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Horace's heroism led to victorious attack

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 28, 2013

Sergeant Horace Augustus Curtis proudly wears his medals

Sergeant Horace Augustus Curtis proudly wears his medals

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Commemorative paving stones are to be laid in the home towns of the 13 servicemen from Cornwall and Devon who were awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War. In the third of his series, Simon Parker relates the exploits of Horace Augustus Curtis, from St Anthony-in-Roseland.

From Gallipoli to Macedonia, the Western Front to a dose of malaria, Horace Augustus Curtis's experiences mirror the misery suffered by millions of young men on both sides during the Great War.

It was an act of singular courage just two months before the cessation of hostilities that earned him the highest military honour.

Joining up during a wave of patriotism that swept the nation immediately after the declaration of war in August 1914, Horace took the King's Shilling at Bodmin, enlisting in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.

A down-to-earth young Cornishman from a poor family, Horace Augustus Curtis was born on March 7, 1891, in St Anthony-in-Roseland. The son of Thomas and Catherine (nee Ball), Horace lost his father when he was only four years old and the 1901 census describes his mother as a pauper.

Within days of joining the DCLI in Bodmin, he found himself transferred from the Cornish force to the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. After initial training at County Kildare in Ireland, his battalion went to England, before setting sail from Devonport for the Gallipoli peninsular in Turkey. They landed at Suvla Bay on August 7, 1915, and went on to suffer appalling losses in a bloody campaign which, ultimately, saw the enemy claim victory.

After Gallipoli, survivors of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers were sent to Macedonia, where they again saw a period of bitter fighting.

Horace was promoted first to the rank of Lance Corporal and then Sergeant in 1916. He subsequently saw action in Palestine, where he contracted malaria which took him back to a London hospital for treatment.

Once declared fit for duty, he was given a fortnight's leave; it was his first break for four years.

However, he did not get to rest for long and by September 1918 – two months before the Armistice – Horace was again in the front line, facing German forces on the Western Front in France.

On the morning of October 8, at a position east of Le Cateau, his platoon came under intense and prolonged machine-gun fire.

A contemporary report said of his actions: "Realising the attack would fail unless the enemy guns were silenced, Sergeant Curtis, without hesitation, rushed forward through our own barrage and the enemy fire and killed or wounded the teams of two of the guns, whereupon the remaining four guns surrendered.

"Then, turning his attention to a train-load of reinforcements, he succeeded in capturing more than a hundred of the enemy before his comrades joined him. His valour and disregard of danger inspired all."

Horace Curtis was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on March 8, 1919.

He left the army the next year, but later rejoined the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, finally being discharged in 1923. Despite his extraordinary experiences, Horace's family said he rarely mentioned the war. He died on July 1, 1968.

Horace Augustus Curtis's Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, is held in a private collection.

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