A Colonel who single-handedly rushed machine gun posts; Harry Greenwood VC

Honouring South African World War 1 heroes who have won the Victoria Cross for Valour, the ‘VC’, the highest British decoration for bravery.  When it comes to Victoria Crosses, the British government (and VC Trust) recognises ‘South African’ Victoria Crosses as those VC decorations won by South Africans in South Africa’s own Armed Forces (pre Republic) or recipients from other countries who won the VC whilst under South African Command, or recipients born in South Africa, or those recipients who made South Africa their home prior to the start of the war.

As to the last definition, this officer’s ‘South African’ VC is something else, as a senior officer, a Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col.), he led from the front single handily taking out machine gun nests and setting a supreme example of bravery and leadership to his men – and he did this time and again.

His story dispenses with a typical myth surrounding WW1, that the officers sat behind the lines in safety and comfort as their men ‘went over the top’ and chewed through lead and barbed wire fighting in the blood and mud on the western front.  The opposite is in fact true, British and Commonwealth commissioned officers, senior and junior, fought and died in their droves advancing on German defences side by side with their men. In fact your chances of surviving the war were significantly less if you were an officer. This is the story of one of these officers, Lt Col. Harry Greenwood VC, DSO & Bar, OBE, MC.

Background

Greenwood7

Lt Col. Harry Greenwood VC, DSO & Bar, OBE, MC.

Henry “Harry” Greenwood (1881-1948) was born on 25th November 1881 in Victoria Barracks, Windsor Castle, England, where his father was serving with the Grenadier Guards. He was the eldest of nine children born to Charles Greenwood of Nottingham and Margaret Abernethy, who hailed from County Tipperary, Ireland.

He enlisted in the British Army in 1899 to take part in the 2nd-Anglo Boer War 1899-1902 (The ‘South African War), arriving in South Africa from January 1900. After the Boer war ended, he returned to the United Kingdom demobilised and then headed straight back to South Africa to make a new life, whilst in South Africa he put his military skills to use and he joined the South African Constabulary.

At the outbreak of the First World War, he returned to the United Kingdom and re-enlisted in the Army as a Reservist officer joining the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

Western Front

Harry Greenwood was to serve in the front-lines on the Western Front literally from the outbreak of the war to the end of it.  In his time he took part in just about every offensive The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry took part in – from the Battle for Loos to the final battles in 1918 and along the way he was wounded three times – missing the odd offensive to recover, he was mentioned in dispatches three times and he also managed to pick up a number of gallantry decorations including amongst others – the Victoria Cross.

Greenwood12

Men of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry fuse Stokes trench mortar shells near Wieltjie, 1 October 1917.

MC

MilitaryCrossWW1His string of remarkable acts of bravery began when he was awarded the Military Cross (MC)  in January 1916, recognising his gallant actions on 26th September 1915 during the Battle of Loos (25 September – 8 October 1915) near Hill 70, Loos, France.

DSO

His MC was followed up with higher acclaim – the DSO (Distinguished Service Order). In July 1918, he was awarded his DSO for devotion to duty during two heavy attacks by the German on The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry’s positions.

The enemy attack was made under cover of mist and it was repulsed by the British, however a hostile enemy machine-gun detachment succeeded in getting within 50 yards of the British line causing significant carnage and sending machine gunners, officers and men into cover.

Distinguished_Service_Order_correctHarry Greenwood’s battalion was by this stage very short of machine gunners owing to casualties, Harry Greenwood, along with an Non-Commissioned Officer rushed out from their defences with total disregard to the incoming enemy fire, he found a fellow British officer and some men hiding in a hollow with a heavy machine-gun, Greenwood then ordered them to carry it back to his lines, being all the time under intense fire. The gun was then used on the enemy to very great effect.

Bar to his DSO

Harry Greenwood DSO, MC was to win the Distinguished Service Order again (Bar to his first DSO), again taking on enemy machine gun nests. His Bar to his DSO (London Gazette, 2nd December 1918) was for conspicuous gallantry during an attack. Although ill, Greenwood refused to leave his battalion and led the first line to the attack.

During the attack, when capturing he first objective he was injured by a shell burst. Carrying the injury he elected to continue and take the second objective of the attack. On reaching the second objective he re-organised his battalion along with another battalion, and took up a defensive position from which he beat off two enemy counter-attacks.

He continued to hold his ground until relieved. The very next day, the British advance was held up by very heavy machine-gun fire, he made a daring individual reconnaissance of the enemy positions, spotting a weakness he returned and then inspired his men by successfully leading them around the enemy’s flank. 

Greenwood1

Battle of Tardenois. Men of the 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (62nd Division) examining a captured German Maxim 08/15 (Spandau) machine gun with French and Italian officers. Bois de Reims, 24 July 1918. French officer’s regimental markings were obscured by the military censor.

Victoria Cross

Over two days of fighting from 23rd to 24th October 1918, Lt Col. Harry Greenwood was to win the Victoria Cross.  His battalion was to advance eastwards towards Ovillers in northern France – the target was Dukes Wood.  Early in the morning of 23rd the Harry Greenwood’s Battalion advance was stalled by an enemy machine gun post which had not been mopped up by the advancing unit on the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry – 9th. battalion’s right flank, and the battalion started taking heavy casualties from the German machine gunners.

At this point Harry Greenwood decided enough was enough and he jumped up and single-handed rushed the German machine gun post which was firing at point-blank range, he then proceeded to kill all four of the machine gun’s crew.

With the machine gun out nest of the way the advance was back on again, Harry Greenwood’s battalion arrived at the village of Ovillers where they encountered yet another enemy machine gun post at the entrance of the village, which again held up the advance. Once again Lt Col. Harry Greenwood rushed the machine gun, with two of his men this time, and they proceeded to kill all the gun’s crew.

Greenwood10

Battle of Tardenois. Sentry of the 2/4th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry looking out for the enemy in the Bois de Reims. Note corpses of dead horses on the road.

On reaching the objective, Dukes Wood, Harry’s 9th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry had lost contact with the two units advancing on their left and right flank.  Lt Col. Greenwood and 250 of him men found themselves isolated and surrounded by enemy machine gun posts of significant strength.

The Germans, upon seeing Lt Col. Harry Greenwood’s force almost isolated immediatly counter attacked on the right flank and succeeded to getting within 40 yards of Harry’s battalion’s position before the attack was broken up by the besieged British.

Lt Col. Greenwood then inspired his men, who were now well in advance of their own covering artillery barrage, to push through and take the final objective – they swept forward cheering as they went and took German positions in Dukes Wood.  In taking the German defences they captured 150 prisoners, 8 machine guns and one field gun.

Not resting on their laurels of Victory for too long, the very next day the 9th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was back in the thick of it, and so to Lt Col Harry Greenwood – there’s more to his Victoria Cross than the 23rd October 1918.

On the 24th October, the 9th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry were given the objective of taking a ‘Green line’ south of Poix Du Nord.  Once gain as the Battalion advanced they were held up withering fire from enemy inter-crossing ‘wired’ machine gun posts positioned along a ridge.

