For Valour - The Victoria Cross

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The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest award which the nation can bestow. It is awarded for “most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy,” and takes precedence over all other orders, decorations and medals.

The Victoria Cross was instituted by Royal Warrant on 29 January 1856, made retrospective to the autumn of 1854 to cover the Crimean War. Since then, the medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients.

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The Victoria Cross

A total of 19 were serving with antecedent regiments of The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment when they won their award. It is a measure of the ultimate, self-denying, sacrificial  bravery required that over a quarter of them (five, plus a sixth who later succumbed to his wounds), did not survive the action for which they were awarded their Cross.

The Museum owns and cares for five Victoria Cross medals, of which four  (marked below with * ) are on display. In accordance with his wish that it should always be displayed in East Lancashire, the medal of Captain Marcus Ervine-Andrews is on loan to the Blackburn Museum.

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Private John McDermond VC
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John McDermond VC photographed in 1858 after his promotion to Corporal. He is wearing his Crimean War Medal with three clasps, the Victoria Cross, and the French Medaille Militaire

John McDermond was probably born in Clackmannan in 1828. He was attested into the 47th (The Lancashire) Regiment in Glasgow in October 1846.

He won the first VC to be awarded to a member of the 47th Regiment at the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War.

The Commanding Officer of the 47th, Lieutenant Colonel O’Grady Haly, led a charge against an attacking Russian column. After cutting down three, he was himself unhorsed, bayonetted in the leg, and surrounded by the enemy. Seeing his plight, several soldiers rushed to his aid and McDermond, standing over his Colonel , killed the man who had wounded him and fought off the Russians while Haly was helped back to the British line.

John McDermond’s award of  the Victoria Cross was posted in the London Gazette on 24 February 1857. He was presented with his medal by Major General Sir James Scarlett on the parade ground at Southsea, Hampshire, on 12 March 1858.

McDermond served with the 47th for just under 16 years, seeing overseas service in the Ionian Islands, Malta, Turkey, Gibraltar and Canada. He was invalided out of the Army in 1862, aged 34, after being injured on board ship while in transit to Canada.

John McDermond appears to have had a difficult life after leaving the army. He died in  Glasgow, of Typhus, just four years later, in 1866, leaving destitute a wife and two very young children, the youngest of whom was born just weeks before his death. He is buried in an unmarked grave in the Eastern Necropolis, Glasgow.

The location of his Victoria Cross is not known. However, in December 2015, a metal detectorist unearthed what appears to be a Victoria Cross medal from the mud of the Thames foreshore in London. It bears the date of the Battle of Inkerman – 5 November 1854. Only two Inkerman VC’s are unaccounted for. If genuine, there is therefore a 50% possibility that this medal is John McDermond’s. The Thames VC is currently held in the National Army Museum in London.

Private John McDermond defending his fallen Colonel at the Battle of Inkerman. This portrait hangs in the Regimental Council Chamber of the Lancashire Infantry Museum

 
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Colour Serjeant John Lucas VC
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John Lucas was born in Clashganny, Myshall Parish, Bagnalstown, Co. Carlow, Ireland, in 1826.

In 1861 he was about 35 years old and serving in New Zealand as a Colour Sergeant in the 40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot, later to become the 1st Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment. The Regiment was engaged in the First Taranaki War, against the Maori, at Waitara on the North Island.

On the 18th of March he was acting as Sergeant of a party employed as skirmishers to the right of No. 7 Redoubt, and close to the Huirangi Bush, facing the left of the positions occupied by the Maori. According to the citation for his Victoria Cross:-

At about 4 o’clock, a very heavy and well-directed fire was suddenly opened upon them from the Bush, and the high ground on the left. Three men being wounded simultaneously, two of them mortally, assistance was called for in order to have them carried to the rear: a file was immediately sent, but had scarcely arrived, when one of them fell, and Lieutenant Rees was wounded at the same time. Colour-Serjeant Lucas, under heavy fire from Maori warriors, who were not more than thirty yards distant, immediately ran up to the assistance of this Officer, and sent one man with him to the rear. He then took charge of the arms belonging to the killed and wounded men, and maintained his position until the arrival of supports under Lieutenants Gibson and Whelan.

As a result of his action, John Lucas received  the first Victoria Cross to be awarded to the Regiment which became the South Lancashire Regiment.

By then promoted to Sergeant Major, he was invested with the VC at a full parade of all British troops in the area, at Ellerslie Racecourse, Auckland, New Zealand, on 2 October 1862.

John Lucas died at his home in Dublin on 29 February 1892, aged 66. He is buried there in St. James churchyard, James Street. For decades his grave was lost, allegedly because it was obliterated and the headstone destroyed by the IRA in the 1920’s.  

St James’s Church is now the Pearse Lyons Distillery. In 2017, during restoration work in the churchyard, the fragments of the headstone were rediscovered.  Repaired and renovated, it has been re-erected as closely as could be ascertained to it’s original position. 

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John Lucas’s headstone in St James’s Churchyard, Dublin (Photo courtesy of Patrick Hugh Lynch) and Victoria Cross

His Victoria Cross is in the proud possession of the Lancashire Infantry Museum.

 
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Captain Euston Henry Sartorius VC
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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.

 
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Drummer (later Regimental Sergeant Major)
Spencer John Bent VC MM
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Spencer John Bent was born on 18 March 1891 in Stowmarket, Suffolk, the son of a serving soldier in the Royal Horse Artillery. By the age of 10 he was an orphan, his mother dying when he was very young, and his father killed in the Boer War. He was brought up by an uncle and aunt.

In 1905, at just 14 years of age, he enlisted in The East Lancashire Regiment as a Drummer. He took up boxing, which led to him being nick-named ‘Joe’, a corruption of ‘Chow’ Bent, a well-known professional boxer at the time. It was the name by which he was to be known in the Army to the end of his life.

‘Joe’ Bent deployed to France on the outbreak of World War I with the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment. He rapidly proved himself to be an outstanding soldier, seeing action in the early skirmishes of the war as his battalion was caught up in the retreat from Mons and the battles on the Marne where the Allied armies finally halted the German onslaught.

