Private Ernest Donald Gow


Private Ernest Donald Gow
4th Bn, Australian Infantry, A.I.F.

Died: 03.02.15 (Double Pneumonia, Mena Hospital, Cairo, Egypt)
Age: 24
Headstone Inscription: ‘At Rest’
Son of William and Minnie Gow, of Ulmarra, New South Wales. Born at Wollongong.

Ernest Donald Gow (Service No. 1207) was one of the first men from the Illawarra to die in World War 1.

He was born in Wollongong in 1890, the son of William Gow and his wife Minnie Gow (nee Baldwin). Ernest had lived with his family at Croome, and had worked for the Albion Park Post Office, as well as for the Post Office in other towns in NSW.

Ernest gave his occupation as Telegraph Operator when he enlisted at Randwick in the AIF on September 12, 1914. He was part of the 4th Battalion of the 1st Brigade of the AIF. He named his father William Gow of Ulmarra as his next of kin. On October 20, 1914, he embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on the HMAT A14 “Euripedes”.

Sadly, he was one of the first men from the Illawarra to die in World War 1 of double pneumonia at the Mena Hospital in Cairo on February 3, 1915. His passing along with three others who also died of pneumonia, was reported in a number of newspapers across Australia.

Commonwealth War Graves point out Ernest was buried in Cairo, Al Qahirah, Egypt in the British Protestant Cemetery, Row B: Grave No 149. He is also commemorated on Panel No. 40 of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

An extract from the Illawarra Mercury 12 February, 1915 reads:

‘SAD NEWS. On the arrival of the Sydney dailies early this week, it was learned that Mr. Ernest Donald Gow, son of Mr. William Gow, of Ulmarra, Clarence River, had died in the Mena Hospital, Egypt, from pneumonia. Much regret has since been expressed at the sad news of the death of this young fellow, who gave his life for the honour of his country. Mr. Gow was at one time a telegraph messenger at the Albion Park post office, having with his parents lived at Croome, he got along so well in the Postal Department that promotion came quickly, and he was appointed on the relieving staff, and had done duty in many towns in New South Wales, and from reports from several of these places it is known that young Gow was a popular officer wherever he went. In the post office he was most obliging and courteous. He was also fond of clean sport and did much to further the attractiveness of several sporting clubs in various towns in which he was relieving. Much sympathy is felt for the parents in losing so brave a son under such sad surroundings”

Discovering ANZACS:

Shellharbour District Centenary Project 1914-1918 on ANCESTRY :…/71353581/person/32244157916

Trove – Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertister Family Notices – 4.2.1916
Northern Star – 24.3.2014 –…/many-soldiers-die…/2207014/

The War Grave Photographic Project –

Trove – Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser – WW1 The Honour Rolls –



‘Egypt’ The Interwar Years: The Funeral of Richard Gurney Peckover


For most of its operational life R.A.F Abu Sueir near Port Said in Egypt was associated with training. Opening in September 1917 the station hosted the No 4 Flying Training School from 1 April 1921 which remained at Abu Sueir until 2 September 1939 when it moved to RAF Habbaniya in Iraq.

The images I received this week are from the funeral of Pilot Officer Richard Gurney Peckover who died in a flying accident near Abu Sueir on the 17th October 1924, age 25. His Airco DH.9A F2807 fell quickly from 800ft and burst into flames 2km north west of the station. Pilot Officer Peckover was laid to rest in the Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery, plot M9 Row A Grave 7.

There are 372 Commonwealth casualties of the First World War and 291 Second World War burials buried or commemorated within the cemetery at Ismailia. The cemetery also contains 297 non war graves, chiefly of servicemen of R.A.F Abu Sueir and their dependents, mostly dating from the inter war years.

I’ll be doing further research in an effort to uncover more of Richard Peckovers story, till then Sir ‘Blue Skies’ #PerArduaAdAstra



Acknowledgements: With grateful thanks to the War Graves Photographic project for the pictures from Ismailia of P.O Peckovers headstone.

Lieutenant General Vyvyan Vavasour Pope CBE DSO MC and Bar (Cairo War Memorial Cemetery)

Vyvyan Vavasour Pope was born on the 30th of September 1891 the only son of James Pope and Blanche Holmwood (nee Langdale) Pope.


He was educated at Ascham St Vincent School in Eastbourne and at Lancing College where he was in Seconds House from September 1906 to December 1910. He was a member of the Football XI in 1910 and was a Sergeant in the Officer Training Corps. He was appointed as a House Captain in 1910.

