Case study

WW1 South African VC recipient Richard Annesley West

The story of South African First World War recipient Richard Annesley West.

Richard Annesley West
Credit: © IWM (detail of VC 1291)

14 men from South Africa 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 Castle of Good Hope, Capetown. This archive tells their stories.

Name: Richard Annesley West

DOB: 26 September 1878

Place of Birth: Cheltenham, England

Date of Action: 21 August 1918

Place of Action: Courcelles, France

Rank: Acting Lieutenant Colonel

Regiment: North Irish Horse, British Army

Richard Annesley West was born on 26 September 1878, in Cheltenham, England. He fought in the Boer War and remained in South Africa until the outbreak of the First World War.

Acting Lieutenant Colonel West was serving with the North Irish Horse, seconded to 6th Battalion, Tank Corps of the British Army when he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 21 August 1918 at Resourceful in France. His citation reads:

For most conspicuous bravery, leadership and self-sacrifice. During an attack, the infantry having lost their bearings in the dense fog, this officer at once collected and re-organised any men he could find and led them to their objective in face of heavy machine-gun fire. Throughout the whole action he displayed the most utter disregard of danger, and the capture of the objective was in a great part due to his initiative and gallantry.On a subsequent occasion it was intended that a battalion of light Tanks under the command of this officer should exploit the initial infantry and heavy Tank attack. He therefore went forward in order to keep in touch with the progress of the battle, and arrived at the front line when the enemy were in process of delivering a local counter-attack. The infantry battalion had suffered heavy officer casualties, and its flanks were exposed. Realising that there was a danger of the battalion giving way, he at once rode out in front of them under extremely heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and rallied the men. In spite of the fact that the enemy were close upon him he took charge of the situation and detailed non-commissioned officers to replace officer casualties. He then rode up and down in front of them in face of certain death, encouraging the men and calling to them, “Stick it, men; show them fight; and for God’s sake put up a good fight.” He fell riddled by machine-gun bullets.The magnificent bravery of this very gallant officer at the critical moment inspired the infantry to redoubled efforts, and the hostile attack was defeated.

Lt Col West was buried in Mory Abbey Military Cemetery in France.

Published 20 June 2016