25th September-16th October 1915 the Battle of Loos
Compared with the small-scale British efforts of spring 1915, this attack of six Divisions was a mighty offensive indeed – so much so that it was referred to at the time as ‘The Big Push’. Taking place on ground not of their choosing and before stocks of ammunition and heavy artillery were sufficient, the opening of the battle was noteworthy for the first use of poison gas by the British Army. Despite heavy casualties, there was considerable success on the first day in breaking into the deep enemy positions near Loos and Hulluch. But the reserves had been held too far from the battle front to be able to exploit the successes and succeeding days bogged down into attritional warfare for minor gains.
Many men had not drank or eaten for days being trapped on the front line with poor communications and supplies the men fought to recapture old trenches and hold onto new ground .Sam’s unit was ahead of the “Big Willie trench” overlooking the German line using “Mills bombs” to hold back the advancing Germans. It became clear that his unit would run out of bombs so just after midnight Sam’s commanding officers asked for a volunteer to go and fetch more bombs. Sam volunteered and set off back through the muddy trenches choked with the dead and dying, this took some time and distance to get to the supply dump and the heavy boxes of bombs. It became clear that it would take too long to follow the path of trenches back to his position. His unit were running low of bombs so he decided it would be far quicker to take a short cut carry the boxes across open ground saving time but exposing him to extreme danger. In total he carried over 30 boxes (12 bombs per box. total =360 bombs) before being shot in the head at 13.40hrs.
The Mills bomb
The Mills bombs enabled the units to hold back the enemy all of this time. At 17.00hrs 50+ enemy rushed out from their position into the British held trench the order was given to fix bayonets. 17.30hrs Capt. Lucas gave the order to charge repelling the last of the enemy.
If Sam had not taken this risk his unit would have been cut off and overrun resulting in a large section of ground being retaken by the enemy changing the course of the battle. Despite the enemy attempting to take the position the Mills bombs had weaken them sufficiently.
A grooved cast iron “pineapple” with a central striker held by a close hand lever and secured with a pin. The Mills bomb was a defensive grenade weighing 1.25lbs : after throwing the user had to take cover immediately. A competent thrower could manage to throw 15 meters (49 feet) with reasonable accuracy, but the grenade could throw lethal fragments farther than 35 meters (100+ feet)
Diagram and photos of Mills bomb and Mills bomb box (picture).
On 29th September 1915 1st Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment Pte.S.Harvey 8273 won V.C. aged 34yrs
The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest military decoration which is, or has been, awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” to members of the armed forces.
November, 1915. VC. CITATION:
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.
On January 24, 1917 Buckingham Palace by King George V. As the monarch pinned the medal to his chest, Harvey turned towards the Queen who was standing by the King’s side, grinned broadly, winked and said in a loud voice:”Mine’s a pint.” The Queen’s reaction was not recorded.
Sam continued seeing active service, being wounded 3 mores times, walking with a slight limp. Private Harvey was transferred to the 3rd (HS) G Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers on the 7th of October 1916. His number being 31198.
He was honourably discharged from the army on May 15th1918.
Sam Harvey Medals
1918+ – Sam Harvey scratched a living as an odd-job man, digging people’s gardens, and worked as an ostler (Great White Horse Hotel in Ipswich.)
1930s – Mrs Ellen Ratcliffe of Hadleigh can remember Sam getting of the late bus at Wolves Wood where he lived in a wooden hut. (this is where he is believed to of lost his VC medal).1944 He was married age 64 in
St. Peters church Ipswich to Georgina Brown (widow aged 69) and live at 10 Adelphi Place Ipswich.
1949 – Georgina dies (diabetes)
1950 – Several Ipswich people can remember Sam regularly asleep on the Town Hall Steps first thing in the morning. Also being a resident at the Salvation Army hostel on Fore Street
1955 – Injured by falling gutter (broken hip.)
1956 – 26TH June attended VC centenary Parade in front of Queen Elizabeth II at Hyde park (in wheel chair)
1960 – He died penniless on 23rd September, aged 79, in the former workhouse at Stow Lodge Hospital, Stowmarket, Suffolk, where he had been a patient for 16 months. His only possessions were his VC miniature medal group which were next to his pillow. His funeral took place with full military honours.
2000 – First World War Victoria Cross winner, Samuel Harvey, who fell on hard times and was subsequently buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave, was honoured today, 29th September, with a headstone, 40 years after his death and 85 years to the day after his heroic VC action.
The ceremony was carried out in the presence of The Worshipful the Mayor of Ipswich and the Mayoress; relatives of Samuel Harvey; representatives of his former regiment, The York & Lancaster Regiment; and members of the Western Front Association, who raised funds for the memorial. The Honour Guard comprised The Association for Military Remembrance “The Khaki Chums”, music by The Community Wind Band, and bugler Bramwell Scott of the Salvation Army.
It was seperate lines of enquiry that coincided to lead to today’s ceremony. Michael Brown, researching the Great War, came to the Old Cemetery Office to ask if he could take photographs relating to the other Ipswich VC winner, Sergeant Arthur Saunders of the Suffolk Regiment. Miss Lynn Burroughs in the Office drew his attention to the unmarked grave of Samuel Harvey.
The Chairman of the Suffolk Branch of the Western Front Association Stuart Bufton was approached and he readily agreed to raise the matter at the next Branch meeting. The Branch enthusiastically supported the idea and a committee was formed, which included Chris Matson, co-author of a book recounting the stories of all who won a Victoria Cross on the Western Front in 1915, who generously made his own research available. A fine example of cooperation and cross-information. The new headstone was dedicated at the graveside of Samuel Harvey at Ipswich Old Cemetery. He died penniless on 23rd September 1960, aged 79.