On the 8th of March 1911 he was commissioned as a probationary 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion Prince of Wales’ (North Staffordshire) Regiment, Special Reserve being confirmed in that rank on the 24th of October 1911. In October 1912 he was successful in the Competitive Examination of Officers of the Special Reserve, Militia, and Territorial Forces and entered the regular army being posted to the 1st Battalion of his regiment on the 4th of December 1912.

Following the outbreak of the Great War he landed in France on the 10th of September 1914 and was promoted to Lieutenant on the 22nd of October.

On the 16th of December his battalion entered the trenches in the Rue du Bois area and they were there on Christmas Eve when Pope’s Company Sergeant Major approached him with the news that the Germans were sitting in the open on their parapet. On his own initiative he went out in to no man’s land and negotiated with a German officer to allow the burial of both sides dead at 10am the following morning. On Christmas Day both sides buried their dead and spent the rest of the day exchanging souvenirs before returning to their respective trenches. The truce continued up until New Year’s Day.

On the 12th of March 1915, at the Battle of Neuve Chappelle, Pope led a Company into action to capture and hold the hamlet of L’Epinnette and drove off a German counterattack later in the day.

For his actions that day he was awarded the Military Cross which was announced by the War Office on the 27th of March 1915 and was presented by the King later that year .

The citation read:-

“For the gallantry, skill, and dash with which he led his Company in the attack on the German position at Lepinnette (sic), on the night of the llth-12th instant.”

He was appointed as Adjutant of the Battalion on the 14th of February 1916 and was promoted to Captain on the 24th of March 1916.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for actions near Wolverghem during a gas attack on the 29th/30th of April 1916

The award was announced in the London Gazette of the 30th of May 1916 and the citation read:-

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When a party of the enemy broke
into our trench, he at once organised a counter-attack, drove them out, and, although himself wounded in two places, remained at the point of danger till all was
quiet. He then had his wounds dressed, but refused to leave his duties.”

During the action he was accidently shot in the chest by a Private of the East Surrey Regiment who mistook him for a German in the poor light. His life was saved by a cigarette case which turned the bullet.

In the summer of 1916 he took part in the Battle of the Somme during which his battalion lost 16 officers and 374 men during four weeks of fighting. In February 1917 he accepted a junior position on the Staff but, unable to stay away from action he often went to the front where he ventured into no man’s land on several occasions.

On the 7th of June 1917 he went forward with the attacking troops and on the 10th of June he was shot by a bullet which passed through his body and wounded him in the arm. Whilst waiting to return to duty he received news that both the Colonel and the second in command of his old battalion had been killed by the same shell. A few days later their successor met the same fate and Pope was promoted to Acting Lieutenant Colonel and became officer commanding the 1st Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment at the age of 25.

He led the battalion through the carnage of the Battle of Passchendaele and, thoroughly exhausted, was sent home on leave for a month in December 1917.

He was promoted to Brevet Major on the 1st of January 1918 and on his return from leave found that the battalion had a new commander. On the 5th of March 1918 he resumed command of the battalion when they were in positions to the north of St Quentin.

At 4.40am on the 21st of March 1918 the Germans launched their long awaited spring offensive. Pope was awake and despite being slightly affected by gas managed to return to his dugout and burn his papers before making his way to the front line trench. He had been told that there was another battalion which had moved up on his right but due to heavy mist Pope had seen nothing of them and at mid morning he moved off to find them himself. Through the mist he saw three figures and a glance through his field glasses revealed them to be advancing Germans. He shot and killed one with his rifle but another fired back striking him in the right elbow shattering the bone. He managed to escape and was evacuated back to Rouen where it was found that gas gangrene had set in and the arm was removed. He spent three months recovering and was attempting to get a posting back to France when the war ended.

In 1919 he was posted to Russia and was given command of a Russian Disciplinary Company made up of former prisoners from the jail in Archangel. He saw action with them and returned to the UK, rejoining his old regiment on the 30th of January 1920.

In all he was wounded three times and was mentioned in despatches five times during the Great War, one of these was in Field Marshall Haig’s despatch of the 30th of April 1916 and twice more for his service in Russia in 1919.

On the 20th of May 1920 he was seconded for service to the Tank Corps and was posted to 4th Battalion in Ireland based in Dublin. Among his duties was the collection of the battalion’s pay from a bank in the city every Friday. One afternoon he was in the bank when machine gun fire shattered the windows and he went to the door of the building to investigate. A pistol was placed to his head by a Republican but when the trigger was pulled by his assailant the weapon failed to go off. The attacker made good his escape and Pope was deeply hurt by suggestions in the papers that night that the IRA had spared his life due to his disability.

