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Lt.Col. Bernard William Vann V.C.

19258 8th Battalion (attached to 1st/6th) Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment)

Son of Mr Alfred George Collins Vann and Mrs Hannah Elizabeth Vann
Husband of Doris Victoria, of Coates Rectory, Cirencester, Glos.

Aged 31 years

Died 3rd October 1918

Commemorated at Bellicourt British Cemetery
Grave II. O.1.

Awards: VC, MC and Bar, Croix de Guerre (France).

Citation: An extract from "The London Gazette," No. 31067, dated 14th Dec., 1918, records the following:-"For most conspicuous bravery, devotion to duty and fine leadership during the attack at Bellenglise and Lehaucourt, on September 29th, 1918. He led his battalion with great skill across the Canal du Nord through a very thick fog and under heavy fire from field and machine guns. On reaching the high ground above Bellenglise the whole attack was held up by fire of all descriptions from the front and right flank. Realising that everything depended on the advance going forward with the barrage, Col. Vann rushed up to the firing line and with the greatest gallantry led the line forward. By his prompt action and absolute contempt for danger the whole situation was changed, the men were encouraged and the line swept forward. Later, he rushed a field-gun single-handed and knocked out three of the detachment. The success of the day was in no small degree due to the splendid gallantry and fine leadership displayed by this officer. Lt. Col. Vann, who had on all occasions set the highest example of valour, was killed near Ramicourt on 3rd October, 1918, when leading his battalion in attack."

gravestone
Gravestone

cap badge M C & bar VC Croix de Guerre
Sherwood Foresters Cap Badge

l-r: Military Cross & bar

Victoria Cross - For Valour

Croix de Guerre (France)

The Rushden Echo Friday 17 August 1915, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Military Cross for Old Rushden and Higham Boy - Honours for the Rev Bernard W Vann

The Military Cross has been awarded by the King to Second-Lieut Bernard W Vann, 8th Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regt.), TF (fourth son of the late Mr A G C Vann, MA, formerly of Rushden and Higham Ferrers), for conspicuous gallantry on several occasions:-

At Kemmel on April 24th 1915, when a small advanced trench which he occupied was blown in, and he himself wounded and half buried, he showed the greatest determination in organising the defence and rescuing buried men under heavy fire. Although wounded and severely bruised, he refused to leave his post till directly ordered to do so.

At Ypres, on July 31st, and subsequent days, he ably assisted another officer to hold the left trench of the line, setting a fine example to those around him. He was slightly wounded.

On various occasions he has led patrols up to the enemy's trenches and obtained valuable information.

Mr Vann, who has since been promoted to a lieutenancy, has been twice wounded, once being blown bodily out of the trenches by a big shell, and once by shrapnel in the shoulders. He did not leave the trenches for his wounds. He is a keen sportsman, and was a chaplain to Wellingborough School at the outbreak of war. He has two brothers serving: Captain and Adjutant H Vann and Second-Lieut J Vann, of the West Yorkshires.

The Wellingborough News Friday 24 September 1915, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Lieut Vann's Bravery - His Connection with the Leicester District

Second-Lieut Bernard William Vann, 8th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, who has been awarded the Military Cross for rescuing buried men under heavy fire, was formerly curate of St Barnabas' church, Leicester.

Some years ago he visited Leicester with a body of Cambridge missionary campaigners. On being ordained in 1911, he took up the curacy of St Barnabas' church, Leicester, filling that position until 1913 when he was appointed Chaplain and Form Master of Wellingborough Grammar [Public] School.

At the beginning of the war Second-Lieut Vann enlisted in the Gloucestershire regiment, and subsequently obtained a commission in the Sherwood Foresters. On enlisting he did not renounce his priesthood, and has also taken a part in the religious work at the front. He has been mentioned previously in dispatches.

"As soon as I heard that Vann had enlisted," said the Rev. A E W Manvell, the vicar of St Barnabas', to a Press representative, "I thought he would either get killed or win the V.C., because there is nothing that would keep him back. He does not know what fear is."

Second-Lieut Vann was also well-known in athletic circles in Leicester, and he excelled in all the sports with which he identified himself. He played for the Stoneygate football club, and was also a prominent hockey player. He also played for the Northampton Town football team.

B W Vann MCThe Rushden Echo, 1st October, 1915, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Military Cross for Lieut. Bernard Vann

Lieut. the Rev. B. W. Vann, 8th Sherwood Foresters, who, as announced in the “Rushden Echo,” has been awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry on several occasions.” He is the fourth son of the late Mr. A. G. C. Vann, M.A., formerly of Rushden and Higham Ferrers. The photograph is reproduced by courtesy of the “Northampton Independent.”

The Wellingborough News, October 22 1915, transcribed by Clive Wood

Lieut B W Vann wounded for 3rd Time

News has been received of Lieut Bernard Wm Vann, who was recently awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry, has been wounded for the third time since he went to the front with the 8th Battalion Sherwood Foresters. Prior to receiving a commission in that battalion, shortly after the outbreak of war, Lieut Vann, who is a clerk in Holy Orders, was chaplain and assistant master at Wellingborough School. Some years ago he played football occasionally as an amateur for Derby County.

