The King's Shropshire Light Infantry & Affiliated Regiments

 

The Victoria Cross : Regimental Awards after 1914

In the wars of the 20th century, three men serving in Shropshire regiments were awarded the Victoria Cross

Private Harold Whitfield, 10th (Shropshire & Cheshire Yeomanry) Battalion, KS.L.I.
Action : at Burj-el-Lisaneh, Palestine.
Date : 10th March 1918.
London Gazette : 8th May 1918.
Conferred : by HM King George V in Leeds in a public investiture in May 1918.

Acting Sergeant George Harold Eardley, M.M., 4th (Territorial) Battalion, KS.L.I.
Action : west of Overloon, Holland.
Date : 16th October 1944.
London Gazette : 2nd January 1945.
Conferred : by HM King George VI at Buckingham Palace, 1945.

Private James Stokes, 2nd Battalion, K.S.L.I.
Action : near Kervenheim, Rhineland.
Date : 1st March 1945.
London Gazette : 17th April 1945.
Conferred : Posthumous award. VC presented to his widow by HM King George VI at Buckingham
Palace, 1945.

Private Harold Whitfield : early life

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!

WHITFIELD_VC

Pte (later Sergt.) Harold Whitfield 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.

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.

Whitfield's VC action : Birj-el-Lisaneh

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."


Whitfield's later 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.

Eardley_and_Whitfield

Two VCs : Sgt. Eardley (left) and Sgt. Whitfield (right) at Copthorne Barracks in 1956.

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.



Acting Sergeant George Harold Eardley, M.M., 4th (Territorial) Battalion, KS.L.I.

The first VC to a Shropshire regiment for the Second World War - and the only one to the KSLIs Territorial Battalion - was won by Acting Sergeant George Harold Eardley, 4th (Territorial) Battalion, in Holland in 1945.

George Harold Eardley was born in the parish of St. Stephen’s, Congleton, Cheshire, on 6th May 1912. A printer’s son, he followed in his father Harold’s footsteps and became a printer and compositor, working first for The Congleton Chronicle.

Eardley, then living at 17, Lion St., Congleton, enlisted into the Territorial Army on 29th March 1940 and was posted to the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surreys). He joined his battalion for duty in Guildford on 18th April and was appointed Acting Unpaid Lance Corporal on 18th July and Paid Acting Corporal on 23rd December. He spent the next few years in and out of posts at a number of Infantry Training Centres and attending training courses until he was posted to the 13th Battalion of the Queen’s Royal Regiment on the 30th May 1944; by this time he held the rank of Corporal.

Eardley was transferred to the 4th KSLI on 30th July 1944 and and served with the 4th in North West Europe through to the end of the war. He was promoted to Sergeant on 11th December 1944.

 

Eardley_portrait

George Eardley, VC, MM

 

Eardley wins the Military Medal, August 1944

Eardley served with the 4th KSLI from 30th July 1944, the battalion forming part of the 159th Brigade of the 11th Armoured Division. He would have been with the battalion in the severe fighting around Caen during Operation Goodwood (where it sustained the heaviest casualties in the Division) and in Operation Bluecoat.

Eardley’s gallantry first came to notice in August 1944 during the battalion’s fighting advance as part of the initial Bluecoat “break out” operations. The battalion captured St. Martin des Besaces on 31st June, took the Souleuvre Bridge on the same day and continued towards the village of Le Beny Bocage, which they liberated on 1st August.

It was during the fighting that day that Eardley stalked and destroyed a German machine-gun post. The 4th KSLI was ordered to seize the highpoint on the ridge north-east of Le Beny Bocage and from there, pass down the Souleuvre Valley. “A” and “D” Companies under Major Maddocks and Major Thornburn were to secure the ridge and “B” and “C” Companies would then continue along the valley. As “A” Company under Major Maddocks set off up the slope, it ran into strong opposition, so Maddocks sent out a Recce Patrol to test the strength of the enemy positions. It was during this action that Eardley won the M.M. - though it was not gazetted until 1st March 1945, after his Victoria Cross.