Lt Col. Greenwood decided to do a personal reconnaissance and he discovered that a part of the ridge that was held by one enemy machine gun only.  Again, he demonstrates unbelievable bravery when he once again rushes this machine gun nest single-handedly and kills all the gun’s crew, so close and perilous was this  individual charge that they were firing at him at a range of just 20 yards.

Lt Col. Greenwood then advances his men into this gap he now created by disabling the machine gun nest. The whole flank of machine gun posts on the ridge was turned and the British advance proceeded through Poix Du Norn, with Lt Col Greenwood’s Battalion sweeping aside a further line of  machine gun posts that were encountered just north of the town.

greenwood 13

Men of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, cleaning up a captured German trench at Bois de Reims during the battle of Tardenois, 23 July 1918.

Upon finally reaching their objective, the Battalion came under intense enemy machine gun and artillery fire. The Battalion started to take heavy casualties and their line position and line ‘wavered’ under the intense enemy counter-attack.  However Harry Greenwood was going to hold his ground and in full view of the enemy and under withering enemy machine gun fire he jumped up and walked up and down his line, encouraging his men to hold their line and beat off the counter-attack which they subsequently did.

During the afternoon of the 24th October, Harry’s Battalion was given another objective on Grand Gay Farm Road, and once again his advanced was hampered by heavy machine gun posts not cleared up by Battalions advancing on his battalion’s flanks.  He pushed his men to take their objective and silence the machine guns in front of him and then swung the battalion to the right flank to take the machine guns allocated as the objective of his flanking battalion – thus securing his objective and that of the right flank for the Division.

Citation

For his example set during the two days fighting Lt Col. Greenwood’s  utter contempt for danger, bravery and inspiring leadership won him the Victoria Cross. London Gazette, 26th December 1918.

Lt Col. Henry (Harry) Greenwood VC, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry,  Ovillers, France 1918

medalWhen the advance of his battalion on the 23rd October was checked, and many casualties caused by an enemy machine-gun post, Lieutenant Colonel Greenwood single-handed rushed the post and killed the crew. At the entrance to the village of Ovillers, accompanied by two battalion runners, he again rushed a machine-gun post and killed the occupants. On reaching the objective west of Duke’s Wood his command was almost surrounded by hostile machine-gun posts, and the enemy at once attacked his isolated force. The attack was repulsed and, led by Lieutenant Colonel Greenwood, his troops swept forward and captured the last objective, with 150 prisoners, 8 machine-guns and one field gun. During the attack on the Green Line south of Poix Du Nord, on 24th October, he again displayed the greatest gallantry in rushing a machine-gun post, and he showed conspicuously good leadership in the handling of his command in the face of heavy fire. He inspired his men in the highest degree, with the result that the objective was captured, and, in spite of heavy casualties, the line was held. During the further advance on Grand Gay Farm Road, on the afternoon of 24th October, the skilful and bold handling of his battalion was productive of most important results, not only on securing the flank of his brigade, but also in safeguarding the flank of the division. His valour and leading during 2 days of fighting were beyond all praise.

Second World War

Harry Greenwood was invested with the Victoria Cross, and the Bar to his DSO, by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 8th May 1919. In 1919, Lt. Col. Greenwood retired from the Army, having been wounded in action three times and mentioned in despatches three times, and resumed his career as a company director, however when World War 2 broke out their was still more soldering in this Anglo Boer War, South African Police, First World War veteran and he but served with the Pioneer Corps during the Second World War.

Greenwood8

Harry Greenwood after receiving his Victoria Cross, and the Bar to his DSO from King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 8th May 1919.

For his service in the Second World War, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1944.

Remembrance 

Harry Greenwood died in his house just after WW2 at 77 Home Park Road, in Wimbledon, South London on 5th May 1948, and was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery.

Because of his history in South Africa prior to World War 1 and the specifications surrounding the Victoria Cross, Harry Greenwood’s VC is shared by both the United Kingdom and South Africa.

10687182_355744641261941_7971038845182069524_n

In 2013, in order to correctly address South Africa’s Victoria Cross winners, as the issue of South African VC winners in British Regiments had taken a back seat whilst the Afrikaner Nationalists were in power.  It was bad enough for the Nationalists to recognise VC winners, but worse still to recognise those South Africans winning it in British units – so in all – of all the South African VC’s won in World War 1 and World War 2, the government of the day at the time would only recognise 4 recipients, that is, only those who served in South African Regiments/Units – out of a total of 20 South African VC winners in all. In the UK the lack of South Africa’s resolve to promote and remember all thier VC winners (unlike Australia and Canada) led to a gradual decline and loss of the historic record.

To clear up the matter, and honour VC winners of South African heritage or those who had made South Africa their home prior to the war, The Victoria Cross Trust and the UK government approached  South African Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to confirm the number of South Africans that were awarded the Victoria Cross during World War One.

To correct the matter, the British then officially listed all recognised South African Victoria Cross winners on a special VC commemoration plaque which they shipped to South Africa.  The plaque was unveiled by the British High Commission at a ceremony in Cape Town in late 2014 at the Cape Town Castle, where it is proudly still accessible to the public – and it includes the name of Lt Col Harry Greenwood VC.

In the United Kingdom, Harry Greenwood VC is recognised with a Blue Plaque at his place of birth, it’s located in Windsor at the Victoria Barracks in Sheet Street and reads “Lt. Col. Harry Greenwood VC DSO OBE MC 1881-1948 Born in Victoria Barracks Awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery at Ovillers, France in 1918 serving with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry”.

greenwood9

Even more recently in the United Kingdom, special Victoria Cross stones honouring recipients at their places of birth have been installed in ceremonies all over the country in the lead up to the centenary of World War 1.

They are unveiled in public spaces by the respective councils on the day that the VC was won exactly 100 years.  Harry Greenwood’s ceremony took place a couple of weeks ago, his Victoria Cross citation was read out by Colonel Dan Reeve MC, late of the Rifles. Then the vice-Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire Jeffery Branch unveiled the stone. Harry Greenwood’s great-nephew Michael Greenwood read out a list of names of members of his ancestor’s battalion who died over those two days in 1918. He described his great-uncle as someone who never stayed behind as his men went over the top but went with them, doing his best to protect them.

Greenwood4

The Great Great Grandaughter Clara Levacy of WW1 VC Winner Harry Greenwood honours him in Bachelors Acre, Windsor – Picture: Mike Swift.

At a small ceremony held in Doncaster on the 17th July 2002, the family of Lieutenant Colonel Harry Greenwood donated his Victoria Cross medal group to the Regimental Museum of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in Doncaster.

His medal group consisting of the VC, DSO and Bar, OBE, MC, Queens South Africa Medal 1899-1902 with four clasps, King’s South Africa Medal 1902 with two clasps, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, King George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935 and King George VI Coronation Medal 1937.

bwgreenw


Story Researched and Written by Peter Dickens

Related work and Links

Reginald Hayward VC  “Superhuman powers of endurance and courage” Reginald Hayward VC

William F. Faulds VC Taking gallantry at Delville Wood to a whole new level; William Faulds VC MC

Sherwood Kelly VC “…. a Herculean of Irish-South African origin with a quite remarkable disregard for danger”.

