MARCH 2013

The Bulletin of the Birmingham Branch of the WFA

Compiled by Bob Butcher



By John Lethbridge

In my last article I listed where Birmingham's twelve First World War VC winners were buried. Here I look at their rank at the time of their award, if they later promoted and their unit.

1. Captain James won the VC at Gallipoli in June 1915. He had joined the 21st Lancers as a private in 1909, was promoted lance corporal and in 1914 was commissioned in the 4th Worcestershire Regiment. He rose to be a major and might have been a lieutenant colonel but his earlier head wounds caused problems. He died in 1958 aged sixty-nine.

2. Private Vickers won the VC at Loos in September 1915. A reservist he had rejoined the 2nd Warwickshire Regiment in 1914. He rose to be sergeant. He died in 1944 aged sixty-two.

3. Private Turrall won the VC on the Somme in July 1916. He had joined the loth Worcestershire Regiment as a volunteer in 1914. He died in 1964 aged seventy-eight.

4. Sergeant Gill won a posthumous VC on the Somme in July 1916 aged thirty-six. A reservist he had rejoined the 1St King's Royal Rifle Corps, a regular unit, in 1914.

5. Sergeant Knight won the VC in September 1917 at Passchendaele. A volunteer he had joined the Post Office Rifles in 1914. He was promoted second lieutenant. He died in 196o aged seventy-two.

6. Lance Corporal Onions won the VC in August 1918 in France. He had joined the 3rd King's Own Hussars as a volunteer in September 1914 and in 1917 was transferred to the 1st Devonshire Regiment. After winning the VC he was promoted second lieutenant. In the Second World War he was a Home Guard major. He died in 1944 aged sixty-one.

7. Sergeant Colley of the loth Lancashire Fusiliers won a posthumous VC on the Somme in August 1918 aged twenty-four.

8. Lance Corporal Wilcox had volunteered in March 1915 aged thirty. He joined the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckingham Light Infantry and won the VC in September 1918 at Laventie, France. He died in 1951 aged sixty-six.

9. Lance Corporal Amey won the VC during the Sambre Crossing in France on 4 November 1918. He was serving in the 1/8th Royal Warwickshire Regiment, a Territorial unit. He was promoted corporal. He died in 1940.aged fifty-nine.

10. Lieutenant Colonel Marshall won a posthumous VC during the Sambre Crossing on 4 November 1918 aged thirty-one. He joined the army as a horse buyer (a commissioned post) for the Remounts Department in 1914 and later joined the Irish Guards. By 1918 he was a lieutenant colonel and was temporarily commanding the 16th Lancashire Fusiliers.

11. Major Arnold Horace Santo Waters of the Royal Engineers, a volunteer, won the VC during the Sambre Crossing on 4 November 1918. He died in 1981 aged ninety-four.

Looking at how twelve heroes had joined the army, three were regulars. Seven were volunteers, one a Territorial and one a Royal Marine. The regulars got three of the first four Birmingham VCs. Five of the seven VCs won by volunteers were won in 1918.

Thus of Birmingham's twelve First World War VC winners three were officers one of whom had risen from the ranks. Of the nine lower ranks who won it, three were later commissioned and two got other promotions.    Two were posthumous. Only two were not promoted.        Lance Corporal Wilcox won his VC very late in the war. Private Turrall had haddisciplinary problems linked to his young wife dying of an illness while he was serving in Franc .


`ORDNANCE' The Director Ordnance Services (DOS) in

the BEF, a brigadier general, was responsible, under the QMG, for providing the fighting troops with weapons, ammunition, clothing and stores of all descriptions except certain technical equipment and food, forage and fuel. The actual work was done by members of the Army Ordnance Corps.

The original plans were upset by the Retreat from Mons but after the Battle of the Marne the ordnance work settled down and three vast base ordnance depots were established at Boulogne, Calais and Havre.

They had to be big for the Army Vocabulary of Stores contained more than 30,000 different items and in the first six months of 1916 one depot alone issued one million steel helmets.

The French railways transported issued stores from these depots to the army railhead where the divisional deputy assistant director ordnance (DADOS), a major, became responsible for distributing them to the units.

At first he had only one staff sergeant clerk, a horse and no transport so understandably had difficulty in delivering stores to the many individual units in the division. He was therefore later given four lorries and a staff of fourteen including four `conductors', that is, warrant officers who `conducted' consignments.

Divisions indented for stores on bulk issue (in constant demand) on base ordnance

depots on specified days of the week. Next day the required items were loaded in separate wagons and forwarded to a regulating station where they were attached to the appropriate daily divisional pack (or grocery) train which contained a twenty-four hour supply of rations for the division. Items not on bulk issue were forwarded as required.

Ordnance depots were also established along the Lines of Communication (L of C) to cater for locally-based troops. Ammunition supply was kept separate as requirements for it varied according to the intensity of fighting.     There were eventually six main ammunition depots on the L of C which sent full train loads of ammunition to one of the numerous

ammunition railheads. Here Army Service Corps mechanical transport companies known as ammunition parks took the ammunition to divisional refilling points where it was transferred to the horse drawn vehicles of the divisional ammunition column which delivered it to units.

In addition to the main ammunition depots on the L of C, there were reserve dumps near railheads, at gun sites and in divisional and corps areas.

An ordnance gun park was established in each army area with a reserve of guns and machine guns in order to enable the prompt replacement of losses.

Bob Butcher

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