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The daring deeds of VC hero Richard West

Remembering the Co Fermanagh officer who rode to his eternal glory in 1918

By Eddie McIlwaine

Old soldiers who visit the Mory Military Cemetery in central France always pause a while by the grave of Ulster WWI hero Richard Annesley West to pay homage to a Northern Irish Horse officer whose very being was all about extraordinary bravery and devotion to duty.

Stories about the way he led his soldiers into battle, mostly after this man West was seconded to the 6th Bn The Tank Corps, are legion.

Especially the oft-told one of how the acting Lieut-Colonel won a VC posthumously on September 2, 1918 when he refused to flinch under heavy machine-gun fire which meant certain death as he rode his favourite horse Samson into the face of an enemy counter-attack at Vaulx-Vraucourt in France to rally his men, who had already suffered heavy casualties .

He rode up and down calling out words of encouragement to the soldiers and the counter attack was resisted, even though their commanding officer had been killed and West had assumed command.

Sadly, that awful day in the autumn of 1918, the last year of the Great War, was West's last as he fell, his body riddled with bullets.

He was just 40 and had been mentioned in dispatches several times before winning four bravery medals in the final months of the conflict. However, by the time both a Bar to his DSO and his MC had been announced, West had eclipsed both by earning that posthumous Victoria Cross.

His VC was announced in The London Gazette on October 3, 1918, only a month and a day after West had been killed.

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Annesley West was the son of Augustus E and Sarah West of Whitepark, Co Fermanagh, and husband of Maude E West of Trafalgar Square, Chelsea.

"I've read a dramatic account of how Colonel West had two horses shot from under him in a previous encounter with the enemy," said collector of military memorabilia Gary Campbell.

"Even though he was killed so long ago, the daring deeds he got up to were still being written about when I was growing up in the Seventies.

"Richard West was so famous that he was often mentioned in feature articles in comics like The Rover and The Wizard, which I read as a boy," he added.

War historian Ernie Cromie recalls another time at French Courcelles when the infantry had lost their bearings in dense fog.

"He rounded up as many of his soldiers as he could find in the swirling mists, never mind the chattering machine-gun fire all around, and led them to an unlikely victory."

This soldier West was truly your traditional comic book legend and it is not a reflection on his worth to say so.

His exploits in France after he had launched his military career in the Boer War are too numerous to mention here.

Suffice to relate that Richard won his medals for his way in battle, which inspired many ordinary soldiers to the heights alongside a leader they respected and loved.

Richard Annesley West was still a great fighting soldier on horseback even as the time of the tank arrived in battle.

His VC is on display in the Tank Museum in Dorset.

Neil's a real diamond, but song's puzzling line still gives me the blues

Song Sung Blue was a hit Neil Diamond wrote and recorded 42 years ago. It was the star's second number one after Cracklin' Rosie and helped cement his career.

But here's the thing - there is a line in the lyrics of this touching ballad about sadness being overcome which puzzles me.

One of the verses goes like this:

Song sung blue, everybody knows one; Song sung blue, every garden grows one; Me and you are subject to; The blues now and then...

It's that line about every garden grows one I don't get, and I hope when he comes to town next year he'll take time out to tell me what those words mean. Last time we met up a few years back Neil started to explain, but we were interrupted by a determined autograph hunter.

Perhaps I'm being stupid, but that line about a garden in one of my Diamond favourites has kept me awake at night. If you know what Neil is getting at, dear reader, enlighten me. Song Sung Blue was inspired by a Mozart piano concerto and spent 12 weeks in the Top 40. He will be at the Odyssey next June 30 and July 1 and tickets are selling as ready-made Christmas presents right now.

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