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Great War hero Benjamin Cobey still without his VC honour

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BerichtGeplaatst: 17 Apr 2011 22:32    Onderwerp: Great War hero Benjamin Cobey still without his VC honour Reageer met quote

Great War hero Benjamin Cobey still without his VC honour

y Steve Clow Steve.Clow@Essexchronicle.Co.Uk

THE story of how an officer and three men of the 37th Battery, Royal Field Artillery saved a howitzer gun from falling into enemy hands became a First World War legend.

However, a disgraceful sequel to their heroic exploits was uncovered by Maldon historian Stephen Nunn while researching his book, Maldon, Heybridge and the Great War.

Mr Nunn already knew that three of the men were awarded the Victoria Cross, and that the fourth, Benjamin Cobey, 19, of Church Street, Maldon, who was killed in action, was not.

But to his great dismay Mr Nunn discovered that Driver Cobey's name was missing, together with those of 101 other local heroes, from Maldon War Memorial beside All Saints' Church, which was dedicated in May 1921.

Mr Nunn has successfully campaigned to right that wrong, supported by a working party set up by Maldon Town Council to remember the forgotten legion.

New bronze plaques proudly bearing the missing names will be unveiled at the memorial 90 years later this May, it was announced last week.

Mr Nunn said: "It's a national disgrace that we cannot put the initials VC after Benjamin's name on the plaques.

"I am convinced the reason his name did not appear was because he was born out of wedlock, such was the prejudice of the time."

Driver Cobey distinguished himself in the killing fields of France where the British were heavily outnumbered by the German hordes descending upon them in successive waves.

It was August 1914 when our "Contemptible Little Army", sneered and scoffed at by the Kaiser, was being slaughtered just 22 days after the outbreak of hostilities.

Investigative journalist Piers England, who wrote a major feature for a national newspaper in 1940, described Driver Cobey as "Britain's unknown hero".

"It was their first taste of war, their first experience of being under fire, and they were being shelled at point blank range, trapped on flat country without a vestige of cover, exposed to the withering German fire," he wrote.

After 12 hours of bombardment they were given the order on August 26 to retreat toward Le Cateau Ė as to have held out was suicidal.

Piers England said that when Captain Douglas Reynolds called for volunteers for the hazardous task of limbering up and making a dash for it, three men stepped forward.

"Their names, together with that of Captain Reynolds, will be forever remembered as the Four Heroes of Le Cateau.

"They were Driver Job Drain, Driver Ben Cobey and Driver Frederick Luke."

One gun was got safely away to the shelter of a neighbouring village, but by the time they had hitched a team to the second gun, the German infantry were less than 100 yards away.

With bullets whistling all round them, the fearless four swung themselves into their saddles and urged their horses into a gallop.

Suddenly Ben Cobey, riding one of the centre horses, was hit.

For a moment he lurched in the saddle and then he lurched sideways, pitching into the ground.

There he lay while the team thundered on their wild ride, pursued by German rifle fire.

Captain Reynolds was killed later in the war, but both Drain and Luke came through safely.

King George decorated them in the French village of Solon some time later, saying: "You are very young, but you have made a grand start. I am proud of you."

Piers England said the stirring story had an unhappy sequel because Driver Cobey, who laid down his life to save the guns, was not honoured.

He went on: "I have been in touch with his relatives, who, for 25 years have fought to gain a just reward for the young artillery driver's bravery.

"His mother Maria made strenuous efforts to rouse the War Office, and tried to obtain permission to place the distinction VC after his name on a memorial vase on his father's grave.

"He, like many another hero, lies in some unknown corner of France."
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