FULLY ROBED AND AT THE CASTLE, SOMETHING SPECIAL TODAY.
Above pictured with Yours truly is Major James Shute Shropshire Yeomanry.
Today we went to Shrewsbury Castle where fully robed with Major James Shute we launched a recritment drive for the Shropshire Yeomanry. The military chiefs are using the memory of one of our Counties WW1 Heroes. Not just a hero but a Shropshire Yeomanry soldier who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in fighting the Turks in an advance on Nablus just North of Jerusalem in May of 1918. That hero was Private Harold Whitfield, and his Victoria Cross is on display at the Shropshire Regimental Museum in Shrewsbury Castle along with many other artifacts. Private Harold Whitfield, was in the 10th (Shropshire & Cheshire Yeomanry) Battalion, KS.L.I.
A history of the man and who he was, where he came from and what happened to him and his regiment during WW1.
During the First World War, although greatly expanded, the KSLI per se won no VCs and neither did the Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery. This is, of course, as much a matter of chance, opportunity or location as anything else but it did mean that the only VC to be awarded to a soldier of a Shropshire regiment (though not the only one to a Shropshire man) was that conferred upon Pte. Harold Whitfield of the Shropshire Yeomanry. Amalgamated with the Cheshire Yeomanry and converted to infantry in Palestine in 1917, it served as the 10th (Shropshire and Cheshire Yeomanry) Battalion, KSLI, in 1917-18 – so both the Yeomanry and KSLI can claim his VC!
Harold Edward Whitfield was born in the Shropshire market town of Oswestry in June 1886. Like his father before him and many of his rural colleagues, Whitfield enlisted in the Shropshire Yeomanry (in 1908) and went on to serve after World War One, reaching the rank of Squadron Sergeant Major before retirement in 1936 – after 28 years’ service.
Pictured above are artifacts from Harold Whitfield including the original Victoria Cross (Front middle on black card). The rifle hanging on left side.
A farm worker by profession, he was living in the family home, Pool Farm at Middleton near Oswestry, when war broke out in August 1914 and the Yeomanry was mobilised. Only four days later they left Shropshire ready for “active service” but to their disappointment were to spend the next two years in the UK as part of the eastern coast defence forces. Not until March 3rd 1916 did they sail for war and arrived at Alexandria in Egypt later that month.
Their first active service came in the scorching heat of the Western Desert of Egypt, based for at Minia camp during the Senussi Campaign of 1916. Losing a few men as volunteers to the Imperial Camel Corps, the SY then became part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force advancing across the Suez Canal into Palestine in November 1916 and played a full part in General Allenby’s campaign to liberate Jerusalem and drive the Turks northwards out of Palestine. This was not an easy campaign – albeit now somewhat neglected by World War One historians. The Turks proved to be formidable fighters (as they had at Gallipoli and in Mesopotamia) and the desert climate was equally demanding. After being engaged in the Second and Third battles of Gaza in April and August 1917, the Shropshire Yeomanry (by then designated 10th KSLI) took part in the advance on Jerusalem – which fell in December 1917, to become the “Christmas present” Allenby had promised to Lloyd George.
Pte WHITFIELD’s VC ACTION
By May 1918, the Shropshire Yeomanry was part of the famous 74th Yeomanry (“Broken Spur”) Division and was engaged in the advance towards Nablus, north of Jerusalem.
On 7th March, the 10th KSLI were directed to attack Turkish positions at Selwad, as part of the larger battle of Tel Asur. After taking the Turkish positions there by the 9th, the 10th KSLI was ordered on the next day to seize the hill of Birj-el-Lisaneh to their north. Attacking Turkish defences soon after midnight, the 10th carried the position but were then subjected to fierce counter-attacks and faced very severe fighting, which was to last nearly three hours.
At one stage, the Turks appeared to be just about to turn the left flank of the British position when Pte. Whitfield launched himself into the action. Alone and on his own initiative, he attacked a Turkish machine-gun post which was doing great damage. Killing or bayonetting the entire crew, he turned the gun on the advancing Turks, driving them back single-handedly.
He then led grenade attacks against another nearby Turkish machine-gun position and destroyed it, holding the advanced post until reinforced. This individual initiative materially helped to break up the Turkish attack, though two others had to be defeated before the enemy was finally driven off and Birj-el-Lisaneh secured.
Coincidentally, this was to be just about the last real action the 10th KSLI saw in Palestine; shortly afterwards they were dispatched to France – and a completely new set of circumstances.
The award of the VC was announced in the London Gazette of May 8th, 1918 :
“For most conspicuous bravery, initiative and absolute disregard of personal safety. During the first and heaviest of three counter attacks made by the enemy on the position which had just been captured by his battalion, Pte. Whitfield, single-handed, charged and captured a Lewis gun which was harassing his company at short range. He bayoneted or shot the entire gun team and turning the gun on the enemy, drove them back with heavy casualties, thereby completely restoring the whole situation on his part of the line. Later he organised and led a bombing attack on the enemy who had established themselves in an advanced position close to our lines and from which they were enfilading his company. He drove the enemy back with great loss and by establishing his party in their position saved many lives and materially assisted in the defeat of the counter-attack.”
Pictured above Sergeant Harold Whitfield VC
WHITFIELD’S POST VC CAREER
Promoted to Lance Corporal after the 10th KSLI landed in France on May 7th 1918 and to Sergeant on May 10th, Whitfield was decorated “in the field” with the ribbon of the Victoria Cross on May 10th 1918 by the General Officer Commanding the 74th Division and received the medal itself from King George V in a ceremony of investiture in Leeds on May 31st 1918.
Needless to say, he was welcomed as a local hero on his return to Oswestry on leave in June 1918 and received civic honours and private gifts of all kinds.
A farmer and later a dairy worker in civilian life, Harold Whitfield was a familiar guest at local functions, regimental reunions and formal occasions in later years.
Like many other winners of the VC, he was a modest, reticent and unassuming man who simply went about his daily work and never made much of his heroism or celebrity. It is sad to relate that he died in December 1956 at the age of 70 as a result of a road accident. He was hit by an army vehicle (of all things) whilst making his way home from work and was buried in Oswestry.
Sergeant Whitfield’s Victoria Cross and medal group, the rifle and bayonet he actually used in the VC action and some other personal possessions are on display in the Shropshire Regimental Museum in Shrewsbury Castle, thanks to the generosity of the Whitfield family, .
I am honoured and pleased to have been part of this recruitment drive and to have been able to write and place within my blog the history of such a hero, who 90+ years ago trained to be a cavalry man to find himself fighting as an infantryman.
Move to present time. we find our present day cavalry regiments also fighting in Afganistan as Infantrymen.
A feature all about good positive stories, a must read if you want to put a smile on your face and be Proud of Shrewsbury, and become Part of the Team.
Make sure you get your copy this week and read the article. Thank You. Tony
Please have a look at the MAYORS CHARITY SPRING BALL page as I have added a preview of what the menu of the evening should look like. Please click on the following link to take you there. Thank you.