While in Ireland he was promoted to Temporary Major on the 8th of January 1921 when he took command of the 5th Armoured Car Company.

In 1922 he was transferred to the 3rd Armoured Car Company in Egypt arriving there in March. Here he gained the experience of desert operations which would serve him so well in future operations with the Desert Rats during World War Two.

He relinquished the rank of Major on the 16th of December 1922 when he left the battalion. He returned to the UK and transferred from his regiment to join the Royal Tank Corps on its formation on the 1st of September 1923. He was granted the rank of Captain in the new unit on the 22nd of August 1932 with seniority from the 24th of March 1916 and was posted to the 4th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment based at Wareham. On the 21st of January 1924 he was sent to the Staff College at Camberley where he graduated on the 21st of January 1926, and was posted to the 5th Battalion Royal Tank Corps.

At this time he married Sybil (nee Moore), of Fittleworth, Sussex who he had met while he was at Staff College and they later had a son.

In April 1926 he came straight from honeymoon to Bovington where he had been appointed as Brigade Major to the Royal Tank Corps Centre on the 16th of April. He was promoted to Major on the 1st of October 1927. On the 30th of June 1928 he joined the Staff at Southern Command as a General Staff Officer Grade 2 until the 16th of April 1930. On the 21st of December 1930 he was seconded to the War Office as a General Staff Officer Grade 2 and was promoted to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel on the 1st of January 1931. In 1933 he was sent on a course at the Imperial Defence College from which he graduated in 1934. He left the War Office on the 16th of January 1934 and rejoined his regiment on the 1st of April.

In 1935 he was transferred to India as Officer Commanding 5th Armoured Car Company and later that year, following continued Italian aggression in Abyssinia, he was posted to Egypt where he became Commanding Officer of the Royal Tank Corps and the Mobile Force there. He was granted the rank of Temporary Colonel on the 28th of December 1935 while in Egypt and relinquished that rank on the cessation of his appointment on the 29th of May 1936.

In June 1936 he returned to London and was promoted to Colonel on the 25th of June, with seniority from the 1st of January 1935, becoming a General Staff Officer Grade 1 to the War Office in the Directorate of Military Training. He was promoted to Brigadier on the 25th of March 1938 and was posted to the General Staff of 2nd Corps, Southern Command with whom he was serving on the outbreak of war in September 1939.

Pope crossed to France on the 29th of September landing at Cherbourg from where he made his way to 2nd Corps who were on the French/German border. In December 1939 he returned to the UK where he was appointed as Commander of the 3rd Armoured Brigade based in East Anglia. In April 1940 he was appointed as Inspector of Royal Armoured Corps and was Director of Armoured Fighting Vehicles at the War Office.

When the Germans invaded France and the Low Countries on the 10th May 1940, Pope was recalled to France, arriving there on the 12th of May. He served at GHQ for the British Expeditionary Force in France and was promoted to Acting Major General on the 24th of June 1940. During this period he spent much time in personal reconnaissance at great personal risk and played a considerable part in the Battle of Arras. With the German advance proving irresistible Pope was ordered back to England and left France from La Panne on the 28th of May. That evening he was back at the War Office in London.

On the 5th of June he was appointed as the First Military Member of the Tank Board.

He was made CBE on the 11th of July for “distinguished services in the field” and was confirmed in the rank of Major General on the 26th of October 1940.During the Battle of Britain he was tireless in preparing the Tank Corps for the expected German invasion.

On the 25th of September 1941 he landed in Cairo where he worked for General Wavell and acted as an adviser for the Royal Armoured Corps at GHQ in the Middle East as Acting Lieutenant General and was General Officer Commanding XXX Corps. On the 5th of October 1941 he was called to the first 8th Army conference to be held by General Cunningham and he boarded a Hudson aircraft of 267 Squadron Royal Air Force for the journey, along with members of his staff. The aircraft crashed into the Mocattan Hills in Egypt, the probable cause being engine failure. Lieutenant General Pope was 50 years old.

He was laid to rest in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, Plot Ref: K161


Lewin, Ronald (1976). Man of armour: a study of Lieut-General Vyvyan Pope and the development of armoured warfare. (London: Leo Cooper)

The Lancing College War Memorial



Staff Nurse Louisa Bicknell ‘As brave as any fighting soldier’

Louisa Bicknell was the first Australian nurse to die whilst on active service in Egypt. ‘Louie’ as she was known, was born at Elmore in 1879 to Eliza Bicknell of Abbotsford, Victoria.  She departed from Sydney on HMAT Kyrarra A55 on the 13th of April, 1915 for Egypt and was posted to the No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis.  Within a few weeks of her arrival she died from pyaemia following an incident in one of the hospital’s surgical wards where she sustained a scratch on her hand. 


