“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Inscription from Richard Annesley West’s gravestone.
Richard Annesley West was a career soldier having served in the Boer War as a trooper in the 45th Irish Hunt Company. He returned from South Africa and joined the North Irish Horse at the outbreak of the First World War.
West won his Victoria Cross for bravery for two different actions. The first was on 21st August 1918 when the infantry were lost during heavy fog. Despite having two horses shot from under him, West took control, reorganised the men and led them to their objective under heavy machine-gun fire.
During the second action on 2nd September 1918, West was a Lieutenant-Colonel attached to the Tank Corps. On that day, he was in command of the 6th Light Battalion and their section of Whippet tanks. As a result of an enemy counterattack, the infantry battalion suffered heavy officer casualties. Realising the danger if the men retreated, West rode on horseback up and down the line encouraging them to fight and defend their position. His last words were reported to be:
“Stick it, men; show them fight, and for God’s sake put up a good fight.”
According to his citation he then “fell riddled with bullets.”
West’s extreme bravery was an act of inspiration to the watching infantry and the attack was defeated.
The Victoria Cross was not the first gallantry medal awarded to West. He had been mentioned in despatches several times before winning three bravery medals in the final months of his life. These medals included the Distinguished Service Order and bar and the Military Cross.
For the first time ever the four Victoria Crosses awarded to members of the Tank Corps during the First World War have been brought together at The Tank Museum. This historic exhibition, the Victoria Cross Exhibition, will be on display Monday 6th August 2018 until Sunday 11th November 2018.