He received the first Victoria Cross to be awarded to a member of the East Lancashire Regiment in WWI. Unusually, the citation does not record a single event, but a whole series of actions in and around Le Gheer, Belgium, in late October and early November 1914, any one of which might have justified the award.

In the words of his citation:

“For conspicuous gallantry near Le Gheer on the night of the 1st / 2nd November 1914 when, after his Officer, Platoon Sergeant and Section Commander had been struck down, he took command and with great presence of mind and coolness, succeeded in holding the position. Drummer Bent had already distinguished himself on two occasions, 22nd and 24th of October, by bringing up ammunition under a heavy shell and rifle fire, and again on the 3rd November, when he brought into cover some wounded men who were lying exposed in the open”

It was one of these final rescues which was to become particularly well known, when he rescued a Private McNulty, from Burnley, Lancashire.

‘Joe’ Bent recalled the incident shortly after the war in an interview with his local newspaper, the Suffolk Chronicle and Mercury:

“After we had had breakfast, Private McNulty went out of the trench, and on returning was hit in the pit of the stomach. He fell, and the Germans were trying to hit him again; you could see the earth flying up all around him. I said, ‘Why doesn’t someone go and help him?’ and got the reply, ‘Why not go yourself?’ I went, and to make it difficult for the Germans to hit me, I zigzagged to him. They did not snipe at me whilst I was advancing, but as soon as I got hold of McNulty’s shoulder something seemed to take my feet from under me, and I slipped under McNulty. This took place close to the walls of a ruined convent, and just as I fell, several bullets struck the wall, sending a piece of plaster against my left eye. I thought I was wounded and started to rub the blood away, as I thought, but fortunately the skin was only grazed. I felt it was time to get out of it, and knowing it was impossible to stand up, I hooked my feet under McNulty’s arms, and using my elbows I managed to drag myself and him back to the trenches about 25 yards away. When I got him there safely, I went for a doctor and stretcher-bearers. As far as I know he is still alive. At any rate, [he] was the last time I heard of him.”

Within days, ‘Joe’ Bent was himself shot in the leg and seriously injured. Already suffering from shrapnel wounds and the head injury sustained while rescuing McNulty, he was invalided to England.

It was while recovering that he read in his local newspaper that he had been awarded the VC. He was invested with it personally by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 13 January 1915.

He also received the then-considerable sum of £50 from a citizen of Ipswich who had offered it for the first local man to be awarded the VC.

‘Joe’ Bent spent 1915 and much of 1916 in Britain, recovering from his wounds and being employed on administrative duties. He was promoted to Corporal, and then to Sergeant. While serving in Plymouth he met his future wife, Alice, the daughter of the chief boilermaker at Devonport Dockyard.

In the summer of 1916 he re-joined the 1st Battalion, but was sent home again in November, this time suffering from rheumatic fever.

‘Joe’ Bent and Alice were married in January 1917, just a few weeks before he returned yet again to France. Serving with the 7th East Lancashires, he was back in the thick of the action, taking part in the assault on Messines Ridge – which he was later to describe as “as good a work as ever I did in the war” – and, after promotion to Company Sergeant Major, the hell of Passchendaele.

Posted back to the 1st Battalion, he fought in the battles of 1918, first in resistance to the German Spring offensive, the enemy’s last great effort, and then as the Allies went over onto their final, decisive attack.

Even then this formidable soldier, who already done more than his fair share and so much more than most, was not finished. With only days to go to the end of the war, he won a Military Medal to go with his VC. In the words of the citation:

“In the fighting around the village of Sepmeries, East of Cambrai, Colour Sergeant-Major Spencer Bent VC for leading two patrols which were sent out to gain touch with the enemy on the afternoon of 29th October 1918.”

As a regular soldier Spencer John Bent continued in the Army after the war, serving with his regiment in the United Kingdom, the West Indies and Malta and achieving the pinnacle of non-commissioned Regimental service by being appointed Regimental Sergeant Major.

He finally retired in 1926 after 21 years service with the colours, still aged only 35.

‘Joe’ Bent took his wife and three children to live in London, where he worked first as a school caretaker and then, for the rest of his life, as a commissionaire with Courage, the brewers.

In 1968 Courages invited him to open a new public house, called The Victoria Cross, in Chatham, Kent.

He remained with Courages until he was 85 years old, only finally retiring the year before he died.

He often attended Victoria Cross Association functions, and was on parade when the Queen reviewed the surviving holders at the Victoria Cross Centenary Review in Hyde Park on 26 June 1956.

He  also remained closely in touch with his old regiment. Four days before his death he was the Guest of Honour at a passing-out parade of new recruits to the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment at the Divisional Depot in York.

He died peacefully in his sleep at home in Hackney, London, on 3 May 1977, aged 86, and was cremated at West Norwood Cemetery and Crematorium.

In June 2000 his Victoria Cross, Military Medal and other decorations, which include the Russian Cross of St George for gallantry and distinguished service, were purchased at auction by Lord Ashcroft.

They are on display at the Imperial War Museum, London, as part of the Ashcroft Collection.

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An illustrated biography of Joe Bent VC is available for purchase from our on-line Bookshop, click HERE

 
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Private Henry Edward Kenny VC
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Henry Kenny was born in Hackney, East London, in July 1888. In 1915 he was 27 years old and a Private in the 1st Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, in action on the first day of the Battle of Loos.

On six separate occasions he went out into ground swept by very heavy shell, rifle and machine-gun fire to rescue wounded men lying in the open, on each occasion carrying them to a place of safety. On the last occasion, as he handed the wounded man over the parapet into safety, he was himself wounded in the neck.

Henry continued the serve throughout the war, achieving the rank of Sergeant.

During World War II he served in the Home Guard.

Henry Kenny died in Chertsey, Surrey, on 5 May 1979, aged 90.

His Victoria Cross is on display in the Imperial War Museum, London, as part of the Lord Ashcroft collection.

 
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Private William Young VC
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William Young was born in 1876 in Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland, joining the Army as soon as he was old enough, aged 15. He served his enlistment term, went on to the Reserve, and settled in Preston with his family, where he was working at the Gas Works when World War I broke out.

