Every man who pulled on a uniform and fought for King and country in the hellish battlefields of World War One deserved the title ‘hero’. Of the Chichester heroes, the actions of one man stood out.
His name was Wilfrith Elstob and he died in Saint-Quentin, France, in 1918, as he refused to surrender a fort known as Manchester Hill, despite being vastly outnumbered. His bravery saw him posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Wilfrith was born in Chichester on September 8 1888, the son of Church of England vicar John George Elstob and his wife Frances Alice. His father work at Chichester Cathedral when Wilfrith was born.
He was educated at Christ’s Hospital School between 1898 and 1905, where he was a member of Coleridge B House and played rugby for the 1st team. He also served in the school cadet corps and reached the rank of Lance Corporal.
He graduated from Manchester University in 1909 with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. Wilfrith was a teacher when war was declared and volunteered for the Army, being commissioned into the Manchester Regiment on October 30 1914.
By 1915 he had reached the rank of Captain and became second in command of A Company under his old school friend Hubert Worthington. Early that November, they were sent to France. In July 1916, now in charge of D Company, Wilfrith led an attack on Trones Wood, during which he was wounded. His efforts saw him awarded the Military Cross on the New Year’s Day 1917 for his leadership.
The Museum of the Manchester Regiment recorded: “By the 1st August Wilfrith was second in command of the 16th Battalion with the rank of Temporary Major. During shelling around Le Barque on the 13th October the commanding officer was killed, so Wilfrith took his place as a Lieutenant Colonel.”
Wilfrith died on March 21 1918 as he fought to hold Manchester Hill. Records show he ordered his men to defend the position ‘to the last round and to the last man’. At one point he found himself holding a position alone and used grenades and his revolver to drive off the German attack. He kept fighting even when wounded and the records show he encouraged his men, telling them: “You are doing magnificently boys!” He was shot dead at 3.30pm and his men surrendered at 4pm.
Although he was commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial, Wilfrith has no known grave. His father received Wilfrith’s Victoria Cross from King George V at Buckingham Palace on July 24 1919. His citation included the line: “He set throughout the highest example of valour, determination, endurance and fine soldierly bearing.”
The museum at Christ’s Hospital School, Horsham, has an exhibition commemorating former pupils who served during the Great War, including Wilfrith.
Christ’s Hospital School museum is open on Tuesdays and most Thursdays by appointment only.
Call 01403 247444 for details.
Source: Museum of the Manchester Regiment
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