Image : Arthur Martin-Leake V.C. and bar (i.e. x 2)
Arthur Martin-Leake could reasonably be called the bravest British soldier to survive the Great War. The Medical Officer from Hertfordshire was the first man to be twice awarded the Victoria Cross; a feat since achieved by only two others. He was first awarded the V.C. in 1902 (during the Boer War) for treating wounded men while under fire. On 29th October (10 days into the First Battle of Ypres), Arthur crawled around the battlefield in search of wounded men and dragged them back to the comparative safety of the British trench. This was no impulsive act as he continued his humanitarian task for several hours. During World War 2, Arthur was an air raid warden and eventually passed away in 1953 at the age of 79.
The First Man to be Awarded Two VC's
On 28th September 1914, Private Frederick Dobson of the Coldstream Guards exhibited such bravery on the Aisne that he was awarded a Victoria Cross. When only one man returned from a patrol of enemy positions, Dobson volunteered to go out and look for the other two. He found one dead and the other badly wounded. Under fire, he dressed the soldier’s wounds before crawling back to get both help and a stretcher. General Haig did not consider this act worthy of a Victoria Cross commenting, ‘I am not in favour of this coveted award being created for bringing in wounded officers or men’. He proposed a lesser award of a DCM but was overruled by the King.
In 1917, Dobson was discharged from the army on medical grounds and sadly found that his V.C. did not help his prospects of employment. When he sought work as a miner he was resented by others who reckoned that he was given preferential treatment by the bosses. At the age of 49 he died and the following year his Victoria Cross was on sale in a pawnbrokers shop.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 28th September 1914
Hero Who Was Forced to Pawn His Victoria Cross
On 24th October 1914, the commanding officer of the 2nd Gordon Highlanders was gathering reports on the brave actions of one of his men – Drummer William Kenny. On the previous day the Gordons were on the southern end of the German attack on Langemarck. Irishman, Kenny (34) was an army drummer and only 5 feet 3 inches tall. Despite his diminutive stature he crawled out under heavy fire to carry in, not one but five wounded comrades! In his nomination report, the officer was able to add that Kenny also saved some machine guns and conveyed urgent messages by hand despite being under constant fire. Kenny was awarded his Victoria Cross in May 1915 and despite fighting in other battles (including the Somme) he survived the war.
VC Recommendation for Kenny
Image: Khudadad Khan in action.
On 4th November 1914, Khudadad Khan learned that he would become the first soldier from the Indian sub-continent to be awarded a Victoria Cross in the Great War. Khan was a machine gunner with the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchi Regiment, most of whom came from what is now Pakistan. When the Germans attacked (31st Oct), his unit was outnumbered 5:1 and dependent on two well placed machine guns. When one of these was destroyed, it was left to Khan and his team to keep the enemy at bay. Despite a serious wound he managed to keep his machine gun firing until the ammunition ran out. Their trench was then overrun and his comrades were shot or bayoneted. The bleeding Khan played dead and crawled to safety when darkness fell. Khudadad Khan V.C. survived the war and died at home in 1971.
In the desperate fighting around Ypres, the 1st South Staffordshire Regiment lost 80% of its men including all of its senior officers. While recovering from wounds in hospital, Captain John Vallentin heard of the plight of his unit and asked to be allowed to rejoin them – as he was the most senior officer remaining. He arrived at the front to find that his men had just been ejected from their trenches. On 7th November 1914, Vallentin rallied his unit and led them in a counter-attack in which they not only re-took their previous position but drove the Germans further back. As they charged, Captain Vallentin was wounded and when he struggled to his feet to urge his men on, he was killed by a burst of machine gun fire. The 32 year old was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross and is commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial to the missing at Ypres. The Victoria Cross was awarded 628 times to 627 recipients for action in the First World War.
He Discharged Himself From Hospital to Lead His Men!
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 24th October 1914
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 29th October 1914
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 4th November 1914
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 7th November 1914
Image: Lieutenant John Dimmer, 2nd Bn, King's Royal Rifle Corps.