Recalled to the Army, he sailed for France in September 1914. He was wounded in November, returned to duty and was gassed in the spring of 1915. His eyesight was affected, and he spent most of 1915 recovering.

He had only been back in the trenches for a very short time, serving with the 8th (Service) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, when he performed

the deeds for which he was awarded the VC, near a position nicknamed “Little Z,” east of Foncquevillers, France, on 22nd December 1915. Conditions were dreadful – wet December weather had made the trenches virtually a frozen swamp, the situation requiring platoon reliefs every 24 hours.

As dawn broke the morning of 22nd December, Young looked out over no-man’s land and saw a wounded NCO, a Sergeant Allan, lying wounded in front of the wire. Allan had apparently only made it back that far from a patrol the night before. On his own initiative Young went through the wire, dodging heavy enemy fire, and went to Allan’s aid. Allan ordered Young back to the line without him, but Young ignored the order. As he was pulling Allan to safety, he was hit twice, one bullet shattering his jaw and the other lodging in his chest. Despite the wounds, Young, later joined by a Private Green, managed to get Allan to safety. On his own, he walked the nearly half-mile back to the dressing station in Foncquevillers to have his wounds tended to.

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William Young during treatment on his jaw

His award of the Victoria Cross was promulgated in the London Gazette on 28th March 1916 :-

“For most conspicuous bravery. On seeing that his Sergeant had been wounded he left his trench to attend to him under very heavy fire. The wounded Non-Commissioned Officer requested Private Young to get under cover but he refused and was almost immediately very seriously wounded by having both jaws shattered. Notwithstanding his terrible injuries Private Young continued endeavouring to effect the rescue upon which he had set his mind and eventually succeeded with the aid of another soldier. He then went unaided to the dressing station where it was discovered that he had also been wounded by a rifle bullet in the chest. The great fortitude determination courage and devotion to duty displayed by this soldier could hardly be surpassed”

Private Young spent the next four months in hospital and was well enough to attend a civic reception in his honour in Preston in April 1916.

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William Young with his family during his civic reception at the Town Hall in Preston in 1916

He went into Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot, for a final operation in August, 1916, but he never recovered consciousness; the anaesthetic had caused his heart to fail. He was 40 years old. He was buried in Preston Cemetery following a civic funeral with full military honours, attended by thousands. He was the only World War I winner of the Victoria Cross to die and be buried in Britain while the war was still being fought.

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William Young’s funeral passing through Preston, 31 August 1916

In 2013 the Government initiated a programme to install memorial pavements in the home towns of all World War I VC winners. All were modelled on that of William Young. The architect who designed them had learned of his story while working in Preston.

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William Young’s memorial pavement., unveiled in Preston on 16 April 2016 in the presence of over 50 of his descendants.

William Young’s medals, including his Victoria Cross, were presented to the Museum of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, then the successor of his old regiment, by his son in 1985. They were on long-term loan to the Museum of Lancashire until its closure, and are now amongst the proudest possessions of our Lancashire Infantry Museum.

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An illustrated biography of ‘Jock’ Young VC is available for purchase from our on-line Bookshop, click HERE

 
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2nd Lieutenant Alfred Victor Smith VC
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Alfred Victor Smith VC. This portrait, showing him at Gallipoli and holding a grenade, was commissioned by Burnley Corporation in 1916 and paid for by public subscription. It is on display in Towneley Hall Museum, Burnley.

Alfred Smith was born in Guildford, Surrey, in 1891. The son of a police officer, he moved with his family several times in his youth, and was at one time a boy chorister at St Albans Cathedral.

When he was 14 his father was appointed Chief Constable of Burnley, Lancashire, and the family moved to the town, where Alfred completed his education at Burnley Grammar School. He left school at 18 and joined the Blackpool Police Force.

When World War I broke out he immediately enlisted and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st/5th Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment, on 10 October 1914.

He landed on the Gallipoli peninsula with his battalion on 13 May 1915.

On 23 December 1915 he was instructing men in grenade-throwing. What happened next is best described in the words of the citation to his posthumous VC, gazetted on 3 March 1916:

“For most conspicuous bravery. He was in the act of throwing a grenade when it slipped from his hand and fell into the bottom of the trench, close to several of our officers and men. He immediately shouted out a warning, and himself jumped clear and into safety; but seeing  that the officers and men were unable to get into cover, and knowing well that the grenade was due to explode, he returned without any hesitation and flung himself down on it. He was killed instantly by the explosion. His magnificent act of self sacrifice undoubtedly saved many lives.”

He is buried in 12 Tree Copse Cemetery on Gallipoli, although the precise location of his grave is not known.

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Alfred Smith’s grave marker in Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery, Gallipoli

He was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his action.

His Victoria Cross, and other medals and memorabilia, are on display in Towneley Hall Museum, Burnley.

 
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Reverend William Robert Fountaine Addison VC
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William Addison was born on 16 September 1883 in North Warnborough, Hampshire. He was educated at Robert Mays School, Odiham, Hants, and as a young man worked as a lumberjack in Canada. After studying at Salisbury Theological College, he was ordained at the age of 30 in 1913 and, upon the outbreak of World War I, volunteered for the Army Chaplain’s Department.

He was posted to the 13th (Western) Division, a New Army formation which included the 6th (Service) Battalions of the East Lancashire, South Lancashire and Loyal North Lancashire Regiments, brigaded as part of the 38th (Lancashire) Infantry Brigade. He was with them when they landed at Basra, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in March 1916.

In April the Division was thrown into a disastrously muddled and failed attempt to relieve a besieged British garrison at Kut, contributing over 700 casualties in five days of unsuccessful fighting to the relief force’s 22,000 – man butcher’s bill.

Chaplain Addison appears to have been ministering to two battalions of the 38th (Lancashire) Brigade – 6th Kings Own and 6th Loyals – when, in the words of the citation to his Victoria Cross, on 9 April 1916 at Sanna-i-Yat:

“He carried a wounded man to the cover of a trench, and assisted several others to the same cover, after binding up their wounds under heavy rifle and machine gun fire.

In addition to these unaided efforts, by his splendid example and utter disregard of personal danger, he encouraged the stretcher-bearers to go forward under heavy fire and collect the wounded.“ 

He was invested with the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 3 August 1917.