The citation states :

"On August 1st at Le Beny Bocage, Pte. Eardley was a member of a recce patrol. During the patrol. Pte. Eardley was ordered to move down a hedge and this meant that he was separated from the rest of his patrol. As he moved down the hedge, he came under intense fire from a concealed M.G. [machine gun] post at the end of the hedge at a range of about 20 yards. Pte. Eardley by some chance was not hit. He therefore pretended that he had in fact been hit and while the rest of the patrol engaged the enemy’s attention he proceded to stalk the MG post. Finally he threw two grenades at the post and finished off the occupants with his Sten gun.

This man’s gallant action and his utter disregard for his personal safety were an inspiration to all."

(London Gazette 1st March 1945)

The citation gives his rank as Private, though according to War Office records he had held the rank of Corporal since February 1943.

Eardley received, in error, two MMs as a result of this action, one awarded separately and the other presented with his VC when he was invested by the King at Buckingham Palace in February 1945. One of the two MMs remains with his original medal group, now in the Ashford collection; the other was eventually sold and is now on display in the Shropshire Regimental Museum in Shrewbsury Castle. It is inscribed 6092111 Sjt. G. H. Eardley (VC), KSLI.

The VC action at Overloon

Eardley served with the 4th through its fighting in the Autumn of 1944, including the occupation of Antwerp in September.

On October 13th, with the battalion then near St. Anthonis, Eardley took out a reconnaissance patrol of “A” Company towards the village of Sambeek, near the River Maas, to see if the ferry there was still intact and to establish the strength of nearby German defences. As a result of his report, on October 14th, 9 Platoon of “A” Company under Lieut. Cartwright, with Eardley acting as guide, supported by tanks of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, launched a daylight raid to destroy German positions nearby. They were heavily opposed as they moved through Sambeek and from the opposite bank of the Maas, but succeeded in capturing 12 Germans and killing several more.

On October 14th, the 4th KSLI was suddenly called upon to launch an attack on the vicinity of the town of Overloon, where stubborn resistance by German paratroops was holding up the advance of the 3rd British Division. At dawn on the 15th, with tanks of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry in suppoort, the battalion moved to an assembly area east of Overloon (coincidentally, close to the 2nd KSLI at this stage).

Their objective was the line of the Nijmegen-Venlo railway just south of Smakt. The attack would be led by “C” Company under Major Wykham (on the left) and “A” Company under Major Maddocks (on the right) and would have to cross difficult, open ground under fire. “D” Company under Major Thornburn would be to the rear of “C” Company and “B” Company would be behind “A”. Each of the forward companies had a troop of tanks of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry in support, with a third operating independently down the centre.

The attack began at 10.30 hrs from Shaartven, one mile east of Overloon, with Eardley’s “A” Company on the right running into fierce opposition. This was strongest from a line of orchards and it was during the fighting here that Eardley won his Victoria Cross.

EARDLEY_GRINEAU_PIC_SMALL

Eardley's VC action as sketched by Bryan de Grineau for the Illustrated London News.

The original recommendation for an award to Eardley - interestingly, for an M.M. for his gallantry in October, not the VC - was written on 21st October 1944 by Major Maddocks, Officer Commanding “A” Company. He wrote :

Sergeant Eardley: recommended for M.M. (Military Medal). This NCO was pln (platoon) sergt. to Lt. Cartwright in the raid on 13th [sc.14th] October 1944 and rendered invaluable assistance to his pln. cmd. [platoon commander] by his fearless spirit and initiative. Also on the night prior to the raid he had captured 2 prisoners, whilst on a recce patrol with two other men, who gave useful information about the enemy position.

On 16th [sc.15th] October 44 after a long and tiring attack and wood-clearing operation, 9 Pln [platoon] was ordered to clear a line of orchards which was known to be strongly held. Close quarter fighting ensued with the enemy paratroops during which Sgt. Eardley himself dealt with three posts that resisted strongly to the end. The first he stalked to grenade range and killed the occupants with his second grenade. In the second post, he killed both of the enemy with his sten. In the case of the 3rd post, he wounded one with his sten and the other two gave themselves up.