Percy Hansen VC One Lucky Charm wins the Victoria Cross; Percy Hansen VC, DSO, MC

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC ‘Proccy’ – South Africa’s ‘Bravest of the Brave’

William Hewitt VC “There’s fifteen in there Sir, and they’ve all had it” destroying a German Pillbox single-handedly – William Hewitt VC

Clement Robertson VC Under deadly fire he directed his tanks to their objective … on foot! Clement Robertson VC

Oswald Reid VC “Bravery in the face of desperate circumstances” Oswald Reid VC

References 

Large extracts published with the kind permission of The VC and the GC, The Complete History, published by Methuen and The VC and GC Association in 2013. with sincere thanks to Charles Ross from The South African Legion. Additional Reference and extracts – The Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria Cross and George Cross – on-line.  Images copyright Imperial War Museum where indicated.  The recommendation by Brigade commander C V Edwards for Temporary Major (acting Lt-Colonel) Harry Greenwood DSO, MC.  Mike Swift and Francis Batt from the Royal Borough Observer.

 

Under deadly fire he directed his tanks to their objective … on foot! Clement Robertson VC

Honouring South African WW1 heroes who have won the Victoria Cross for Valour, the highest British decoration for bravery. This South African qualifies to stand head and shoulders above his countrymen – Captain Clement Robertson VC. Here is his story.

10451890_396153847221020_4866528425500856967_nEarly Life

Clement Robertson was born on 15 December 1890 (15 November 1889 is indicated in the Haileybury school register) in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa as the son of Major John Albert Robertson Royal Artillery and Frances Octavia Caroline (nee Wynne). Clement was one of five brothers (William Cairnes, Albert John, Frederick Wynne and Charles Wyndham).

Clement was later educated at Hill House School, Filsham Road, Hastings, at the East India Company College (Haileybury College) from 1904-1906 and Trinity College, Dublin (BA BAI Engineering 1909). He and his four brothers were keen golfers and were founder members of the Delgany Golf Club. Clement won the President’s Cup in the first year it was played for in 1908. In 1911, he was a boarder at Croft House, part of Cotherston, Darlington while an articled pupil to a civil engineer engaged on waterworks. He was employed as a civil engineer with the Egyptian Irrigation Service for three years and returned to England on the outbreak of war.

World War 1

He enlisted in 19th Royal Fusiliers (2nd Public Schools) on 8th October 1914 and joined at Epsom. He applied for a commission on 30th December 1914 and was commissioned on 16th January 1915 in 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). He was attached to the Royal Engineers from June 1916 to February 1917, then the Heavy Branch, Machine Gun Corps from March 1917 and was attached to the Tank Corps from September 1917 as a Tank Commander.

During the Battle of Messines in Belgium Clement had a narrow escape when on 7th June 1917, his tank A56 was hit by a 5.9” shell, which killed Sergeant Clegg and wounded two other crew. Although A56 was badly damaged, he brought it back to base and was later appointed to command 12 Section in 3 Company and made an Acting Captain of A Battalion.

Victoria Cross

In the British advance on 4th October 1917 at Zonnebeke, Belgium, Captain Robertson led four British tanks of 12 Section in attack under heavy shelling as they pushed forward east of Polygon Wood towards Reutel, between Zonnebeke and Gheluvelt.

Robertson, was Section Commander of 12 Section. The advance would need to cross the Reutelbeek. Although only a small stream it posed a formidable obstacle for the tanks.

Conditions on the battlefields of Passchendaele were terrible. Thick mud made any kind of movement difficult, and shelling had badly damaged most of the roads. When they’d been used earlier in the battle many tanks had ended up hopelessly bogged.

Robertson was determined this wouldn’t happen. For three days prior to the assault from Sunday 30th September onwards Captain Robertson and his ‘batman’, Private Cyril Allen, worked tirelessly to mark a safe route up to the front line for the 28 ton tanks. They struggled across the shattered ground under constant shellfire to lay out lengths of cotton tape for the crews to follow. They successfully finished the job and returned to the tanks late on the evening of the 3rd October.

tank-guide-tape

The type of tape used by Captain Robertson and Private Allen to guide the tank assault.

Almost immediately Robertson turned round and began moving forwards again, leading the tanks to their starting points. They were in position by 3am on the 4th of October.

The attack began at 6am. The ground in No Man’s Land was just as bad, so Robertson, accompanied by Allen, broke cover from the armour and continued on foot, walking in front of the tanks to guide them forwards. The German artillery, machine gun and rifle fire was intense, but he refused to take cover, as he knew his tank crews needed to be able to see him.

The tanks were to cross the Reutelbeek using a narrow bridge. One by one Robertson guided them safely across. As they continued forwards Robertson was shot and killed. His tanks fought on, helping to successfully drive the Germans back.

In so guiding these four tanks carefully towards their objective he must have known that this action would almost certainly cost him his life, however his skilful leadership had already ensured success, and for this he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.  

For his brave actions in support of Captain Robertson, Pvt. Cyril Allen received the  Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and was tragically killed later in the war on 20th November 1917, Cyril Allen’s DCM citation reads; “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He twice marked out routes under heavy enemy barrages, though on the first occasion he was blown up and badly shaken. Later he accompanied the tanks into action on foot, showing magnificent courage and contempt of danger”.

tank 2

A knocked out British tank half submerged in mud and water near St Julien, 12 October 1917. IWM Copyright

Captain Roberts’ Victoria Cross Citation:

For most conspicuous bravery in leading his tanks in attack under heavy shell, machine-gun and rifle fire, over ground which had been heavily ploughed by shell fire. Captain Robertson, knowing the risk of the Tanks missing the way, continued to lead them on foot, guiding them carefully and patiently towards their objective, although he must have known that his action would almost inevitably cost him his life. This gallant officer was killed after his objective had been reached, but his skilful leading had already ensured successful action. His utter disregard of danger and devotion to duty afford an example of outstanding valour.

Death and Remembrance 

Clement’s body was recovered and he was buried in Oxford Road Cemetery, Ypres. As he never married, his VC was presented to his mother by Brigadier General C Williams CB, Commanding Dublin District, at the Royal Barracks Dublin on 27th March 1918. In addition to the VC, he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His medals are held privately.

Captain Robertson VC is commemorated on the Haileybury College Memorial, his photo is in the Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset while there is also a memorial plaque in the Christ Church, Delgany.

Captain Robertson is also remembered in a Tank Corps flag raising ceremony in Ypres which takes place every year on 4 October at the Tank Memorial Ypres Salient.


Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Work and Links:

Reginald Hayward VC  “Superhuman powers of endurance and courage” Reginald Hayward VC

William F. Faulds VC Taking gallantry at Delville Wood to a whole new level; William Faulds VC MC

Sherwood Kelly VC “…. a Herculean of Irish-South African origin with a quite remarkable disregard for danger”.

