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eMedals-A Remarkable DSO to Captain E. C. Lance

Item: GB0973

A Remarkable DSO to Captain E. C. Lance

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A Remarkable DSO to Captain E. C. Lance

A remarkable Great War D.S.O. group of seven awarded to Captain E. C. Lance, Somerset Light Infantry, late King Edward?s Horse and West Yorkshire Regiment, who was twice honoured by Franco for his part in rescuing a hundred nationalists in the Spanish Civil War: high on the republicans? wanted list as "The Man in the Tartan Jacket", Lance was eventually captured by them and sentenced to death, but ultimately lived to tell the tale after 15 months of hellish imprisonment - an extraordinary story vividly retold by C. E. Lucas Phillips in The Spanish PimpernelDistinguished Service Order, G.V.R., silver-gilt and enamel; 1914-15 Star (17929 L. Cpl. E. C. Lance, W. York. R.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Capt. E. C. Lance); Russia, Order of St. Anne, Third Class breast badge, with swords, 35 x 35mm., bronze-gilt and enamel, unmarked; Spain, Order of the Yoke and Arrows, fascist regime issue, breast badge, gilt and enamel, with clasp, ?Christopher Lance?, in its case of issue; Spain, City of Madrid, Presentation Gold Medal, in its fitted Juan Feu, Madrid case of issue, together with related miniature dress medals (7), including Russian Order of St. Anne, with swords, in silver-gilt and enamel, generally good very fine, the fascist piece extremely rare, so, too, the D.S.O. to such a junior officer (14)Footnote: D.S.O. London Gazette 26 September 1917:?For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He was the only officer left of his battalion when the final objective was reached. Both flanks of his battalion were exposed and they were almost surrounded by the enemy. Thereupon he skilfully withdrew his men from a difficult position to a strong one 200 yards in the rear, checked the advance of the enemy, and held on under intense artillery fire until relieved two days later. The sound tactics, cool judgement and the daring example which he set his men undoubtedly secured a very important position.?Edwin Christopher Lance was born in Taunton, Somerset in June 1893, and was educated at Lancing College prior to enlisting in King Edward?s Horse in December 1912. Advanced to Corporal in January 1915, he deserted shortly afterwards, his father later stating in a letter to the authorities that he did not wish to disclose the reasons for his son?s sudden departure - instead he confirmed that Lance had enlisted in the West Yorkshire Regiment at York a few days later, which, after further investigation, proved entirely true.Active service in France and RussiaEmbarked for France with the 2nd Battalion in March 1915, the ex-deserter quickly made up for his past misdemeanours, being awarded a commission in the Field that September, when he joined the 6th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, as a 2nd Lieutenant. And he remained actively engaged in that capacity until the end of hostilities, winning his D.S.O. for the the above cited deeds in the attack on Inverness Copse on 22 August 1917, during the battle of Ypres, a desperate engagement in which the 6th Battalion took heavy casualties - so heavy, in fact, that Lance, serving as a Temporary Captain and O.C. No. 3 Company, was the only officer left standing after the initial advance. The action is described in detail in the regimental history, including the text of the field messages sent by Lance to his C.O.:?9.30 a.m. Arrived eastern edge of Copse with few oddments, about 70 men in all. We were being surrounded so had been forced to withdraw. Both flanks in air. We must have reinforcements.?This was followed by a pigeon message:?9.55 a.m. Have arrived. Strength 2 platoons east of edge of Copse. Am being surrounded so we must fall back. No further supports have arrived.?The next message was timed 10.05 a.m.:?Pushed back from east edge of Copse. More reinforcements required. Lees (10th D.L.I.) unable to give me any more. Am still holding largest part of Copse.?A message which followed gave the dispositions of the Somerset men:?My line now runs from J.14.c.8.5 (northern edge of Copse) to Tank Trap (on the Menin road running through the Copse) to J.14.c.7.3 (a point on the road which runs north-west from the Chateau to the Menin road and about 300 yards from the ruined buildings). Still cannot find the Cornwalls (6th D.C.L.I., who attacked on the left of the 6th Somersets). Germans are congregating at strong point about J.14.c.9.4 (on the Menin road and about 150 yards east of the Somersets). Two platoons of Durham Light Infantry have come up on our left. We have 90 men in all.?At 11.15 a.m. another message from the O.C., No. 3 Company, was sent back:?We hold strong point at J.14.c.9.5 Several enemy machine-guns in front of us and Copse strongly held. We will hold on at all costs.?The precarious position of these brave fellows can be better appreciated by these last two messages, which give the co-ordinates of the opposing positions: they were but fifty yards apart. About 1 p.m., a hostile party of about one hundred Germans marched up the Menin road and turned south, just where the Chateau road joined up with the former. Several small parties of the enemy, each of about twenty men, were also seen moving up north and south. Next, a whole battalion of Germans was observed advancing over the ridge east of Inverness Copse. In response to our S.O.S. the guns opened fire and these hostile advances were checked. But again, about 2 p.m., the enemy was seen massing in the valley of the Bassvillebeek and some minutes later he was reported ?advancing towards us north of Menin road, 400 yards in front of our line.? Machine-gun, Lewis-gun and artillery fire again checked this advance and dispersed the enemy. At evening the line held by the 6th Somersets appears to have been from a point about 250 yards in and from the western edge of Inverness Copse, back along Jasper Avenue to the bend in the road running directly south from Clapham Junction and just south-east of Stirling Castle. During the night the 6th Somersets and one company of D.L.I., who had been holding the front line throughout the whole day, were relieved by the K.O.Y.L.I. and other companies of the Durhams, and moved back to the western edges of Inverness Copse in support. The Somerset men were greatly exhausted. In addition to the attack early in the morning of the 22nd, they had had to beat off three counter-attacks pressed with vigour. It is impossible to give the numbers of the Battalion at this period, but they must have been small, and it was but a remnant which held the western edges of the Copse.?But Lance?s trials were far from over:?Although the Battalion narrative does not mention it, the 6th Somersets were engaged with the enemy on the 24th. Throughout the night of the 23-24 the enemy concentrated the fire of his heavy batteries upon the Clapham Junction-Inverness Copse Sector. This bombardment intensified after midnight, and at dawn on the 24th the enemy launched his fourth counter-attack. This attack was delivered by a fresh German Division led by "Sturm" troops. The two leading waves were lightly equipped, the four succeeding waves carried full arms, tools and equipment. The forward posts, now held by companies of the K.O.Y.L.I., fell back upon the supports, which consisted of the survivors of the 6th Somersets (under Captain Lance) and 10th Durham L.I. (under Captain Jerrard). These two officers and their troops put up such a determined resistance that the hostile waves were broken in succession. "Sturm Truppen" infiltrated round the north of the Copse and actually crossed the Menin road, west of the Copse. Here fortunately they bumped into Battalion H.Q. 6th Somersets, now situated in Jasper Avenue 70 yards west of the wood, and were repulsed. Captain Manson, the Adjutant, fell at the junction of the Menin road and the Copse, though not till the enemy had been driven back, and his comrades in the wood made safe from being surrounded. (BAG261)
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