Eardley’s gallantry was, however, to result in a recommendation for the Victoria Cross, which refers only to the incidents in the orchard. His action was witnessed by Lieut. Cartwright, his Platoon commander, who provided the first written account of the incident in support of a claim for an award to Eardley. He wrote :

I am Pl[atoon] Com[mande]r of No. 9 Pl. On 16th [sc. 15th] October 1944 the Bn. was ordered to clear a wooded area east of Overloon as far as the Nijmegen-Venlo rly [railway]. We came against strong opposition about 500 yds. west of the rly and I was ordered to clear two orchards and some houses which possessed MG [machine gun] posts, the enemy being mainly paratps [paratroops] were determined and fighting well.

On moving fwd [forward] into the first orchard, I was fired at from a MG post at a distance of about 80 yards. Sjt. Eardley immediately engaged the post with his Sten gun, causing the crew to take cover and then crawld up to the post and threw a grenade which killed the crew. Sjt. Eardley then came under fire from a second post which was situated behind the first post and engaged it with his Sten gun, killing one of the crew and wounding the other.

Having disposed of these two posts, the Pl[atoon] then found itself under fire from a third MG post. Sjt. Eardley first engaged the post with his Sten and then proceeded to crawl along a ditch from which he threw a grenade which silenced the post.

Sjt. Eardley was therefore responsible for silencing three MG posts and was, therefore, in the main responsible for the success of the attack.
(Signed by Lt. Cartwright on 24th Oct. 1944 and counter-signed by the Commanding Officer of 4th KSLI, Lt. Col. Max Robinson.)

Further witness statements in support of the recommendation were signed by Corporal C. T. Poole and Lance Corporal R. E. Bilsborrow on the same day: I was present with Lieut. H.L. Cartwright during this attack and personally saw what Sjt. Eardley carried out. I corroborate the statement of Lieut. Cartwright.

(Separate statements signed by Poole and Bilsborrow, both countersigned by Lt. Col. Robinson.)

The actual citation for the Victoria Cross is more detailed and states:

"In North West Europe, on 16th [sc.15th] October 1944, during an attack on the wooded area east of Overloon, strong opposition was met from well-sited defensive positions in orchards. The enemy were paratroopers and well equipped with machine guns.

A Platoon of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry was ordered to clear thes eorchards and restore the momentum of the advance buit was halted some 80 yards from its objective by automatic fire from enemy machine gun posts. The fire was so heavy that it appeared impossible for any man to expose himself and remain unscathed.

Notwithstanding this, Sergt. Eardley, who had spotted one machine gun post, moved forward, firing his Sten gun and killed the occupants of the post with a grenade. A second machine gun post beyond the first immediately opened up, spraying the area with fire. Sergt. Eardley, who was in a most exposed position, at once charged over 30 yards of open ground and silenced both the enemy gunners.

The attack was continued by the Platoon but was again held up by a third machine gun post, and a section sent to dispose of it was beaten back, losing four casualties. Sergt. Eardley, ordering the section he was with to lie down, then crawled forward alone and silenced the occupants of the post with a grenade.

The destruction of these three machine gun posts singlehanded by Sergt. Eardley, carried out under fire so heavy it daunted those who were with him, enabled his platoon to achieve its objective and in so doing, ensured the success of the whole attack.

His outstanding initiative and magnificent bravery were the admiration of all who saw his gallant actions".

(London Gazette, 2nd January 1945)

Interestingly, as was first pointed out by Major Urwin (“Ned”) Thornburn, M.C., the date given in Eardley’s recommendations and citation is incorrect - the action was on the 15th October, not the 16th. It is thought that Lieut. Cartwright, who wrote the original report, simply dated it wrongly; it was compiled nine days after the event (largely because of the battle commitments of the battallion) and the error passed into the official record and thence into most published accounts.

Eardley was the first NCO of the 11th Armoured Division to receive the VC and notification of the award was published in the 11th Armoured Division’s “in house” Bulletin on 1st January 1945. His wife received notification by telegram on 2nd January 1945 that her husband had been awarded the VC

Eardley received the ribbon of the VC “in the field” from Field Marshal Montgomery on --- 1945 and the actual medal from the hands of the King at an investiture at Buckingham Place on ... On that occasion, the King expressed his pleasure at meeting a living VC winner when so many other awards were posthumous.