Percy Hansen VC One Lucky Charm wins the Victoria Cross; Percy Hansen VC, DSO, MC

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC ‘Proccy’ – South Africa’s ‘Bravest of the Brave’

William Hewitt VC “There’s fifteen in there Sir, and they’ve all had it” destroying a German Pillbox single-handedly – William Hewitt VC

Extract published with the kind permission of The VC and the GC, The Complete History, published by Methuen and The VC and GC Association in 2013. Also with reference to a large extract from Victoria Cross and George Cross, a complete history on-line, Tank 100 Tank Museum on-line , thanks also to Charles Ross from the South African Legion.

“There’s fifteen in there Sir, and they’ve all had it” destroying a German Pillbox single-handedly – William Hewitt VC

Lance Corporal William Henry Hewitt VC, (aged 33) of 2nd South African Infantry Regiment is a very special South African, seen here he maintains his traditional wry smile, he had lost some teeth in heroic actions which earned him the Victoria Cross and he figured women wouldn’t think him attractive if he smiled. All we can say is smile, you of all people really earned it!

1476377_228073897362350_630998483_n

L/Cpl William Hewitt VC – Note his two ‘wound stripes’ on his sleeve

William was an exceptionally brave man, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for action near Ypres, Belgium, on September 20, 1917.  These extracts from “The Comprehensive Guide to Victoria Crosses” and “How I won the Victoria Cross” the story of Major William Hewitt from the Hermanus historical society outline a very colourful life and the depth of character that was William Hewitt VC, read on and learn about one very remarkable South African.

Consider his own recollection of the action that earned him the Victoria Cross and you’ll have the measure of the man and his off the cuff ‘dark’ military humour:

William Hewitt’s platoon was ordered to demolish a German pillbox, manned by 15 enemy soldiers. Within a minute of advancing his entire platoon was killed by an artillery shell, William was luckily the sole survivor. He advanced alone and threw a grenade into the pillbox. A “jampot” (Improvised Explosive Device) was thrown at him and hit him in the face. Of the resulting explosion he said:

‘Apart from blowing off my gasmask and half my clothes, knocking out four teeth, breaking my nose, giving me a couple of black eyes, with a lot of little cuts here and there and knocking me backwards into a convenient shell-hole, it didn’t really do any damage – only made me damn mad’.

William Hewitt went round the back of the pillbox and pushed his last grenade though a breathing hole. It exploded inside, killing all the occupants. He ran around the front to deal with any survivors, only to hear a Sergeant of a relieving platoon say: ‘There’s fifteen in there Sir, and they’ve all had it.’

The “jampot” is what would now be regarded as a IED – an improvised explosive device in a modern context, back in World War 1, it was exactly that. Literally, it was a jam pot (or tin), taken out of the rubbish dump, filled with nuts and bolts, with an explosive device and then thrown at the enemy if all else had failed.

Menin 1

A wounded South African soldier is given a hot drink by a padre after the attack on ‘Potsdam’, a German stronghold near Zonnebeke, during the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge near Potijze, 20 September 1917 (same day and attack in which William Hewitt won his VC).

Now that is some account to earn a Victoria Cross, let’s have a look at this man and how he came to taking out a pillbox single-handedly.

Origins

William Henry Hewitt (1884-1966) was born on 19th June 1884 at Copdock, near Ipswich, Suffolk. His father, also William Henry Hewitt, was born in London, and was a farmer of 80 acres at Preston Farm, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex. William (junior) had six siblings, including a brother George, who was killed serving in the Boer War in South Africa in 1900.

 William Hewitt (junior) emigrated to South Africa in 1905 and served in the South Africa Constabulary and later the Natal Police, including during the Zulu Rebellion in 1906. He later became a farmer in Natal.

World War 1

William volunteered to take part in World War 1 and enlisted in the Union of South Africa Defence Force on 24th November 1915. He went to France on 12th July 1916 and joined the 2nd South African Infantry Regiment on 15th July.

Union_Defence_Force_2_SA_Infantry_Regiment_Insignia

He fought at the very deadly Battle of Delville Wood were he was very lucky to survive and later he also fought at the Butte de Warlencourt as a Lewis Gunner in 2 Platoon, B Company. Having been wounded in the leg on 12th October, he was evacuated to England on 24th October, where he was treated at Tooting Military Hospital. He returned to France in April 1917 and was promoted to Lance Corporal the following month.

Victoria Cross

On 20th September 1917 east of Ypres, the 2nd South African Infantry Regiment (2nd SAI) had to ‘leapfrog’ the 4th South African Infantry Regiment and advanced towards Bremen Redoubt. The 2nd SAI came under enfilading fire from Hill 37 and Tulip Cottages. In the meantime, the terrain became a quagmire, with men struggling waist deep in the mud. It was during this second stage in the battle that L/Cpl William Henry Hewitt captured a pillbox single-handedly.

Rebout

Destroyed strong concrete redoubt, in the Ypres sector in Belgium, during the battle on 20 September 1917. Same day and same attack that William Hewitt won his VC.

He threw a grenade into a doorway, but the Germans threw a improvised bomb back at him that blew off Hewitt’s gas-mask and knocked out four of his teeth. He was furious because he was engaged to be married and now feared that his fiancée might no longer find him attractive, Hewitt reached the rear of the pillbox. He tried to lob a bomb through a loophole, but missed and had to dive for cover. With only one bomb remaining, Hewitt crept right up to the loophole and, from beneath it, pushed the grenade through, receiving a shot in his hand as he did so. He eventually succeeded in arresting a number of Germans. Fifteen others lay dead in the pillbox.  William, a simple farmer from Natal had earned the Victoria Cross.

William Hewitt was evacuated due to his wounds on 1st October, and was presented with the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 16th January 1918 and was appointed Acting Sergeant on 1st April.  His Victoria Cross Citation reads:

“For most conspicuous bravery during operations. Lance Corporal Hewitt attacked a pill-box with his section and tried to rush the doorway. The enemy garrison, however, proved very stubborn, and in the attempt this non-commissioned officer received a severe wound. Nevertheless, he proceeded to the loophole of the pill-box where, in his attempts to put a bomb into it, he was again wounded in the arm. Undeterred, however, he eventually managed to get a bomb inside, which caused the occupants to dislodge, and they were successfully and speedily dealt with by the remainder of section.”

Menin 2

Three German prisoners, one wounded, captured in the attack on Vampire Farm near Potijze by South African and British forces, during the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, 20 September 1917 (same day and attack in which William Hewitt won his VC).

A life less ordinary

William married Lily Ollett in October 1918. She was a shorthand typist. They had met when he was a patient at Tooting Military Hospital in October 1916. William returned to South Africa on RMS Durham Castle on 22nd April 1919 and was discharged the following day. He continued farming until 1925, when they moved to East Africa. He ran a coffee farm there until he sold it in 1939 to rejoin The South African Union Defence Force as a Commissioned Officer at the on-set of World War 2. 

During World War II, William Hewitt VC, now promoted to a Major fought the next World War in Mombasa, East Africa were he acted as a liaison officer and later as an assistant provost-marshal.

