The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson - the DewsburyVC heroes
MANY Dewsbury soldiers were honoured for their bravery during both world wars, but the two who stand out for special mention are Private Horace Waller, of Batley Carr, and Sgt John William Ormsby, of Westtown, who were each awarded the Victoria Cross for outstanding bravery in the First World War.
Private Waller was killed in France in 1917 and received his VC posthumously, but Sgt Ormsby, survived and was able to receive his medal personally from the King.
Private Waller, whose family had a plumbing business in Batley Carr, had been living with his parents in Healds Road, Dewsbury, before volunteering to fight.
He had served only four months when he was killed on the battlefields of France while defending an important army position.
He was aged 20 and unmarried.
A letter from his commanding officer to his parents reads:
“Words cannot describe the glorious fight he and his comrades made in the most violent hand-to-hand fighting I have ever witnessed.
“For an hour and a half in the first counter attack, he stood and bombed and finally won. In the second and more violent attack he still held his post for an hour after being wounded until he was finally hit.
“I think the bravest boy I ever knew was this son of yours. Many of my company are gone, but the loss of none goes more to my heart than the loss of Horace.
“My Colonel has endorsed my recommendation for the VC, but rewards are only a tithe of the gratification you can feel of having produced so fine, so courageous, so British a man.”
Private Waller had tried to join the army at the outset of war but twice failed his medicals.
At his third attempt he “scraped” through as a Class ‘C’ man and joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry regiment and went to France in 1916.
After the death of his parents, his medal was sold privately at Sotheby’s and was believed to be in a private collector’s museum in America.
Horace attended various schools in the area, starting at Miss Whitworth’s Seminary in Albert Terrace, off Halifax Road, Dewsbury, and Purlwell School, Mount Pleasant.
He later won a free scholarship to Batley Grammar School, leaving aged 17 to help in the family plumbing business, Strickland Waller and Sons.
From there, he continued his studies at Dewsbury Technical College.
I intend to write more about Horace in forthcoming columns when I have completed research on him, and also Sgt Joe Breheney who received the Military Medal.
Sgt John William Ormsby, served in the same regiment as Horace but came from more humble beginning.
He left St Paulinus School aged 13 and went to work as a labourer with a local building firm.
He later joined the Army and was soon fighting in the Boer War, and following his outstanding actions on the battlefield in WW1, became a living symbol that courage is classless and bravery knows no boundaries.
Within months of receiving the VC, he was offered a commission, but refused, and was soon back in the thick of war, fighting in violent and bloody battles in France.
A keep fit fanatic with a strong sense of discipline, Sgt Ormsby was concerned about the young men in Dewsbury out of work and getting into trouble with the law.
He started his own boxing academy – “The Ormsby Boxing Troupe” – which soon became a popular attraction at fairs.
The following is an account of how he won the VC:
“It was on the afternoon of April 14, 1917, that Sgt Ormsby fought his bravest battle.
With no thought for himself he dashed through the full force of heavy machine gun fire to capture an important enemy position.
Although the inscription on the VC says simply “For Valour”, the citation he received gives the full story of his heroic deed.
It reads: “For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during operations which culminated in the capture of an important position.
“Acting as Company Sergeant Major, he showed throughout the attack, absolute indifference to the heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, and set a fine example.
“After acquiring the village he pushed further forward and when the only surviving officer was wounded, he took command of the company.
“He led his men forward under heavy fire for 400 yards to a new position and organised it with great skill, holding his line with determination until relieved of his command.
“His conduct throughout was admirable and inspired confidence in every man under his command.”
After his death in 1962, his Victoria Cross was presented to the King’s Own Yorkshire Light infantry Museum in York by his only son, the late William John Ormsby, who wanted to make sure his father’s medal would go where it was appreciated and where it would stay forever.
Sgt Ormsby had two children, John and Lena.
John passed away some years ago, but is survived by his three children, John William, named after his grandfather, and two daughters, Shirley and Jean, who continue to honour their grandfather’s memory.
To commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the end of WW1, this coming Saturday, November 10, the “DDay Darlings” (finalists in Britain’s Got Talent) will appear at Dewsbury Irish National Club at 1pm.It is a ticket only event.
Tickets £2 are on sale behind the bar of the Nash.
On Sunday, the Remembrance Service is at 10.30, at Dewsbury Minster, followed by Parade to Crow Nest Park Cenotaph where wreaths will be laid.