Lance Corporal Allan Lewis: The life of one of Britain's bravest soldiers of the First World War (From Ledbury Reporter)
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Lance Corporal Allan Lewis: The life of one of Britain's bravest soldiers of the First World War
A BATTERED army paybook found on a body lain nine days dead on a battleground in northern France military maps marked as Doleful Post, found its way from the frontline to the front - and only - door of a little cottage on the left bank of the Wye at Brilley.
It was said of this cottage - some three-quarters of a mile from the old Whitney-on-Wye rail station on the Hereford-Glasbury road - that a stone pitched from the door would roll sheer into the river such was the slope it was set upon.
The young life of Allan Lewis revolved around the roll of that stone down through the fruit trees he called a garden and the meadows and wooded hills that lay beyond to define his childhood boundaries.
Allan was one of nine children, five boys and four girls, born to jobbing carpenter George Lewis and his wife Annie, a Lady’s Maid.
Together, they called that cottage home. From that door, where a notch marked his height at 5ft 10, young Allan would set out to Whitney-on-Wye school as a lad who “indulged in outdoor games” to prove as good a shot as he was an angler.
The “lad” last walked through that door in August 1918, home on leave with a Lance Corporal’s stripe on his sleeve having come through four years of fighting relatively unscathed. Within weeks he was dead and buried where he was destined never to be found.
Allan left school at 13 to find employment of his own on the land he grew up around. When those boundaries became too confining he moved over the border to be a gardener then a bus driver in South Wales.
It was at Swansea that Allan joined up in March 1915. His brother Frank enlisted two months later. Bound for the front, both said they would not “stay to be fetched” and vowed never to be captured.
Allan signed up to the “mechanical transport section” of the Royal Army Service Corps but the need for line infantry saw him switched to The Northamptonshire Regiment where he was to distinguish himself as a “gallant and daring” leader of men up until his actions at Doleful Post, Ronssoy, in September 1918.
The fighting at Ronssoy was desperate, part of much wider offensive stretching across a swathe of northern France to breach the last line of German defence. Doleful Post described a heavily defended site that dominated its surrounds and seen as so crucial a capture that it had been levelled by 18 pounder batteries firing 50 rounds an hour over two-hour “shifts” ahead of an infantry attack.
Here, a soldier faced death from all directions - without ever knowing which side his death might come from or how.
On September 18, commanding a section on the right of an attacking line, Lce-Cpl Lewis crawled out alone into a maelstrom of machine gun fire to attack the enemy gunners with rifle shots and grenades - forcing their surrender and allowing the line a hard-won advance.
Two days later he led his company at a charge through heavy machine gun fire in circumstances that showed “a splendid disregard of danger and leadership beyond all praise”. While getting his men into cover he was struck in the head by shrapnel and died instantly.
The body of Allan Lewis lay at Doleful Post for nine days before being recovered by advancing Australian soldiers and buried close to where he fell. As was expected, his paybook was taken from the body and forwarded to his mother at the front - and - only door of that little cottage on the left bank of the Wye at Brilley.
To read about the tribute planned for Lance Corporal Allan Lewis, click here.
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