William and Lily were living in Nairobi in 1952. When his health started to fail in 1950, he retired to Hermanus on the Cape Coast and finally became a South African citizen in 1955. He returned to Britain to attend the 1956 VC Centenary Celebrations in Hyde Park, London. In the late 1950s, he had been diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and had to have his larynx removed in Cape Town. In the operation, they found shrapnel embedded there. Shortly after the operation, he developed Parkinson’s Disease

Lily brought him back to Britain in 1961 in an attempt to find a cure with a Parkinson’s specialist in Edinburgh. He fell badly twice in his later years and had two severe bouts of pneumonia. Although crippled, unable to speak and almost helpless, he continued the best he could.

William died at Delancey Hospital, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire on 7th December 1966. He was cremated at Cheltenham Crematorium on 10th December and his ashes were returned to South Africa where they were scattered at sea off the beautiful Hermanus Cliffs in South Africa on 2nd January 1974, this scenic location is famous for whale-wacthing and annually South Africa’s migrating Southern Right Whales are seen close to the cliffs as they calve.  It is also the appropriate location for Hermanus’ war memorial.

What a fitting place for one of South Africa’s bravest to laid to rest.

William Hewitt VC – medals

In addition to his Victoria Cross (VC) , William was also awarded the Natal Rebellion Medal 1906, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. The VC was presented to Framlingham College by his widow in May 1967. It was held in the Chapel until the College loaned it indefinitely to the Imperial War Museum on 23rd April 2004. It is displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery. The Castle Military Museum in Cape Town owns four of his campaign medals. The other medals’ location are unknown.”

Related Work and Links:

Reginald Hayward VC  “Superhuman powers of endurance and courage” Reginald Hayward VC

William F. Faulds VC Taking gallantry at Delville Wood to a whole new level; William Faulds VC MC

Sherwood Kelly VC “…. a Herculean of Irish-South African origin with a quite remarkable disregard for danger”.

Percy Hansen VC One Lucky Charm wins the Victoria Cross; Percy Hansen VC, DSO, MC

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC ‘Proccy’ – South Africa’s ‘Bravest of the Brave’


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Extracts from “How I won the Victoria Cross – Story of Major William Hewitt” – Hermanus Historical Society and Dr Robert Lee.  Image of L/Cpl Hewitt copyright IWM Colour Image Colourised by Doug UK. Extracts and later images of William Hewitt taken from ‘The Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria and George Cross’ on-line.  Images as shown copyright Imperial War Museum.

 

South Africa was represented at the Great Pilgrimage 90

G and wreathOn the Wednesday, 8th August 2018, The Royal British Legion recreated its 1928 pilgrimage to World War 1 battlefields for thousands of Legion members (90 years on). Great Pilgrimage 90 (GP90) was the Legion’s biggest membership event in modern history. This Great Pilgrimage ended with in a Remembrance Parade held at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.  The South African sacrifice was acknowledged and remembered at the Great Pilgrimage by the Royal British Legion – South African Branch who laid a special national wreath on behalf of the South African nation as a whole.

To see the original Royal British Legion Great Pilgrimage of 8th August 1928 held 90 years ago, here is an old Pathé ‘silent movie’ newsreel of it (movies did not have sound in 1928), when viewing it note the extent that the Royal British Legion has grown since then:

Menin Gate Parade – GP90

The South African branch of the Royal British Legion was up-front and present in a massive march past, in this sea of standards The South African Branch standard flying proudly with its Churchill Cup scrolls. A special ‘South Africa’ wreath was laid on behalf of South Africa at the Menin Gate itself.

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is a war memorial dedicated to the British, South African and other Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient in World War 1 and whose graves are unknown.

There are 54,896 British and Commonwealth soldiers’ names etched into the gate acknowledging the ‘missing’ who were never found or lie in a grave known only unto God, of which 564 are from South Africa’s forces.

A commemorative service at the Gate mark the centenary of the start of the series of battles that claimed thousands of British, Commonwealth, Allied, enemy and civilian lives during the ‘Last 100 Days’ of the First World War.

38834060_1846743782069807_2782286750720983040_n

The branch received special permission from the Royal British Legion to lay their wreath on behalf of the country South Africa, as a national wreath (and not a branch wreath). The South Africa wreath was laid in a wreath laying ceremony which saw 1,152 Royal British Legion branch representatives lay a wreath, each containing a message from their community.

38536411_1628560113922305_3087323600189915136_nThe South African wreath contained a message which read “we will always remember them” in some of the key languages of South Africa on the message (space permitting) – English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, North Sotho, South Sotho and Siswati.

The wreaths were arranged into a display within the Menin Gate grounds and will remain in place for public viewing for at least two months. Prominent in the parade were The Last Post Association (LPA), which was also founded in 1928. From that day its members have performed the Last Post at Menin Gate. The only interruption to this homage to the fallen of the First World War was during the Second World War. Everyday, the Last Post Association’s buglers sound the last post at the memorial. It was most fitting  that they lead the GP90 service with ‘the last post’.

Following the parade, everyone there were encouraged to join together to take part in an afternoon of comradeship and entertainment in the Great Square, where there were tableaux, stalls, exhibits & music.

38735944_1846743388736513_606755359960334336_nFor those who did not see it live this video will give you an idea of just how prestigious the parade at Menin Gate was and what a military veteran’s association of magnitude in full colour looks like on parade.

Note: There are over 1,100 Standards from various Royal British Legion Districts, Counties and Branches on parade, a statement of remembrance like this has yet to be replicated on this scale by any single military veterans association anywhere in the world, it’s simply stunning.

It is with immense pride that South Africa was represented and the branch can now add the coveted ‘Ypres 2018’ scroll to the South African Branch Standard.

Battlefield Pilgrimage – Delville Wood Parade No. 1

Prior to the Remembrance Parade at Menin Gate, the Royal British Legion conducted a guided Battlefield tour for all participating members and family.  Over the two days prior to Wednesday’s march (described above). They visited two different general areas, Ypres and the Somme.

Whilst on the Somme the Royal British Legion visited the Delville Wood battlefield, the same wood which saw such tremendous South African sacrifice and bravery when they were ordered to ‘hold it at all costs’.

It was with great honour that Royal British Legion South African branch was able to conduct two small parades in honour of South African sacrifice.

Battlefield Pilgrimage – Parade No.1 at Delville Wood

The first parade was conducted by the South Africans themselves in honour of South African and Rhodesian sacrifice in the wood. The Exhortation and Kohima epitaph was conducted by Robert Perkins from the RBL Gloucestershire County District and RBL Gloucester City Branch.  Graeme Scott attended Standard Bearing duties.

Once again a special wreath was made for the South African branch’s parade at the Delville Wood.  The wreath was laid by Major Herb Cameron from the Royal Logistics Corps and a member of RBL Wotton-Under-Edge Branch.  Maj. Cameron was born and educated in Bulawayo and Plumtree, Zimbabwe to Shona and British heritage.

