We want to hear from descendants of Victoria Cross heroes

25 April 2018

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Nottinghamshire County Council is trying to trace the descendants of six local Great War heroes who were awarded the Victoria Cross for their outstanding bravery.

They include a ‘flying ace’ fighter pilot from Lenton who saw off multiple enemy aircraft alone, a Worksop soldier who single-handedly charged at and took out two German machine-gun nests and a former Mansfield Colliery miner who captured 50 enemy soldiers as they tried to escape along a communication trench.

The Victoria Cross is the highest military honour and is only awarded in the most exceptional circumstances, for "…most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy."

Just six Nottinghamshire men received the Victoria Cross for their actions during the Great War. They were:

Now the County Council is keen to trace their surviving relatives so that they can be part of the launch of a new exhibition which will celebrate their ancestor’s acts of heroism.

The exhibition, which will tour libraries and other public buildings across the county from this summer, will also include a replica of the Victoria Cross and information about other medals awarded for service during the Great War.

It is part of a wide range of activities planned by the authority to mark the Great War centenary, which also includes the creation of a new Great War Memorial for the county and city, bearing the names of more than 14,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians from Nottingham and Nottinghamshire who lost their lives in the First World War.

Councillor Kay Cutts, Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “The Victoria Cross is reserved only for the most outstanding, exemplary acts of bravery, with just 628 awarded during the five years of the Great War.

“When you read about the incredible acts of heroism carried out by these Nottinghamshire men, it is understandable why they should be recipients of the highest possible military honour.

“I am delighted that we will be honouring their bravery with a special, touring exhibition this year so that more people from all parts of the county can learn about and be inspired by their amazing and often emotional stories.

“We would very much like the descendants of these men to be part of the launch of the exhibition, although we are under no illusions this will be a difficult task with so much time having passed and with some of the men having moved to different parts of the UK by the time of their death. We hope local people and the media can help us in our search - I am sure their ancestors are extremely proud of their actions and it would be great to hear and share the families memories about the life and times of these heroic men.”

If you are a descendant of any of Nottinghamshire’s Great War Victoria Cross recipients, please contact Neil Bettison, Community Officer at Nottinghamshire County Council on 0115 977 2051 or email neil.bettison@nottscc.gov.uk

Further information about the Victoria Cross and the Nottinghamshire recipients from the Great War is available at www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/culture-leisure/heritage/the-victoria-cross  

Nottinghamshire’s Great War Victoria Cross recipients

Sergeant William Henry Johnson VC, served in the 1/5th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters. Victoria Cross citation from the London Gazette (11 December 1918): “For most conspicuous bravery at Ramicourt on 3rd October, 1918. When his Platoon was held up by a nest of enemy machine guns at very close range. Sgt. Johnson worked his way forward under very heavy fire, and single-handed charged the post, bayoneting several gunners and capturing two machine guns. During this attack he was severely wounded by a bomb, but continued to lead forward his men.

“Shortly afterwards, the line was once more held up by machine guns. Again he rushed forward and attacked the post single-handed. With wonderful courage he bombed the garrison, put the guns out of action, and captured the teams.

“He showed throughout the most exceptional gallantry and devotion to duty.”

William served in the Home Guard during World War II, but while serving in a searchlight unit, he sustained a serious injury and had to have his leg amputated. Later he was admitted to hospital at Sheffield for further treatment and had to have a second foot amputated shortly afterwards. Sadly, he didn’t recover from his injuries and died on 25 April 1945, shortly before the end of the second world war. He was buried at Redhill Cemetery, Arnold with full military honours.  His Victoria Cross and other medals are on display at the Sherwood Foresters Museum at Nottingham Castle.

Sapper William Hackett VC, served in the 254th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers.
Victoria Cross citation from the London Gazette (5 August 1916): “On 22 and 23 June, 1916, at the Shaftsbury Avenue, nr Givenchy. For most conspicuous bravery, when entombed with four others in a gallery owing to the explosion of an enemy mine. After working for 20 hours, a hole was made through fallen earth and broken timber, and the outside party was met. Sapper Hackett helped three of the man through the hole and could easily have followed, but refused to leave the fourth, who had been seriously injured saying: “I am a Tunneller, I must look after the others first."

“Meantime the hole was getting smaller yet he still refused to leave his injured comrade. Finally, the gallery collapsed, and though the rescue party worked desperately for four days, the attempt to reach the two men failed. Sapper Hackett, well knowing the nature of sliding earth and the chances against him, deliberately gave his life for his comrade.”

William Hackett was one of 10,000 tunnellers in the First World War, whose job it was to tunnel beneath no-mans land and blow up enemy trenches from below. It was seen as a more effective way of gaining an advantage because it was so difficult to out-flank the enemy above ground. Their work was still an official secret until the 1960s.