Afterwards, Eardley continued to serve with 4th KSLI through to the end of the war, which found it near Flensburg on the Danish border.

Eardley's later career

After the war, Eardley continued in the service, posted to various Training Centres and in January 1947 to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, as Assistant Instructor in Drill. Eardley was discharged from the T.A. in February 1947 to re-enlist on a short-service engagement as a Regular in the KSLI, in the rank of Sergeant.

He remained at Sandhurst until 27th February 1947, when he was posted to the KSLI Depot at Shrewsbury. After brief postings to the O.C.T.U. Battle Camp and the Army Apprentices’ School at Arborfield, he joined the 1st KSLI on 13th July 1949 and served with the battalion in Hong Kong.

He was finally discharged on 26th February 1950 on the termination of his engagement.

His total overseas’ service was:
North West Europe: 20th July 1944 to 3rd January 1945 and 26th February 1945 to 10th August 1946.

Far East Land Forces (Hong Kong): 11th Aug. 1949 to 29th December 1949.

On leaving the Army, Eardley qualified as an electrical engineer and worked for Rolls Royce in Crewe until his retirement. His first marriage having ended in divorce after the war, Eardley remarried.

On 25th June 1964, he and his wife, Winifred, then living in Readesdale Avenue, Crewe, were invited to a ceremony at Copthorne Barracks at which the Princess Royal was to present new Colours to the 4th KSLI When their car was hit by an express train on Nantwich level-crossing, Mrs. Eardley was killed and Eardley himself lost the lower part of his left leg, amputated on the scene of the crash without anaesthetic. He nevertheless returned to work once he had recovered.

Eardley later married Nancy Barnett and lived in retirement in Southbourne in Dorset (his house named “Overloon”) before moving to Meakin Close, Mossley, Congleton, in August 1991.

Eardley___older

George Eardley VC in later life

He died there only a few weeks later, on 11th September 1991, aged 79 and his funeral took place at the United Reformed Church on Wednesday 18th September. His body was cremated in Macclesfield. A detailed Obituary appeared in The Times on the 16th September and in other national and local newspapers over the next few days.

Eardley's Medals and Memorials

Eardley’s medal group comprised the Victoria Cross, the Military Medal (George VI, 1st type), the 1939-45 Star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal, the War Medal, the 1953 Coronation Medal and the 1977 Jubilee Medal.

The originals are in the Lord Ashcrof collection but a replica set is displayed in the Shropshire Regimental Museum, donated by Sgt. Eardley’s sons.

In reporting the award of the VC in January 1945, the “Daily Mail” published not only details of the VC action, but also Eardley’s claim (in a letter home) that he had captured a German General “believed to be Daser, commander of the ... Division at Walcheren” who was “brought in at the point of his bayonet”. A long and detailed acount by Eardley then follows. Some newspaper accounts which relate this story also credit him with the French Croix-de-Guerre for the incident, but no such award was made.

The same newspaper report also relates Eardley’s claim that he attempted to capture no less a person than Field Marshal Rommel in Libya, but that Rommel escaped! In fact, Eardley never served in North Africa.

At one stage Eardley wore the Italy Star with his other medals but since he never served in Italy he was not entitled to the medal.

Sergt. Eardley received a tumultous welcome home when he first returned to Congleton just after his investiture with the VC and later a street in the town was named after him. He regularly attended Reunion meetings of the VC and G.C. Association, regimental reunions and other formal ceremonies at which he was an honoured guest.

But at the time of his death in 1991, the Parish Church of St. Peter in Congleton refused his wish for burial there and the poor local representation at his funeral (attended by comrades of the KSLI and various local veteran’s groups) was commented upon.

As early as July 1990, a public memorial was proposed for Eardley by Major Thornburn MC, ex 4th KSLI and the historian of the battalion, who also suggested that Eardley’s medals be displayed in the Regimental Museum alongside the The Illustrated London News picture of his VC action by Bryan le Grineau. The picture and a replica set of medals were duly displayed in the Regimental Museum, but it was much longer before a public memorial to Eardley was erected in the town of his birth.

