GWENT'S GREAT WAR: Honoured for bravery in the face of the enemy

Nancy Brewer of West Street, Newport was a volunteer nurse who with the French Red Cross on the Western Frontand. She was awarded the Médaille de la Reconnaissance Française. (8480192)

Nancy Brewer of West Street, Newport was a volunteer nurse who with the French Red Cross on the Western Frontand. She was awarded the Médaille de la Reconnaissance Française. (8480192)

First published in News by

ALTHOUGH John Williams was to be Gwent's only VC of the war, there were hundreds of others who earned medals for their gallantry.

Here are just some of them.

Newport sporting hero led bayonet charge

Tom Corrigan played for Pill Harriers before and after the war, and stood at over six-feet. His size (more unusual then) made the Grenadier Guards a natural home for the man born on Baldwin Street, Newport.

But it wasn't his exploits on the field that marked him out. This strapping ex-dock worker earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal, second only in order of precedence to the Victoria Cross.

Tom joined up before the war in 1909 and was in the Reserves when war was declared in 1914. He was among the first British soldiers to be posted to France, as part of the British Expeditionary Force.

The third battle of Ypres or Passchendaele in 1917 saw him lead a bayonet charge which captured a German strongpoint.

Private Corrigan's citation tells how his platoon was held up by rifle and machine gun fire from a concrete blockhouse.

It adds: “He, with a comrade, rushed forward and captured the post at the point of a bayonet with the utmost dash and gallantry killing four of the enemy and capturing 17 with their machine gun.

“The courage and initiative of these two men undoubtedly saved the lives of many of their comrades.”

This hero, it seems was a modest one. The guardsman is remembered by his niece as “a very quiet man who loved rugby”. She recalled that when people asked him about the incident which won him the DCM “he just laughed and claimed that he had only shouted at the Germans”.

The Newport nurse who braved shellfire

Nancy Brewer of West Street, Newport was a volunteer nurse who was recognised for her "total disregard of danger" when aiding the wounded under shellfire. She served with the French Red Cross on the Western Front and was awarded the Médaille de la Reconnaissance Française.

Her citation tells of her "technical ability whose morale strength and devotion have been clearly demonstrated time and time again". Special mention was made of when her ambulance came under shellfire on the 18th August 1917. Here she set "the finest example of coolness and total disregard of danger lavishing her attention on the wounded under fire from the enemy artillery."

The medal was created to express gratitude by the French government to all those who, without legal or military obligation, had come to the aid of the injured, disabled, refugees, or who had performed an act of exceptional dedication in the presence of the enemy during the First World War.

Cwmbran man braved bullets to rescue a comrade

Company Quartermaster Sergeant Cornelius Love DCM

Cornelius Love lived quietly after the war with his wife Catherine, one son and two daughters at 38 Woodside Road, Pontnewydd.

His work as an agent for the Pearl Assurance Society would not have hinted at the moment of battlefield heroism which saved another man's life and earned him one the highest honours he could be given.

An 'old sweat', he had served for 14 years with the South Wales Borderers but had joined the Pontypool-based 2nd Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment just before the outbreak of the war in August 1914.

His time came during that hammer of the Monmouthshires, the second battle of Ypres. On 29 April 1915, as the men of Gwent were subject to wave upon wave of German attacks, Sgt Love came to the rescue of a fellow NCO, Sergeant Wallis, who had fallen wounded within 25 to 30 yards of the German lines.

The citation tells of his "great gallantry in going to the rescue of a wounded comrade at night under a heavy rifle and machine gun fire". Leaving the trench and under heavy fire, the Cwmbran man carried Sgt Wallis to safety.

The town band played and thousands welcomed Sgt Love when he returned to Cwmbran in September 1915. The chairman of Llantarnam Urban District Council presented him with a certificate of honour and the cheering which greeted the modest hero was said to be “loud and continuous”.

He died in August 1930, aged 60 and is buried at Cwmbran Cemetery.

The Monmouthshires win five medals in one night

The approach of the Kaiser's birthday in 1917 was to mark an action where five gallantry medals were earned by men of the 2nd Monmouthshires. They had successfully attacked German positions on January 27th and won new ground.

Led by a Captain JT George, the party came under fire as they dug trenches to connect the new positions with the previous front line, thereby protecting their hard-won gains. By late on this cold January night, the men were pinned down by the ferocity of the fire. Lieutenant Colonel AJH Bowen of Usk, arrived at the scene at around 11.30pm and led the men, revolver in hand, to the captured trench. The colonel then laid down tape as a guide for the men digging the new trenches.

The men worked through the night, digging through hard, frozen ground; braving bullets and shells. By 4.30am the trench had been dug to a depth of four feet. Of the party sent out, 14 were killed and 15 wounded. It was a heavy price to pay, but the gains had been secured.

The regimental history records what was a night of incredible bravery, but admits that although “several Military Medals were won that night” they were typical of many others which “have gone unmarked.”

One whose feats were recognised was Acting Platoon Commander, Sgt C Griffith. Setting an example “which was of the greatest assistance to his Company Commander”, he kept his men in “good spirits in spite of considerable casualties due to heavy shelling” by his “devotion to duty and courage. “

Lance Corporal Rose of Pontnewynydd organised a party to rescue two men who were buried after suffering a direct hit during an “intense bombardment.” He also won praise for his “coolness in carrying on his work and his example keeping his comrades steady.”

Despite being wounded, Private J Lewis requested permission to carry on digging. The regimental history recognises that “the loss of a man would have meant the piece of trench not being dug tough and it was due to Lewis’ determination that his section’s particular bit was completed.”

Lt Col Bowen earned a bar to his Distinguished Service Order for the “complete disregard for personal danger “he showed.” For “gallantry and leadership” Captain George received the Military Cross.

Lt Col Bowen was killed on 2nd March 1917 when he again led his men in trench-digging under fire. The regimental history tells how Bowen's death was seen as a "loss to the whole army". A few weeks later, half-muffled peals rang from Trevethin church and its flag flew at half-mast as a large congregation gathered to remember him.

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