The message on the wreath says a lot about the sacrifice at Delville Wood and Remembrance, it was an extract from “A Soldiers Song” by Lt. Frederick C. Cornell and it reads:

wreathSleep soft, ye dead,
for God is good –
And peace has
come to Delville Wood!

Battlefield Pilgrimage – Parade No.2 at Delville Wood

The second parade was conducted by four Royal British Legion branches at Delville Wood who asked the South African branch to participate with them in their parade, which they were deeply honoured to do.  Delville Wood remains a key site for British sacrifice as after the South Africans were withdrawn from the wood was handed to British regiments to hold.

In this parade the Parade Marshal was Tony Eglin from RBL Ulverston Branch, ex 4th Bn Kings Own Royal Border Regiment. The bugler was Andy Edgar from RBL Kendal branch, ex 7th Parachute regiment, Royal Horse Artillery.

The Standards on parade – left to right – Rod Eglin from RBL Bransty branch, Janet Eglin from RBL Ulverston Branch and Graeme Scott from the RBL South African Branch.  It is appropriate that we end the battlefield tour by this most prestigious remembrance organisation with a two minutes of silence at Delville Wood from a video taken at this parade.

The Royal British Legion is a sister organisation of The South African Legion and we share a common root as founders of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League.

As Branch Chairman of The Royal British Legion South African branch I would like to express my sincere thanks to Graeme Scott and Merle McArdle who represented the branch – Graeme proudly carried the Standard and Merle laid the wreath. Bravo Zulu to you both. Graeme is also a proud Legionnaire of The South African Legion.  Also thanks go out to Tony Povey, the Vice Chairman, David Watt, the Secretary and Paul Gladwin, the Treasurer for their hard work behind the scenes.  In addition thanks to Lawrence Butler-Perks, the National Branches District Secretary for his hard work and the support of the National Branches District, especially the National Memorial Arboretum Branch for their exceptional support.

You have all done a nation proud.


Written by Peter Dickens – Branch Chairman, Royal British Legion South African Branch

Related work and links:

Delville Wood 100 Centenary: ‘Springbok Valour’… Somme 100 & the Delville Wood Centenary

In Flanders Fields – Afrikaans: In Vlaandere se Velde

The common root between the Royal British Legion and The South African Legion: Legions and Poppies … and their South African root

Video taken by Johan Moors on YouTube.  Images copyright Royal British Legion, original movie copyright Pathé news.  Video of SA Parade at Delville Wood taken by Alf Forrester, RBL Hardwick and district branch.  Second parade video at Delville Wood taken by Merle Scott of the RBL South African Branch.

A ‘Star of David’ in defiance of Göring

During World War 1 a non-Jewish German fighter pilot did something very unusual, he painted a ‘Star of David’ – the Magen David, the modern symbol of Jewish identity on the side of his aircraft.  The act was in defiance of anti-Semitism and it has a very unusual South African connection.

Leutnant (Lieutenant) Adolf Auer was the German fighter pilot and he did this defiant act because he disliked Hermann Göring’s anti-Semitism and anti-semitic comments.  Auer’s wingman was a German Jew and also a highly decorated German WW1 fighter ace, his name was Willi Rosenstein.

49B10BE500000578-5449463-image-a-50_1519904133485

The Star of David clearly be seen on Auer’s aircraft

anti-Semitism 

Before Hermann Göring became the infamous right hand man to Adolf Hitler during the Second World War he was a very successful fighter pilot during World War 1, he shot down 22 enemy aircraft making him an Ace and was even eventually appointed as the successor to Manfred von Richthofen – the legendary Red Baron – as the commander of Jagdgeschwader 1 (‘The Flying Circus’) on 14th July 1918.

Between the 17th May 1917 and 28 July 1918 Leutnant (Lieutenant) Herman Göring was the Commanding Officer of Royal Prussian Jagdstaffel 27 (Jasta 27) hunting group, Willi Rosenstein was also part of Jasta 27 and at the time flew as Göring’s wing man.

main-qimg-b3b88c8fdb36c5e71a61f6e40a2b8802-c

Hermann Göring in the cockpit of his bi-plane fighter

During the First World War the anti-Jewish issue in Germany was a latent one but simmering, many Jewish Germans served with distinction in Germany’s armed forces in WW1 and it was just Hermann Göring personal anti-Semitism at the time that he clearly carried with him into the Second World War.

In late 1917 an incident occurred in which Rosenstein became very upset after Lt. Goering made an anti-Semitic remark in front of several people; Rosenstein requested an apology but when Göring refused, Rosenstein asked for a transfer out of Jasta 27.

Willi Rosenstein then joined Jasta 40, and flew as the wing man to Adolf Auer.  In defiance to anti-Semitism and to derogatory comments Hermann Göring had made as to Rosentein whilst he was his wing-man, Auer painted a Star of David on the side of his fighter, this was done to annoy Herman Göring and stand up for his fellow Jewish comrade, he famously said that he would rather be saved by a Jewish pilot than die in a plane crash.

Simply put Göring hated Jews and was an unabashed anti-semitic, after WW1 he joined the Nazi party and rose to become a key leader of Hitler’s Third Reich.  His intense hatred of Jews would eventually lead him to become one of the architects of the Holocaust in the Second World War, even ordering a high-ranking Nazi official to organise the solution to the ‘Jewish Question’ – which in reality meant the extermination of the Jews of Europe in gas chambers and in front of firing squads.  A keen art enthusiast Göring even went as far as illegally appropriating important art work from Jewish victims of the genocide.

49B10B6000000578-5449463-Leutnant_Adolf_Auer-a-47_1519904012567

Adolf Auer

Lt. Adolf Auer’s combat record in WW1 is however very short, he scored one victory during the war and was wounded in action when he was brought down on 28th October 1918 and taken Prisoner of War

When World War 2 broke out, Adolf Auer joined the German Luftwaffe, which by this time was headed up by Hermann Göring and although Göring rose to become one of Adolf Hitler’s closest advisers and the second-most-powerful Nazi during World War 2, it appears Göering did not penalize Auer for his antics of painting a Star of David on his aircraft during World War 1 (it was a different time).  However if he had pulled the same stunt in World War 2 he would surely have been severely punished (it could have led to his arrest or even execution in the Second World War).

German Jewish Fighter Ace

Rosenstein-in-Uniform

Willi Rosenstein

A different matter for Willi Rosenstein who went on to become a rare thing in WW1 – a German Jewish fighter Ace.  He initially volunteered to fight for Imperial Germany in the army, but transferred to De Fliegertruppen (the budding army version of the German Air Force) on 24 August 1914.   As a fighter pilot he won the Iron Cross, Second Class in March 1915 and was also awarded the Silver Military Service Medal.  By February 1916 he was commissioned as a Leutnant (Lieutenant), in April 1916 he was wounded in action during the Battle of Verdun, and eventually received the Iron Cross First Class  having flown 180 combat sorties to that date.  Upon recovery, he reported to the 3rd Army as a Fokker pilot. He became one of the founding members of one of Germany’s brand-new fighter squadrons, Jasta 9 on 23 September 1916.

