Case study

WW1 Canadian VC recipient Walter Leigh Rayfield

The story of Canadian First World War Victoria Cross recipient Walter Leigh Rayfield.

Walter Leigh Rayfield
Credit: National Defence Canada

70 men from Canada received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, during the First World War. As part of the Centenary Commemorations the people of the United Kingdom marked their gratitude to those courageous men by presenting a bronze memorial plaque to their home country engraved with their names. The plaque is now displayed at the British High Commission Ottawa. This archive tells their stories.

Name: Walter Leigh Rayfield

DOB: 7 October 1881

Place of Birth: Richmond-upon-Thames, England

Date of Action: 2 to 4 September 1918

Place of Action: Drocourt-Quéant line, Cagnicourt, France

Rank: Captain

Regiment: 7th Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force

Walter Leigh Rayfield was born in Richmond-upon-Thames, England on 7 October 1881. He emigrated to Canada, and was living in Vancouver when he joined the 7th Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Captain Rayfield was awarded the Victoria Cross for three acts during fighting on the Drocourt-Quéant line, near Cagnicourt France during to 2 to 4 September 1918. His citation reads:

For most conspicuous bravery, devotion to duty, and initiative during the operations east of Arras from 2nd to 4th September, 1918. Ahead of his company, he rushed a trench occupied by a large party of the enemy, personally bayoneting two and taking ten prisoners. Later, he located and engaged with great skill, under constant rifle fire, an enemy sniper who was causing many casualties. He then rushed the section of trench from which the sniper had been operating, and so demoralised the enemy by his coolness and daring that thirty others surrendered to him. Again, regardless of his personal safety, he left cover under heavy machine-gun fire and carried in a badly wounded comrade. His indomitable courage, cool foresight, and daring reconnaissance were invaluable to his Company Commander and an inspiration to all ranks.

Captain Rayfield returned to Canada where he was Sergeant-at-Arms of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and became Governor of Toronto Jail. He died in Toronto in 1949.

Published 20 June 2016