City of Westminster VCs
More Victoria Crosses were won on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele than on any other single day of battle in the First World War, and 61 VCs were awarded during the campaign as a whole. These are just a few of the brave men from the City of Westminster who fought with honour.
Thomas Riversdale Colyer-Fergusson VC (Captain) Northamptonshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion, B Company
Colyer-Ferguson was the youngest son of Thomas Colyer-Ferguson, a former High Sheriff of Kent who had homes at Wombwell Hall and Ightham Mote in Kent. He was due to go to Oxford the year war broke out but instead enlisted in the Public Schools Battalion. He went to France in November 1915 with the 2nd Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment and was wounded at the Somme in July 1916. In January 1917 he was promoted to Acting Captain and given command of B Company.
On the morning of 31st July, Colyer-Ferguson led Northamptonshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion, B Company, towards their objective of Bellewaarde Ridge. They ploughed through the mud as they headed for the crest of the Ridge, but their final advance was tough going as a machine gun lay ahead, protecting Jacob Trench. He collected ten men and reached the enemy trench, resisting counter-attacks. Leaving his company to hold the trench and assisted by only his orderly, Pte B. Ellis, he captured the enemy machine gun and turned it on them, killing a large number. He again, with his Orderly and Sgt Boulding, captured a second enemy machine gun, before consolidating their position. B Company pushed ahead to establish a line of outposts and Colyer-Ferguson was hit by a snipers bullet, dying instantly.
‘The conduct of this officer throughout forms an amazing record of dash, gallantry and skill, for which no reward can be too great having regard to the importance of the position won.’
He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on this day.
"For most conspicuous bravery, skillful leading, and determination in attack..."
Colyer-Ferguson's medal is currently on loan to the National Trust and is displayed in the Chapel at Ightham Mote. Both his orderly Private Ellis and Sergeant Boulding received the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal).
He is buried in Menin Road Cemetery.
Dennis George Wyldbore Hewitt (2nd Lt) 14th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, 1st Portsmouth Pals
Hewitt was serving with the 14th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, the 1st Portsmouth Pals, when he found himself in command of A Company, aged just 19, one of the youngest officers in the British Army. Born in London, his maternal grandfather was a deputy lieutenant of Hampshire. On the first day of the battle, his Company were engaged in the attack near Steenbeck and St Julien, meeting stiff resistance as they headed along Pilckem Ridge. The advance became splintered and focused on individual targets and despite Hewitt being badly wounded by a shell blast, he refused treatment and led the company on to the next objective, the village of St. Julien. While consolidating his position, Hewitt was killed, shot through the head by a sniper. He died instantly. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial. He was awarded a posthumous V.C. for his gallantry that day.
An extract from the London Gazette of 14th September 1917 records that:“While waiting for the barrage to lift he was hit by a piece of shell, which exploded the signal flares in his haversack and set fire to his equipment and clothes. Having extinguished the flames (by rolling in the mud) in spite of his wound and the severe pain he was suffering, he led forward the remains of the Company under very heavy machine gun fire, and captured and consolidated his objective.”
More information on these and other stories can be found in 'VCs of Passchendaele' by Stephen Snelling.
(2) Hooge Crater Museum
(3) Hellfire Corner
(4) Menin Road South Cemetery
(5) Menin Gate
(6) Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917