WW1 Tank Corps VC winner saved trapped crew

SewelL VC 1

In 1914 20-year-old Cecil Sewell was an articled clerk at his father’s law firm in Greenwich, London.

At the outbreak of war he joined the Royal West Kent Regiment. In 1916 he signed up with the newly established Tank Corps, where he became a commander of a troop of Whippet light tanks.

The Whippet was a comparatively agile machine. It had a crew of three: gunner, driver – and commander – whose duties included directing the tank and helping the gunner fire a total of four machine guns mounted in the turret.

large

Crew trapped

On 29 August 1918 Sewell was in charge of a section of tanks advancing towards German positions near Fremicourt. One of his machines steered into a shell hole, turned over and caught fire. Realising the crew was trapped, Sewell dismounted from his tank, sprinted across open ground under machine gun fire and proceeded to dig through the mud that was blocking the escape hatch and to free his soldiers.

The London Gazette takes up the story: ‘Having done this he saw one of his own crew lying wounded behind his own tank. He crossed the open ground to his assistance. Although hit while doing so he reached the tank. Only a few minutes later he was hit, fatally this time, while dressing his wounded driver.’

The full citation is quote on the CWGC website, here.

Lieutenant Sewell was 23 and is buried at Vaulx Hill Cemetery. His brothers Harry and Herbert also died during the First World War. 

Sewell’s tank is now in the Tank Museum, Dorset, UK.

E1949.328_Medium Mark A Whippet___7047-065

Posted in News, Soldiers of the Great War | Leave a comment

The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry in WW1

The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry on parade at Montreuil-sur-mer, 1918

The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry on parade at Montreuil-sur-mer, 1918

The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry was one of the lesser known British units of the First World War.

It was established comparatively late in the conflict, in December 1916, with its recruits training initially on Guernsey and later in Kent.

Sailed for France

On 26 September 1917 the regiment’s 1st Battalion, comprising 44 officers and 964 other ranks, sailed for France. A few weeks later they were in action at the Battle of Passchendaele and, in November, they were involved in the Battle of Cambrai.

During that action the battalion was tasked with the defence of the village of Les Rues Vertes. Attacked by a large German force the unit lost 40 per cent of its strength in casualties.

Heavy casualties

For the next few months, the battalion was in quieter areas and many wounded men returned to the front line. Then, on 10 April 1918, the Guernseys were marched off to the Battle of the Lys. During a long-lasting retreat, the regiment suffered further heavy casualties.

Among them was Captain Harry Stranger MC, who died of wounds on 11 May 1918 and is now buried at Les Baraques Military Cemetery, Sangatte. A talented cricketer and footballer, who had played for Guernsey FC, he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the retreat.

His medal citation states: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He held an important bridgehead during a period of strenuous fighting at close quarters. He collected and organised men of several units, and held the bridge successfully against all the enemy’s efforts to break through. He set a splendid example of courage and determination.’

Rear echelons

For the remainder of the war, the remnants of the unit were withdrawn to rear areas and, among other tasks, took on guard duties at the General Headquarters at Montreuil-sur-mer. 

The Guernsey’s regimental motto was ‘Diex Aix’ – supposedly the rallying cry of the Norman cavalry at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Some 2,280 members of the regiment saw action on the Western Front, with 327 killed and 667 wounded.

A guard detachment of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry at Montreuil-sur-mer in 1918

A guard detachment of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry at Montreuil-sur-mer in 1918

Posted in Soldiers of the Great War | Leave a comment

Recognition for Channel Islander killed during retreat from Mons

Captain Victor Briard, killed near Mons on 24 August 1914

A Jersey housing development is to be named after the first Channel Islander to be killed in the First World War.

Captain EFV (Victor) Briard was 25 when he was killed in action on 24 August 1914 during the retreat from Mons.

He was born in St Helier and educated at Felstead School and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He was captain of hockey while at Felstead and went on to represent the Army at the sport. He also played cricket for his regiment.

Royal Norfolk Regiment

He was serving with 1st Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment. His unit, along with 1st Battalion the Cheshire Regiment, was left exposed as other battalions retreated and left them to be outflanked and overrun by the advancing German forces.

Around 250 Norfolks became casualties, along with more than 700 from the Cheshire Regiment.

Mons retreat

British troops take up defensive positions during the retreat

Family tragedy

Briard’s widowed mother, Maud, was initially told he had been taken prisoner and his death was not confirmed until 1916.

Private Henry Grigglestone wrote to Mrs Briard describing the moment her son was killed: ‘I was in the same section as Lieutenant Briard was in charge of on the 24th August 1914. He was directing operations and I stayed next to him. I saw him killed about two minutes before I was captured.

‘I cannot tell you any more, but all I can say is, “he died a hero”.’

Captain Briard is buried at Elouges Communal Cemetery in Belgium along with 24 other members of the Norfolk Regiment.

Briard’s younger brother, John, died aged just 19 on 15 October 1919 of complications related to wounds received in May at a skirmish on the Khyber Pass. At the time he was serving with 35th Sikhs and had been on his way to a posting on the Afghan border.

He was buried at Peshawar and is now commemorated on the Delhi Memorial.