The Rushden Echo Friday 7 January 1916, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Capt B W Vann Mentioned for Gallantry

Capt the Rev. B W Vann, chaplain and assistant master of Wellingborough School, whose good work with the 8th Sherwood Foresters gained for him the Military Cross, is mentioned in Field Marshal Sir John French's dispatches for distinguished conduct. He is the son of the late Mr A G C Vann, M.A., of Rushden and Higham Ferrers.

The Wellingborough News Friday 16 July 1916, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Captain B W Vann Again Wounded

Capt Bernard Wm Vann has been wounded for the fourth time since he went to the front with the Sherwood Foresters, which he joined in September 1914. He received promotion in June last and has since obtained his captaincy. He was formerly a clerk in holy orders and was chaplain and assistant master at Wellingborough School. He was ordained deacon in 1910 and priest the following year, and for two years held a curacy at New Humberstone. Some eight or nine years ago he played football, and occasionally as an amateur for Derby county. He was decorated with the M.C. in September last for conspicuous gallantry on several occasions at Kemmel. He is the son of the late Rev. A G C Vann, of Chichele College Higham Ferrers.

The Rushden Echo, 21st July, 1916, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Captain Bernard Vann - Wounded a Fourth Time

Captain Bernard Wm. Vann (son of the late Mr. A. G. C. Vann, M A, formerly headmaster of Rushden National School and principal of Archbishop Chichele’s College, Higham Ferrers) has been wounded for the fourth time. He went to the front in September, 1914, with the Sherwood Foresters and his promotion was rapid. It is but recently that he was gazetted as captain. Prior to taking up military duties Capt Vann was a clergyman, being chaplain and assistant master at Wellingborough Grammar School. Last September, as reported in the “Rushden Echo”, he was decorated with the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry.

The London Gazette (Supplement) 14 November 1916, transcribed by Nicky Bates

The undermentioned have been awarded a Bar to their Military Cross for subsequent acts of conspicuous gallantry:-

Lt. (temp. Capt.) Bernard William Vann, M.C., Notts. & Derby. R.

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led a daring raid against the enemy's trenches, himself taking five prisoners and displaying great courage and determination. He has on many previous occasions done fine work.

(The Military Cross was awarded in London Gazette dated 15th Sept. 1915).

Kettering Leader, 18th December 1918, transcribed by John Collins.

'Soldier to Admire' - Tributes to the late Lieut.-Colonel B. W. Vann

The mother of the late Lieut.-Col. B. W. Vann has received a letter from Major Sheddon-Bernard, second in command of the battalion of Sherwood foresters, which the gallant Colonel was leading when he was killed outright. In the letter the Major pays tribute to the deceased officer in the following teems: “I regret I only knew Col. Vann for the short space of two months, but I learned in that time that he was a soldier to admire, and a brave English gentleman. I was his second in command for two months, and during that time it was always a pleasure to me to carry out his orders. The charm of his manner drew everyone to him, and he was loved by his men and officers alike, who, as several occasions have proved, were ready to follow him anywhere. During any attack wherever the struggle was hardest the Colonel was sure to be there encouraging, directing, and leading. It was early in the morning of the 3rd inst. that he fell – I think somewhere about 6.20 a.m. You will be glad to hear that he cannot have suffered any pain, as the bullet passed through his heart, and death must have been immediate. In a previous attack four days earlier the division had a very great success, in which Colonel Vann personally played a very important part. He personally rushed a field gun which was temporarily holding up the advance, and put it out of action. This was near the village of Bellenglise, and he was exceedingly proud of the work of his battalion that day. We, therefore, thought it would be fitting to lay him to rest in that village. We had his body carried back, and the funeral took place to-day (5th) at Bellenglise, near St. Quentin, in the British cemetery there.”

Another officer who writes in high praise of the late Col. Vann is Brigadier-General Harington, who says he has recommended him for the D.S.O.

Lieut.-Col. Vann was a son of the late Mr. A. G. C. Vann, M.A., and Mrs. Vann, of Higham Ferrers and a former Chaplain at Wellingborough School.

Kettering Leader, 20th December 1918, transcribed by John Collins.

Earlier Deeds of Bravery

Lieut.-Col. Vann had a remarkably successful career in the Army. He received his commission in the Sherwood Forester in September, 1914, and having received his first advance the following June he continued to rise steadily until he was appointed lieutenant-colonel in October, 1917.

Prior to volunteering for service, he was a clerk in Holy Orders. He graduated at Jesus College, Cambridge, taking his B.A. degree in 1910. He was ordained deacon in the same year, and proceeded to priest’s orders in 1911. For two years he was curate at St. Barnabas’ Church, New Humberstone, Leicester, whilst from 1912 he filled the post of chaplain and assistant master of Wellingborough School. Some nine or ten years ago he played football, and made occasional appearances for Derby County.

