With Remembrance Sunday having just passed, the University of Edinburgh can be proud of the jaw-dropping tales of bravery displayed by many of its alumni in the First World War. Among hundreds of tales of valour, five university alumni were awarded the Victoria Cross, which remains one of the highest honours that can be bestowed upon a member of the British Armed Forces. From the university’s Roll of Honour, The Student brings you the stories of five former students awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War.
Lieutenant Allan Ebenezer Ker
Prior to the war, Allan Ebenezer Ker had studied law at the University of Edinburgh from 1903 to 1908. After joining the army, Lieutenant Ker was awarded the Victoria Cross for actions in March 1918 while serving in the 3rd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. His battalion was flanked by enemy soldiers near St Quentin, but Ker was able to hold off the attack using a Vickers gun, an automatic machine gun used by the British Army during and after the war. After running out of ammunition and the destruction of the Vickers gun, Ker, his Sergeant, and others, were attacked from behind, but again managed to repel the attack. They were able to secure more ammunition and weapons from fallen enemies, which they used to continue holding back an enemy advance. Despite these conditions, bombardments, gas poisoning and needing to attend to the wounded for over 10 hours, Ker was able to hold up over 500 enemy soldiers for more than three hours.
He was awarded his Victoria Cross in September 1919 after surviving the war. He died in 1958.
Captain Arthur Moore Lascelles
Arthur Moore Lascelles had been a medical student from 1899 to 1902 at the university, and then joined the army in 1914. He was named Acting Captain in 1916, and was appointed Captain a year later. Captain Lascelles had been awarded a Military Cross in June 1917 for his reconnaissance and leadership in a raid near Loos. He was then awarded the Victoria Cross for, as the London Gazette reported, “most conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty” for his actions while wounded in December 1917 at Masnieres, France. After being wounded in a heavy bombardment, Lascelles continued to organise and encourage his men against an attack, without stopping to have his wound treated. After some of his men were captured in another wave of attack, Lascelles led the remaining 13 members of the company on a counterattack, holding off an advance of 60 enemy soldiers. Lascelles had received two further wounds and then been captured, but he later escaped to continue the war.
Captain Lascelles was tragically killed in action on 7 November 1918 near Maubeuge, just 4 days before the end of the war.
Lieutenant David Lowe Macintyre
Originally from Islay, David Lowe Macintyre was studying arts at the start of the war, before joining the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1915. He received a Victoria Cross in October 1918 after being wounded the month before. The award was for earlier action in command of his fellow men. The Lieutenant received his award for his bravery leading his battalion in the firing line, where they successfully captured three ‘pill-boxes’ from the enemy before defending the captured position. At the time the London Gazette reported Macintyre’s “gallantry and leading was an inspiring example to all.”
He returned to the university to continue his studies in 1918.
Major Harcus Strachan
After studying medicine between 1903 and 1905, then again in 1913, Major Strachan was awarded a Military Cross and Victoria Cross in 1917. The Victoria Cross award came in December for “conspicuous bravery and leadership.” After his squadron leader was killed, Strachan took over, leading the attack on the enemy lines and successfully removing a battery. He then led the retreat, bringing all his unwounded men and 15 prisoners safely in. Some key telephone lines were also cut in the operation, the success of which the London Gazette reported was due to the “outstanding gallantry and fearless leading” of Strachan.
Captain Samuel Thomas Dickson Wallace
Captain Wallace was awarded his Victoria Cross for continuing the defence of a battery despite the heavy losses inflicted upon it. The award from the Battle of Cambrai was earned by Wallace, who was a student of science from 1911 to 1914, after he was one of only five men left at a battery following enemy bombardments and attack, yet he continued to defend the post. This allowed him to protect other battery positions and infantry detachments nearby while inflicting casualties on the enemy for eight hours before reinforcements arrived to take over.
Wallace survived the war and died in February 1968.
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