She was highly regarded for her professional standards. Matron Pilkington wrote “We are in deep grief, she was one of the brightest, healthiest and unselfish nurses I have known. She was as brave as any fighting soldier and said when she was dying “How hard it is to die with so little accomplished, but I would go through it all again to help, and it is all in the game”.

She was buried with full military honours in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, grave reference B. 306. The personal inscription on her headstone read “Peace perfect peace, with loved ones far away, in Jesus keeping, we are safe and they”.


Louisa is commemorated on the Bairnsdale Shire honour roll and on a memorial to overseas nurses who died in the Great War at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London.


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Australian War Memorial ‘A tribute to the men and women of the East Gippsland region’

Interpreting Egypt’s War Cemeteries – Holders of the Victoria Cross (WW2)

To conclude my previous post on Egypt’s V.C burials  we shall now look at the holders of the remaining five awards cited during the course of the Western Desert campaigns of WW2, the recipients being three members of the Australian Infantry, a member of the Durham Light Infantry and a member of the General Staff.

WX10426 Private Percival Eric Gratwick V.C


Date of Death: Between 25/10/1942 and 26/10/1942, Age 40

Regiment/Service: Australian Infantry, A.I.F, 2/48 Bn

Grave Reference: XXII.A.6, El Alamein War Cemetery


Percival Gratwick joined the 2/48th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force and served in Egypt and Libya during the North African campaign. On the night of 25th/26th October 1942, his unit attacked German positions on the Miteiriya Ridge. The  platoon took heavy casualties and, with no regard for personal safety, he charged several German positions, saving the other men and enabling the capture of their objective.  Sadly he was killed in the fighting and posthumously received the Victoria Cross.

His citation in the London Gazette of 28th January, 1943 gave the following details:

‘During an attack at Miteiriya Ridge on the night 25th-26th October, 1942, Private Gratwick’s platoon was directed at strong enemy positions, but its advance was stopped by intense fire at short range which killed the platoon commander, the platoon serjeant and many others, reducing the platoon strength to seven. Private Gratwick, acting on his own initiative and with utter disregard for his own safety, charged the nearest post and completely destroyed the enemy with hand grenades. He charged a second post, from which the heaviest fire had been directed, and inflicted further casualties, but was killed within striking distance of his objective. By his brave and determined action, Private Gratwick’s company was enabled to move forward and mop up its objective. His unselfish courage, his gallant and determined efforts against the heaviest opposition changed a doubtful situation into the successful capture of his company’s final objective’

WX9858 Private Arthur Stanley Gurney V.C


Date of Death: 22/07/1942, Age 33

Regiment/Service: Australian Infantry, A.I.F, 2/48 Bn

Grave Reference: XVI.H.21, El Alamein War Cemetery


Arthur Gurney was 33 years old, and a Private in the 2/48th Battalion A.I.F when he was posthumously awarded the VC  for his actions during the first Battle of El Alamein at Tel-el-Eisa, Egypt. The battalion were subjected to intense machine gun fire inflicting heavy casualties which included most of the Units command structure. Private Gurney, realizing the seriousness of the situation, charged the nearest machine-gun post, silencing the guns and bayoneting three of the crew. He bayoneted two more at a second post before a grenade knocked him down. Picking himself up, he charged a third post and disappeared from view. Later, his comrades, whose advance he had made possible, found his body.


The Desert Grave of Private Arthur Gurney

His citation in the London Gazette of 8th September, 1942, gave the following details:

‘During an attack on strong German positions at Tell-El-Eisa on 22nd July, 1942, the company to which Private Gurney belonged was held up by intense enemy fire. Heavy casualties were suffered, all the officers being killed or wounded. Private Gurney without hesitation charged and silenced two machine-gun posts. At this stage he was knocked down by a stick grenade, but recovered and charged a third post, using his bayonet with great vigour. His body was found later in an enemy post. By this single-handed act of gallantry in the face of a determined enemy, Private Gurney enabled his company to press forward to its objective. The successful outcome of this engagement was almost entirely due to his heroism at the moment when it was needed’

Private Gurney’s medal group, including his Victoria Cross, is on permanent display at the Australian War Memorial.

