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Heroes of the Bronze Cross

 

STEVE SNELLING relates the stories of the men with strong links to our region who have been awarded the Victoria Cross for valour.

 


 

Alfred Ablett (1830-1897)
VC action: Crimea, September 2, 1855
The heavily-built son of a Weybread brickmaker, Alfred Ablett received his Cross in the first-ever investiture for the new decoration at Hyde Park in June, 1857. During the recently ended conflict with Russia, he had hurled a smoking shell out of a forward trench crammed with ammunition and powder. The Grenadier guardsman later served as sgt instructor to the Harleston Company of a Norfolk Volunteer Battalion and was buried in an unmarked grave in Weybread churchyard.

Henry Ward (1823-1867)
VC action: Lucknow, September 25-26, 1857
Officially credited with being Norfolk’s first recipient of the VC, Henry Ward was honoured for his selfless courage during the Relief of Lucknow in the Indian Mutiny. When a convoy of wounded was ambushed by mutineers, the native carriers bolted, leaving the helpless men to be massacred. But Ward, a Harleston-born private in the 78th Highlanders, refused to retreat. At bayonet point, he forced some natives to pick up a dhoolie, containing two wounded men, and escorted them to safety through heavy fire. One of the wounded men, Capt Henry Havelock, who coincidentally also won the VC, later employed Ward as his personal servant and provided a headstone for his grave on which was inscribed: “Though placed in humble lot he had a truly noble and heroic heart.”

William Goat (1836-1901)
VC action: Outside Lucknow, March 6, 1858
During a bloody clash between mutineers and British cavalrymen, L/Cpl William Goat risked his life in a gallant but vain attempt to save a wounded officer. Dismounting in the midst of the melee, he lifted the body on to his shoulder and ran alongside his horse with the enemy in hot pursuit. Eventually surrounded, he shot one man and cut his way out to safety, but was unable to save the officer. Goat, from Fritton, near Long Stratton, later settled in Bungay, before moving to Jarrow. The ex-9th Lancer died in poverty and was buried at Southsea where, almost a century later, plans are afoot finally to provide a fitting memorial to his heroism.

Dighton MacNaghton Probyn (1833-1924)
VC action: India, 1857-58
One of the most distinguished holders of the VC, Dighton (later Sir) Probyn was one of the boldest cavalry officers in the Indian army who went on to become a popular royal courtier, serving as Keeper of the Privy Purse to King Edward VII and later Comptroller to Queen Alexandra (1910-24). Unusually, his Cross was awarded for a series of heroic actions during the Indian Mutiny, most notably the capture of an enemy standard at Agra. His royal services are commemorated by a window in Sandringham church.

James William Adams (1839-1903)
VC action: nr Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec 11, 1879
The first Army parson to be awarded the Victoria Cross, James Adams was decorated for saving at least three cavalrymen from almost certain death as a withdrawal threatened to become a rout in Afghanistan. Adams, an Irishman renowned for his sporting prowess, dragged the men to safety from a watercourse under a hail of bullets. His award necessitated a change in the rules governing the VC. After leaving India, Adams served as Rector of Postwick, near Norwich, and later was Vicar of Stow Bardolph and Wimbotsham as well as being honorary chaplain to Queen Victoria.

William Mordaunt Edwards (1855-1912)
VC action: Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt, September 13, 1882
Bleeding from a head wound, Lt William Edwards launched a furious one-man assault on an enemy gun position during an imperial campaign against Egyptian rebels. Armed with a revolver and sword, the Norfolk squire’s son from Hardingham Hall accounted for five enemy before members of his unit rushed to his aid. According to a man who fought alongside him, Edwards “had the heart of a lion”.

Arthur Knyvet Wilson (1842-1921)
VC action: El Teb, Sudan, February 29, 1884
Nicknamed ‘Old ’ard ’art’ by his men, Arthur Wilson rose to become Norfolk’s most distinguished admiral since Nelson. The Swaffham-born son of a naval officer who could trace his lineage back to Edward III, he was recognised as a “masterly” commander of the fleet at sea, yet won his Cross on land, fighting the “fuzzy-wuzzies” in hand-to-hand combat. Meeting a dervish charge head-on, he used the hilt of his broken sword as a knuckle-duster to break up the attack that threatened to overwhelm a party of British soldiers. Wilson went on to become First Sea Lord and was credited with dismissing the submarine as “a damned un-English weapon”.

Jack Manners Smith (1874-1920)
VC action: Nilt, NW India, December 1891
The first of three Norwich School old boys to be awarded the nation’s highest gallantry award, Lt Jack Manners Smith employed his skills as a mountaineer, leading 50 men up a sheer cliff face through an avalanche of bullets and lead, to capture a seemingly impregnable position held by warring tribesmen in another of the empire’s interminable frontier wars.

John Francis David Shaul (1873-1953)
VC action: Magersfontein, S Africa, Dec 11, 1899
Born at King’s Lynn into a soldier’s family, John Shaul joined the Highland Light Infantry as a boy soldier, straight from the Duke of York’s Army school. A bandsman, he earned his VC during the Boer war as a stretcher-bearer, going to the aid of wounded men trapped in the open by heavy fire at close range. Shaul settled in South Africa, served in the first world war and was bandmaster of the Boksburg military band for 27 years.