Only in 2001, after a six year campaign, were plans for a permanent town memorial in Congleton pushed forward, largely through the efforts of Sgt. Eardley’s son. But thanks to further bureaucratic and funding problems it was not until 18th April 2004 that a life-sized bronze statue of Eardley (in battle dress and advancing into action with Sten gun and grenade) was finally unveiled in the town.

 


Private James Stokes, 2nd Battalion, KSLI

 

STOKES_PORTRAIT_SMALL_PIC

Pte. James Stokes.

The last VC awarded to a soldier of a Shropshire regiment was that granted posthumously to Private James Stokes of the 2nd KSLI for gallantry anear Kervenheim in the Rhineland in April 1945.

Stokes was born on 6th February 1915 in a slum tenement in Crown Street, Hutchesontown, in the St. Luke’s district of the Gorbals, Glasgow. He was one of four children born into an environment of grinding poverty. When he lost both parents at an early age and the family was split up, Stokes spent some time in a Catholic children’s home before becoming a labourer on his uncle’s farm at the age of 14. He later travelled into England and worked for a time as a waiter in London before returning to Glasgow to work in the building trade. In 1939, he married a local girl, Janet Kennedy, and they set up home in a single-room apartment at 20, Clyde Street.

On the outbreak of war, Stokes followed his elder brother George into the army, enlisting into Royal Artillery on 20th July 1940. He seems to have had a varied service career: he spent some time in the Royal Army Service Corps (52 Drivers’ Training Unit) before passing into the Gloster Regiment in October 1943. Though he stood only 5 feet 4 inches tall, Stokes was said to have “a temper out of all proportion to his stature” and had learned street fighting the hard way. On leave in 1944, he became involved in a brawl in a Glasgow dance hall after a perceived insult to his wife. The fight left one man in a wheelchair and Stokes in prison. Sentenced to three years for grievous bodily harm, he was offered the chance of release into the infantry and then (according to the Transfer Books of the KSLI) went into the Royal Warwicks, from which he was posted to the 2nd KSLI in October 1944.

The battalion was then part of 185th Infantry Brigade at Overloon in Holland, with a Royal Warwicks battalion serving of the same brigade - which might explain Stokes’ transfer at this time.

Stokes' VC action : Kervenheim

The 2nd battalion fought its way from Overloon to Venray and thence towards the River Maas, where it spent the cold, uncomfortable Winter of 1944-45.

On 23rd February, the battalion left for Pfalzdorf to take part in the advance from Goch to the Rhine, the brigade objective being Kervenhiem, a small town in the midst of a flat, boggy area of arable farmland and thick woods.

The battalion moved forward on 28th February to an assembly area just behind the Uden - Weeze road and at 13.15 the attack began, preceded by an artillery barrage. The battalion covered half the distance to Kervenheim, with opposition strengthening as it advanced, before it was halted by nightfall and dug in.

The attack was renewed at 9.00 next day, 1st March, with Y Company on the left and Z leading, on the right. W and X companies were in reserve. Rapid progress was made on the left, but on the right, the more direct line to Kervenheim, opposition was severe, especially from heavily defended farms and outhouses and from buildings in the town itself.

At this stage, Pte. Stokes was a member of the leading section of 17 Platoon of Z Company. He advanced with the Platoon Commander, Lt. Banks (whose bodyguard Stokes was) and they soon came under intense rifle and machine gun fire from one farm building.

The Platoon was pinned down and as Lt. Banks began to reorganise his men and issue fresh attack orders, Pte. Stokes, without waiting for the orders, rushed forward, dashed through the enemy fire and entered the building. The firing stopped and Stokes reappeared with 12 German prisoners.

The Platoon was then able to continue the advance to its next objective and Stokes went with them; although he had been wounded, he refused an order to go back to the Regimental Aid Post.

As it approached its next objective, the Platoon came under heavy fire from another nearby house and again Stokes rushed forward. He was seen fall to the ground, shot through the chest, but seconds later was on his feet again and rushed forward under the most intense enemy fire. He entered the building, at which point the firing ceased, and re-emerged with another five prisoners.