SX7089 Sergeant William Henry Kibby V.C


Date of Death: 31/10/1942, Age 39

Regiment/Service: Australian Infantry, A.I.F, 2/48 Bn

Grave Reference: XVI.A.18, El Alamein War Cemetery


William Kibby was born in County Durham, England. In early 1914, the family emigrated to Adelaide where Bill attended Mitcham Public School. After leaving school he was employed at a Plasterworks where he designed and fixed plaster decorations. In 1926, he married Mabel Sarah Bidmead Morgan and had two daughters. Although diminutive in stature William was a strong man who loved outdoor activities. William joined the A.I.F during Second World War. In 1942 and served as a Sergeant with the 2/48th Battalion during the campaigns in North Africa.

In 1942 during the October phase of the Battle of El Alamein William distinguished himself through his skill in leading a platoon after his commander had been killed during the initial attack at Meteiriya Ridge. On 23 October, he charged a machine gun position killing three enemy soldiers, capturing 12 others and taking the position. His company commander intended to recommend him for the D.S.O after this action, but was killed. During the following days, Kibby moved among his men directing fire and cheering them on. He mended his platoon’s telephone line several times under intense fire. On 30–31 October, the platoon came under intense machine gun and mortar fire. Most of them were killed or wounded. In order to achieve his company’s objective, Kibby moved forward alone, to within a few metres of the enemy, throwing grenades to destroy them. Just as his success in this endeavour appeared certain, he was killed.

His citation read:

‘On 23rd October 1942, during the attack on Meteiriya Ridge, the commander of Serjeant Kibby’s platoon was killed, and he assumed command. The platoon had to attack strong enemy positions holding up the advance of their Company. Without thought for his personal safety, Serjeant Kibby dashed forward firing his tommy-gun. This courageous lead resulted in the complete silencing of the enemy fire. On 26th October, under heavy and concentrated enemy artillery attack, Serjeant Kibby not only moved constantly from section to section cheering the men and directing their fire, but several times went out and restored the line of communication. On the night of 30th-31st October, again undeterred by withering enemy fire which mowed down his platoon, Serjeant Kibby pressed on towards the objective. Finally he went forward alone throwing grenades to destroy the last pocket of resistance, then only a few yards away, and was killed. Such outstanding courage, tenacity of purpose and devotion to duty was entirely responsible for the successful capture of the Company’s objective. His work was an inspiration to all and he left behind him an example and memory of a soldier who fearlessly and unselfishly fought to the end to carry out his duty’

His Victoria Cross was awarded posthumously and is displayed at the Australian War Memorial.

4270383 Private Adam Herbert Wakenshaw V.C


Date of Death: 27/06/1942, Age 28

Regiment/Service: Durham Light Infantry, 9th Bn

Grave Reference: XXXII. D. 9, El Alamein War Cemetery

In 1942 Private Wakenshaw was fighting in North Africa as part of a DLI anti-tank gun crew when enemy guns came within range. They attempted to destroy Wakenshaw’s anti-tank gun in order to advance and attack the British Infantry. The first German gun’s progress was stopped, but a second German gun killed or seriously wounded the DLI crew, including Wakenshaw, who lost his left arm. Despite this, he managed to fire five rounds and halt both German guns, before he was killed by a direct hit. His actions gave the nearby British Infantry enough time to safely withdraw, and for his self-sacrifice he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The London Gazette, dated the 8th September, 1942, gave the following details:

‘On the 27th June, 1942, south of Mersa Matruh, Private Wakenshaw was a member of the crew of a 2-pounder anti-tank gun. An enemy tracked vehicle towing a light gun came within short range. The gun crew opened fire and succeeded in immobilising the enemy vehicle. Another mobile gun came into action, killed or seriously wounded the crew manning the 2-pounder, including Private Wakenshaw, and silenced the 2-pounder. Under intense fire, Private Wakenshaw crawled back to his gun. Although his left arm was blown off, he loaded the gun with one arm and fired five more rounds, setting the tractor on fire and damaging the light gun. A direct hit on the ammunition finally killed him and destroyed the gun. This act of conspicuous gallantry prevented the enemy from using their light gun on the infantry Company which was only 200 yards away. It was through the self sacrifice and courageous devotion to duty of this infantry anti-tank gunner that the Company was enabled to withdraw and to embus in safety’


‘Private A.H Wakenshaw’ 1943, The National Archives, Catalogue Ref: INF 3/455

Major General John Charles (Jock) Campbell V.C, D.S.O, M.C


Date of Death: 26/02/1942, Age 48

Regiment/Service: General Staff, Cdg 7th Armd Div and Royal Artillery

Grave Reference: K171, The Cairo War Memorial Cemetery

Major General Campbell was born in Thurso. Commissioned into the Royal Horse Artillery he became a career soldier, joining the Royal Horse Artillery and became a first class horseman, excelling in both polo and hunting. 