After the war William Addison continued as an army chaplain, serving in Malta, Khartoum and Shanghai, and at army bases in England. He was Senior Chaplain to the Forces from 1934 to 1938 when he left the army and became a parish priest. He was Rector of Coltishall with Great Hautbois, in Norfolk, from 1938 to 1958. However, on the outbreak of World War II he returned to the army and again served as Senior Chaplain to the Forces, and was Deputy Assistant Chaplain-General in South Wales.

He died in January 1962, aged 78, in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, and is buried in Brookwood Cemetery, Woking.

His Victoria Cross is held by the National Army Museum, London.

 
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Lieutenant Richard Basil Brandram Jones VC
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Richard Jones was born in Honor Oak, Lewisham, South East London,  on 30 April 1897 and educated at Dulwich College.

When the First World War broke out he was 17 years and 4 months old. He immediately volunteered for active service and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 8th (Service) Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, in October 1914. Two months later he was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant. He went with the battalion to France in September 1915 and was appointed Sniping Officer.

In May 1916, 21 days after his 19th birthday, his battalion was in the line at

Broadmarsh Crater, on Vimy Ridge, France, and with his platoon he was holding a crater recently captured from the enemy. What happened next is best described in the words of the citation to his posthumous Victoria Cross:

“About 7.30 P.M. the enemy exploded a mine forty yards to his right, and at the same time put a heavy barrage of fire on our trenches, thus isolating the Platoon. They then attacked in overwhelming numbers. Lt. Jones kept his men together, steadying them by his fine example, and shot no less than fifteen of the enemy as they advanced, counting them aloud as he did so to cheer his men. When his ammunition was expended he took a bomb, but was shot through the head while getting up to throw it. His splendid courage had so encouraged his men that when they had no more ammunition or bombs they threw stones and ammunition boxes at the enemy till only nine of the platoon were left. Finally they were compelled to retire.”

Richard Jones’s body was never recovered. He is one of the 35,000 British Commonwealth servicemen  commemorated on the Arras Memorial who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918, and have no known grave.

His Victoria Cross is preserved in Dulwich College, London.

 
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Lieutenant Thomas Orde Lawder Wilkinson VC
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Thomas Orde Lawder Wilkinson was born in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, in 1894. He was educated at Wellington College where he shone both academically and athletically, becoming both a school prefect and captain of the Gymnasium.

In 1912 the family moved to Canada where the 18-year-old Thomas worked as a surveyor on Vancouver Island and Burnaby, British Columbia. When World War I broke out he immediately joined the 16th Battalion, Canadian Scottish, Canadian Expeditionary Force, but his service records indicate that he did not proceed overseas to Europe with them. Instead he made his own way to Britain where he joined the 7th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. By July 1915 he was serving in France.

On the morning of July 5, 1916, during an attack on the German trenches in front of the village of La Boisselle, one gun crew, which was under heavy fire, was forced to retreat and leave its machine-gun behind. Wilkinson and two of his men dashed forward and used the abandoned weapon to hold the enemy at bay until they were relieved.

Later that day, when the British advance stalled during a bombing attack, Wilkinson pushed his way forward to find five men halted by a solid block of earth over which the Germans were lobbing grenades. Wilkinson mounted a machine-gun on top of the parapet and quickly dispersed the enemy bombers. Afterwards, during the second of two attempts to bring in a wounded man from no man’s land, he was killed instantly by a shot through the heart just before reaching the man.

His body could not be recovered. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme which records the names of over 72,000 men killed on the Somme and who have no known grave.

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Imperial War Museum, London.

 
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2nd Lieutenant Gabriel George Coury VC
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Gabriel Coury was born on 13 June 1896, in Croxteth, Liverpool. He was the second son of four, and two daughters, born to a wealthy Armenian-Lebanese father and a French mother. He was educated at St Francis Xavier’s School, Liverpool, and Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, where he excelled at sport and also served for four years in the College’s Officer Training Corps.

In 1913, at the age of 17, he was apprenticed to a Liverpool firm of cotton brokers, but when World War I broke out the following year he enlisted into one of the hastily-raised battalions of Lord Kitchener’s New Armies. With his public school and OTC background, Gabriel was inevitably selected to become an officer and in January 1915 he was commissioned into the 1/3rd Battalion, the South Lancashire Regiment (Prince of Wales Volunteers).

On completion of his training in Blackpool, Canterbury and Margate he was posted to the 1/4th Battalion, South Lancashires, which was serving as a pioneer battalion in the 55th (West Lancashire) Division.

In August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, the 55th Division was ordered to attack the German-held village of Guillemont. On 8 August 2nd Lt Coury was in command of a half-company of pioneers attached to the 1/4th Battalion, Kings Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment.

The dry, official language of the citation for his Victoria Cross outlines the basics of what happened:

“For most conspicuous bravery. During an advance (2nd Lieutenant Coury) was in command of two platoons ordered to dig a communication trench from the firing line to the position won. By his fine example and utter contempt of danger he kept up the spirits of his men and completed his task under intense fire. Later, after his battalion had suffered severe casualties and the Commanding Officer had been wounded, he went out in front of the advanced position in broad daylight and in full view of the enemy found his Commanding Officer, and brought him back to the new advanced trench over ground swept by machine-gun fire. He not only carried out his original tasks and saved his Commanding Officer, but also assisted in rallying the attacking troops when they were shaken and in leading them forward.”

But one of Gabriel’s corporals, an eye-witness who saw everything, told the full story in the Liverpool Post very soon afterwards, on 30 October 1916:

“He was the bravest officer I ever served under … The task given to the men under him was no soft one. To dig a new trench in the thick of a battle is a thing that requires some nerve, and a better officer than Lt. Coury could not have been chosen to direct the operation. He showed absolute contempt for death, and made us all feel that a dozen deaths were as nothing compared with the necessity of completing the task given to us.

It was when we got into the captured position that Lt Coury showed what he was capable of. We had gone through a hellish ordeal. We had suffered severely, and a lot of our officers and men lay out there in the open, wounded. It blew hurricanes of fire across the open, and it seemed to invite certain death to go out there.