Alexis Charles Doxat (1867-1942)
VC action: Nr Zeerust, S Africa, October 20, 1900
Educated at Norwich School, Alexis Doxat left his job on the London Stock Exchange to serve Queen and country in the Boer war. An Imperial Yeomanry officer, he was honoured for saving the life of a soldier who had been dismounted within 300 yards of a strongly held enemy position. Braving a galling fire, Doxat galloped back alone and brought him to safety on his own horse. Doxat died in Cambridge and his medals fetched £14,000 at a sale in 1992.

Harry Daniels (1884-1953)
VC action: Neuve Chapelle, France, March 12, 1915
The 13th child of a humble Wymondham family, Harry Daniels ran away from a Norwich boys’ home to join the Army and was a company sergeant major when he earned his VC for a near-suicidal act of gallantry, trying to clear a way through barbed wire in the face of heavy enemy fire at short range. Though wounded, he survived to be commissioned and later represented Britain in the Olympic Games of 1920. He ended his working life as manager of the Leeds Opera House.

Charles Hotham Doughty-Wylie (1868-1915)
VC action: Gallipoli, Turkey, April 26, 1915
The nephew of the Arabian explorer Charles Doughty, soldier-diplomat “Dick” Doughty-Wylie was born at Theberton Hall, near Leiston. Decorated by the Turks for his courage in saving lives during the Armenian massacres of 1909, Doughty-Wylie earned his VC leading an invasion against the country which had feted him. A staff officer at the Gallipoli landings, he led a depleted British force in a charge which cleared the Turks from Cape Helles and saved the landing from disaster. Tragically, Doughty-Wylie, who had led the attack armed only with a small cane, was killed at the moment of victory.

Charles Hotham Doughty-Wylie (1868-1915)
VC action: Gallipoli, Turkey, April 26, 1915
The nephew of the Arabian explorer Charles Doughty, soldier-diplomat “Dick” Doughty-Wylie was born at Theberton Hall, near Leiston. Decorated by the Turks for his courage in saving lives during the Armenian massacres of 1909, Doughty-Wylie earned his VC leading an invasion against the country which had feted him. A staff officer at the Gallipoli landings, he led a depleted British force in a charge which cleared the Turks from Cape Helles and saved the landing from disaster. Tragically, Doughty-Wylie, who had led the attack armed only with a small cane, was killed at the moment of victory.

William Robert Fountaine Addison (1883-1962)
VC action: Sannaiyat, Mesopotamia, April 9, 1916
By rights, William Addison should never have been anywhere near the frontline. But the regimental chaplain ignored orders to rescue wounded men trapped in no man’s land after a failed attack on Turkish trenches near Kut. He carried on his selfless work despite being wounded. Years later, Addison who served as Rector of Coltishall and Great Hautbois (1938-58) insisted God’s hand had guided him through his fiery ordeal: “I felt I was not alone, but that I had someone with me.”

Claud Charles Castleton (1893-1916)
VC action: Pozieres, France, July 29, 1916
A student teacher with a thirst for adventure, Lowestoft builder’s son Claud Castleton was prospecting for gold in New Guinea when the first world war broke out. He enlisted in the Australian forces and as a sergeant in a machine-gun company, braved a storm of fire to rescue wounded men during the fighting on the Somme. He saved two men, but was killed bringing in another man.

Harry Cator (1894-1966)
VC action: Arras, France, April 9, 1917
“Real soldiers curse all war and all warmakers. I have seen men driven mad in the trenches. They gave me a decoration. In that hell, a soldier may as easily do one thing as another.” So said Harry Cator, Norfolk’s most decorated other rank of the first world war. The Drayton-born building worker answered Kitchener’s call for volunteers in Yarmouth the day after his wedding . As a sergeant in the East Surreys, he earned a Military Medal on the Somme for helping rescue 36 wounded men. He earned a Victoria Cross and a French Croix de Guerre the following year for wiping out an enemy machine-gun nest and for playing a leading role in the capture of a trench complete with 100 men and five machine-guns. Badly wounded three days later, Cator survived the war and went on to serve in the Home Guard and as a PoW camp commandant during the second world war.

Thomas William Crisp (1876-1917)
VC action: Jim Howe Bank, N Sea, August 15, 1917
Dying from appalling injuries sustained in a one-sided duel with a German U-boat, Lowestoft fishing skipper Tom Crisp told his son: “Throw the confidential books overboard, and throw me after them.” Crisp was commanding an armed ‘decoy’ smack called the Nelson and had already been awarded the DSC for skill in fighting enemy submarines. Despite having both legs blown away, he commanded his ship until it sank beneath him. His son received the DSM.

