TYNESIDE WAR HEROES #3

THE DAY I WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS

Richard Wallace Annand VC (1914-2004)

I’m writing this on the day BBC TV are showing a service remembering the victory over Japan that brought an end to the Second World War. During the war, massive acts of heroism were shown by young men who were rightly awarded for their courage and bravery. Some hailed from the North East and in this post we focus on one young man from South Shields. This is his story.

I was born in South Shields, North East England on 5th November 1914. My father was Lieutenant-Commander Wallace Annand of the Royal Naval Division, he was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. My mother was called Dora and I was their only child. After leaving school and working in a bank, I joined the Tyne Division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. They promoted me to Sub-Lieutenant and I completed both, navigation and gunnery course.

When the war came I was a Second Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion DLI and we headed off to battle. On May 12th 1940, the company set up headquarters south of Paris. Three companies moved down into the valley with A on the right, B in the centre and D defending a road bridge on the left. C Company was sent to watch for any movement. There was a rumour that the Germans were hiding in the woods, so C Company withdrew and blew the bridge. This halted any German advance long enough to withdraw across the river.

The next morning, with the enemy on the opposite bank, the assault began with heavy mortar fire hitting D Company’s position beside the ruined bridge. I led two counter-attacks – I was wounded on the second.

The Germans crossed the river over-running a platoon of B Company. After desperate fighting we were unable to push the enemy back across the river and our position was raked with fire. A further attack was inevitable and, shortly after dark under cover of intense fire, the enemy again struck D Company’s position. Armed with grenades, I again went forward, inflicting significant casualties.

We were holding on, but elsewhere the Germans broke through, so a withdrawal was ordered. I realized Private Joseph Hunter was missing so I went back and found him wounded. I was bringing him back in a wheelbarrow and making good progress until my path was blocked by a fallen tree. I was feeling very weak because I’d lost a lot of blood, so didn’t have the strength to lift Hunter over the tree. I decided to leave him and set off for help. That was a hard decision. Soon after I collapsed but fortunately taken to safety and evacuated.

For his rescue attempt and courageous actions, Annand was presented with the Victoria Cross on 3rd September 1940. The VC is the highest and most prestigious award for courage in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was also made of Freeman of his hometown, South Shields.

Annand served in Britain for the rest of the conflict and much of his service involved training young soldiers, members of the Home Guard and commandos. Plus a spell at the War Office. As a result of permanent damage to his hearing, he was invalided out in 1948 with the rank of captain.

Annand worked at a training centre for disabled people, near Durham, and for the next 30 years devoted his life to helping disabled people. He maintained close links with his regiment, and was president of the Durham Branch of the Light Infantry Association until 1998.

Richard Annand passed away on Christmas Eve 2004, and was cremated at Durham City Crematorium. In 2007 a bronze statue of Richard was unveiled in South Shields Town Hall and in 2018 relatives from around the UK, Canada and Cyprus came together to see the memorial to their ancestor, which stands on the grand staircase of the Town Hall.

His medals including the VC, 1939-45 Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45,  and Army Emergency Reserve Decoration and Bar.

They were originally held on loan by the Durham Light Infantry, before in 2010 they were purchased privately by Michael Ashcroft and are now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London.

Gary Alikivi   August 2020

Sources: Ancestry, Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria Cross