When World War II started, Campbell was 45 years old and a major commanding a battery in the 4th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery in Egypt. When Italy declared war in June 1940, Campbell, by then a lieutenant-colonel, was commanding the artillery component of 7th Armoured Division’s Support Group under Brigadier William Gott. The British Army was heavily outnumbered by the Italians, so General Archibald Wavell formulated a plan with his senior commanders to retain the initiative by harassing the enemy using mobile all-arms flying columns. Campbell’s brilliant command of one of these columns led to them being given the generic name “Jock columns” (although it is unclear if the idea originated with Campbell or not).

During Operation Compass Campbell’s guns played an important role in 7th Support Group’s involvement in the decisive battle at Beda Fomm in February 1941 which led to the surrender of the Italian Tenth Army. In April 1941 Campbell was awarded the DSO.

In February 1942 when Gott was promoted to lead XIII Corps Campbell was promoted to the rank of Major General and given command of 7th Armoured Division. He was killed three weeks later when his jeep, driven by his Aide-de-Camp, Major Roy Farran overturned on a newly laid clay road surface. Major Farran, who was thrown clear in the process, later admitted that he had considered suicide whilst awaiting rescue. During the Western Desert Campaign Campbell was considered to be one of foremost commanders in the Eight Army, an old desert hand who had been in North Africa from the start of the war. His loss was deeply felt by the soldiers of the Eighth Army.

I’m very fond of the following description of him:

He led his tanks into action riding in an open armoured car, and as he stood there hanging onto its windscreen, a huge well built man with the English officers stiff good looks , he shouted ‘There they come, let them have it’ . When the car began to fall behind, he leapt onto the side of a tank as it went forward and directed the battle from there … they say that Campbell won the V.C half a dozen times that day. The men loved this Elizabethan figure. He was the reality of all the pirate yarns and tales of high adventure, and in the extremes of fear and courage he had only courage. He went laughing into the fighting’ 

The following particulars regarding his actions at Sidi Rezegh were given in “The London Gazette,” of 30th January, 1942:

In recognition of most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Sidi Rezegh, in Libya. On 21st November 1941 Brigadier Campbell was commanding a small force holding important ground in the area of Sidi Rezegh Ridge and Aerodrome. The force was repeatedly attacked by large numbers of tanks and infantry. Wherever the situation was most difficult and the fighting hardest Brigadier Campbell was to be seen with his forward troops either on foot or in an open car. In this car he carried out several reconnaissances for counter attacks and formed up tanks, under close and intense fire. The following day the enemy attacks were intensified. Brigadier Campbell was always in the forefront of the heaviest fighting, encouraging his troops, staging counter-attacks and personally controlling the fire of his guns. During the final enemy onslaught he was wounded but continued most actively in the foremost positions, controlling the fire of batteries which inflicted heavy losses on enemy tanks at close range. Throughout these two days his magnificent example and his utter disregard of personal danger were an inspiration to his men and to all who saw him. His brilliant leadership was the direct cause of the very heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy. In spite of his wound he refused to be evacuated and remained with his command where his outstanding bravery and consistent determination had a marked effect in maintaining the splendid fighting spirit of those under him’

Interpreting Egypt’s War Cemeteries – Holders of the Victoria Cross (The Great War)

The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded to members of the armed forces of the Commonwealth and previous British territories for acts of extreme bravery carried out under direct enemy fire. It is first in the order of wear in the United Kingdom’s honours system and may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command. The VC is usually presented to the recipient or to their next of kin by the British monarch at an investiture held at Buckingham Palace. Introduced in 1856 by Queen Victoria the medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients.

Nine holders of the award are buried within Egyptian Commonwealth War Grave Cemeteries of which 4 were awarded during the course of the Great War.

203329 Private Samuel Needham V.C


Date of Death: 04/11/1918, age 33

Regiment/Service: Bedfordshire Regiment, 1st/5th Bn.

Grave Reference: E. 181, Kantara War Memorial Cemetery


There are two versions of his VC citation – both explain the action, but the wording is different in places.

An extract from The London Gazette, No. 30982, dated 29th Oct., 1918, records the following:-”For most conspicuous bravery and initiative when with a strong patrol which was heavily attacked by the enemy and forced back in confusion.

