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Thatcham's Victoria Cross recipients

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Town lays claim to three men who have received award for most conspicuous bravery

A YOUNG officer from Thatcham was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry during the First World War.

Second Lieutenant Alexander Buller Turner had military blood coursing through his veins as his grandfather was Admiral Sir Alexander Buller GCB, commander in chief of the Royal Navy’s China Station in 1895 and who presided over the Far Eastern Crisis of 1897/98.

The lieutenant was the eldest son of Major Charles Turner, and the family moved to Thatcham House, in Turners Drive, in 1902.

Alexander was educated at Parkside, Ewell, and Wellington College, and shortly after war broke out, he joined the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. He was sent to France, attached to the 1st Battalion in June 1915.

Turner sustained a head wound from a sniper on August 12, and, after recuperation at home, returned to duty on September 7.

Later that month, the 1st Battalion were involved in the Battle of Loos, on the La Bassée railway in a great slagheap known as Fosse 8.

A brigade of the Scottish 9th Division had reached the foot of Fosse 8 on September 25, but the Germans counter-attacked the same evening and fierce fighting ensued.

On the morning of September 28, German bombers – men armed with hand grenades – attacked and Lt Price Lloyd of the Welsh Regiment recalled: “Gallantly though they fought, the regimental bombers could not stem the flood, and their colonel called down the trenches for an officer to advance to clear the way.

“His appeal was soon answered – in the British Army, the occasion will always find the man.

“Second-Lt Turner at once came forward, and, stopping only to pick up a bag of grenades, made his way along Slag Alley towards the Germans.

“Calmly he walked straight into that hell of shrieking splinters, and threw bomb after bomb into the press of the Germans.

“For a time they held their ground and hurled back bomb for bomb, but they could not kill this tireless Englishman. Man after man of them fell, and the remnant began to retreat.

“Turner gave them no respite, but up the deep trench, littered with fallen earth and the horrible debris of battle, he followed them swiftly, flinging his deadly bombs before him as he went.

“When his comrades reached him, 200 yards further along the trench, it was only to find that a German bomb had finally found its mark.”

Alexander died from his wounds three days later on October 1, aged 22.

A letter in the NWN from Cpl W Hawkings, published shortly after the attack said: “Lt Turner got right up on the German parapet, stood up and hurled bombs at them as fast as ever he could. A pluckier deed I never saw. I am proud to have served under such an officer, and I know Thatcham will be proud of him.”

Col Carter, who led the rearguard action, said: “His action saved us a loss of from 200 to 300 men, and I was able to order an immediate advance at a time when every minute’s delay was a serious matter.”

An account from another private said: “If a V.C. was ever earned, it was by him.”

The Victoria Cross is awarded for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.

Twenty-seven years later Alexander’s younger brother, lieutenant colonel Victor Buller Turner, was awarded the VC for actions at the Second Battle of El Alamein in the Second World War.

Under his leadership, and despite receiving a head wound, his isolated Rifle Brigade unit repulsed 90 enemy tanks for 13-and-a-half hours.

His citation reads: “His personal gallantry and complete disregard of danger as he moved about encouraging his Battalion to resist to the last, resulted in the infliction of a severe defeat on the enemy tanks. He set an example of leadership and bravery which inspired his whole Battalion and which will remain an inspiration to the Brigade.”

The NWN reported in 1942 that the people of Thatcham welcomed Victor’s VC with the greatest satisfaction and pride, noting that it must be unique for a place of the population and size of Thatcham to have turned out three men who had won the most coveted of all decorations.

The Buller Turners add to the actions of lance-corporal William House at the Battle of Musillrake Nek during the Second Boer War in 1900.

Despite being cautioned not to do so, Private House rushed from cover into “very hot” enemy fire to pick up a wounded Sergeant.

As House endeavoured to bring his wounded comrade back, he was severely wounded but warned his comrades not to assist him because of the intense fire.

House took his own life in Dover in 1912, possibly as a result of depression brought on by his head wounds.

To date there are 1,358 recipients of the Victoria Cross, three of which having won the award twice. There have only been three instances in British history where brothers have received the Victoria Cross.

Slabs marking Thatcham's three VC winners can be found in The Broadway.

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