Word was brought that our commanding officer was among the wounded. Lt Coury determined to go out to him. He started out under fiendish fire. The enemy’s snipers were after him from the first, but he ran on regardless of the hail of bullets flying around him. He reached the spot where our commander lay, and after resting for a while started back again, carrying the commander.

The journey back was one of the most thrilling sights I have ever seen. The enemy redoubled their efforts to pick off the brave officer as he toiled painfully towards our trench. Both he and his burden disappeared out of view for a short time, and we thought he was done for. After a time he appeared again, making his way amidst a storm of bullets and bursting shells. There was intense excitement, and we waited with bated breath, praying that he might be spared, but fearing the worst.

The brave officer toiled slowly forward. Several times he stumbled, and we gave him up for lost. Once he fell. We thought he would never rise again; but rise he did, and resumed the terrible journey. Before he got back the enemy’s machine guns were turned on full-blast and it was nothing short of a miracle that the lieutenant was able to make his way through it all.

At last he got within a few yards of our trench. We rushed out to meet him. He stumbled again, but regained his footing and continued straight on. Then there was another furious gust of fire. Down he went again. Would he ever rise … Under heavy fire all the time, rescuer and rescued were helped into the trench, which was now being subjected to very severe artillery fire.

Then the enemy tried a counter-attack, and it was the duty of Lt Coury to organise the defence. This he did with wonderful skill. He got together the men of different units and thoroughly organised the position. When the enemy tried to attack they were thrown back in confusion, and the counter-attack was pressed home.

The men were very enthusiastic over the capable way the situation had been handled when it was most difficult, and all were loud in their praise of our lieutenant. Undoubtedly he saved the day at its most critical stage.”

Less than a month later the newly-promoted Lieutenant Coury transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, flying initially on operations as an Observer in BE-2 reconnaissance aircraft.

Gabriel Coury was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V in November 1916, at a ceremony on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. He also returned to Liverpool where he received a Civic Reception and was given the freedom of the Cotton Exchange, the highest honour in the trade.

Coury returned to operational flying over the Western Front in March 1917, where his incredible luck continued. The BE-2 aircraft in which he flew was a death-trap which the enemy shot down in droves, yet he survived “Bloody April” 1917, the worst month in the history of the Royal Flying Corps, when the Germans almost drove the British from the sky. It was his last contact with the enemy in World War I.

A month later he was back in Britain to re-train as a pilot. However, two serious crashes ended his flying career and he ended the war in the administration branch of the Royal Air Force.

Gabriel Coury married in 1919 and raised a family of three daughters. Returning to Liverpool, he continued to work in the cotton industry.

He re-joined the army in World War II, serving with an anti-aircraft unit. In June 1944 he once again entered France, landing over the Normandy beaches. He ended the war in Germany, with the rank of Major.

After World War II, with the collapse of the cotton industry, Gabriel Coury opened a popular fish and chip shop in Brunswick Road, Liverpool, called ‘The Frying Pan.’

He returned to the cotton industry when the Liverpool Cotton Exchange re-opened in 1954, but his health broke down soon afterwards. He died at home on 23 February 1956, aged 59.

He was buried with full military honours at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Crosby, on 26 February 1956. The bearer party came from the South Lancashire Regiment, and the Royal Air Force was also represented.

In 1962 Mrs Katherine Coury presented her husband’s Victoria Cross to what had by then become the Lancashire Regiment (Prince of Wales’ Volunteers), and is today the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.

Gabriel Coury’s VC is held in our Museum, and is among our proudest possessions.

 
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Private John Readitt VC
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John Readitt was the Victoria Cross winner who looked after the football boots of Manchester United Football Club.

Born in Clayton, Manchester, in 1897, John was educated locally and like so many Manchester lads football played a large part in his life. First he played regularly as fullback for a team in the Manchester Sunday School League. Later, after he had left school and joined his father as a clogger and shoe repairer in

the family business in Ashton New Road, Clayton, the game took on a financial significance when the father and son partnership secured a ten-year contract to make and repair the football boots at Manchester United Football Club.

At just 17 years of age, John enlisted into the 6th (Service) Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment (The Prince of Wales’s Volunteers) on 12 April 1915 and sailed with them to the Gallipoli campaign. At some stage he suffered from serious frostbite, though the length and severity of his incapacity is not known. His Battalion moved to Egypt in February 1916 and then to Mesopotamia in June the same year in preparation for the relief of Kut-el-Amara. Here, on the 25th of February 1917, he was to win the Regiment’s second Victoria Cross of the War.

The Battalion’s War Diary gives a somewhat understated account of the action. Dated 25.2.1917, location left bank of the River Tigris, it states: ‘The Battalion started out as flank guard to Div. advance guard. Enemy encountered about noon, flank guard became merged with advance guns and captured watercourse from enemy. Enemy still held left of watercourse. Party led by 2nd Lt. Jackson cleared watercourse on left with bayonet in face of terrific machine-gun fire, rifle grenades and bombs. 2nd Lts. Jackson and Jefferson killed, 2nd Lts. Fletcher and Sharpley wounded, 21 men killed and 58 wounded’.

It is left to the citation for John’s Victoria Cross to summarise his gallantry that day: ‘Five times he went forward along a deep watercourse in the face of heavy machine-gun fire at close range, despite the fact that on each occasion he was the sole survivor. In an hour about 300 yards of watercourse was secured. After the death of his Officer, Private Readitt organised and made several more pushes forward until one reached the enemy barricade. Though driven back, he gave ground only slowly, all the while contriving to throw bombs. As support arrived, he was able to hold and finally secure a forward bend by continuous bombing. The action of this gallant soldier saved the left bank flank and enabled his Battalion to maintain its position.’

A newspaper account in the  Empire News, published just four months later on 8 July 1917,  gave a more detailed and colourful description, recording that as the only survivor of the first four bombing raids along the watercourse he had fought on by himself until all his bombs were exhausted. During the fifth raid, John Readitt had to rally the bombers who had scattered in the face of heavy enemy fire, and eventually he moved them up to the Turkish barricade, ‘which formed the main enemy position and was the chief obstacle to the advance’.