Sidney James Day (1891-1959)
VC action: Hargicourt, France, August 26, 1917
“You could have knocked me down with a feather,” wrote Sid Day at news he had been cited for the VC. But there was no doubting the courage of the Norwich soldier serving in the Suffolk Regt. Having recovered from serious wounds, Day became a hero in a minor attack on enemy trenches, bombing the enemy out of their position, capturing two machine-guns and standing firm in the face of heavy retaliation. Feted in his home city, he was later wounded and taken prisoner. Plans are under way to provide a memorial to his valour in Norwich.

Arthur Henry Cross (1884-1965)
VC action: Ervillers, France, March 25, 1918
Henry Cross Road in Shipdham bears mute testimony to the heroism of one of Norfolk’s most decorated soldiers. As an acting corporal in the Machine Gun Corps, ‘Harry’ Cross single-handedly recaptured two abandoned Vickers guns and forced seven Germans to carry them back to British lines at pistol point. A few weeks later, he added a MM to his VC. Cross, who lost his second wife and two children to enemy bombing during the second world war, later hit the headlines when he loaned his Cross to film star David Niven for his role in Carrington VC.

Gordon Muriel Flowerdew (1885-1918)
VC action: Moreuil Wood, France, March 30, 1918
Immortalised by the artist Alfred Munnings, the last gallant action of Lt Gordon Flowerdew helped turn the tide of battle in March, 1918. At the head of a squadron of Canadian cavalry, the Norfolk-born son of a Billingford farmer blunted the German advance. The charge, one of the last carried out by horsemen on the Western Front, was made in the face of machine-guns and riflemen at point-blank range. Flowerdew, who was mortally wounded, died the following day.

Ernest Seaman (1893-1918)
VC action: Terhand, Belgium, September 29, 1918
Originally rejected as being physically unfit for active service, Ernie Seaman, a one-time hotel page boy and billiard marker, only found his way into an infantry unit because of the heavy casualties. The youngest of seven sons, he was born in Norwich and lived in Scole. After serving in the Field Canteens, he joined the Inniskillings and died performing “extra-ordinary acts of gallantry” which involved storming two machine-gun positions.

John Robert Osborn (1899-1941)
VC action: Mt Butler, Hong Kong, December 19, 1941
Born in a caravan at Foulden, the son of travelling fair folk, John Osborn was wounded in action during the first world war, emigrated to Canada and earned his Cross posthumously, as a 42-year-old warrant officer in the Winnipeg Grenadiers. During the grim defence of Hong Kong, his badly depleted company wrested control of Mt Butler from the Japanese. Later, he single-handedly covered their withdrawal. When his small party was surrounded, he repeatedly caught and threw back enemy grenades. When one fell among his men, he smothered it with his body and was killed.

Victor Buller Turner (1900-1972)
VC action: El Alamein, Egypt, October 27, 1942
Vic Turner and his brother Alexander were among only three sets of brothers to earn the VC, though their deeds were separated by 27 years. As commander of the 2nd Rifle Brigade, Lt Col Vic Turner withstood six full-scale armoured assaults on his position at El Alamein. In the course of the fighting, his men accounted for 57 enemy tanks and self-propelled guns and, as casualties mounted, Turner helped supply ammunition and operate one of his unit’s anti-tank guns until he was seriously wounded. After the war, Turner retired to Ditchingham where he lived for the last 20 years of his life.

Derick Anthony Seagrim (1903-43)
VC Action: Mareth Line, Tunisia, March 20-21, 1943
In a frontal attack reminiscent of the Napoleonic wars, Lt Col Derick Seagrim led his battalion, the 7th Green Howards, up scaling ladders to capture one of the most heavily fortified enemy positions in North Africa. Scorning cover, the ex-Norwich School pupil and son of the Rector of Whissonsett-with-Horningtoft single-handedly destroyed two German machine-gun posts with grenades and captured 20 defenders. The assault was a complete success, but Seagrim was mortally wounded 16 days later leading a similar attack.

Cyril Joe Barton (1921-44)
VC action: Over Germany, March 30, 1944

An attack by German night-fighters en route to Nuremberg left Cy Barton’s Halifax bomber without intercom, with inoperable machine-guns, a damaged engine and short of three crewmen who baled out. The Elveden-born pilot, however, refused to turn back and pressed on with his mission. On the way home, the prop of his bullet-riddled engine flew off and, with the aircraft’s fuel almost exhausted, he crash-landed at Ryhope, in County Durham, saving his remaining crew at the cost of his own life.

David Auldgo Jamieson (1920-2001)
VC action: Grimbosq, France, August 7-8, 1944

Old Etonian David Jamieson was regarded as “too immature” to go overseas in 1940, but four years later earned a hard-won VC for inspiring his beleaguered company of the 7th Royal Norfolks to withstand seven enemy armoured attacks over a 36-hour period. At one point during the defence of the Orne bridgehead in Normandy, he was blown off the side of a tank. Wounded in the right eye and left arm, he recovered to retake command and his “superb qualities of leadership and great personal bravery” ensured the position was held. After leaving the Army, he enjoyed a successful business career and served as High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1980. His 22-year association with the Hon Corps of Gentlemen at Arms was recognised by his appointment as Commander of the Victorian Order. He lived at Thornham and died at Burnham Market, having bequeathed his VC to his regimental museum.

One man's valour

 
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