Exactly 100 years ago, Lance Corporal Allan Leonard Lewis was killed at Rossnoy, near Lempire in France on 21st September 1918. Three days earlier, he had been exceptionally brave. On the 21st, he again set an outstanding example and paid the ultimate price. For these acts, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was born on 28th February 1895 in Whitney-on-Wye and is the only Herefordshire born man to have received this award to date.
The citation reads as follows.
“On the morning of the 18th September, 1918, this NCO was in charge of a section which he had successfully kept together. He was on the right of the line and the Battalion started to attack Ronsoy where the East and West barrage opened.
The Battalion advanced to a point where the enemy machine gun fire was so intense that it was a practical impossibility to get forward. The barrage went on and the Battalion was temporarily held up.
This man working with his section on the right amongst the ruins, observed two enemy machine guns opposite him enfilading the whole Battalion. He crawled forward single-handed on his own initiative, with bombs, got within bombing range and successfully bombed the teams manning the enemy’s guns. The enemy left their guns and ran out of their emplacement.
Lance-Corporal Lewis thereupon used his rifle with good effect and the whole team surrendered. He had wounded six and captured four unwounded of the enemy. By his courage and determination in putting out of action two enemy machine guns he undoubted enabled the Battalion to advance, and so contributed largely to the success which followed.
Later on 21st September, 1918 during another attack, this NCO displayed splendid power of command. When his company was caught in the enemy barrage he was the first to rush them through it until they came under heavy fire from the enemy machine guns, whereupon Lance-Corporal Lewis immediately began to place them out in shell holes. While doing this he was killed.
Throughout, he showed a splendid disregard of danger and his leadership at a critical period was beyond all praise.”
One hundred years later, as a result of great efforts by a committee chaired by Lance-Corporal Lewis’s great niece, Dawn, we came together to witness the Dean, Michael Tavinor, dedicate a plaque in the Lady Arbour on the South side of Hereford Cathedral in beautiful sunshine. We then walked to the Old Market where the Lord Lieutenant, Lady Darnley, unveiled a full size statue of Lance Corporal Lewis. This was sculpted by Jemma Pearson who also sculpted the fine statue of Elgar leaning against his bicycle in the Cathedral Close. The heavens opened, thereby giving us a slightly more realistic glimpse of what it must have been like one hundred years ago.
It will be impossible to walk past the statue without pausing for thought. Go to the Lady Arbour and sit in peace and thank God for men such as this.