‘Here the enemy counter-attacked, but in spite of the fact that the enemy concentrated on him a deadly fire and every sniper in the Turkish ranks seemed to be shooting at him, Readitt never abandoned his so-as-you-please style of retirement. Whenever the enemy pressed him too closely he would just turn and let them have a bomb, which scattered them in all directions’.

‘Finally he was joined by another bombing party and then he made his most determined stand. Under his leadership, the bombers drove the enemy back once more, and after a fierce fight the whole position was captured and consolidated’.

‘The Turkish commander whom we captured later in the day, said he had never seen anything finer than the way that stripling (Readitt is only 20 years of age) had stood up to a whole army’.

John Readitt later reached the rank of Sergeant. He received his Victoria Cross from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 26 November 1919.

After the Great War, he returned to work with his father and took over the family business on the latter’s death. John married in 1921 and he and his wife brought up two sons and a daughter. Acknowledged by those who knew him to be a quiet and unassuming man, his deep modesty prevented him talking much about his Victoria Cross and the gallant deeds that won it. Nevertheless, during his lifetime he liked to attend the official occasions to which he, as a Victoria Cross recipient, was regularly invited. He was present at the V.C. Centenary Review by Queen Elizabeth II in Hyde Park in June 1956, at several Buckingham Palace garden parties, official dinners at the House of Lords, Mansion House and elsewhere through from 1920 to the early 1960s, and he attended the Second World War Victory Parade in Whitehall and the associated dinner at the Dorchester Hotel in 1946.

He died on 9 June 1964, aged 67, after a long illness at his home in Clayton, and was buried with much ceremony in Gorton Cemetery, Manchester.

His medals, including his Victoria Cross and the Italian Military Medal for Gallantry which he was also awarded, were bought by Lord Ashcroft in 2000 and are on display in the Lord Ashcroft Medal Collection at the Imperial War Museum, London.

 
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Captain Oswald Austin Reid VC
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Oswald Austin Reid was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 2nd November 1893, the son of Harry Austin Reed and his wife Alice Gertrude Reid, both pioneer founders of the city. He attended the Diocesan College in Cape Town and St John’s College in Johannesburg before coming to Britain to complete his education at Radley College, Oxfordshire, where he became Senior Prefect and Captain of the Football and Cricket teams. In 1913 he was captain of a Public Schools Eleven that played against the MCC.

On 14th August 1914, just 10 days after the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, he was commissioned into the 4th Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment, as a 2nd Lieutenant. In April 1915 he was wounded while serving on the Western Front. Following recovery, he joined the 1st Battalion of the Kings,  but was wounded again a year later. He was posted to India, and from there to the campaign in Mesopotamia, where he was attached to the 6th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

In March 1917 the British  were approaching Baghdad. Selected to force a crossing of the Diyalah River, the Turks last main line of defence just eight miles from the city, men from the 6th Battalions of the East, South and Loyal North Lancashire Regiments, together with fellow Lancastrians from the 6th Kings Own, were shot down in waves as they tried to ferry pontoons across the stream.

Eventually around 100 men and four officers from the 6th Loyals, led by Oswald Reid, established a tiny bridgehead. But fierce Turkish opposition prevented reinforcement and there began an epic of endurance under fire which bears favourable comparison even with the much more well-known Rorke’s Drift battle.

Instead of Zulu warriors with spears and cow-hide shields, the Lancastrians had to withstand a modern army with 20th Century fire-power. For over 30 hours the little band, at least well positioned for defence in a deep bund in the river bank, fought off attack after attack, often at the point of the bayonet. Their few bombs were expended during the first night, but with great skill and courage they hurled back the ones thrown into their redoubt by the Turks. Each man started the action with 220 rounds of ammunition, but it quickly became clear that unless great caution was used they would be left only with their bayonets.

Finally, on the third night of the siege, the East Lancashire’s at last succeeded in getting across the Diyala River behind them.

When relieved the little force was down to four officers and 35 men, many of them wounded, out of bombs and down to the last of the ammunition. Their senior officer, Oswald Reid, received the Victoria Cross.

He was wounded yet again in March 1917, and in December 1917 he was mentioned in despatches for his part in the capture of Baghdad. By April 1919 he was serving with the Allied force sent to Russia. Oswald Reid, by then an acting Major, later returned to his native South Africa, but he died in October 1920, just six days before his 27th birthday.

He is buried in the Braamfontein Cemetery in Johannesburg.

His Victoria Cross is displayed in the South African National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg.

 
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Private William Ratcliffe VC MM
– “The Dockers’ VC”
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William “Billy” Ratcliffe was born in Toxteth, Liverpool in January 1884. He first joined the South Lancashire Regiment at age 17 and completed eight years with the colours, serving in South Africa in the Boer War, and India. After his discharge he worked as a docker at Liverpool Docks.

When World War I broke out in August 1914 he was one of the first to volunteer, joining the 2nd Battalion South Lancashire Regiment. Out in France he quickly gained a reputation for dauntless bravery. He was in every big battle from Mons to Messines and at Messines Ridge in early June 1917 crowned many feats of daring by counter-sniping and despatching seven German snipers who had been taking a heavy toll of his unit.  For this and his general gallantry he was decorated  in the field a few days later with the Military Medal.

On 14 June 1917 his battalion was ordered to attack a line of German trenches on Messines Ridge. William Ratcliffe was a stretcher-bearer, following up behind the advancing troops to bring in the casualties. What happened next  was described shortly afterwards by an officer of the battalion:

“We had a hot time of it. We fought our way through a torrent of shell fire, and found ourselves raked flank and rear by machine-guns posted in commanding positions. One of the deadliest of these troublesome guns was posted in the rear and was playing havoc with our troops.

“Ratcliffe asked permission to have a try at capturing it. I am not sure that the permission was given. In fact, I think it was refused, but that did not matter to Ratcliffe.  He dashed straight at the position, and tackled the crew of the gun on his own.

“After a fierce struggle he killed or drove them off, and then picked up the gun and started back with it.

“He was fired on at once by the enemy, and it was a miracle how he got through, for all the time the bullets were raining around him and we never expected him to get through it.

