Down Memory Lane

Soldiers distribute their rations on Christmas Day
Soldiers distribute their rations on Christmas Day

By December of 1914 the war had taken to the trenches, talk of it being “all over by Christmas” was looking misguided, around 100,000 had already become casualties, and recruiting was in full swing to replace these men.

In the meantime, men from local territorial units such as the 8th Royal Scots, had made their way to France and had received their baptism of fire.

The 8th went “over the bags” on December 18 at Fleurbaix. Around 4.30pm, just as darkness was falling, the whistles sounded and off they went.

For 45 minutes they exchanged heavy fire with the Germans in the shallow trenches.

Lt Andrew Burt, a mining engineer from Prestonpans, led forward his bombing platoon into the attack. He was killed soon after, and his men took a number of casualties who were lying in the open.

Seeing this, Pte William Cordery from Dalkeith sprang into action. He ran to the first of the wounded men and carried him back to the British lines.

He was seen to repeat this feat twice more, but as he went back for a fateful fourth time in the fading light, he disappeared. He was posted missing and his Commanding Officer, Colonel Alexander Brook, recommended him for the Distinguished Conduct Medal for outstanding gallantry.

However, William was missing and at the time, it was presumed he was dead. As the DCM could not be awarded posthumously the recommendation was refused.

A number of months later William Cordery was reported alive in a German hospital. He had been wounded in the leg and captured attempting to rescue his fourth fallen comrade. Sadly, his leg had to be amputated to save him.

Cordery was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal but not until 1918.

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