The Men Who Wouldn’t Give An Inch

I have recently researched the life of a man called Joseph Herbert Speight Moore as part of the Beverley Treasure House’s WW1 Lives project.

Moore was in the 4th Battalion of the Grenadier Guards when it was all but destroyed during the Battle of Hazebrouck.

Here is his and his comrades’ incredible story:

Joseph Herbert Speight Moore was born on the 9th of July 1897 in Hull, the youngest of Walter and Jane Ann (nee Downes) Moore’s three children. He was baptised on the 15th of August 1897 in Leeds, his parent’s home town.

Joseph was educated at Newland Avenue County Council School and went on to become a clerk in the Estate Department of the North Eastern Railway Company.

He enlisted as Guardsman 28195 in the 4th Battalion of the Grenadier Guards on the 29th of November 1916 and served with the Expeditionary Force to France and Flanders from the 18th of August 1917. In October 1917 he suffered from trench foot and septic poisoning and was treated in hospital. He rejoined his battalion the following February.

Between the 12th and 14th of April 1918, the 4th Battalion of the Grenadier Guards took part in an action at Vieux Berquin during the Battle of Hazebrouck. Joseph was in number two company, under the command of Captain Pryce, one of around 120 men who spent twelve hours holding back two German Battalions whilst surrounded and cut off from the rest of their battalion.

It started with the company fighting house to house in the village, capturing both prisoners and machine guns, but the enemy quickly counter-attacked and pushed them back into a defensive position. The actions of the company and their commanding officer are best told in the Battalion’s war diary, in several different accounts but, according to a single, unnamed corporal, who was the sole man to escape, the company was surrounded, their left flank having being compromised and redeployed by Captain Pryce. They were massively outnumbered and fought until there were only thirty men left then, by the time the company was down to their last eighteen men, they ran out of ammunition.

Their last act was to fix bayonets and charge, managing to push the German line back before the enemy counter-attacked and, ultimately, number two company was destroyed.

In the action at Vieux Berquin the 4th Battalion lost all of their officers either dead, wounded or captured and 504 other ranks, 90% of their full strength. Of the losses of number two company the Battalion war diary says “only 14 men of this company of over 120 strong were ever heard of again,” and those, all but that one, unnamed corporal, were wounded and taken prisoner.

Joseph Herbert Speight Moore was one of those 120 men who refused to give an inch of ground to the enemy and fought to the very last. He was killed on the 13th of April 1918 and is remembered with honour on the Ploegsteert Memorial, The Beverley War Memorial and the Beverley Minster Memorial.

For his sacrifice he was posthumously awarded the British War and Victory Medals.

Captain Pryce, already a holder of the Military Cross with Bar for Gallantry, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his exemplary leadership and sacrifice. His body, as well as those of most of his men, was never found.

In the 4th Battalion of the Grenadier Guards war diary much praise is heaped upon the Battalion for the action at Vieux Berquin and the names of all the men lost are listed in full, regardless of rank.


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