“Once he tripped and fell. We thought he was done for. He wasn’t. He rose again, and with a rush covered the last stretch of ground between him and safety.

“When he got to our position he set up in business as wholesale strafer of the enemy with his gun. Every time they tried to rush him they were met with a galling fire and he fairly knocked them out. They hadn’t forgotten him for capturing the gun and they concentrated all their efforts on knocking him out.

“Snipers there were by the dozen after him, and another machine-gun sent bullets spitting all over the place where he was. Ratcliffe never wavered. He stuck gamely to his post, and his action made things much easier for us all round.”

After which, still not done, he then went back and got his stretcher and spent the rest of the night bringing in the wounded through a heavy barrage.

His actions brought the award of the Victoria Cross, with which he was invested personally by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 26th September 1917.

Already, and for the rest of his life, known as “the Dockers’ VC”, Bill Ratcliffe returned to work on Liverpool Docks, but eventually had to retire after an industrial accident.

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William Ratcliffe receives the VC from King George V

In 1956, celebrations were held in London to mark the centenary of the Victoria Cross. All living holders were invited to be reviewed by the Queen in Hyde Park. Bill was reluctant to attend. It emerged that he could not afford to buy a suit for the occasion. The South Lancashire Regimental Association intervened;  a local gentlemen’s outfitters very readily made him a complimentary new suit, and Bill travelled to London.

William Ratcliffe never married. He died in March 1963, aged 79, and is buried in Allerton Cemetery, Liverpool.

His medals, including his Victoria Cross and Military Medal, are on loan to the Imperial War Museum, London.

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The Ratcliffe Machine Gun on display in the Museum

The German Maxim machine-gun which he captured  that day in 1917 is on display in our Museum, and is one of our most treasured possessions.

In 2014, as part of the nation’s commemoration of the centenary of World War I, the British Government announced a programme to lay a memorial paving stone for every World War winner of the Victoria Cross in their home town. On 14 June 2017, the 100th anniversary of Billy Ratcliffe’s action, the Lord Mayor of Liverpool unveiled his memorial stone in the Churchyard of Liverpool Parish Church.

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Watched by Billy’s great niece Nora, the Lord Mayor of Liverpool unveils the Ratcliffe Memorial Stone at Liverpool Parish Church

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The Ratcliffe Memorial Stone

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The Machine Gun on display at the ceremony. Zara Weadock, Billy’s great great great niece, reads his biography.

 
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Corporal John Thomas Davies VC
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John Thomas Davies, known as Jack, was born on 29th September, 1895 in Rock Ferry, Birkenhead, but grew up in St Helens, Lancashire.  In the great surge of patriotic fervour which followed the outbreak of  World War I  he was one of the first to volunteer for the newly-formed 11th (Service) Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment – the St Helens Pals. First deployed to France with his battalion in November 1915, he was wounded twice during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and twice returned to active service.

By 1918, although still only 22 years old, Jack was an experienced and battle-hardened soldier when Germany launched a great Spring offensive in a last desperate attempt to win the war. On 24 March the St Helens Pals

were occupying positions 12 miles southwest of St Quentin near the village of Eppeville. After heavy shelling the Germans advanced from their bridgehead across the Somme at Ham and, within an hour, the Pals’ forward companies were in danger of being surrounded and under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire.

In the words of his Victoria Cross citation: –

“When his company—outflanked on both sides—received orders to withdraw, Corporal Davies knew that the only line of withdrawal lay through a deep stream lined with a belt of barbed wire, and that it was imperative to hold up the enemy as long as possible.

“He mounted the parapet, fully exposing himself, in order to get a more effective field of fire, and kept his Lewis gun in action to the last, causing the enemy many casualties and checking their advance.

“By his very great devotion to duty he enabled part of his company to get across the river, which they would otherwise have been unable to do, thus undoubtedly saving the lives of many of his comrades.

“When last seen this gallant N.C.O. was still firing his gun, with the enemy close on the top of him, and was in all probability killed at his gun.”

His parents were notified of his death in action, and his Victoria Cross was gazetted posthumously, before  information was received two months later that, almost incredibly under the circumstances, he was in fact a prisoner. He is therefore believed to be one of only two men ever to have been awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross while still alive (the other being Major Herbert Le Patourel of the Hampshire Regiment in World War II).

Jack Davies returned to St Helens after the war, where he married and lived with his family for the rest of his life. In World War II he served as a captain in the Home Guard. He died aged 59 in 1955, and is buried in St Helens Cemetery.

His Victoria Cross is on display in the Imperial War Museum, London.

 
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2nd Lieutenant Basil Arthur Horsfall VC
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Basil Horsfall was born on 4 October 1887, the youngest son of Mr W F Horsfall, in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He was educated in Ceylon and at Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School, Marlow, in England, after which he returned to Ceylon where he is reported as working variously as a rubber planter, an accountant, and a civil servant in the Public Works Department.

He was a member of the Ceylon Engineers, a locally-raised force of European expatriates largely drawn from the Public Works Department which was mobilised for the duration of World War I. In July 1916, aged 28, he returned to Britain where he was gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, on 19 December 1916.

Basil was wounded on 11 May 1917 while serving with the 1st Battalion and after recovery and convalescence in England  was attached to the 11th (Service)Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment (the Accrington Pals) on 24 October 1917.

On 27 March 1918 the Pals came under a very heavy attack as the Germans attempted to capture the village of Ayette, south of Arras. The Germans stormed the Pals’ positions again and again, with each side suffering heavy casualties.

