Private Robert Morrow V.C.
The Newmills War Hero
Private Robert Morrow wins the Victoria Cross
By the Spring of 1915 the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, part of the 10th Brigade, 4th Division, was in the River Douvre sector south of Messines. The ground there was waterlogged making it virtually impassable. The Germans dominated the area owing to the excellent views afforded to them from having captured the heights of the hills at Messines.
Map of relevant locations around Ypres
On the 14th March, the First Battalion were relieved from their position. They had been guarding the same stretch of trench for some four months.
The battalion had moved back into the area on the 16th March. The next day they relieved the 1st Suffolks (84th Brigade, 28th Division), who were in support.
On the 25th March the Faugh-a-Ballaghs took over 200 yards of front line trench from the Seaforth Highlanders, north of the River Douvre.
The German artillery bombardments became constant and unvarying and more accurate as they used their Messines height advantage to pinpoint the trenches.
The battalion was to be relieved on 12/13th April. On their last day in the trenches on 12th April, in addition to the normal bombardment, the Germans opened fire with much heavier guns and proceeded to demolish their trenches methodically foot by foot. The nearby Dead Cow Farm was destroyed.
Parts of the trench system were blown in and dug-outs collapsed in the barrage, with a number of men buried in the debris.
Private Morrow, who was sheltering in the reserve lines, didn't think about himself. On his own initiative, he left what was comparative safety to go forward to dig out six of his comrades from the wreckage of the trench. Over the space of two or more hours, he dragged them back, one by one, to the relative safety at the rear. He returned again and again to the smitten line, each time rescuing a wounded man. All the time, he and his friends were coming under heavy enemy fire.
Miraculously, Private Morrow was unharmed on this occasion and undeterred, Robert made sure that his six comrades were all safe before going back right into the thick of the action.
For his action he was recommended for the V.C. by his commanding officer Captain G. V. W. Hill, but was never to see it. Captain Hill's report was as follows:
On 12th April 1915, the Battalion was holding trenches below Messines Hill. D company's line on the left ran from the River Douvre to the Ploegsteert – Messines Road. In the early afternoon the enemy started to range on D Company's lines with a 5.9 Howitzer, and after some 12 or 15 rounds, seemed to have obtained the range of our front line trench to a nicety. Anyhow, he proceeded to spoil some in the shape of sandbagging and digging with very great thoroughness.
It was during this systematic destruction that Private R Morrow of D Company won his V.C. some six or so of these heavy shells obtained direct hits on the portion of D Company line, with distinctly destructive results, both to lives and earthworks. During this severe shelling Private Morrow quietly, yet very methodically, worked away with a shovel digging out wounded from the debris, carrying them to other portions of the trenches and then returning to see what else he could do or whom else he could help. He must have rescued six or more comrades from the wreckage of about sixty yards of trench, which had been, or rather was been, very severely punished, but the shells appeared to have no effect on him, he quietly but surely continued his work of rescue, and it was certainly due to his efforts and astounding bravery that the Company's casualties, in deaths, at all events, during possibly two hours, were not trebled.
Morrow as a small unostentatious man, almost boy, whom one would never imagine as doing outstanding things, yet under fire he we was one of those who did not know what fear was, or if he did, he concealed it so well that one would almost call him mad. His bravery was the talk of the Company, but unfortunately he never lived to know he had been awarded the highest honour that a British soldier can receive, for he was wounded close to St Julien on 25th April 1915, and he died shortly after. It was early May when we heard he had been awarded the V.C.
Marcus Cunliffe, in his 1970 'History of the Royal Irish Fusiliers', gives further details. He wrote: "A quiet, undemonstrative boy from D Company, Private Robert Morrow, left the support trench where the survivors were sheltering and returned to the front trench, where the shells were still pumping down. He came back dragging one of his comrades who had been buried in the debris, then returned again and again to the smitten line, each time rescuing a wounded man. It was one of those moments on the Western Front when the individual seemed to reassert himself triumphantly in the face of all the horrors of mass warfare; for, miraculously, Morrow was unharmed on this occasion"
Image by H Ripperger depicting Private Morrow's heroic activities
Robert Morrow V.C. © 2015-21
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