The Victoria Cross was presented by King George V to William's widow, Alice at Buckingham Palace on 29 November 1916. After growing up in his parents house in Sneinton, William is also known to have lived in both Conisbrough and Mexborough in South Yorkshire with his wife Alice (nee Tooby) prior to his death on the battlefield.

A Tunnellers memorial was unveiled at Givenchy-les- la Bassee, France on the 19 June, 2010.

Colonel Sir Charles Geoffrey Vickers VC, served in the 1/7th Robin Hood Batallion, Sherwood Foresters.

Victoria Cross citation from the London Gazette (16 November 1915): “On 14th October, 1915, at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, France, when nearly all his men had been killed or wounded, and there were only two men available to hand him grenades, Captain Vickers held a barrier for some hours against heavy German bomb attacks, regardless of the fact that his own retreat would be cut off, he ordered a second barrier to be built behind him in order to secure the safety of the trench. Finally, he was severely wounded, but not before his courage and determination had enabled the second barrier to be completed.”

Following the war, Charles Vickers qualified as a Solicitor in 1923 and had a very distinguished career. During World War II he was re-commissioned as a Colonel and from 1941 to 1945 was a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Chiefs of Staff. He was knighted in 1946. He died at his home in Goring-on-Thames on 16 March 1982.

Captain Albert Ball VC, served in 7th Robin Hood Battalion, Sherwood Foresters and the Royal Flying Corps.

Victoria Cross citation from the London Gazette (8 June 1917): “For most conspicuous and consistent bravery from the 25th April to 6th May 1917, during which period Captain Ball took part in twenty-six combats in the air and destroyed eleven hostile aeroplanes, drove down two out of control, and forced several others to land.

“In these combats Captain Ball, flying alone, on one occasion fought six hostile machines, twice he fought five and once four. When leading two other British machines he attacked an enemy formation of eight. On each of these occasions he brought down at least one enemy. Several times his aeroplane was badly damaged, once so seriously that but for the most delicate handling, his machine would have collapsed, as nearly all the control wires had been shot away. On returning with a damaged machine he had always to be restrained from immediately going up again.

“In all, Captain Ball has destroyed forty-three German aeroplanes and one balloon, and has always displayed most exceptional courage, determination and skill.”

Captain Ball was regarded as one of the great British pilots of the First World War. He was 20 when he died after his plane crashed in a French field on 7 May 1917 and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Captain Ball is buried in Annoeullin Cemetery, France, where the local school is named after him.

Capt Ball attended Nottingham High School (where a plaque still marks his achievements) and later Trent College in Long Eaton. 

Lance Corporal Wilfrid Dolby Fuller VC, served in 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards.

Victoria Cross citation from the London Gazette (19 April 1915): “On the 1st March, 1915, at Neuve Chapelle,France, Lance Corporal Fuller saw a party of the enemy trying to escape along a communication trench. He ran towards them, and killed the leading man with a grenade, the remainder (approximately 50 men) seeing no means of evading his grenades, all surrendered to him. Lance Corporal Fuller was quite alone at the time.”

Born in East Kirkby, Wilfrid Fuller moved to Mansfield as a child. Prior to the war, he was a pony driver at the Mansfield Colliery, where his father was also employed. A keen footballer, he was a member of the Warsop Vale Church Choir and the Mansfield St Lawrence Bible Class. He served as a bugler in the Mansfield Cadet Corps, Greasley before joining the Grenadier Guards.

He received his Victoria Cross from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 4 June, 1915 after being given a hero's welcome and Civic Reception in Mansfield (view film footage of the event). He went on to serve in the police force in Somerset. He passed away on 22 November, 1947 and is buried in Frome, Somerset.

Private Samuel Harvey, served in 1st Battalion, York & Lancaster Regiment.

Victoria Cross citation from the London Gazette (November 1915): “On the 29th September, 1915, in the ‘Big Willie’ trench near the Hohenzollern Redoubt, France, during a heavy bombing attack, more bombs were urgently needed. Private Harvey volunteered to run across open ground under intense fire backwards and forwards, and succeeded in bringing up 30 boxes of bombs over a 13 hour period before he fell with a head wound. It was largely due to his cool bravery in supplying the bombs that the enemy was eventually driven back.”

Private Harvey was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace, on 24 January, 1917. An appeal was made for information on the whereabouts of Harvey’s V.C. which was lost by him some time later.

Private Harvey died on 23 September 1960. He had fallen on hard times and, when he died, was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Ipswich Old Cemetery having lived much of his life is Ipswich, Suffolk.

Further information about Private Harvey from the Suffolk Record Office.


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