He moved on to Jasta 27  on 15 February 1917. However, it would not be until 21 September that he scored his first aerial victory, when he shot down an Airco DH4 over Zonnebeke while on a morning patrol. Five days later, his victim was a Sopwith Camel, he scored his third aerial victory on 26 June, when he downed another DH.4

On 2 July 1918, he received his final war posting, to Jasta 40 where he promptly shot down a SE 5a on 14 July. On 28 September, he received the Knight’s Cross 2nd Class with Swords of the Order of the Zahringer Lion. The following day, he began a run of five victories that took him through 27 October 1918.

Rosenstein-Heart-Plane

Willi Rosenstein’s bi-plane fighter with its distinctive white heart

The South African connection

After World War 1, Willy Rosenstein became a glider pilot sportsman. Because of growing anti-Semitism and the rise of the Nazi Party (and the likes of Hermann Göring) in the 1930s, and despite being a war hero with 9 British kills, he feared for his life and that of his family and fled to South Africa.

28737a23239401c53091550f9eb07f2b

Hermann Göring as head of the Luftwaffe –  WW2

Rosenstein settled in South Africa and took to farming, though he kept his interest in aviation. His son Ernest took to his father’s love of flying and became a fighter pilot for the  South African Air Force (SAAF) during the Second World War and attained the rank Lieutenant.  Lt. Ernest Willy Rosenstein was tragically killed in action over Italy on 2 April 1945 fighting for the Allies, ironically fighting against his father’s country of birth with its now deeply evil anti-Sematic Nazi manifestations and Herman Göring’s Lufwaffe  – he was aged only 22.  He is buried at the Milan War Cemetery in eternal memory on the SAAF honour roll.

Willy Rosenstein survived both his son and the war. He was killed on 23 May 1949 in a midair collision with a student pilot over his farm in Rustenburg, South Africa.

In Conclusion

Although many Jews served in the German army during WWI, it still appears incongruous to see a Fokker biplane with a Star of David alongside the German Iron Cross in a fighter squadron – Jagdstaffel 40. Adolf Auer was certainly a man who stood by his convictions and his comrades and that is highly commendable by any military code.

Not so commendable is Hermann Göring, now in the annuals of history as one of the most evil men to walk the planet.  After being found guilty after World War 2 of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials, he committed suicide by ingesting cyanide the night before he was to hang for his crimes.

Willy Rosentein enters the annuals of history as a war hero, a fighter ace with an impeccable record.  He’s not only a hero for Germany, but also as a representative of his faith remains a stand out icon and role model.  In the end, as a converted South African citizen we now also have in our midst of military history another remarkable individual whose sacrifice to South Africa’s contribution to modern freedom came in the form of his son.

49B10AA400000578-5449463-image-m-55_1519904214794

Lt. Adolf Auer and his gunner

Related Work and Links:

South African fighter Ace’s of WW1

Dingbat Saunders: Sir ‘Dingbat’ the Knight

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor: ‘Proccy’ – South Africa’s ‘Bravest of the Brave’

Andrew Cameron “Dixie” Kiddie:  Kimberley’s local baker was also a WW1 Flying Ace


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Extracts and references taken from Mail On-line, The Times of Israel and German Jewish World War 1 Aces on-line. Adolf Auer’s images from his collection.

 

“Superhuman powers of endurance and courage” Reginald Hayward VC

29060739_2111661739062813_6833898184469216994_oThis South African’s Victoria Cross turns 100 on the 21/22 March 2018, so today we honour another true South African hero and Victoria Cross recipient, and this man, Captain Reginald Frederick Johnson Hayward VC MC & Bar is one very extraordinary South African.

“Bravery” is an often over used word, then you read about a South African who won the Military Cross for Bravery, not once but twice and then goes on to win a Victoria Cross. Now this Hilton College old boy is a “brave” man cut from a different cloth, “superhuman” in fact (as is noted in his VC citation) and this is his story.

Reginald Hayward, was the son of a stockbreeder family, Frederick and Gertrude Hayward, he was born on 17 June 1891 at the Beersheba Mission Station near Swartruggens, East Griqualand in South Africa.  He was educated at Hilton College and represented Natal against English Rugby teams in 1911. Serving with the cadets he became Regimental Sergeant Major.

After leaving school Reginald attended  Durban Business College from 1909-1910 and continued to excel as sportsman especially in rugby, football and cricket. In May 1912 he travelled to England and began studying at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and captained their Rugby XV in 1913. He also played for Rosslyn Park Club and for Middlesex.

When the 1st World War broke out be volunteered and in May 1912 Reginald arrived in the United Kingdom and joined the 6th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on 29 September 1914.

The Somme Offensive 1916

Later the same year he was promoted to temporary Lieutenant and in March 1915 joined the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment in France where during October 1916 he was involved in action at Stuff Redoubt, Thiepval, France during which he was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and initiative, gazetted on 8th October.

Wounded during the action he briefly returned to London to have the piece of shrapnel removed from his eye.

Wiltshire4

Officers and men of the 1st Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, after their return from the fighting at Thiepval, photographed at Bouzincourt, September 1916

On 19 December 1916 Reginald was promoted to Temporary Captain and on 22 December 1916 was promoted to the substantive rank of Lieutenant. During the battle of Messines Ridge in Belgium on 07 June 1917 he was awarded a bar to his Military Cross which was gazetted on 18 September.

The Spring Offensive 1918

On 21 March 1918 the Germans launched their Spring offensive against the section of Front manned by British Third and Fifth Armies running from Roeux on the River Scarpe east of Arras in the north to the River Oise west of La Fere in the south, as the crow flies a distance of about 50 miles, but over double that on the ground. 6th Corps held the British Line south of Arras. From the previous evening, German troops had begun probing British positions at this point. 13th Battalion Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment) were in the line from St -Leger, just east of the road south from Arras to Bapaume, along the road south to Mory.

Spring

Captured British tank with German markings crossing a trench. Note a biplane flying over the battlefield during the German’s Spring Offensive of 1918

It was here on the morning of 21 March 1918 that Temporary Second Lieutenant E F Beal gallantly repelled a German incursion, helping to stabilize the situation until he was killed. However, German pressure was relentless and the British were pushed back. As the enemy advances steadily towards Bapaume, 1st Battalion The Wiltshire Regiment was moved to the north of Fremicourt, a village east of Bapaume and just south of the Cambrai road. 4th Corps was trying to hold a line between Vaulx and Morchies to the north of the road. It was for his gallantry in the fighting which followed that Acting Captain R F J Hayward was awarded the VC.

Just to get a measure of the man and this Victoria Cross, on 21/22 March 1918 near Fremicourt, France, while commanding a company, Captain Hayward displayed “almost superhuman powers of endurance”. In spite of the fact that he was buried, three times wounded in the head, rendered deaf and had his arm shattered, he refused to leave his men, instead he motivated them as he continued to move across the open fields of fire from one trench to another with absolute disregard for his own safety – all the time under ceaseless enemy attack.  His actions directly attributed to his Regiment holding their defensive line and stemming the enemy advance.  