In a letter to Basil Horsfall’s father, the Pals’ Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Rickman, described the desperate situation:

“In the action fought between Ablainzeville and Mayannaville on 26th and 27th March 1918, my Battalion (11th East Lancs.) was holding the ridge which runs between Ablainzeville and Mayannaville. My left was on the road which runs from Courcelles Le Comte Le Ayette. The enemy attacked very heavily on the dates mentioned. Your son was commanding the left platoon of my left company. The 11th East Lancs. prolonged the line towards Mayonnaville. The 11th East Lancs. were driven off the ridge but your son continued to hold to his position. I received a message from him saying that he had been driven back but that he was counterattacking which he most successfully did, driving the enemy back and gaining his objective. He being wounded severely (in the head) at the time. Hearing that the two other platoon commanders on the ridge were both killed and the other platoon commander wounded he refused to leave his men. Throughout the day a very heavy fight was continued. Twice your son lost his position but each time he counterattacked, driving the enemy back. He held his ground though his Company had lost 135 out of 180 engaged. In the evening when both my flanks were driven in on to my  headquarters, I sent written instructions to your son to retire on to the line of Ayette. He received the instructions and carried them out, himself remaining behind to supervise the retirement. During the retirement he was unfortunately killed close to the ridge which he had so gallantly held for two days. His body had to be left where he fell, and the ridge
has been in the possession of the Germans ever since. By his splendid example and devotion to duty undoubtedly a very critical situation was saved.”

FOR THE FULL TEXT OF LT.COL. RICKMAN’S LETTER, PLEASE CLICK HERE

Nearly 70 years later, one of his soldiers, ex-Private Arthur Cheetham,  described Basil Horsfall’s final moments to the Pals local newspaper, the Accrington Observer:

“The order to retire came. Before we set off, 2/Lt Horsfall shouted ‘every man for himself’. Terrible words but a terrible situation to be in.

“2/Lt Horsfall was on my left as we started to cross an old airfield but 20 yards after we started he simply wasn’t there. Our company lost about 25 men crossing that airfield. There were five of us in my party and two didn’t make it. Of all the time I spent in France that was a day I will never forget.”

Basil Horsfall’s body was never found. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

His Victoria Cross is kept in the Museum, and is one of our proudest possessions.

 
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Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel)
Harold Marcus Ervine-Andrews VC
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Marcus Ervine-Andrews was born in Keadue, County Cavan, Ireland, on 29 July 1911, the son of bank manager. He was educated at Stonyhurst, the famous Roman Catholic public school in Lancashire. He was commissioned in the East Lancashire Regiment in the early 1930’s and served on the Indian North West Frontier in 1936-37, where he was Mentioned in Dispatches.

In 1940 he was 28 years old, and a Captain commanding a company of the 1st East Lancashires, when he won the British Army’s first VC of World War II.  On the night of the 31st May/1st June, 1940, he and his men were ordered to take over about a thousand yards of the defences in front of Dunkirk, along the line of the Canal de Bergues. In the words of his citation:

“The enemy attacked at dawn. For over ten hours, notwithstanding intense artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire, and in the face of vastly superior enemy forces, Captain Ervine-Andrews and his company held their position.

The enemy, however, succeeded in crossing the canal on both flanks; and, owing .to superior enemy forces, a company of Captain Ervine-Andrews’ own battalion, which was dispatched to protect his flanks, was unable to gain contact with him. There being danger of one of his platoons being driven in, he called for volunteers to fill the gap, and then, going forward, climbed on to the top of a straw-roofed barn, from which he engaged the enemy with rifle and light automatic fire, though, at the time, the enemy were sending mortar-bombs and armour-piercing bullets through the roof.

Captain Ervine-Andrews personally accounted for seventeen of the enemy with his rifle, and for many more with a Bren gun. Later, when the house which he held had been shattered by enemy fire and set alight, and all his ammunition had been expended, he sent back his wounded in the remaining carrier. Captain Ervine-Andrews then collected the remaining eight men of his company from this forward position, and, when almost completely surrounded, led them back to the cover afforded by the company in the rear, swimming or wading up to the chin in water for over a mile; having brought all that remained of ‘his company safely back, he once again took up position.

Throughout this action, Captain Ervine-Andrews displayed courage, tenacity, and devotion to duty, worthy of the highest traditions of the British Army, and his magnificent example imbued his own troops with the dauntless fighting spirit which he himself displayed.”

Marcus Ervine-Andrews remained in the Army after the war, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. He attempted to return to his native County Cavan, but was driven out by local members of the Irish Republican Army. He settled in Cornwall, where he died in 1995, aged 83.

He is one of seven recipients of the Victoria Cross who were educated at Stonyhurst.  He was also the last living Irish holder of the VC.

His Victoria Cross medal is owned by the Museum, but in accordance with his wishes it is on permanent display in East Lancashire, in the Blackburn Museum.

 
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Lieutenant Willward Alexander Sandys-Clarke VC
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Willward Alexander Sandys-Clarke was born in Southport in 1919, the son of an Army officer. Through his mother, he was related to four holders of the Victoria Cross – Lord Roberts of Kandahar and his son Frederick, and General Walter Congreve and his son William. He was thus the fifth member of his family to win the nation’s highest honour, and the third (with Frederick Roberts and William Congreve) to be awarded it posthumously.

In 1941 he married Irene Deakin at the United Reform Church in Belmont, near Bolton, Lancashire. They lived at Dimple Hall, Egerton, near Bolton.

On 23 April 1943 he was a 23-year-old platoon commander in B Company, 1st Loyals at Guiriat El Atach, Tunisia.  Counter-attacked by the enemy, his company was almost wiped out, leaving him as the sole remaining officer. Although slightly wounded in the neck and head by splinters, he was convinced he could retake his company’s objective. Gathering together an improvised platoon of about 20 men, many of them wounded, he set off from Battalion headquarters, initially making good progress until held up by a machine-gun. Deploying his men to give him covering fire, he tackled the machine-gun post single-handed with his revolver, killing or capturing the crew, and knocking out the gun. Soon afterwards the platoon came under fire from two more machine-guns. Again arranging for covering fire, he once more went forward alone and put both guns out of action, before finally leading his men onto their objective.

While his newly-won position was being consolidated,  the improvised platoon came under fire from two sniper’s posts. Without hesitation Willward Sandys-Clarke again went forward alone, but this time, having got to within a few feet of the enemy, he was killed outright.

For his gallant example and magnificent leadership he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. In the words of the citation:

“His quick grasp of the situation and his brilliant leadership undoubtedly restored the situation, whilst his outstanding personal bravery and tenacious devotion to duty were an inspiration to his company, and were beyond praise.”

Two days after his wife received the telegram telling her of his death, their son Robin was born.

Willward Sandys-Clarke lies in the  Massicault Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, Tunisia.

His Victoria Cross is in the possession of his family.