Wednesday, February 21, 2024

On sale: VC of ‘bravest lad’ who killed over 20 Germans to save comrades

The Victoria Cross and Distinguished Conduct Medal of a First World War soldier described as “the bravest lad I have ever seen” are expected to fetch £180,000-£220,000 at auction.

Arnold Loosemore killed around 20 advancing German soldiers and several snipers during a single action — securing the position, and lives, of his comrades — to earn his VC. He was one of only 20 men to receive both the VC and DCM in the conflict.

The son of a gardener from Sheffield, and one of seven brothers who served, he was turned down when he first volunteered due to his frail physique. Undeterred, he found a job with a coal merchant in order to build up his strength. Accepted in 1915, he fought in the arduous Gallipoli campaign before arriving on the Western Front the following summer.

Loosemore wearing his VC and DCM. Photo: Noonans

On August 11, 1917, the 8th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, in which Private Loosemore was serving, attacked German positions on the east bank of the Steenbeek river, near Ypres. The 21-year-old Lewis gunner was one of 50 men from “Y” Company tasked to capture a German blockhouse known, appropriately, as Wellington Farm. The attack went ahead at daybreak after a night sheltering in shell holes, up to the knees in mud.

It was then that Loosemore’s “conspicuous bravery and initiative” thwarted a German counterattack and undoubtedly saved many of his comrades’ lives.

The citation for his VC in The London Gazette of September 14, 1917, tells the story: “His platoon having been checked by heavy machine-gun fire, he crawled through partially cut wire, dragging his Lewis gun with him, and single-handed dealt with a strong party of the enemy, killing about twenty of them, and thus covering the consolidation of the position taken up by his platoon. Immediately afterwards his Lewis gun was blown up by bomb, and three enemy rushed for him, but he shot them all with his revolver.

“Later he shot several enemy snipers, exposing himself to heavy fire each time. On returning to the original post he also brought back a wounded comrade under heavy fire at the risk of his own life. He displayed throughout an utter disregard of danger.”

An eyewitness, Sergeant Ridgeway, described how — after his Lewis gun was put out of action — Loosemore threw captured German stick grenades at the German bombing party before using his revolver to finish the job. In a letter to Loosemore’s parents, recounting his actions, he said: “I am writing this knowing quite well he would not say anything himself to you. I only think it is up to me to let you know of the great deed he has done.”

He added: “Not only has he proved himself a soldier, but one of England’s bravest heroes.”

In another letter to Loosemore’s parents, his company officer, Second Lieutenant Wood, described their son as the “bravest lad I have ever seen” and said “his magnificent gallantry undoubtedly saved the whole of the company.”

Loosemore’s medals: left to right, his Victoria Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. Photo: Noonans

Many years later, another of Loosemore’s wartime comrades insisted that, on the evening before these events, Loosemore had — firing his Lewis gun from the trenches — shot down a German plane that was on the tale of a British fighter. That story has not been corroborated.

In any case, Loosemore was promoted to corporal a few days after the assault on Wellington Farm and was presented with his VC by the king at Buckingham Palace on January 2, 1918. The following day he attended a civic reception in Sheffield where over 2,000 people cheered him from the steps of the town hall.

Back on the Western Front, as a sergeant with 1/4th Battalion, Loosemore took part in a major raid on enemy positions at Zillebeke, near Ypres, on the night of June 19-20, 1918. The battalion war diary states: “The operation was highly successful, 11 prisoners and one Machine Gun being captured and numerous casualties being inflicted on the enemy with only light casualties ourselves.”

It was for his part in this action that Loosemore won his DCM. The citation states: “When out with a fighting patrol he displayed conspicuous gallantry and powers of leadership when his officer was wounded and the platoon scattered by hostile bombs. He rallied the men and brought them back in order, with all the wounded, to our lines. On a subsequent occasion he handled his platoon with great skill and complete disregard of his own danger under heavy machine-gun fire, and it was owing to his determination and powers of leadership that the platoon eventually captured the enemy post which they were attacking.”

Soldier next to a British Army salvage notice near Langemarck, close to “Wellington Farm”, October 1917. Photo: Australian War Memorial, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Loosemore’s war came to an end on October 11, 1918, one month before the Armistice, when his battalion was assigned the task of capturing a ridge in front of Villers-en-Cauchies.

As recorded in the battalion history: “Sergeant A Loosemore, VC, DCM, of A Company, went down, shot through both legs and the Battalion lost a magnificent leader who was liked by everyone and almost worshipped by the men of his platoon.”

He was undergoing treatment when hostilities ended. His left leg was amputated and he was discharged from the Army in May 1920. He set up as a poultry farmer, married in August 1920, and had a son, also called Arnold, the following year. Nevertheless, he never fully recovered from his war wounds and he died as a result of tuberculosis on April 10, 1924, aged 27.

Mrs Loosemore was denied a war widows’ pension on the grounds that he was no longer a serving soldier at the time of their marriage. According to the catalogue listing from Noonans, the auctioneers selling the medals, Sheffield City Council arranged a hero’s funeral for the veteran soldier and then sent his widow the bill.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph paid tribute to the local boy in a report of April 16, 1924. Its reporter wrote: “He was a Sheffield lad, educated at one of our elementary schools, with no pretensions to rank or position, but by his gallant deeds and modest demeanour he endeared himself to the hearts of the people in a manner that could be appreciated only by those who witnessed the great demonstration of his funeral yesterday. No citizen of Sheffield has had a greater or wider tribute paid to him by the people as a whole than Arnold Loosemore, who was laid to rest with the greatest tenderness by comrades, friends and citizens.”

The lot going on sale at Noonans on July 26 includes Loosemore’s VC and DCM, along with his 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. It also includes a leather-bound memorial volume containing photographs, newspaper cuttings and other documents relating to his service. The medals were previously sold at Sotheby’s in May 1969, when Loosemore’s son was the vendor.

The top photograph, of Australian soldiers in October 1917, illustrates the devastation of the landscape around Ypres when Arnold Loosemore served there. Photo: Australian War Memorial, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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