On 19th November 1914, the V.C. award to John Dimmer was officially announced. As with all bravery awards, the news appeared in the Government’s official newspaper, ‘the London Gazette’. His award was in recognition of magnificent tenacity and bravery shown during fighting with the Prussian Guard near Ypres. Lieutenant Dimmer was firing a machine gun which jammed. His response was to leap from cover to repair the gun, during which time he was shot in the jaw. The gun then jammed again and once more he effected a repair, this time being hit in the shoulder by a bullet. Despite receiving further multiple wounds (this time from shrapnel) he carried on firing until the gun was destroyed by an artillery shell. Lieutenant Dimmer was killed in action in 1918.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 19th November 1914
Image: Philip Neame V.C. was one of four brothers who served. His family was part of Britain’s largest brewing firm – Shepheard-Neame.
In a unique double achievement, Philip Neame was awarded a Victoria Cross in 1914 and 10 years later won a gold medal at the Paris Olympics. These games were featured in the blockbuster ‘Chariots of Fire’ that won the ‘best picture’ Oscar in 1982. During the night of 18th / 19th December, Neame fought off a German attack using improvised bombs (grenades) before rescuing a wounded comrade. As well as the V.C., he was awarded the D.S.O. (Distinguished Service Order) plus a Croix de Guerre from both Belgium and France. Neame continued in the army and was part of their pistol shooting team that represented Britain in the 1924 Olympics. They struck gold in a shooting event entitled ‘Men’s 100 metres team running deer, double shots’. This involved teams of marksmen trying to hit a moving target from a distance of 100m. This event ceased to be part of the Olympic programme in 1948.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 19th December 1914
The Only Man to Win Both a VC and an Olympic Gold Medal!
From 18th – 22nd December the British army launched a series of minor offensives in Flanders. The essential purpose of these was to maintain ‘fighting spirit’ among the front line troops but the B.E.F. had by this day sustained around 90% casualties and these attacks simply reduced their numbers even more. Three Victoria Crosses were awarded – all of them for rescuing wounded comrades. The last two V.C.’s of 1914 went to Privates Acton and Smith of the 2nd Border Regiment who (on 22nd December) brought in two men whose anguished cries from No-man’s land had been heard for 2 days.
The dead lay where they had fallen until Christmas Day when the Borderers were called out by the Germans to give them a decent burial.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 22nd December 1914
Lives Thrown Away
A German soldier taken prisoner on 1st February 1915 was a very lucky man as his captor - Michael O’Leary – was angry and would have shot him had he not run out of bullets!
The Irish Guardsman’s actions that day thrilled the nation. O’Leary had charged ahead of his comrades taking a German machine gun post by surprise. Despite the time it takes to load, aim and fire – he was quick enough to kill all five of the gun team. He then dashed for a second position 50 metres away but this time his approach was spotted. As the machine gunner struggled to reposition his weapon the Irishman killed three and took the remaining two soldiers prisoner.
O’Leary was awarded the Victoria Cross and a massive crowd gave him a huge ovation when he reported to Buckingham Palace to receive his bravery award. Commenting on his exploits Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, "No writer of fiction would dare to fasten such an achievement to any of his characters”.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 1st February 1915
O'Leary Takes on the German Army!
At the age of 15, William Buckingham left the children’s home in which he had been brought up to join the army. That was in 1901 and he was still serving with the Leicestershire Regiment when the Great War erupted. At Neuve Chapelle between 10th and 12th March, Private Buckingham showed dauntless courage by going out into No-man’s land unaided to bring in wounded men. With great compassion and ignoring enemy fire he repeated this act ‘time after time’ until he was severely wounded in the chest and arm. While recuperating back in the U.K., a lady who had cared for him as a child brought to him a copy of the newspaper that announced his V.C. The soldier did not even know that he had been nominated and both had to check his service number to be sure that it was the correct William Buckingham! William returned to the front in 1916 and was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. It was only after his death that his mother was found to be alive and was informed of his heroism.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 11th March 1915
Boy From Children's Home Wins VC
Lance-Corporal Wilfred Fuller was not easily conned. When he arrived on the parapet of the German trench at Neuve Chapelle, some soldiers shouted up to him, “Don’t shoot, we are English”. However even though several were wearing uniforms of the Grenadier Guards, he wasn’t convinced. Fuller and his bombing team, penned the men in by astute use of their grenades, and the soldiers – who were all German - were cowed into surrendering. There followed the amazing spectacle of a mild church going man single-handedly ushering 50 prisoners back to the British lines. After his V.C. award, Fuller commented, "I only did my duty…I am going out again, and I don't mind dying for my country."
