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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Lieutenant Willward Alexander Sandys-Clarke VC

Willward Alexander Sandys-Clarke VC

Willward Alexander Sandys-Clarke VC

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.