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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

'He'd have won the Victoria Cross but...'


Mark Hone

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In the wake of the 'Timewatch' programme I was thinking about a quite common trench legend discussed before on this forum: 'Poor old Uncle Fred died on the last day of the war'. (It turns out to be November 1917 or similar). Has anyone come across another I remember being told as a kid: 'Grandad's best friend Bill won the Military Medal. If the officer he rescued hadn't died of his wounds he'd have got the Victoria Cross'? I'm pretty sure I've heard similar stories since.

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My Grandfather's citation recommends a VC, but it is crossed out and replaced with "MM". Family history states goes as above but then family history also said his brother and best mate were "blown to bits in the Gallipoli landing" but records prove they didn't even enlist until 1916 ......

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My own family's stories always seem to be brutally honest (such as in the case of my relative who got the DFM for bringing back a crippled Wellington - "that con-man was probably trying to nick it!!!", or my grandad (in signature, below) who claimed that the only thing they managed to shoot down was an RAF fighter (they did better than that - they got a couple of French MS 406's too! :rolleyes: ) - either that, or there's no mention at all.

However, my wife's family legend about my grandad-in-law was that he was an (underage) original Accrington Pal who lost his best mates on the Somme on 1st July 1916 and who's hair turned white overnight after being gassed. Photos from the 1920's show him to have jet black hair even then (it only went white in the 1960's) and , though he was on the Somme (in 1918 though!), he was in a totally different regiment (Border), and didn't get overseas until early in 1918 after being conscripted in the latter half of 1917. He was the only survivor of his 4 mates who went in together though, so some truth did stick.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if the family "legends" are more a case of misunderstanding as the generations go on - an ex work colleague was once telling me about his own grandad who was killed on the Somme in 1915 - at a village called Gallipoli - probably during the Battle of Flanders Fields. He also had three gallantry medals awarded to him - the silver one of which (BWM) was "probably only second or third to a VC".

Dave.

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Two men of the 16th (Boys Brigade Bn) Highland Light Infantry - Sgt Lee and L/Cpl Veitch, were involved in the defence of Frankfurt Trench in Nov 1916, both were recommended for the VC, but as no Officer lived to validate the action they ended up receiving MiD's I've attached a link to the excellent account of the action recorded in the Glesca Pals website

http://glescapals.com/folk/forces5a.htm

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Family "legend".

My father told me that his eldest brother, my uncle, who volunteered in 1914, went to France in early 1915 and survived was described as "the bravest man I ever knew" by a complete stranger who told him this story:

The stranger and my uncle had crossed paths in France and the stranger had witnessed my uncle carrying surviving wounded to safety from a barn where they had been sheltering after it was struck by a shell and was on fire. He added that he thought my uncle should have received an award for this but there was no Officer present to witness it.

When approached, my uncle refused to speak about any of his experiences in WW1.

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I was asked to research a guys ancestor. All he 'knew' was that he was killed by his own men by accident while he was watering the horses at a river in ww1. Well it just so happened that his name was unique and there was only one guy with that name on the CWGC and he was killed in ww2 in Libya. Did the British Army have horses in Libya?

Regards.

Tom.

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Some Yeomanry regiments did take horses to the Middle East in WW2, Iraq IIRC. Officially or unofficially I know not. One lot even took a small pack of Fox Hounds.

Mentioned in John Masters book "The Road Past Mandalay".

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I have read several letters to officers' relatives from COs, Adjutants etc. suggesting their loved ones were in actions which merited the VC. I am sure they were paying tribute to a brave comrade and trying to make it easier for the bereaved to handle the news. Likewise everyone who died seems to have done so instantly without any suffering. You could hardly write to a mother and say her boy's body was shattered, he was in agony, and took several days to die.

Edwin

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The last British cavalry division was based in Palestine in 1939 but the units were mechanised before being sent to the Western Desert. I think that the Royal Scots Greys were the last horsed regiment.

On WWI legends in general, most people who had a relative killed on the Somme seem to assume that it was on 1/7/16, even thought he might have died in 1918.

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Sometimes, though, I wonder if the family "legends" are more a case of misunderstanding as the generations go on - an ex work colleague was once telling me about his own grandad who was killed on the Somme in 1915 - at a village called Gallipoli - probably during the Battle of Flanders Fields. He also had three gallantry medals awarded to him - the silver one of which (BWM) was "probably only second or third to a VC".

Dave.

:lol:

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My Uncles Father was in the Northumberland Fusiliers and was involved in sorties into No Mans Land, rescuing a wounded officer under machine gun fire. He was cited for a VC but I think ended up with a DCM. My cousin has the citation letter, and was given his bayonet at a young age with the words " I killed ten germans with this"...

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My grandmother re married a man who won the MM in WW2, for rescuing an officer. I've heard the story of what he did, but can't verify it, where can I look ?

Mick

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Several families have told me that 'Old Uncle Bert/Bill/Jim (delete as applicable) was badly wounded and left to die. But - amazingly - he pulled through'.

Could be a grain of truth, I suppose.

Bernard

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Bernard,

I bet on many occaisions nothing more could be done for some of the wounded.

I have a friend of the family who had a relative in the Northumberland Fusiliers who suffered this fate. Story has is that as he slipped out of consiousness he heard someone remark 'he's a gonna' , he survived the war though !

Mick

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In my family one side of the family had been completely convinced that my grandfather on that side had the Mons Star. They even quoted the qualification period etc. It was only when I did the research and found it was the 14-15 star that the truth came out. He only reached France in September 1915 (just in time for Loos!) but nowhere near Mons/ BEF.

Gunner Bailey

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I was asked to research a guys ancestor. All he 'knew' was that he was killed by his own men by accident while he was watering the horses at a river in ww1. Well it just so happened that his name was unique and there was only one guy with that name on the CWGC and he was killed in ww2 in Libya. Did the British Army have horses in Libya?

Regards.

Tom.

No. The British cavalry, Yeomanry and armoured formations in North West Africa during WW2 were all mechanised. Not only that, there were precious few places in Libya where horses could be watered at all - no rivers, and only possibly some irrigated land in the Jebel Akdar mountains. It was difficult enough to supply enough water for men; the logistical burden of trying to supply water to horses would be well nigh insurmountable!

Straying rather OT, but I think the only four-legged units in the Desert War were the Italian Meharists, who rode camels.

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