 

Posted in News, Soldiers of the Great War | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Rare colour photographs show realities of WW1

 

fo_first_world_war_in_color_p356_1406171220_id_821016

A British tank waits in a street in Péronne

To mark the Centenary of the First World War, publisher Taschen has produced a fascinating volume dedicated to colour photographs from the conflict.

Entitled The First World War in Colour it brings together more than 320 images brought together from archives in Europe, the US and Australia.

fo_first_world_war_in_color_p093_1406171159_id_820953

German soldiers pose in a concrete-lined trench

Subject matter is wide and varied, covering the mobilisation of 1914, through soldiers in moment of relaxation, to developing military technology and victory celebrations in 1919.

These rare colour images were taken by a small group of photographers pioneering recently developed autochrome technology.

fo_first_world_war_in_color_p102_1406171204_id_820962

A French Caudron G-3 at an airfield in 1914

Since the autochrome process required a relatively long exposure time, almost all of the photos depict carefully composed scenes of rear areas, static machines and towns affected by war.

The First World War in Colour is published by Taschen, price $59.99. To find out more about the book, click here.

fo_first_world_war_in_color_p329_1406171213_id_820998

A British ambulance and RAMC crew, 1914

Verdun, wrecked by bombardment

Verdun, wrecked by bombardment

French anti-aircraft gunners at Verdun, 1916

French anti-aircraft gunners at Verdun, 1916

 

Posted in News, World War I memoirs | Leave a comment

Sussex memorial for Battle of Mons VC winner

The railway bridge at Nimy, looking out from where Godley was positioned

The railway bridge at Nimy, looking out from where Godley was positioned

A memorial stone is to be unveiled to commemorate one of the first Victoria Cross winners of the First World War.

Private Sidney Godley VC, of the Royal Fusiliers, won the medal for his defence of the Nimy railway bridge during the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914.

Under fire

Godley climbed up an embankment under heavy fire and took over a machine gun that had been set up to shoot across the bridge. He was eventually wounded and captured after running out of ammunition.

Lieutenant Maurice Dease won the VC for the same action and was killed within a few feet of Godley. He is buried at St Symphorien Military Cemetery near Mons.

The cemetery is one of the sites on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Retreat from Mons Remembrance Trail, which follows the course of the battle during the last days of August 1914.

Private Godley’s memorial stone will be laid on the top step of the war memorial in his native town of East Grinstead, Sussex.

The memorial plaque on the railway bridge at Nimy on the outskirts of Mons

The memorial plaque on the railway bridge at Nimy on the outskirts of Mons

Posted in Events, News, Soldiers of the Great War | Leave a comment

Worcestershire Cricket Club rededicates WW1 memorial

_76797315_plaque78

A memorial to the Worcestershire County Cricket Club players who were killed in the First World War has been rededicated to mark the Centenary of 1914.

Some 17 club members, including 10 first XI players, lost their lives in the conflict.

The memorial had hung above the bar in the old, 19th-century pavilion but had become blackened and almost impossible to read before its restoration.

A second memorial, including names from the original plaque and others from the Second World War, has also been unveiled.

Names on the memorial

Among the Worcestershire players who lost their lives was 31-year-old Cecil Lushington. A former pupil of Haileybury College in Hertfordshire, he was killed at the Battle of the Somme on 3 July 1916 while a lieutenant with the 10th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment.

John Winnington DSO played one game for Worcestershire, in 1908, scoring 0 and 20 in his two innings against Oxford University. He died of wounds on 22 September 1918 while a lieutenant colonel commanding 1/4th Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment in Palestine.

Neuve Chapelle

Lieutenant colonel Ernest Wodehouse DSO was a Boer War veteran who was killed while leading the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment at the battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915.

Wodehouse had led his men forward to storm buildings that lay opposite the British front line, but their position became untenable when no support arrived and they were surrounded on three sides.

The Worcesters were forced to pull back and suffered heavy losses in the ensuing retreat across open ground – among them their lieutenant colonel.

Posted in Events, News, Soldiers of the Great War | Leave a comment

Staffordshire conscription tribunal notes revealed

Youthful conscripts at the Etaples base in France, July 1918

Youthful conscripts at the Etaples base in France, July 1918

Records from Staffordshire’s conscription appeals tribunals are to be documented as part of the commemorations of the Centenary of the First World War.

The authorities intended that the records would be destroyed following the Armistice, but documents relating to around 20,000 still exist at the records office in Stafford.

Professor Karen Hunt, from Keele University, said call-up appeals were often placed by the employer of a man selected for military service.

The Stafford papers reveal the pressures the community was under, she added, with many men already in the forces and many others killed in action.

Conscription enforced

Conscription was introduced in Britain in January 1916 as casualty rates rose and the number of volunteers dwindled, especially following the slaughter of the Pals battalions at the Battle of the Somme.

Under the Military Service Act men aged between 18 and 45 were obliged to register to join the armed forces. In May, the act was widened to include married men and, two years later, the upper age limit was raised to 51.

In 1918 the upper age limit for conscription was raised to 51

In 1918 the upper age limit for conscription was raised to 51

Posted in Events | Leave a comment