At this critical moment, Pte. Needham ran back and fired rapidly at a body of the enemy at point-blank range. His action checked the enemy and enabled the patrol commander to reorganise his men. The patrol had many casualties, but successfully got back all their wounded, and it was due to the action of individuals, of which this is the most outstanding, that the entire patrol was not cut off.

Pte. Needham’s example was of the greatest value at a critical moment, and the bold and determined stand made by him did more than anything to inspire confidence, and undoubtedly saved a critical situation.”

He was killed by an accidental gunshot wound at Kantara, Egypt on 4 November 1918.

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regimental Collection at the Wardown Park Museum, Bedfordshire.

42617 Battery Sergeant Major Ernest George Horlock VC 


Date of Death: 30/12/1917, age 32

Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery, General Base Depot, (E.E.F.)

Grave Reference: F. 171, Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery


Ernest George Horlock was awarded the Victoria Cross on 25th November 1914. The citation in the London Gazette reads: “For conspicuous gallantry on September 15th, 1914, near Vendresse, when his battery was in action under heavy shell fire, in that, although twice wounded, he persisted on each occasion in returning to lay his gun after his wound had been dressed.”

Family memories recount that Horlock was called the soldier who ‘defied the doc’. Twice, Horlock was ordered to the army hospital by doctors for treatment, but he chose to ignore these orders and returned to his gun. He remained with his gun until it was finally blown up, and he was carried away from the scene. Ten of his comrades had been killed in the action. On the third occasion that Ernest George Horlock was injured, it is reported that he again refused to see a doctor because he was ‘scared of getting a rocket’ for having disobeyed doctors’ orders and continued to fight.

In November 1916 Horlock was promoted to Battery Sergeant Major and subsequently posted to Egypt. Sadly on 30th December 1917, just two months after his marriage to Ethel Halsted he was torpedoed whilst on the troop ship SS Aragon voyaging from Marseille to Alexandria. He survived the sinking, but when he and other soldiers had been rescued by the escorting destroyer HMS Attack, she too was torpedoed, Horlock was one of the 600 who did not survive.

Ernest was buried at Hadra War Memorial Cemetery, Alexandria and his name appears on the war memorials in the Royal Artillery Chapel, Woolwich and in St. John’s church in Langrish. On 16th November, 2014 an inscribed paving slab was added to these memorials, and blessed, identical to another recently laid at the War Memorial at Alton, the town of his birth.


Ethel Horlock with her late Husband’s medals, undated

Risaldar Badlu Singh VC


Date of Death: 23/09/1918

Regiment/Service: 14th Murray’s Jat Lancers, attd. 29th Lancers (Deccan Horse)

Grave Reference: Port Tewfik Memorial, Heliopolis War Cemetery


Singh, a Risaldar in the 14th Murray’s Jat Lancers performed the deed on 23 September 1918 at Khes Samariveh, Jordan River, Palestine for which he was posthumously awarded the VC.

His citation in the London Gazette reads: “For most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice on the morning of the 23rd September, 1918, when his squadron charged a strong enemy position on the west bank of the River Jordan, between the river and Khes Samariveh Village. On nearing the position Risaldar Badlu Singh realised that the squadron was suffering casualties from a small hill on the left front occupied by machine guns and 200 infantry. Without the slightest hesitation he collected six other ranks and with the greatest dash and an entire disregard of danger charged and captured the position, thereby saving very heavy casualties to the squadron. He was mortally wounded on the very top of the hill when capturing one of the machine guns single-handed, but all the machine guns and infantry had surrendered to him before he died. His valour and initiative were of the highest order. —London Gazette, 27 November 1918″

He is commemorated on the Heliopolis (Port Tewfik) Memorial in the Heliopolis War Cemetery in Cairo.

48647 Colonel Graham Lyall Thomson VC


Date of Death: 28/11/1941, age 49

Regiment/Service: Royal Army Ordnance Corps

Grave Reference: 19. B. 2, Halfaya Sollum War Cemetery


Colonel Lyall is one of those few servicemen who, after being awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War, died on active service in WWII.

Graham Thomson Lyall was born in Manchester and following his education joined the Royal Navy to study mechanical engineering. Unfortunately he contracted an ear infection whilst swimming which led to his discharge from the Navy. Lyall then emigrated to Canada, first settling in Welland, Ontario, then moving to Chippawa, where he took up employment with the Canadian Niagra Power Company.

