Regiment Presented with Freedom of Erquinghem Lys, France
13th November 2005
On the 10th of April 1918, elements of the 1st 4th Battalion (TA) The Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment, were involved in a major counter attack against German forces, who had made a river crossing of the river Lys in the town of Erquinghem Lys, France. The German opposition was heavy and the Battalion suffered heavy losses, with 15 Officers and 391 other ranks killed, wounded or missing.
During the action Pte Arthur Poulter, from Leeds, performed an act of exceptional courage and bravery whilst under fire from German machine guns, during an artillery barrage.
Ten times he ventured out alone, as a stretcher bearer, and recovered fallen comrades, thus saving their lives. Later, after withdrawing over a river, he went back to the river crossing and, in full view of German troops, picked up another injured man and carried him, on his back, to safety. During the course of the day, whilst still under fire, he treated no less than forty men. He was eventually seriously wounded whilst attempting to rescue another injured soldier.
For this action 24066 Private Arthur Poulter was awarded the Victoria Cross.
The town of Erquinghem-Lys has always been proud of it's links with Britain and it's 'Tommies'. Accordingly their Historical Society decided to erect and dedicate a memorial to Arthur Poulter. On The 14th of November, 1998, Arthur Poulters family descendants, plus a detachment of 45 men from the Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding), as escort to the Queens Colour, bearing the Battle Honour 'Lys', were on parade as the Town Mayor and Council unveiled the memorial. This was only the second time such a memorial to an individual soldier of the British Army had been dedicated by a town in France.
The following year on the 11th of June 1999 The family of Arthur Poulter donated his VC, and other medals, to the Regimental Museum, in Halifax, West Yorkshire.
Over the years many Ex Dukes have visited Erquinghem Lys and maintained a friendship with the town's residents. In 2002 the town contacted the Regiment with a request to give the Keys of the Town (Freedom) to the Regiment. This was accepted and planning was set in motion. Accordingly on the afternoon of the 12th of November 2005, in weather that was more akin to a seasonal Yorkshire day, The Colonel of The Regiment, Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, with two Guard detachments, the Regimental Colours and five Regimental Drummers formed up in front of the Town Hall, to accept the Key to the Town.
No1 Guard was composed of 28 members of Alma Company from the 1st Battalion Base, in Osnabruck, Germany. No2 Guard was composed of 28 members of the Regiments Territorial Army Company, Ypres Company, of the East and West Riding Regiment, stationed in Keighley, West Yorkshire.
The presentation commenced, with the marching on to parade of the Regulation and Honorary Colours of the Regiment, led by Drummers. Who brought to a halt a number of rather surprised & unsuspecting motorists. The local Gendarmes were notably absent, on other duties. After asking the Mayor, M. Alain Bezirard, for permission to parade The Parade Commander Major Robinson, Officer Commanding Alma Company, invited the Mayor inspect the Troops, during which the Colonel of the Regiment pointed out the Battle Honour 'LYS' on the Queens Colour.
The Mayor then gave a short speech and presented a rather large Key to the Colonel of the Regiment. The Colonel then replied noting that, as far as it was known, this was the only occasion a French town had presented the Keys of their town to a British Army Regiment. The Colonel remarked that the Battle Honour 'Lys' was one of ten, out of a total of 72 that had been previously selected to be emblazoned on the Regulation Queens Colour and that the town of Lys would always be known in the history of the Regiment.
The Colonel then presented to the Mayor a Regimental Tercentenary Statue. These had been comissioned by the Regiment to mark their 300th Birthday and presented to all the towns who had given Freedom Rights to the Regiment Page. (See The Dukes and The west Riding)
leading The Colours & Guard To The Town Hall
The Mayor, M. Alain Bezirard, is
shown The Battle Honour 'LYS' emblazoned on the Queens Colour
Presenting the Key To The Town
The Key to the Town
Presenting the Tercentenary Statuette
The Parade Off To March Through The Town
Once the speeches and presentations had been completed the Parade Commander was given permission to 'Fix Bayonets and let the Colours Fly'. The Drums platoon gave a demonstration of their skills, which was well appreciated by the crowd and loudly applauded. The parade came to attention and marched off to do a full circuit around the Town Hall before setting off to parade through the streets to the town Sports Centre.
After a short break they reformed and marched through the town to the Arthur Poulter Memorial. Brigadier Mundell gave a brief talk explaining the circumstances behind the memorial and the actions of Pte Arthur Poulter. Two of his Grand-daughters and a Great Grand-daughter were also present, and a wreath on behalf of the Regiment was laid.
Regimental Headquarters, Halifax, were represented by Major David Harrap, the Regimental Secretary and Major Bob Heron, Assistant Regimental Secretary, who had earlier laid wreaths in the War Cemetary on behalf of the Regiments fallen soldiers. Lt Colonel Phil Lewis, Commanding Officer 1st Battalion and other members of the 1st Battalion were also in attendance as Guests of the Town. Members of the Regimental Archives Section were represented by Cyril Ford, Richard Harvey and Cliff Boothman, whose father had been captured by the Germans in the Battle of Erquinghem Lys.
Before Arthur Poulter was called to arms he had worked on a farm, then as a Drayman at Timothy Taylors Brewery in Leeds, which is probably why he had the strength to carry his fallen comrades.
The Managing Director of Timothy Taylors, Mr Charles Dent Esq, is a Honorary Colonel of the East and West Riding Regiment. During the Battalions 'Havercake March' the brewery had produced a special 'Havercake Beer', which was well received but regretfully didn't last long. They had also provided generous quantities of beer during the 1998 Arthur Poulter Memorial dedication event.
To mark the 'Special Circumstances' of this occasion they put into production another batch of Havercake Beer. A 'generous' consignment of it was made available 'Free to all imbibers' who were popping in to visit and say 'Bonjour' to the troops in the Sports Centre. The towns inhabitants were somewhat overcome, not only by this generous offer but also by the size of a 1 pint glass of foaming Yorkshire Ale. A second free 'Timothy Taylors Bar' was also set up at the evening meal provided by the town for the troops and guests. Colonel Dent We Salute you! We understand that Havercake Ale is to go on sale in a selected number of outlets in both draught and bottled format. It was noted that the Timothy Taylors Bar Staff were also 'Ex-Dukes'.
The days activities were well run, the event was extremely successful and a credit to all those involved in it's happening, particularly M. Jack Thorpe the Secretary of the Erquinghem Lys Historical Society and other society members who initiated and brought to fruition this once in a lifetime event.
M. Jack Thorpe
Secretary Erquinghem Lys Historical Society
Report & Photo's By Richard Harvey