His Platoon then formed up for the assault on its final objective, a cluster of farm buildings forming another enemy strongpoint. Again on his own initiative, Stokes dashed forward, though severely wounded and suffering from loss of blood. He struggled over forty yards through intense fire but was finally brought to a halt twenty yards from the building, firing to the last and waving his comrades on as they rushed past him. It was later found that by then he had been wounded eight times and he died of his wounds shortly afterwards.

After continued heavy fighting, Kervenheim fell the next day and the battalion reached the Rhine on 12th March.

 

STOKES___CUNEO_PTG_SMALL_PIC

Terence Cuneo's depiction of Stokes' final action in attacking the third farm house.

The award of the Victoria Cross to Pte. Stokes was announced in The London Gazette on 17th April 1945:

"In Holland on 1st March 1945, during the attack on Kervenheim, Pte. Stokes was a member of the leading section of a Platoon. During the advance, the Platoon came under intense rifle and medium machine gun fire from a farm building and was pinned down. The Platoon Commander began to reorganise the Platoon when Pte. Stokes, without waiting for any orders, got up and, firing from the hip, dashed through the enemy fire and was seen to disappear inside the farm building. The enemy fire stopped and Pte. Stokes reappeared with twelve prisoners. During this operation he was wounded in the neck.

This action enabled the Platoon to continue the advance to the next objective and Pte. Stokes was ordered back to the Regimental Aid Post. He refused to go and continued the advance with his Platoon.

On approaching the second objective, the Platoon again came under heavy fire from a house on the left. Again without waiting for orders, Pte. Stokes rushed the house by himself, firing from the hip. He was seen to drop his rifle and fall to the ground wounded. However, a moment later he got to his feet again, picked up his rifle and continued to advance, despite the most intense fire, which covered not only himself but the rest of the Platoon. He entered the house and all firing from it ceased. He subsequently rejoined his Platoon - who, due to his gallantry, had been able to advance - bringing five more prisoners.

At this stage, the Company was forming up for its final assault on the objective, which was a group of buildings, forming an enemy strongpoint. Again without waiting for orders, Pte. Stokes, though by now severely wounded, and suffering from loss of blood, dashe don the remaining 60 yards to the objective, firing from the hip as he struggled through intense fire. He finally fell 20 yards from the enemy position, firing his rifle to the last, and as the Company passed him in the final charge, he raised hsi hand and shouted goodbye. Pte. Stokes was found to have been wounded eight times in the upper part of his body.

Pte. Stokes’ one object through out this action was to kill the enemy at whatever personal risk. His magnificent courage, devotion to duty and splendid example inspired all those round him and ensured the success of the attack at a critical moment; moreover, his self-sacrifice saved his Platoon and Company many casualties".


Memorials to Pte. Stokes

Private Stokes is buried in the Reichswald Cemetery in the Rhineland. His widow and young son (James) were presented with his VC by H.M. King George VI in a post-war investiture at Buckingham Palace.

His VC and medals (1939-45 Star, France and Germany Star, War Medal - no Defence Medal) were sold by Messrs. Sotheby on 21st October 1982 for £18,000 and purchased by a private collector.

For some time they were on public display in a military museum at Strawberry Farm, Jersey but when the museum closed, the medals were removed and their present location is not known.

Stokes remained something of a popular hero after the war - the story of his deeds was twice (1965 and 1986) featured in the children’s comic, Victor. But for many years, this recognition was not particulalry reflected in any marked manner by his local community. In the last few, however, thanks largely to family and local efforts, Stokes’ has received a great deal of attention and his memory has been perpetuated as a Gorbals VC hero in more appropriate ways.

In 2002 plans were proposed for a street to be named after him in the Gorbals - where re- development has destroyed much of the area as Stokes would have known it - and a “James Stokes Celtic Supporters Bus” has been inaugurated.

In March 2005, a special memorial to him was erected in the newly-established Gorbals Rose Garden on the Old Rutherglen Road. His widow and son visited the site on March 1st - sixty years to the day after the VC action - and it was formally opened on March 10th. In the presence of a host of local dignitaries and military representatives, buglers from 2nd Light Infantry played The Last Post and Reveille.

There are suggestions that a film of his life may be made.