VC FIRST FOR MUSEUM

Four Victoria Crosses brought together for first time in Dorset...

FOR THE first time, the four Victoria Crosses awarded to members of the Tank Corps in World War One will be brought together and put on display.

The Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset, has managed to secure them all and will unveil them on Monday, August 6 in a special exhibition.

The museum owns one of the VCs – that awarded to Cecil Sewell – and Lord Ashcroft is loaning the one awarded to Richard West.

The family of Richard Wain loaned the museum his VC last year and following an appeal the final VC – awarded to Clement Robertson – has also been secured.

They were all awarded posthumously.

Clement Robertson was the first Tank Corps officer to be awarded a VC, and it was for his heroics at Passchendale on October 4, 1917.

He spent three days in no-man’s-land marking out the routes for his tanks to follow – all under heavy fire. On the day – even with the routes taped out – he thought the tanks might still lose their way so he decided to lead them on foot, refusing to take cover from the shell and bullet fire.

As the tanks continued forward Robertson was shot and killed. He was 26.

Captain Richard Wain was awarded the VC following his heroics at the Battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917.

During the battle he was seriously injured when his tank was hit, but he shunned a stretcher, climbed out with a Lewis gun and attacked the enemy, captured a strong point, took prisoners and allowed the infantry to advance.

He continued shooting at the retreating Germans until he received a fatal shot to the head. He was 20.

Cecil Sewell was awarded his VC on August 29, 1918. After seeing one of his tanks fall into a shell-hole and catch fire he leaped from his own tank and dug away the mud so the men could escape. He then saw his own tank driver was wounded and rushed to help. As he ran across open ground he was shot several times.

While administering first aid he was shot again, fatally. He was 23.

One report stated that when their bodies were found, Sewell was slumped over Knox’s body as if he were protecting him.

Richard West was an experienced soldier when the war started and his VC was awarded for two actions in 1918. The first was leading men to their objective after having two horses shot from beneath him. The second was on September 2 when, as a Lieutenant-Colonel attached to the Tank Corps and in command of the 6th Light Battalion and their Whippet tanks, he feared a retreat from his infantry due to an enemy counter-attack.

Realising the danger, he rode on horseback up and down the line encouraging them to fight and defend their position. His last words were: ”Stick it, men; show them fight, and for God’s sake put up a good fight.” He was 39.

David Willey, curator of the museum, said: “Having all four VCs together a century after they were awarded is a great moment for us. They have never been together before.

“Of course it wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance and generosity of Lord Ashcroft and the families of the recipients.

“As well as the VCs we will be displaying the men’s other medals and descriptions of what they did and photographs of them.

“All of the recipients received their VCs posthumously and the stories of their bravery is humbling and inspirational.

“While we have the finest collection of tanks in the world it is always the stories of the men who fought in them that captures the imagination of our audience – and here are four of the best.”

The exhibition runs from Monday August 6 until November 11.

Pictured we see VC winners, from left, Richard Wain, Cecil Sewell, Clement Robertson and Richard West.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.