the trench opposite them. Jacka
made his way round, and a moment after the bombs were thrown he reached
a portion of the trench just behind the Turks.
The party in front shots and charged, but when they reached the
trench only four Turks came crawling over the parapet.
These Turks were shot, and Jacka was found in the trench with an
unlighted cigarette in his mouth and with a flushed face.
“I managed to get the beggars, sir,” he said.
In front of him was a trench literally blocked with Turks.
He had shot five, and had just finished bayoneting the remaining
two. One of them was only
wounded, and was taken prisoner. Extracted
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Private James William Collins, Of The 1st Battalion Leinster
Regiment, Won The D.C.M. At St. Eloi
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.
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
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
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. Extracted
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Major Charles Allix Lavington Yate, of The 2nd Battalion, The
King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry), Won The V.C. At Le
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 umbers, the men held inviolable the
heritage of their race, great courage and tenacity of purpose. These qualities alone, however, would not have suffered in
view of the tremendous odds to which the men were opposed. Added to superb morale and 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 Thermopyle, 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 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, which Major Yate commanded, was in the second
line of trenches, where it suffered fearful losses 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, from which he subsequently died, a prisoner of war in Germany, and
his gallant band of men ceased to exist.
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. Extracted
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire' Extracted
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
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.
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Leonard Keysor’s Remarkable Bombing Feat At Lone Pine Trenches,
Gallipoli, Which Gained For Him The V.C.
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
of the best bomb throwers among the latter was Private Leonard Keysor of
the 1st Battalion Australian Imperial force.
On August 7th-8th there was some fierce
fighting of this description in the south eastern corner of the Lone
Pine trenches, where our men were so hard pressed that a section of the
outer trench had to be abandoned, though they continued to prevent the
Turks from establishing themselves there.
During these encounters Keysor was in his element, not only
throwing bombs, but constantly smothering with his coat or sandbags
those of the enemy which had fallen in the trench, and often throwing
them back. Finally, when
the enemy cut down the time of the fuses, he caught several bombs in the
air just as if they were cricket balls and hurled them back before they
burst. In the course
of these feats of heroism Keysor was twice wounded and marked for
hospital; but he declined to give in and volunteered to throw bombs for
another company, which had lost all its bomb throwers.
Altogether, he was throwing bombs for fifty hours almost
Private, now Lance-Corporal, Keysor, who
was awarded the Victoria Cross, “for conspicuous bravery and devotion
to duty,” is thirty years of age and a Londoner by birth, who went to
New South Wales three years ago, previous to which he had spent several
years in Canada. Extracted from "Deeds
That Thrill The Empire'
Private Jacob Of The 1st Sherwood Foresters (Notts And Derbyshire
Regiment), Won The V.C. At Neuve Chapelle
is pathetic to reflect how many honours in the present war have been
conferred posthumously, the brave fellows whose heroic deeds have so
richly earned them having either been killed in the very action in which
they were performed, or almost immediately afterwards.
Such was the fate of Private Jacob Rivers, of the 1st
Private Rivers, who was thirty-four years
of age and unmarried, was a native of Derby.
He had already done twelve years service in the Army, having been
seven years in India with the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and afterwards five
years in the Army Reserve. At
the time when war broke out, however, he was free, and was in the employ
of the Midland Railway Company at Derby, working as a labourer on a
ballast train. But the old
fighting spirit was there, and when his country needed his services, he
was not the man to stay at home. He
was, indeed one of the first to volunteer, and was accepted by the 1st
Battalion Sherwood Foresters. Being
an experienced soldier, he was ready for service at once, and went to
France with one of the earliest drafts.
The letters he wrote home appear to have been few and confined to
news of a purely personal character.
Certainly, he made no attempt to describe his experiences, and
the greatest of all he never lived to tell.
This occurred on March 12th
1915, at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.
Observing a large number of Germans massed on the flank of an
advanced company of his battalion, Private Rivers, on his own
initiative, crept up to within a few yards of the enemy and hurled bomb
after bomb among them, throwing them into utter confusion and forcing
them to retire. This most
gallant action he repeated later on the same day, again causing the
enemy to retire, but, unhappily, not before a bullet had cut short the
career of one of the bravest of Britain’s sons.
“The only personal effects belonging to
the late Private Rivers which have been sent home to his mother,” says
a writer in the Derby Daily Telegraph,” are the metal box containing
Princess Mary’s Christmas gift to the soldiers and a postcard, which
he had recently received. The
box had a tragic interest, for a bullet has pierced it.
