Arthur's VC
Home ] Up ] Gazette 1 ] Gazette 2 ]


How Arthur won his Victoria Cross

Arthur, and his companions in the 9th Suffolks, were supporting the advance towards the German lines by the 9th Scottish Division.  In his area it was the 6th Cameron Highlanders who were leading the attack.  Sgt. Saunders and a group of soldiers, under the command of their officer, went up to a supporting position from which they could fire onto the German positions thus doing what they could to defend the advancing Cameron Highlanders.  By the end of the Battle of Loos the 9th Scottish Division had 6058 casualties.

From my researches I have narrowed down the location in which Arthur won his VC as about 1 mile NE of the town of Loos as I have indicated with the red ellipse marked on the map below:-

The Suffolk Officer was wounded and Sgt. Saunders took command of the two machine guns and the handful of soldiers and, by his encouragement and clear orders he kept firing and supporting the Cameron Highlanders who were constantly being pushed back and then attacking again.  During the time he was with the machine guns he was wounded in the thigh but he stuck to his post and continued to give clear orders and also to man the machine gun.




When the Cameron Highlanders finally retreated after a fourth unsuccessful attack of the German lines Sgt. Saunders was still providing support from his machine gun post.  Eventually he drew back and was treated for his wounds.   This description forms the basis of the award of the Victoria Cross - the citation of which is to be found spanning two pages of the London Gazette.  To see these pages click on the images below.


The official citation is at odds with an eye witness account from 2nd Lieutenant (Later General Sir ) Philip Christinson of the 6th Cameron Highlanders who was lying wounded in a shell hole as the Suffolks made their way through.  They were shortly to return as they retreated under heavy fire and leave him isolated.  He later wrote:-

"I saw the lines of the 24th Division moving forward and the Germans running back. The Suffolks came through where I was and seemed to be going well. Then they  wavered, and to my horror I saw them and the troops on both sides of them doubling back and leaving me isolated again. But one stout fellow, Sergeant A. F. Saunders, refused to retire. He had a Lewis gun he had picked up with a full drum on it. He crawled over to me and said he'd stay and fight. He made to crawl over to the next shell-hole and as he did so a shell landed and blew part of his left leg off about the knee. I crawled over and got him into the shell-hole, putting a tourniquet on his leg and giving him my water bottle, as his was empty. I crawled back to my hole and a few minutes later on looking over the top I saw a fresh wave of Germans advancing. I was wondering what to do - whether to lie doggo or open fire. There seemed no point in opening fire as there were perhaps a hundred and fifty enemy advancing rather diagonally across our front. To my amazement I heard short sharp bursts of Lewis gun-fire coming from the shell hole on my right. This was Sergeant Saunders more or less minus a leg! The Germans were taken by surprise and bunched up, so I joined in and between us we took a heavy toll and the rest retired out of sight. I took down Sergeant Saunders's number, name and regiment. Stretcher-bearer parties from the RE got me and Sergeant Saunders on to stretchers but shells dropped close and we were abandoned. We were lucky, a stretcher-bearer party from the Scots Guards picked us up and got us to an Advanced Dressing Station, where emergency surgery was carried out. Sergeant Saunders, now without a leg, was awarded the VC, while I was given the MC. He and I correspond regularly.

Although he never really spoke about the incident Arthur did confirm that Christinson's account was the accurate one!

Other accounts have Arthur lying wounded out in no-man's land - sheltering in shell holes by day and crawling towards the British lines by night - he took three days to get to a position from which he could be recovered.

Arthur did not lose his leg, as stated in most accounts - although it was badly damaged it was repaired back in England and he had to wear a built up boot and walk with a stick.

A Lewis gun being used - Arthur was at a great disadvantage over this soldier - he and his colleagues had not been issued with helmets!

Two photographs of a Lewis gun similar to that used by Arthur.