He was wounded five times. He won the Military Cross as a second-lieutenant at Kemmel on April 24th, 1915. Whilst wounded and half buried he showed the greatest determination in organising the defence and rescuing buried men under heavy fire, refusing to leave his men until directed to do so. At Ypres on July 31st and subsequent days, he ably assisted another officer to hold the left trench of a line, setting a fine example to those around him, being then slightly wounded. On various occasions he led patrols up to the enemy’s trenches, and obtained valuable information.

He gained a bar to the Cross for leading a daring raid against the enemy’s trenches, himself taking five prisoners, and displaying great courage and determination. On many occasions he did fine work.

Kettering Leader, 20th December 1918, transcribed by John Collins.

B. W. Vann - Changed the Whole Situation

We are extremely gratified to be able to report that another Victoria Cross has come to Northamptonshire, though in this instance the hero has made the great sacrifice in his devotion to duty. This was Lieut.-Col. The Rev. Bernard Wm. Vann, M.C., late of the 1/8th Batt., attached 1/5th Batt., Notts and Derby Regt. (T.F.).

The following is the official record:--

“For most conspicuous bravery, devotion to duty, and fine leadership during the attack at Bellenglise and Lehaucourt on September 29th, 1918.

“He led his battalion with great skill across the Canal Du Nord through a very thick fog and under heavy fire from field and machine-guns.

“On reaching the high ground above Bellenglise the whole attack was held up by fire of all descriptions front the front and right flank.

“Realising that everything depended on the advance going forward with the barrage, Lieutenant-Colonel Vann rushed up to the firing line and with great gallantry led the line forward. By his prompt action and absolute contempt for danger the whole situation was changed, the men were encouraged and the line swept forward.

“Later he rushed a field-gun single-handed and knocked out three of the detachment. The success of the day was in no small degree due to the splendid gallantry and fine leadership displayed by this officer.

“Lieutenant-Colonel Vann, who had on all occasions set the highest example of valour, was killed near Ramicourt on 3rd October, 1918, when leading his battalion in attack.”

Lieut-Col. Vann was the son of the late Mr. A. G. C. Vann, M. A., and Mrs. Vann, of Higham Ferrers, and a former chaplain and assistant master at Wellingborough School.


Rushden Echo, 15th March 1918, transcribed by Kay Collins

Piscatorial—Mr. W. B. Sanders, Mr. G. Selwood, and Capt. Vann, fishing at Radwell yesterday week, caught ten pike in three hours, the aggregate weight being over 40lbs. The largest fish scaled over 10lbs.


The Rushden Echo, 22nd January 1965, transcribed by Jim Hollis

A Hero Rushden has Forgotten

This week the “Echo” has been investigating the military career of one of Rushden’s bravest sons – Lt. Col. Bernard W. Vann, VC, MC and bar, Croix de Guerre, the forgotten hero.

Today, 46 years after his death in action, the only record to show that this courageous man was born in Rushden is a chiselled line on the war memorial which reads: “Bernard W. Vann, VC.”

It is staggering that so few people at Rushden or Higham Ferrers, where he spent a good deal of his childhood, can remember his name, let alone that he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

He won his country’s highest award for valour on September 29, 1918, by knocking out an enemy field gun single-handed with a revolver.

Four days later, before he could receive his medal, he was shot in an attack at Ramicourt.

At Wellingborough Major “Mick” Mannock, the flying ace, who was awarded the VC, has a street and local Air Cadet Squadron named after him – and he lodged in the town for only a few months.

Brief Line

Other than the brief line on the war memorial there is nothing at Rushden or Higham Ferrers to commemorate Colonel Vann’s outstanding deeds of bravery.

His brother, Mr. Reg Vann, who now lives in Canada, is under the impression that a tank which was placed in Spencer Park. Rushden, just after the First World War was a memorial to his brother’s memory.

This is not the case. The tank was given in recognition of the town’s war savings effort. This was confirmed by the man who drove it into Spencer Park, Mr. C. Woods, of 3 Purvis Road, Rushden, the retired ambulance driver.

One of the few people who have taken an interest in Colonel Vann’s career is Mr. Leslie Dykes, owner of the Wellingborough antique shop.

He provided us with this potted profile: Bernard Vann was the son of Mr. A. G. C. Vann, who later became headmaster of Higham Ferrers school.

Bernard excelled at sports, especially football. Mr. Dykes tells us he played centre-forward for Northampton in the Southern League.

After leaving college he entered Holy Orders and became a curate at Leicester.

But when war broke out he was assistant master and chaplain at Wellingborough School.

Instead of joining the Sherwood Foresters as a padre, he joined the ranks and his soldierly qualities soon won him promotion.

Canal Crossing

He was awarded the VC for action in the region of the Canal du Nord. After crossing the canal the attack was held up by fire from both sides. The men swept forward only to be held up again by a field gun, and alone he went forward with his revolver, shot one of the gunners and clubbed the other two. Today his body is buried in the British Cemetery at St. Quentin.

His widow, Mrs. Doris Vann, now lives in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, and still has her husband’s Victoria Cross, which she received on his behalf.


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