It is the habit of soldiers to carry this box in their breast
pocket, less as a shield against a possible bullet than as a convenient
means of carrying their tobacco, and the fact that there is a hole right
through it clearly indicates that Private Rivers was shot through the
heart.” Extracted from
'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
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
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. Extracted from
'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Quartermaster Sergeant Downs, OF The 1st Battalion Cheshire
Regiment, won The D.C.M. At Ypres
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.
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Corporal Sam Schultz, Of The 10th Canadian Battalion, Won The
D.C.M. At The Second Battle Of Ypres
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. Extracted
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Second-Lieutenant H. V. H. Throssell, Of The 10th Australian
Light Horse, Won The V.C. At Hill 60, Gallipoli Peninsula
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
long drawn out fight against desperate odds continued into the second
day, and at the height of the struggle the Turks rushed forward in a
furious counter attack, which tried to courage and endurance of the men
to their uttermost limits.
Reinforcements at length came, and
Second-Lieutenant Throssell retired to have his wounds dressed, but he
insisted on returning to the trench afterwards.
This trench, which Second-Lieutenant Throssell and the men of the
10th Australian Light Horse had so gallantly captured and
held, gave the British possession of Hill 60.
had been promoted from the ranks, and much more credit is due to him for
his strong leadership and unflagging energy in so trying to struggle.
For his most conspicuous courage and coolness he was deservedly
awarded the V.C. Extracted
from "Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Company Sergeant Major Stanley George Glover, Of The 2nd
Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers Won The D.C.M. At St. Eloi
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
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. Extracted
from 'Deeds That Thrill The Empire'
Sergeant Tom Edward George Hayward, Of The 7th London
Regiment (T.F.) Won The D.C.M. At Festubert
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
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. Extracted from 'Deeds That
Thrill The Empire'
Lance Corporal Walter James Branker, Of The 2nd Battalion
Northamptonshire Regiment Won The D.C.M. At Neuve Chapelle
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. Extracted from 'Deeds That
Thrill The Empire'
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. Extracted from 'Deeds That
Thrill The Empire'
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. Extracted from 'Deeds That
Thrill The Empire'
The Northamptonshire Regiment
battalions forming this regiment were linked before 1881, when they were
territorialized under their present title.
They were the 48th (Northamptonshire) and the 58th
(Rutlandshire) Regiments. The
first battalion was formed in 1741 as Cholmondeley’s Regiment,
received its number in 1751, and the county title in 1782.
Its first recorded active service was in Flanders, where it
fought at Val with heavy loss; and next it appears in America with the
unfortunate expedition of Braddock against Fort Duquesne.
It was present at Cape Breton in 1756, at Louisburg in 1758, at
the attack on Quebec in 1759, in the defence of the town the same year,
at Sillery and Motreal, and at Martinique and Havannah, returning home
in 1763. The regiment served in the West Indies in 1794-96, at the
capture of the French West Indian Islands and St. Lucia. In 1809 it joined the army in Portugal, fought at the Douro,
Talavera (when Wellesley said “that the day was saved by the advance,
position, and steadiness of the 1st battalion of the 48th”).
Badajoz and Albuhera, at Badajoz again, Salamanca, Vittoria, the
Pyrenees, the Nivelle, Orthes, and Toulouse, after which it returned
home and saw no further active service until 1834, when it took part in
the Coorg campaign. In 1855
it was despatched to Sevastopol, remaining until the end of the siege.
A 2nd battalion existed from
about 1798 to 1802; another, formed in 1803, embarked for Portugal in
1809, and shared with the 1st battalion and Peninsular
battles above referred to up to Albuhera, when it returned home and was
disbanded in 1814. The 58th,
which now forms the 2nd battalion of the Northamptonshire
Regiment, appears first in 1740, but became the 47th in 1748.
The next of the number was enlisted in 1755 and became the 56th;
the third was numbered the 60th in 1755and became the 58th
in 1757. In that year it
embarked for active service at Louisburg and Quebec, at Sillery and
Montreal, and at Havannah in 1762.
It won the badge of the “Castle and Key” for its share in the
gallant defence of Gibraltar from 1789 to 1793; took part in the
reduction of the French West Indian Isles in 1794, was at the capture of
Minorca in 1798, and after much service in the Mediterranean it
accompanied Abercromby to Egypt and fought at Alexandria, Rosetta,
Mandora, and Cairo. Returning to the Mediterranean in 1805, the 58th
served at Naples, Sicily, Calabria, in the battle of Maida, etc.
