VICTORIA CROSS WAR HEROES #9 FAMILY HEARTBREAK for BRIGADIER GENERAL ROLAND BOYS BRADFORD

The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of an enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Brigadier General Roland Boys Bradford was presented with the VC by King George V in Hyde Park on 2 June 1917.

On his return to the front he ordered that the hymn ‘Abide with Me’ be sung every night by his men. The tradition grew and was taken up by the entire Durham Light Infantry (DLI), it remains the hymn of the regiment to this day. 

At 25 he was the youngest Brigadier General in the modern history of the British Army to lead a combat formation. But on 30 November 1917, during the Battle of Cambrai he was killed. On hearing the news the Durham Light Infantry sang ‘Abide With Me’ in respect for their former commander.

Unfortunately the Bradford story doesn’t end there. Two of Roland’s brothers -Second Lieutenant James Bradford died of wounds during the Battle of Arras in 1917 and a year later Lieutenant Commander George Bradford died during the Zeebrugge Raid, he was also awarded the Victoria Cross.

Roland and George are the only brothers to both be awarded the Victoria Cross and no other family is more highly decorated in the history of the British Army. This is Roland’s story.


I was born on 23 February 1892 in Carwood House, Bishop Auckland in County Durham. My parents were George, a mining engineer and Amy, originally from Kent, they married in 1885. I had three brothers and one sister.

I was educated in Darlington at Bondgate Wesleyan School, and went on to Epsom College, Surrey where I captained the Rugby team and was Lance Corporal in the Epsom Cadet Corps.

In 1910 I joined the Territorial Army and two years later transferred to the regular army, serving with the 5th Durham Light Infantry. I was enjoying military life so much I changed my mind about a medical degree and stayed in the Army.

At the start of the war we sailed from Southampton for France on 9 September 1914 landing at St Nazaire the following day. I got on really well with the men and showed tactical awareness so was fast-tracked for promotion. In 1915, we saw action on the Aisne, I was promoted to Lieutenant and awarded the Military Cross.

One year later I was promoted to Major and transferred to the 1st/9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. I was given full command of the battalion. I led them in combat throughout 1916 and much of 1917 and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel aged 24.

On 1 October 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, the 50th Division was ordered into action on the Northern coast of France. It was for his actions during this battle that Bradford would be awarded the Victoria Cross. 

A leading Battalion had suffered very severe casualties, and the Commander was wounded, its flank became dangerously exposed to the enemy and was raked by machine-gun fire, the situation was critical. I asked permission to command the exposed Battalion in addition to my own. Permission was granted.

At once, the two Battalions proceeded to the front lines, we were under fire of all description but succeeded in rallying the attack, we captured and defended the objective, and in the end secured the flank.

Bradford led another attack and captured over 300 prisoners, two howitzers and machine guns with a minimum of casualties. His Battalion penetrated the enemy’s second line and captured Cherisey near the German border.

The following day, he was appointed Temporary Brigadier General, the youngest in the Army, at just 25, he assumed command of 186th Brigade.

He returned to the front after receiving his VC award in June 1917. Sadly, on 30 November, he was visiting his Brigade’s positions alone at Graincourt near the Belgian border, when during a German counterattack he was killed. Finally, Roland was buried in Hermies British Cemetery 100 mile south of Dunkirk.

In addition to his VC and MC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with ‘Mons’ clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The medals are held by the Durham Light Infantry.

Research: Commonwealth War Graves.

Comprehensive Guide to Victoria Cross.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021

TYNESIDE WAR HEROES #3- Richard Wallace Annand VC (1914-2004)

THE DAY I WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS

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