A Collection of Awards to the Worcestershire Regiment formed by Group Captain J. E. Barker

Date of Auction: 27th September 2017

Sold for £600

Estimate: £800 - £1,000

A Great War ‘Second Battle of the Scarpe - 23 April 1917’ M.C. group of four awarded to Major H. B. W. Williamson, Worcestershire Regiment, later Union Defence Force, for clinging on to an isolated position for 48 hours, in the face of constant attacks from overwhelming numbers

Military Cross, G.V.R., unnamed as issued; British War Medal 1914-20 (321971 Spr. W. Blake. R.E.) note recipient’s details; Victory Medal 1914-19 (Capt. H. B. Williamson.); War Medal 1939-45; Africa Service Medal, last two officially named ‘241031 H. B. W. [sic] Williamson’, mounted for display, with three related mounted miniature awards, two riband bars and Royal Mint case of issue for the M.C., generally very fine or better (5) £800-1000


Provenance: DNW, December 2005 (sold without BWM).

M.C. London Gazette 18 June 1917:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He personally stopped two counter-attacks on his front with a mere handful of men. He himself firing the machine gun with great accuracy and determination. Although his right flank was cut off, he remained for 48 hours until relieved.’

Howard Baker Wakes Williamson was born in Bellair, Durban, South Africa, in August 1889. He was educated in South Africa, and initially employed with the Defence Department of the Natal Government, before working as a Metallurgist. Williamson travelled to the UK in 1915 and, aged 26, joined the Inns of Court O.T.C. in December of the same year. He joined No. 11 Officer Cadet Battalion in May 1916, and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the 6th (Reserve) Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment in September 1916.

Williamson was posted to the 4th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, and served with them in the French theatre of war from 25 October 1916. He initially served as their Lewis Gun Officer, before handing over the duties in February 1917. Two months later the Battalion served as part of the 88th Brigade, 29th Division, in the trenches at Monchy Le Preux. Williamson distinguished himself on 23 April 1917, when the Battalion was engaged in the Second Battle of the Scarpe, as part of the Battles of Arras:

‘Just as the first light showed pale over the crest of Infantry Hill the British guns broke out in intense fire. The platoons of the 4th Worcestershire rose to their feet and charged forward down the slope through a storm of shells. The German front line was easily crossed, and the few survivors of the defence were killed or captured. The Worcestershire companies reached the bottom of the hollow and pushed up the slope. Officers and men fell at every step, but the enemy’s second line was stormed... the attackers reached their goal, the crest-line of the spur which runs south from Infantry Hill. Within half-an-hour from the start, the 4th Worcestershire had advanced nearly a mile, had reached their objective, and had commenced to entrench.

The right flank of the new position rested on a little copse at the southern end of the spur: thence northwards the line ran along the crest of the spur to near the rounded summit of Infantry Hill. To the left, the other battalions of the 29th Division had similarly gained ground, but on the right the attack of the 15th Division had failed.

Soon it was clear that the failure on the right had made the position of the Battalion most dangerous. The enemy’s guns concentrated their fire on the captured spur and brought down a terrific bombardment. Through that storm, 2nd Lieutenant H. B. Williamson led up reinforcements to strengthen the thin line on the spur.

At 10am came the first German counter-attack. Lieutenant Croom-Johnson sent up flares and at that prearranged signal the British artillery put down an intense barrage.... But the enemy were determined to regain the spur. A fresh advance encircled the right flank of the Worcestershire and once again the enemy attack up the slope. The musketry of the defence held back the attack, but the German bombardment shattered the hasty entrenchments on the spur, and the fire of the Worcestershire platoons grew weaker as the soldiers collapsed, killed or wounded. Lieutenant Croom-Johnson directed the defence, dashing from one shell-hole to another, reorganising those who had lost their leaders and inspiring all to resist to the last: but presently he was wounded a second time and disabled. The command passed to 2nd Lieutenant Williamson, the only surviving company officer.’ (The Worcestershire Regiment in the Great War, by Captain H. FitzM. Stacke, M.C., refers)

Despite all the surrounding positions falling into German hands, and being separated from the rest of the Battalion, Williamson’s men on the spur remained resolute. At nightfall Colonel Kerans [see Lot 321], the 4th Battalion’s commanding officer, attempted to lead a counter-attack on the copse in an effort to break through to Williamson. The German’s overwhelming numbers put pay to the attack, and it was not until ‘long after midnight came news of relief. About 2am the 2nd Royal Fusiliers came forward to the ridge, and before dawn they had relieved the mixed collection of troops in the valley and facing the copse. But on the crest of the spur the survivors of the left flank companies of the 4th Worcestershire, 42 men under 2nd Lieutenant Williamson, were not relieved before dawn. It was impossible to move across the open in daylight, so those brave men clung to the ground they had won until the following evening, assisting in the work of consolidation.

Meanwhile the remainder of the Battalion had marched back down the main road to Arras. On April 22nd the “Battle Strength” of the Battalion had been 17 officers and 520 rank and file: on April 24th 2 officers and 64 men marched back (this is exclusive of 2nd Lieutenant Williamson’s party)... On the evening of April 25th 2nd Lieut. Williamson and his party rejoined.’ (Ibid)

Williamson advanced to Acting Captain in August 1917, before returning to the UK to recuperate from illness in December 1917. He relinquished his commission in November 1920, and returned to South Africa. In 1924 he changed his name by legal deed, at the request of his maternal grandfather who had no son, to Howard Baker Wakes Williamson.

Despite turning 50 in August 1939, Williamson applied to be appointed to the Reserve of Officers, Infantry Branch, South African Defence Force at the outbreak of the Second War. He was employed as a Captain at various training establishments including a two month attachment to the South African Tank Corps. Williamson advanced to Acting Major in December 1940, and was posted as Officer Commanding Troops at the Union Defence Forces Broken Hill Base Camp, Northern Rhodesia. From August 1941 he served as a Staff Officer at H.Q. Natal Command, before being appointed Camp Commandant, Clairwood Race Course Camp in September the following year.

Willamson was appointed Temporary Major in October 1942, before being found medically unfit for further military service in January 1944. He died in Durban in June 1965.

Sold with file of copied research, including photographic images of the recipient.