Three days after the outbreak of war in 1914 Lyall was accepted into the 19th “Lincoln” Regiment in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, and was placed on active service. Lyall continued to serve in the 19th Regiment whilst making sixteen applications to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force, in which he was finally successful by being accepted into the 81st Battalion, CEF. The Battalion sailed for England on 16th May 1916 and on arrival was broken up to replenish Canadian Battalions decimated by fighting. Lyall was posted to the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles with whom he served with distinction receiving a battlefield commission for his performance following the capture of Vimy Ridge in 1917. After successfully passing-out from Officers’ Training School in England, Lyall was posted to the 102nd Canadian Infantry Battalion (North British Columbians), CEF, in France.

His citation in the London Gazette reads: “Whilst leading his platoon against Bourlon Wood he rendered invaluable support to the leading company which was held up by an enemy strong point, which Lyall captured by a flanking movement, together with thirteen prisoners, one field gun and four machine-guns. Later on, his platoon being much weakened by casualties, was held up by machine-guns at the southern end of Bourlon Wood. Collecting those men available, Lyall led them towards another enemy strong point and springing forward alone rushed the position single-handed killing the German officer in charge and subsequently capturing forty-five prisoners and five machine-guns. Having made good his final objective with the capture of a further forty-seven prisoners, he consolidated his position and thus protected the remainder of the company.

On 1st October 1918, in the neighbourhood of Blecourt, when Lyall was in command of a weakened company, by skilful disposition he captured a strongly defended position which yielded eighty prisoners and seventeen machine-guns. During the two days of operations, Lieutenant Lyall captured in all three officers, 182 other ranks, twenty-six machine-guns, and one field gun, exclusive of heavy casualties inflicted. He showed throughout the utmost valour and high powers of command.—London Gazette, 14 December 1918″

He was invested by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 15th of March 1919.

At the outbreak of the Second World War Lyall was placed on active service and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. On the 28th of November 1941 as a full Colonel on the General Staff in North Africa he died from heart failure during Operation Crusader in Egypt.

In my next post I’ll look at the remaining VC burials earned during the Western Desert campaigns of 1942.

‘The Last Journey of a Gallant Soldier’ Brigadier Arthur Harry Langham Godfrey DSO, MC, ED (El Alamein War Cemetery)

Whilst browsing the Australian War Memorial I came across a striking image – a photograph entitled ‘The last journey of a Gallant Soldier’ showing the body of Brigadier Arthur Harry Langham Godfrey en route to the cemetery at El Alamein in November 1942.


The body of Brigadier Godfrey en route to the cemetery at El Alamein (Image Source: The Australian War Memorial, 050013 refers) 

Godfrey was remembered as ‘happy go lucky, always smiling’, a ‘good mixer and a very sincere man’. Resourceful, courageous and compassionate, he administered discipline firmly and fairly. A former adjutant said of him, ‘he had the priceless gift of being able to move about, and be equally [at] home with all ranks . . . He was a fine commander too, clear and incisive’.


A Bugler playing the last post at the funeral of Brigadier Godfrey, El Alamein War Cemetery, Nov 1942 (Image Source: The Australian War Memorial,050012 refers) 

Arthur Harry Langham Godfrey (1896-1942), army officer and auctioneer, was born on 26 January 1896 at Camberwell, Melbourne, second child of Charles Edward Rowlandson Godfrey, a bank clerk from India, and his Victorian-born wife Isabel Frances, née Langham. Educated at Central College, Geelong, Arthur was employed as a clerk and served in the Militia with the 70th Infantry (Ballarat Regiment). On 11th January 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; went onto see service in Egypt and the Western Front where he was awarded the M.C for his part in leading a trench raid. Between the wars Godfrey lived at Newtown, Geelong, worked as an auctioneer for Strachan & Co. Ltd, stock and station agents, and was an active Freemason.

He resumed his involvement with the Citizen Military Forces in 1920. In 1927 he was promoted lieutenant colonel and seconded to the A.I.F. in 1939 to take command of the 2nd/6th Battalion which embarked for the Middle East in April 1940 for training in Palestine. Godfrey served at Tobruk where he led with ‘ability and purposefulness’ before being moved to Egypt to help block Axis forces advancing towards Cairo.

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Brigadier Godfrey (left) talking with Major General L Morshead, Alexandria, Egypt, c.1941 (Image Source:The Australian War Memorial,021164 refers)  

During the Battle of El Alamein Godfrey directed the brigade’s operations until the evening of 1 November when his tactical headquarters received a direct hit during an enemy artillery barrage. Seriously wounded in the abdomen, he died on 4 November 1942 and was buried in El Alamein war cemetery, A.I.A.1. He was survived by his wife Mabel and their three sons.


The original grave marker of Brigadier Godfrey, El Alamein War Cemetery (Image Source:The Australian War Memorial,050041 refers)