Harold Ackroyd VC
World War I Victoria Cross Recipient. Born in Southport, England, he was a doctor serving as a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, British Army. At Ypres, Belgium, during an enemy attack July 31 to 1 August, 1917, Captain Ackroyd, despite being under fire for hours at a time tended to the wounded men in the front line. He carried one wounded officer to safety on his back and returned to bring in another under sniper fire. During the enemy’s repulse on August 11, 1917, he off from his advanced dressing station to search for wounded behind the firing line, going from one shell-hole to another, until he was shot and killed by a sniper. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross on September 6, 1917.
Birr Cross Roads Cemetery
West Flanders (West-Vlaanderen), Belgium
Harold Ackroyd was a gifted scholar, educated at Mintholme College, Southport, and Shrewsbury School, from which he gained entrance to Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. He completed his BA degree in 1899 and continued his studies at Guy’s Hospital, London, achieving his MB (Cambridge) in 1904 and his MD six years later.
After the outbreak of war Harold Ackroyd was commissioned a temporary lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps on 15th February 1915 and was attached to the 6th Bn, Royal Berkshire Regiment as medical officer. The battalion proceeded to France in July 1915 and went into the line a month later opposite Fricourt on the Somme.
The 6th Berkshires took part in the attack towrds Montauban Ridge on 1st July 1916, one of the few successes on the first day of the Somme. After Montauban came the horrors of Delville Wood on 19th July 1916. The fearful casualties included more than 700 wounded. The fighting was so confused and the wood so hard to search that the difficulties of evacuating the wounded seem unconquerable. But Captain Ackroyd “was so cool, purposeful and methodical that he cleared the whole wood of wounded, British and German as well.” Much of this work was carried out in the face of snipers and heavy shelling.
Such was Ackroyd’s courage that no fewer than eleven reports were filed by officers outside the 6th Berkshires. A recommendation for the Victoria Cross followed, but this was down-graded to a Military Cross. Ackroyd came through the fighting physically unscathed, but the strain took its toll and he was invalided home on 11th August 1916, suffering from nervous exhaustion.
[ London Gazette, 20 October 1916 ], For the award of the Military Cross, Temporary Captain Harold Ackroyd, MD, Royal Army Medical Corps.
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations. He attended the wounded under heavy fire, and finally, when he had seen that all our wounded from behind the line had got in, he went out beyond the front line and brought in both our own and enemy wounded, although continually sniped at.”
Passed fit by a medical board on 3rd October 1916, he was back in France the following month, rejoining his regiment in December. During the bitter winter of 1916-17, the Berkshires were engaged in sharp fighting around Miraumont, and in the spring and early summer were spent preparing for the Flanders offensive. Their attack astride the Menin Road was recognised as one of the most important and hazardous operations on the first day. After initial success, the attack was checked almost everywhere along the front, with enemy guns raining shells on Sanctuary and Chateau Woods, causing huge casualties. By the end of the day the Berkshires’ casualties amounted 44 officers and men killed, 182 wounded and 28 missing.
Many of the wounded lay out in the open at the mercy of enemy fire of every description and to make matters worse heavy rain began to fall, quckly turning the churned ground to a muddy slush. The report of the 18th Division historian recalled the selfless efforts of Captain Ackroyd:
He seemd to be everywhere; he tended and bandaged scores of men, for to him fell the rush of cases round Clapham Junction and towards Hooge. But no wounded man was treated hurriedly or unskilfully. Ackroyd worked as stoically as if he were in the quiet of an operating theatre. When it was all over and the reports came in, it was found there were twenty-three separate recommendations of his name for the Victoria Cross.”
[ London Gazette, 6 September 1917 ], For the award of the Victoria Cross, Ypres, Belgium, 31 July to 1 August 1917, Captain Harold Ackroyd, MD, Royal Army Medical Corps.
“Captain Ackroyd worked continuously, utterly regardless of danger, saving lives and tending to the wounded men in the front line under heavy fire. Having carried one wounded officer to safety on his back he returned to bring in another under sniper fire. His heroism was the means of saving many lives, and provided a magnificent example of courage, cheefulness and determination to the fighting men in whose midst he was carrying out his splendid work.”
The Berkshires came out of the line on 1st August 1917 and Ackroyd, despite being under fire for hours at a time, emerged again unscathed. By the time the regiment returned to the front, Ackroyd was aware he had been put in for the VC. Tragically, however, he would not live to see its confirmation. During a lull following the enemy’s repulse on 11th August, Harold Ackroyd set off from his advanced dressing station to search behind the firing line, going from one shell-hole to another, and in doing so was shot through the head by a sniper. Harold Ackroyd’s body was brought out and buried behind the lines. His headstone in Birr Crossroads Cemetery, Zillebeke, carries the inscription: ‘Believed to be buried in this cemetery.’