War history: Celebrating Ipswich hero Private Sam Harvey

Sam Harvey - the war hero immortalised in our culture

Sam Harvey - the war hero immortalised in our culture - Credit: Archant

Last week, Mike Peters told the story of Suffolk Victoria Cross winner Sergeant Arthur Saunders.

A picture of Private Samuel Harvey on a cigarette card - honoured as a hero

A picture of Private Samuel Harvey on a cigarette card - honoured as a hero - Credit: Archant

Today, Galloway’s resident military historian celebrates another local hero honoured with a memorial paving stone outside Christchurch Park, IpswichUnlike Arthur Saunders, Private Sam Harvey was not born in Suffolk but in Nottinghamshire: in September, 1881. The Harvey family was a large one; Sam had eight siblings, including twin sister Mahala. Father William was a farm labourer and his mother, Mary Ann, a charwoman.

The Harveys lived in Ipswich for many years, moving between addresses in Vernon Street, 27 Upper Orwell Cottages at St Margaret, and 74 Albion Street.

Sam was known as a fun-loving and mischievous child. His sister nicknamed him Monkey, as he was always up to something.

Sam left school and followed his father into farming, as a labourer. Perhaps this was not exciting enough, or the pay too meagre, for, whatever the reason, he enlisted in the army in 1905 and served in India for seven years.

Private Sam Harveys grave in Ipswich

Private Sam Harveys grave in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

On his return to England, Sam left the army and was transferred into the reserve. On the outbreak of war he was mobilised and sailed for France with the York & Lancaster Regiment on September 9, 1914.


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The action leading to Sam’s Victoria Cross took place on September 29, 1915. Like Arthur Saunders, he was involved in the Battle of Loos.

On the 29th, the York & Lancaster were involved in fighting centred on a German position known as the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Sam’s company was struggling to hold its ground, forward of an old German trench nicknamed Big Willie Trench. Many troops were running low on ammunition, food and water. The situation was desperate and a steady stream of grenades was the only thing holding the Germans back. But the supply of bombs was dangerously low.

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With the prospect of being overrun increasingly real, Sam volunteered to go back for more. The trenches were clogged with the wounded and dead. Realising time was short, the route long and the boxes heavy and cumbersome, Sam made a brave decision. He elected to take the shortest but most dangerous route across open ground, in a straight line.

In spite of the danger, over 13 hours Sam Harvey fetched and carried 30 boxes of grenades back to his comrades ? a total of 360 grenades delivered to the front line. This bravery kept the York & Lancasters from being overrun.

Sam was wounded in the head during the afternoon and carried back for medical treatment. The fighting raged until the Germans tried to rush the trench at 1700 hours. The attack was driven back at bayonet point and the British held on until nightfall. There is no doubt the battle would have been lost had it not been for the bravery of Sam Harvey.

Sam was wounded three times, and in October, 1916, was transferred to the 3rd (Home Service) Garrison Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, stationed in Sunderland. Sam served with it until the end of the war, including in Ireland.

On January 24, 1917, Sam was invited to Buckingham Palace to receive his VC from King George V. Even here, it is said his cheeky character surfaced. It is alleged that, having received his medal, the irrepressible Private Harvey winked at the Queen and said ‘Mine’s a pint’ in a loud voice. There is no evidence the Queen ever bought Sam his beer.

He was discharged from the army in May, 1918, struggling to adapt to civilian life. There was the added complication of Sam’s wounds; finding a manual job he could cope with physically was difficult. He tried to hold down a series of roles as an odd-job man, a gardener and then as an ostler at the White Horse Hotel in the centre of Ipswich.

In 1944 Sam married Georgina Brown. They lived at 10 Adelphi Place. Sadly, Georgina died in 1948. This was the beginning of a very tough period for Sam, who ended up living at the Salvation Army hostel in Fore Street.

In 1953 and 1955 he was injured in accidents and unable to walk. His plight triggered an outcry and a campaign to finance a home for the destitute hero. Finally, enough money was raised to place Sam in sheltered accommodation at Heathfield Old Persons’ Home in Ipswich.

In 1956 he attended the Victoria Cross Centenary Celebrations in London. He went in a wheelchair, with a guardian in the shape of Canon Lummis ? charged with keeping Sam out of mischief. Lummis said: “He was an Ipswich man… a rough diamond…Sam was quite a good-looking young man; but a hard-bitten-looking fellow when I met him. He had always to be escorted when going up to London, when going to any function, in case he over-celebrated.”

Sam died of myocardial degeneration on September 23, 1960, at Stow Lodge Hospital, Onehouse, Stowmarket. He is buried in Ipswich Old Cemetery; his grave unmarked until a headstone was erected in 2000. The location of his VC is a mystery; he claimed to have lost it while sleeping rough in woods outside Hadleigh. There are stories of the medal being traded for money or drink, or even sold to a collector. We will never know, but we should not forget the courage of Private Sam Harvey.

Would you like to organise your own bespoke group visit to the Western Front? Visit Galloway’s website to find out more. You can also follow a battlefields feed on Twitter @GallowayBattles and find battlefield tour reports on the Galloway Travel Facebook pageSee more from Ipswich at War here

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