He Took 50 Prisoners - Some of Them British?
On 22nd March 1915, a patient at Hammersmith Infirmary looked up from his newspaper and, tapping a piece of text said to the occupant of the adjacent bed, “Is your name Daniels? You’ve won a V.C.” Sergeant-Major Harry Daniels and his pal Corporal Noble had shown exceptional bravery during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle (March 1915) by wriggling on their backs to cut a path through 35 feet of enemy barbed wire. The pair had agreed to enter this race with death rather than allow more of their comrades to be mown down while searching for a way through. As they completed their task, Noble was killed and Daniels was wounded, but the Kings Royal Rifle Corps charged through the gap to take the position.
VC to a Pair of Wire Cutters
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 22nd March 1915
Lieutenant Cyril Martin (23), was awarded a Victoria Cross for leading his men forward to capture and hold a section of German trench during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle (March 1915). Lt. Martin considered himself to be a very fortunate young man as earlier in the fighting he picked up a pair of steel wire cutters as he led his men ‘over the top’. Moments after he had placed these in his breast pocket, they were smashed by a German bullet. The fortunate officer survived the war.
VC Winner Saved by his Wire Cutters
‘Jake’ Rivers from Derby always carried his Princess Mary Christmas box in his breast pocket. During the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, the 34 year old Sherwood Forester single handedly thwarted a German counter attack by hurling grenades amongst the enemy as they were about to charge. Later in the day he repeated his brave act and compelled a large force to retire, but on this occasion he was killed. These daring deeds earned Rivers the Victoria Cross. Jake’s mum treasured the memory of her son and kept as a memento his Christmas box even though it was holed where a bullet had passed clean through.
His Christmas Box Didn't Save Him
In the spring of 1915, 2nd Lieutenant Geoffrey Woolley was struck on the head by a German grenade, and his men feared the worst. The bomb exploded and blew off his hat but left him otherwise unhurt. He continued to lead his men in bitter hand to hand fighting and was awarded the Victoria Cross. Woolley left the army after the war, and perhaps reflecting on the miracle that saved him, become a Church of England vicar.
George Roupell showed exceptional courage, tenacity and devotion to duty during the fighting on Hill 60. On 20th April 1915, the 23 year old officer was at the heart of the fighting on that convulsing, smoking hillock. Throughout the day, Roupell rallied the men of the East Surrey Regiment through a severe enemy bombardment. By night fall, the young officer was bleeding from multiple wounds but he dodged streams of enemy bullets to sneak back to headquarters to lead reinforcements up to his beleaguered front line troops. With their help the East Surreys continued to hold the line until relieved next morning. Roupell also served during World War 2 and died in Surrey at the age of 82.
Roupelle Learns of VC Award
This photo shows an emotional Maurice Smith proudly wearing the medals of his late father. On 26th April 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, Corporal Issy Smith of the Manchester Regiment ran towards the enemy to rescue a severely wounded man. He then carried the bleeding soldier 250 yards to safety, despite hostile fire. This was not the end to his adventure as later in the day he disregarded heavy enemy machine gun fire to bring in several more wounded men. Corporal Smith who was born Ishroulch Shmeilowitz also received bravery awards from the Russian and French governments. Issy survived the war despite being gassed severely and wounded five times and returned to Melbourne. He died in 1940 aged only 49. (Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial)
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 26th April 1915
VC for Issy
On 2nd May 1915, Private John Lynn earned a Victoria Cross in a display of great gallantry during the Second Battle of Ypres. John kept his machine gun firing despite being engulfed in poison gas. The 28 year old even had the presence of mind to move his gun onto higher ground when the dense chlorine gas obscured his vision. Private Lynn had no gas mask or protective pad but decided that checking the enemy advance was more important than his own life. He died next day from the effects of gas poisoning.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 2nd May 1915
Lynn Ignored Gas Cloud!
