VC hero honoured in his homeland after 93 years

HE CHARGED two machine-gun nests armed with grenades, saving many of his men from the slaughter of the First World War.

• Samuel Frickleton won the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the battle of Messines on 7 June, 1917. Picture: Complimentary

Now, 93 years after he carried out one of the most courageous acts of the Great War, a Scots war hero who was awarded the Victoria Cross, is to be honoured in his homeland .

Lance Corporal Samuel Frickleton, of Slamannan, Stirlingshire, was awarded the military's highest honour for his actions in the Battle of Messines. His bravery was so outstanding that his commanding officer claimed he could have won the Victoria Cross "twice over".

Yet, because he had emigrated to New Zealand before the conflict, his heroism has been largely unknown in his native land until now, and on Saturday a memorial cairn will be unveiled in the village of his birth.

The memorial service has been organised by James Kerr, 47, a member of the Slamannan Orange Lodge, and Robert Jack, a relative of Frickleton, after they discovered the astonishing story.

Mr Kerr was put in touch with Mr Jack, who had researched the family's history, and together they organised the memorial cairn, which will be unveiled at a service to commemorate Frickleton's actions.

The service will be attended by relatives of Frickleton, a representative of the New Zealand Army, the Lord Lieutenant of Stirling and Falkirk, and several MPs and MSPs.

Mr Jack, 63, said: "The memorial is a tribute to all the servicemen and women from the village who have done their bit in all wars."

Frickleton was born in 1891, the son of Samuel and Elizabeth Frickleton. The family emigrated to New Zealand to take advantage of the plentiful jobs on offer in the coal mining industry, and the following year saw the outbreak of the First World War.

Frickleton and his four brothers joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and they all fought at Gallipoli in 1915. Samuel was invalided home and subsequently discharged as medically unfit for active service. However he re-enlisted in 1916 and was sent to Belgium as part of the 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade, just as the Great War was entering its most intense period of fighting.

On 7 June, 1917, the British Army launched a massive offensive against the entrenched German positions near the village of Messines in West Flanders. Some 216,000 British troops were deployed against an estimated 126,000 German troops. Frickleton found himself in the middle of the fighting.

His Victoria Cross citation describes his act of heroism: "Although slightly wounded, Lance Corporal Frickleton dashed forward at the head of his section, rushed through a barrage and personally destroyed with bombs an enemy machine gun and crew, which were causing heavy casualties. He then attacked the second gun, killing the whole of the crew of 12.

"By the destruction of these two guns, he undoubtedly saved his own and other units from very severe casualties and his magnificent courage and gallantry ensured the capture of the objective."

Frickleton was severely wounded later in the war and was evacuated to England. After the war, he was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V.

He then returned to New Zealand to a hero's reception, and he was acclaimed at an open-air ceremony in Christchurch. He returned to the UK in 1937 to represent New Zealand at the coronation of King George VI, and during his trip he took the opportunity to revisit Slamannan.

Samuel Frickleton died in New Zealand in 1971, aged 80, and is buried in Taita Serviceman's Cemetery in Naenae.

In June 2007, a plaque commemorating his bravery was unveiled at the Messines Ridge British Cemetery in Belgium.

The citation

ALTHOUGH slightly wounded, Lance Corporal Frickleton dashed forward at the head of his section, rushed through a barrage, and personally destroyed with bombs an enemy machine gun and crew, which were causing heavy casualties.

He then attacked the second gun, killing the whole of the crew of 12. By the destruction of these two guns, he undoubtedly saved his own and other units from very severe casualties and his magnificent courage and gallantry ensured the capture of the objective.

A blast so loud it was heard in Downing Street

THE Battle of Messines has been described as one of the most successful Allied operations in the First World War.

The objective was to shatter the German defences dug in on a natural ridge running north from Messines village in Belgium, which created a natural stronghold south-east of Ypres.

Under the command of General Herbert Plumer, the British Second Army assembled 12 divisions, totalling some 216,000 men, to take part in the offensive. They were facing an estimated 126,000 well-protected German troops.

The key feature of the battle was the detonation of 19 mines before the infantry assault on 7 June, 1917. British engineers had spent almost a year before the battle tunnelling under the German positions to lay 455 tons of explosives.

When the mines were detonated before the battle the blast was said to be so loud it was heard in Downing Street. This tactic severely disrupted the German defences and allowed the Allies to advance rapidly.

To make matters worse for the Germans, the mines were detonated as they were relieving their front line troops, which doubled their casualties.

The attack was also a prelude to the third Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele, which began on 11 July, 1917.