This Day In History

1918 Battle of the Selle. In a carefully-planned attack, rehearsed over 5 days, 5th East Lancashires mount a remarkably successful night assault near Briastre. They move off at 2 a.m., in a heavy downpour which lasted throughout the engagement, to the sound of the Regimental March being played by the battalion band. Met by heavy machine-gun fire and an artillery barrage which causes 50 casualties, they charge through with a yell and are on their final objective well before the 7 a.m. deadline set, taking 300 prisoners in the process. Casualties are 2 officers and 13 men dead, and 6 officers and 109 men wounded. Some 22 German dead were counted on the battalion front. Study of the ground the next day shows that the battalion had gone through no fewer than 6 defensive belts, including a very strongly-held railway embankment, before reaching its final objective. The 300 prisoners were ‘of far better physique and appearance’ than any of the enemy previously encountered, and turn out to be picked troops. They said that they were members of Kaiser Wilhelm’ bodyguard; that they had never before known defeat; and that they had been sent to hold the line at all costs.
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Captain Euston Henry Sartorius VC

Captain Euston Henry Sartorius VC

Captain Euston Henry Sartorius VC

Euston Henry Sartorius was born on 6 June 1844 in Cintra, Portugal, where his father, later to become Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Sartorius, was commander of the Portuguese Fleet. He was one of three brothers, all of whom joined the Army, and three sisters. His brother Reginald was also to win the VC, making them one of four pairs of blood brothers to be awarded Britain’s highest honour.

In 1879 he was 35 years old and serving with his Regiment, the 59th, (soon to become the 2nd Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment) in Afghanistan during the 2nd Afghan War. On 24 October they were in action at a place called Shahjui. Captain Sartorius led a party to storm a rocky and almost inaccessible hill, which could be approached only in single file up a zig-zag path. Lieutenant Irwin of the 59th, who was Sartorius’s Lieutenant, later wrote an account of the incident:

‘Captain Sartorius ordered his men to fix bayonets, and to clamber up. The hill was very steep, and when they got to within a few feet of the top the Afghans sprang up with a yell, and, sword in hand, slashing right and left, simply jumped down upon our fellows. For a few moments all was confusion, friend and foe falling down together, but it was speedily all over. We had gained the hill, and the standards on it, not one of the enemy having escaped. We lost one man, and Captain Sartorius was wounded in both hands. The fanatics were splendid, though ferocious-looking scoundrels, and fought like fiends, having evidently made up their minds to die, and to do as much damage as possible before doing so.’

The desperate little fight earned Euston Sartorius the Victoria Cross, the citation for which reads:

‘For conspicuous bravery during the action at Shiah-jui, on the 24th October, 1879, in leading a party of five or six men of the 59th Regiment against a body of the enemy, of unknown strength, occupying an almost inaccessible position on the top of a precipitous hill. The nature of the ground made any sort of regular formation impossible, and Captain Sartorius had to bear the first brunt of the attack from the whole body of the enemy, who fell upon him and his men as they gained the top of the precipitous pathway; but the gallant and determined bearing of this Officer, emulated as it was by his men, led to the most perfect success, and the surviving occupants of the hill top, seven in number, were all killed. In this encounter Captain Sartorius was wounded by sword cuts in both hands, and one of his men was killed.’

He was presented with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria personally, in a ceremony at Windsor Castle on 1 July 1881.

Euston Sartorius also served in the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War where he was Mentioned In Dispatches. He was later appointed as Military Attaché to Japan.

He retired from the Army as a Major General in 1905. In 1909 he was appointed Colonel of the South Lancashire Regiment (Prince of Wales’ Volunteers), a post he held until his death in 1921

He died at his home in Chelsea, London, and is buried in Ewhurst, Surrey.

His Victoria Cross is on display at the National Army Museum, Chelsea, London