Tuesday 29 March 2016

The Bravest Man in the Battalion?

Lieutenant Hurrell and Captain Wynne [X550/1/81] 

Wednesday 29th March 1916: the acting adjutant of the 2nd Battalion, Second Lieutenant F A Sloan, at la Houssoye told us that yesterday there was a demonstration showing how effective the new smoke helmets are against gas. Captain R O Wynne and the adjutant Lieutenant J W Hurrell were admitted to hospital, sick, it is not believed that this was from the effects of the gas demonstration or the bug which seems to be running through the battalion.

The adjutant told us that a former commander of the Battalion who is now a general – R L Curteis, forwarded to his successor as commanding officer the sum of £5. This was to be awarded to the soldier of the rank of Sergeant or below who, in the opinion of all ranks, had performed the most gallant act of offense during the war without receiving official recognition. This excellent idea was taken up with alacrity and his comrades decided that the reward should fall to Corporal Freshwater, who comes from Willesden in London.

Accordingly at 2.30 pm yesterday Brigadier Stanley DSO, commanding 89th Infantry Brigade presented the money to Corporal G.Freshwater. It was a reward for the following act of gallantry: "At Neuve-Chapelle on the 12th March 1915, Captain C C Foss VC, DSO called for volunteers to capture a trench which the enemy had taken. Corporal Freshwater (then a Private) at once volunteered and called on others to follow his example and accompany Captain Foss. The party consisting of one officer and six bombers recaptured the lost trench and took 54 German prisoners. Corporal Freshwater showed exceptional courage and was the second man to enter the German trench". All the other men received gallantry awards, including the Victoria Cross for Captain Foss. By some oversight Corporal Freshwater had received nothing.

On the arrival of the Brigadier the Battalion presented arms and formed three sides of a square. Brigadier Stanley addressed the Battalion as follows: “Officers, NCOs and Men of the 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regt. Colonel Poyntz has done me the honour of asking me to present the sum of £5 to Corporal Freshwater” and addressed him as follows: “Corporal Freshwater it affords me the greatest pleasure to present to you the sum of £5, you have been chosen by your comrades as having performed the most gallant act during the war, without receiving any award or recognition and I am assured you thoroughly deserve it. It must afford you the greatest pleasure to know that you have been unanimously chosen by your comrades to receive this award as a brave man”.

After this ceremony the Brigadier made the following address to the Battalion.
“Some 3½ months ago I had the pleasure of welcoming you into my Brigade and I felt that I should be proud of you. I find that I have had just cause to be so, and anything I required doing in the Trenches I received immediate response from the 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regt. Officers and Men carried out all duties with vigour and exactitude and I feel that I can rely on you under every circumstance. You have always shown a willingness which affords me the greatest pleasure - Colonel Poyntz I congratulate you on your fine battalion”(1).

Source: X550/3/wd

(1) Sadly Corporal George Freshwater did not have long to enjoy his reward, as he died of wounds on 8th July 1916. According to a historic inflation calculator (http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-1633409/Historic-inflation-calculator-value-money-changed-1900.html) £5 in 1916 was worth just over £450 by 2016 standards.

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