Four Victoria Crosses were awarded for bravery displayed during the Battle of Aubers Ridge (9th May 1915) – a battle that was a dismal failure. After the British attack had faltered, Corporal James Upton spent hours in No-man’s rescuing injured men and dressing wounds. While engaged in this task, the 27 year old was under constant fire and death was an ever present threat. During one rescue attempt, the wounded man Upton carried was killed by a shell. The brave Sherwood Forester received his medal from the king and survived the war.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 10th May 1915
James Upton Celebrates VC Nomination
Like his father before him, Lance Corporal Joseph Tombs was awarded a Victoria Cross. On this day in 1915, the 28 year old from Birmingham was crawling across No-man’s land apparently oblivious to the bullets whizzing past his head. Time and again he ventured out to locate and bring in men wounded in the attack of the previous day. On one occasion he dragged back a wounded man by using his teeth, while on another he created an improvised harness using his rifle and strap (as shown).
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 16th May 1915
On 18th May 1915 Lieutenant ‘Jackie’ Smyth carried out the act that was to earn him Britain’s highest bravery award. Despite several failed attempts to transport ammunition and grenades to comrades holding a section of enemy front line near Festubert, Smyth was persuaded to make a final effort. The ground between the British front line and the captured enemy trench was ‘carpeted with dead’ but the brave officer and 10 volunteers set off loaded with bandoliers and dragging boxes to aid the beleaguered troops. After many near misses, and after wading chest deep in a stream, Smyth and Sepoy Lal Singh were the only ones to even get close to the besieged position. Unfortunately Singh was mortally wounded in the last few steps leaving Smyth as the only unscathed member of the party. Smyth fought in World War 2 and served as a Conservative Member of Parliament until 1966.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 18th May 1915
The Male Gets Through
The story of William Mariner V.C. is a highly unusual one. The diminutive soldier (5 feet 3 inches tall) from Chorley, Lancashire was 32 years old and a convicted burglar when he pulled off his amazing stunt. On 23rd May 1915, he and a comrade set off across No-man’s land to neutralise an enemy machine gun. When a path was cut in the wire, Mariner charged through, hurling grenades into the enemy trench. He had instructed his mate to scarper and appeared some time later with a section of machine gun and two prisoners. Mariner was presented with his V.C. at Buckingham Palace but only returned to the front after he was arrested in London. By wearing his V.C. to court, he escaped with a warning. Mariner was killed in action in 1916 when he was blown apart by a shell while charging along an enemy trench. According to a witness there was no piece left of him that was larger than a leg of lamb!
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 23rd May 1915
Convicted Felon Steals a Machine Gun
During the night of 25th - 26th May 1915, Lance-Corporal James Keyworth (21) and a small group of survivors, fought doggedly to hold a short stretch of enemy front line north of Givenchy. For around 2 hours he stood on the parapet of the trench hurling grenades at German soldiers who were sometimes only 15 yards away. A piece of shell cut his ear and he was temporarily blinded by soil but he fought on and it is estimated that he threw around 150 grenades during the fight. Keyworth survived this encounter but he was killed in action on 19th October 1915.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 26th May 1915
Brave or Reckless? James Keyworth VC
A century ago Lieutenant Reginald Warneford (24) performed an amazing feat as he destroyed a German Zeppelin that had just taking part in a bombing raid on UK cities. Flying from an air base on the Belgian coast, Warneford avoided machine gun fire from the airship before dropping 3 bombs on it. The subsequent explosion turned Warneford’s plane upside down, sent it into a spin and forced a crash landing. Nine of the Zeppelin’s 10 man crew died but the tenth, Alfred Muhler clung to the sides of the craft’s burning gondola and survived an 8,000 foot fall. The gondola collided with the roof of a convent, and catapulted Muhler to the ground. Warneford was nominated for a Victoria Cross and this was awarded on the 17th June on what turned out to be a hugely dramatic day. More information to follow.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 7th June 1915
A Victoria Cross and an 8,000 Feet Fall!
On 15th June 1915 Captain Frederick Campbell (48) won a Victoria Cross in extraordinary circumstances. The Canadian officer was a machine gunner but during the fighting at Givenchy, his gun was badly damaged and the tripod that supported it was bent useless. With the enemy attacking, he ordered Private Howard Vincent (a lumberjack in civilian life) to lay face down and the gun was laid across his back. Campbell then fired off 1,000 bullets that forced the enemy back but which also made the barrel so hot that it scalded the back of Vincent. Both men needed medical attention after the fighting but Campbell’s wound turned septic and he died four days later.