Imagine that, an officer with multiple serious wounds running out into open hell-fire time and again keeping his men in place and fighting, his action alone changing the tide of the battle – that’s the stuff of a Victoria Cross.

Here is his citation and it says everything about the action and his courage:

medalCITATION
For most conspicuous bravery in action. This officer, while in command of a company, displayed almost superhuman powers of endurance and consistent courage of the rarest nature. In spite of the fact that he was buried, wounded in the head, and rendered deaf on the first day of operations, and had his arm shattered two days later, he refused to leave his men (even though he received a third serious injury to his head), until he collapsed from sheer physical exhaustion.

Throughout the whole of this period the enemy was attacking his company front without cessation, but Captain Hayward continued to move across the open front from one trench to another with absolute disregard of his own personal safety, concentrating entirely on re-organising his defences and encouraging his men.

It was almost entirely due to the magnificent example of ceaseless energy of this officer that many determined attacks on his portion of the trench system failed entirely.

The surviving Wiltshires, three officers and 54 NCO’s and men, were gathered at Bihucourt, north-west of Bapaume, on 24 March. Hayward had been evacuated with the other wounded the night before.

When the German offensive had opened on the 21st, 8th Battalion The Gloucestershire Regiment mounted an unsuccessful counter-attack at Doignies to try to contain the enemy advance south of the Cambrai-Bapaume road. They were then withdrawn west to Velu Wood. By the 23rd, the German advance had reached this point and the Glosters, together with the 10th Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment was ordered to cover the further withdrawal of British forces. Bapaume itself was abandoned to the Germans.

wiltshire10

Composite battalion made up of surviving troops of the Wiltshire, Warwickshire Regiments, Northumberland Fusiliers and others at the end of the first phases of the German Spring Offensive. Seen here resting by the roadside. Caestre, 17 April 1918.

Post World War 1

The war would grind on for a couple of more months and end in November 1918. Reginald survived his injuries and the war and in 1919 he became the Adjudant of the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment and later that same year, along with Lieutenant S. J. Parker MC DCM carried the 1st Battalion’s Regimental Colours at the Peace Parades in London and Paris.

Over the period 1919 to 1921 he served in Dublin, Egypt and Palestine and on 27 September 1927 he was promoted to the substantive rank of Captain. On 04 April 1935 he was transferred to the Reserves. On 09 July 1938 Reginald marries Linda Angus (nee Bowen in the Christ Church, Burbage, Buxton, Derbyshire.

World War 2

When the Second World War started in 1939, Reginald was called back into full-time service and served as Commander of the Royal Army Service Corps Anti-Aircraft Command (CRASC). Over the period 1945 to 1947 he was Commandant of Prisoner of War Camps where after he retired on 09 July 1947 as an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel.

Later Life

10999432_417568698412868_2379871863135790696_nReginald worked at the British Broadcasting Corporations (BBC) Publications Department from 1947 to 1952 and as games manager of the Hurlingham Club from 1952 to 1967.

His Victoria Cross investiture, along with his Military Cross, was on 24 October 1918 by King George V at Buckingham Palace. His Victoria Cross is held at the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment Museum in Wiltshire.

Apart from his Victoria Cross and Military Cross with Bar he was awarded the 1914 – 1915 Star, British War Medal 1914 – 1920, Victory Medal 1914 – 1919, Defence Medal 1939 – 1945, Coronation Medal 1937, Coronation Medal 1953 and Territorial Efficiency decoration.

Reginald died on 17 January 1970 in Chelsea, London and was cremated on 23 January 1970 in the Putney Vale Crematorium, London while his ashes are scattered in the Garden of Remembrance. He is commemorated in the St Mary’s Church, Limpley Stoke, Wiltshire. His medals are now held at The Rifles Museum, Salisbury, Wiltshire.

29351890_2111661702396150_7208896205117593485_o


Original content courtesy Charles Ross, additional research and content by Peter Dickens

Extract published with the kind permission of The VC and the GC, The Complete History, published by Methuen and The VC and GC Association in 2013.  Information obtained from VC on-line (The comprehensive guide to Victoria Cross and George Cross).  Images were referenced IWM Imperial Museum Copyright.

Mast image shows The Wiltshire Regiment on the advance over trenches at Thiepval during the Battle of the Somme.  Copyright Imperial War Museum.

The iconic Hammersmith Bridge in London remembers a brave South African

74574Next time anyone walks down the iconic green Hammersmith Bridge in London, the halfway mark on the Oxford Cambridge Boat race on the Thames River, look out for and spare a thought for a very brave South African who is forever remembered on a historic plaque on Hammersmith Bridge itself.

So how do we have a South African’s name so honoured on such an iconic London Bridge?  Lieutenant Charles Campbell Wood’s story is a very moving one of selflessness and bravery.

Born on 8 December 1891 in Bloemfontein, Charles Campbell Wood was drawn to the military as a young man when World War One broke out, he initially joined the South African Medical Corps as a Private and took part in the German South West African Campaign (now Namibia), for which he was awarded his World War 1, 1914-15 Star on 7 September 1914.

His aspirations later took him to the United Kingdom where he resigned from the South African Medical Corps and by 1919 he had already joined the 9th Brigade of the Royal Air Force as a flying officer and held the rank of Lieutenant.

Two days after Christmas in 1919, Lt. Charles Campbell Wood earned a small place in history, but he earned it the hard way. Near midnight on a cold London winter evening Campbell Wood heard a call for help from the Thames. Rushing onto the western, upriver side of the Hammersmith Bridge, he saw a woman in grave danger, she had fallen in the Thames River, which is a tidal river with a very fast flow.

Caught in the river’s rapid current she was at death’s door. Diving into the river to rescue her from the upstream footway of Hammersmith Bridge, was our hero, Lt Campbell Wood, who in turn saved the woman’s life. But in so doing, he also severely injured his head, this in turn caused him to contract tetanus (the Thames at the time was a known cesspool) and he died in hospital some days later in the new year on the 10th January 1920.

Today the only reminder of his story is a small brass plaque on a handrail, which marks the spot on the bridge where Lt. Campbell Wood dived into the Thames to risk his life to save the life of a complete stranger.

24068582_10210478623192851_7446276807751334806_o

He was survived by his mother, Mrs Grace Ellen Wood who lived in South Africa and his estate forwarded to her. His death was registered, aged 28 years, in Barnet, Hertfordshire. If you would like to visit him he is buried in Plot I. 16. 136. at East Finchley Cemetery & Crematorium, 122, East End Lane, East Finchley, N2 0RZ.

An iconic space in London will always be the preserve of a selfless and brave South African, yet another one of South Africa’s brave servicemen who we can be eternally proud of, next time you are in London make the journey to Hammersmith and continue his memory.


Written by Peter Dickens with profound thanks to Derek Walker and Andrew Behan for the background research as well as additional reference from Sandy Evan Hanes.  Picture source of Lt Charles Campbell Wood: Record No.7786 of the Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificates held at RAF Hendon as published on ancestry.co.uk, content reference www.plaquesoflondon.co.uk – Lieutenant Charles Campbell Wood.

Also see War Graves Project Lt Charles Campbell Wood