And on the coast of Spain up to 1814; thence it was transferred
to Canada, and formed part of the Plattsburg Expedition, after which it
returned home too late for the battle of Waterloo, but shared in the
occupation of Paris. From
1823 to 1838 the regiment was stationed in Ceylon, helping to suppress
the Kandian insurrection; in 1845-46 it took part in the New Zealand
campaign; and between 1879 and 1881 formed part of the army in South
Africa during the Zulu War and the Boer campaign.
A 2nd battalion, formed in 1803,
saw service at Salamanca, in Barnes’s Brigade at Vittoria, Pampeluna,
and elsewhere, and at Nivelle, Nive, Orthes, and Bordeaux; by which time
it had become so weakened in numbers that it was incorporated with the 1st
48th had Buff, the 58th black facings; but the
latter had previously worn white then buff; now both have white.
The regiment has no new special badge; but the 48th
earned “Talavera” because of its bravery in that battle, and the 58th
“Gibraltor” with the castle, Key, and motto, and the Sphinx with
“Egypt.” The Horseshoe
is the badge of the county of Rutland, and was worn by its Militia, as
the St. George’s Cross-was by that of Northamptonshire.
The button has the castle and key, crowned, and the regimental
name; the collar a laurel wreath and the title, crowned, with St.
George’s Cross and the Horseshoe; the helmet-plate bears the castle
and key with “Gibraltar” and “Talavera” and the title; the
waist-plate has very much the same; the forage-cap the Castle and Key
with “Gibraltar” and “Talavera.”
The militia battalions are furnished by the
Northampton and Rutland regiments; they date from 1761, and bear the
Mediterranean distinction, and also add the Horseshoe and St. George’s
cross to the regimental badges. The
volunteer battalion is the 1st Northamptonshire, clad in grey
with scarlet facings.
The nicknames of the 58th are
the “Black Cuffs” and the 2Steelbacks.”
The latter is said to be bestowed from their coolness in taking
the floggings that were freely given in early days.
This is admirably described in “Nicknames and Traditions of the
British Army” in the following words; “While serving under
Wellington in the Peninsular War, one Hovenden, a private in the
regiment, was ordered to be flogged for his share in a breach of
discipline; at the twentieth lash he became so exhausted that he
fainted. So annoyed were
his comrades that they would not recognise him.
Discovering the cause of their conduct, he marched on to the
square where the colonel was standing and told him that he (the colonel)
was a fool; for this he was again sentenced to be flogged.
During the night, while lying in his cell, the French attacked
the regiment. Evading the
guard, he escaped from the scene of the conflict, only to see his
colonel wounded and in the hands of the enemy.
Seizing a musket, he shot the Frenchman and liberated the
colonel. After binding up
his wounds he left him, and was making his way back to the cell when a
bullet struck him, and entering the cell he expired.
His desire to be flogged again was therefore not gratified.”
The depot was at Northampton.
JAMES OSBORNE (Private)
2nd Battalion 58th (Northamptonshire)
On February 22nd 1881, during the action at
Wesselstroom, Private Osborne rode towards a party of forty-two Boers,
and under a heavy fire picked up Private Mayes, who was lying wounded,
and carried him back to camp.
ALAN RICHARD HILL (Lieutenant,
Now Major Alan Richard Hill-Walker, Retired) 58th
The Rutland (Now 2nd Battalion Northampton) Regiment
On January 28th 1881, during the action of Laing’s
Nek, Lieutenant Hill remained behind after the retreat had been ordered,
and attempted to carry Lieutenant Baillie, who had been severely
wounded. Being unsuccessful
in getting the injured officer on to a horse, he was forced to carry him
in his arms, and during this humane action Lieutenant Baillie was again
hit, and this time mortally wounded.
After this, in spite of the heavy fire from the enemy, Lieutenant
Hill twice returned on to the open ground, each time rescuing a wounded
Alan Richard Hill-Walker, V.C., son of the late Captain Hill, Chief
Constable North Riding of Yorkshire, was born on July 12th
1859. Educated at Richmond
(Yorkshire) and privately. In
1877 jopined the North Yorks Rifles and in 1879 the 58th
Regiment, with which gallant corps he served through the Zulu War of
1879, and the Boer War of 1881, taking part in the Battles of Ingogo,
Majuba Hill (where he was severely wounded), and Laing’s Nek,
mentioned in despatches, and where his V.C. was won as decribed above.
In 1833-5 he served in Natal, Cape Town and South Africa; was
Adjutant 3rd and 4th Battalions Northampton
Militia 1887-92; Station Staff Officer at Bangalore during the next
three years; officiating A.A.G. in Mandalay 1897; took part in the Tirah
Campaign and the march down the Bara Valley 1897.