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Douglas Reynolds VC

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Written by Lieutenant Colonel Mike Watson

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This article was originally published in September 2014. It is based on research Lt Col Watson has undertaken which aims to give an insight into the actions of 37 Howitzer Battery, Royal Field Artillery (RFA), now 93 Le Cateau Battery RA, when it fought at Le Cateau on Wednesday 26 August 1914, as related by some of the veterans of 37 Howitzer Battery and XV Field Brigade RFA at Le Cateau during August 1964.

You can read the full, recently revised manuscript on which it is based here.

50 years ago, I marched into Le Cateau to receive the freedom of the town with 93 Le Cateau Battery, Royal Artillery; the successors of the WW1 – 37 Howitzer Battery, Royal Field Artillery.  As I speak, 93 Le Cateau Battery are parading through Le Cateau in France.

So 50 years ago, I met some of the Gunner veterans, who fought alongside Captain Douglas Reynolds a century ago including: Driver Fred Luke VC, 2Lt Eric Earle DSO and Boy Trumpeter Badgie Waldron DCM.  These Gunner veterans stated that, “Le Cateau was a frontline Gunners’ battle

In which all the Gunners fought hard, much to the admiration of their supported infantry.”  It is what they called “Being the Cheese in the Le Cateau Mouse-trap!

Douglas Reynolds was born here in the Clifton area of Bristol but brought up in Cheltenham.

Subsequently, he was educated Cheltenham College and the Shop [Royal Military Academy] at Woolwich.  Before WW1, Douglas saw active service as a Lieutenant with the Gunners in South Africa as well as on the North West Frontier of India [now Pakistan].  At the outbreak of WW1, he was serving as Battery Captain, 37 Howitzer Batter in the Curragh Camp, in Ireland.

The Retreat from Mons started Sunday evening 23 August 1914.  There was an urgent need to prevent the Retreat from Mons becoming a rout by checking the momentum of the following 1st German Army so that is why 2 British Corps, including 37 Howitzer Battery and Douglas Reynolds, fought their renown rear-guard action near Le Cateau on Wednesday 26 August 1914.

At Le Cateau, the Right Flank Artillery of 5 Division, 2 British Corps, including 37 How Battery were deployed within a 100 yards or so of the rear of the frontline infantry.  From dawn until mid afternoon, they fought hard against an ever-increasing German threat.  When the guns were eventually permitted to retire, 37 Howitzer Battery recovered only four of their six guns.  

So, Douglas Reynolds called for volunteers to recover the two guns they had left behind.  Two teams were formed up of: a 2nd Lieutenant; three Gunners; three Drivers; six horses and a limber-cart, with Captain Douglas Reynolds following close behind.

Driver Fred Luke recalled the grim silence as they returned over the ridge from Reumont for a final time at a steady trot.  With 200 yards to go, Captain Douglas Reynolds ordered The Gallop!  Fred Luke thought that the nearby Germans started cheering them on but, with hindsight, they may have been calling on them to surrender.

Job Drain led the F Gun team in a left hand swerve; bounced the nearside limber-wheel over the gun-trail and halted his team with the hook on the limber 40 feet behind him, directly over the gun-trail eye-ring.

A superb piece of driving but an unauthorized stunt used in-barracks when recovering the guns from the parade square to the gun-sheds for a sweepstake.  Providing, of course, Captain Douglas Reynolds was out of sight!

This enabled Serjeant [WW1 spelling] Jumbo Butterworth, Gunners Baker and Garlick to hook F Gun up immediately.  As they set off, the Germans opened fire killing Centre Driver, 19 year old, Ben Cobey, who threw his whip in the air as he died.  It was caught by Captain Douglas Reynolds who galloped beside the centre pair of horses controlling them with Ben’s whip.

Meanwhile, the other team kept to the gun-drill as practiced endlessly on parade in Ireland, as they halted and slowly reversed the team towards their gun.  The nearby Germans shot all the horses but let all the surviving Gunners escape on foot.

Captain Douglas Reynolds and the two surviving Drivers of the F Gun team: Job Drain and Fred Luke, were awarded Victoria Crosses for this action.  At aged, 18 years 10 months and 11 days, Job Drain is still the youngest Gunner recipient of a VC; Fred Luke was only 17 days older than Job!  When Fred died in March 1983, he was longest surviving Old Contemptible [Veteran of the original BEF] VC.  Douglas Reynolds’ Trumpeter, 15 year old, Badgie Waldron is also still the youngest Gunner to be awarded a DCM.  [An award for other ranks, one below a VC]

Douglas Reynolds did not seek popularity but was respected for his professionalism.  He was not only personally very brave; but was also the lynch pin of the Battery throughout the Retreat from Mons – as both the Battery Commander and Battery Serjeant Major were captured at Le Cateau – until he left it when wounded in mid September 1914.

Unusually, Douglas Reynolds’ Victor Cross citation not only refers to his gallantry at Le Cateau, but also to a separate incident at Pisseloup sur Marne a fortnight later.  When he led a fighting patrol and silenced a German battery holding up the British advance.  Therefore, I think he may be the Gunner who got closest to being awarded a bar to his VC.

In 1915, Douglas was promoted to Major; returned to the Western Front as a Battery Commander where he was mentioned in despatches twice; gassed and died in Trouville hospital in February 1916.

Sadly, Douglas Reynolds only son, another Douglas Reynolds, who was born after his father’s death and also died of his wounds while as a Lieutenant serving with the Irish Guards near Dunkirk in May 1940.

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