THIS IS the story of Black Country hero Harry Tibbetts D.C.M., who joined the Terriers of the 7th Worcestershire Regiment sometime before the start of the First World War, and in July 1916 found himself fighting alone among dead and wounded colleagues during the Battle of the Somme.
His proud granddaughter, Alison Townsend, dropped by the Bugle office recently armed with a manuscript of her granddad's life. She told us:
"I was only six years old when Granddad Harry died, but I can remember him as a warm, loving gentleman, and a man of character. Over the years I've quizzed my dad to tell me more about his life and times, and together with several anecdotes, and my recent venture into the realms of genealogy, I've been able to build up the semblance of a story. I think Granddad Harry would have been amused, raking up the past and all that. Mind you, his face would have beamed with pride, and at least it gives those who never knew him the chance to learn a little about his character, which was every bit Black Country bred."
"Harry Tibbetts was born at Old Hill in 1888 and by 1901 was living with his parents Joseph and Louisa and elder brothers William and Joseph at an address in Wellington Street. His dad was a canal boatman, whilst my great grandmother Louisa was a nail maker. I don't know exactly when he joined the Territorials, but Granddad's finest hour and probably the scariest moment of his life came during the Battle of the Somme on the night of the 15th/16th July 1916 for which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). I have inherited the card he used to carry around with him on which were typed the details of his courageous action in the field. It's now a little tatty and worn around the edges, but I'm very proud to have it. The details are as follows:
'No. 2529 Pte. Tibbetts H. Worcestershire Regiment.
'For gallantry and devotion to duty at a bombing post at Ovillers-La-Boisselle on the night 15th/16th July 1916. A strong bombing attack was made by the Germans on our post. The N.C.O. in charge and all the men at the post except Pte. Tibbetts were killed or wounded. Pte. Tibbetts continued to throw bombs and held our post until assistance arrived. A.A. & Q.M. 48th (S.M.) Division.
Signed, G. Smyth Osbourne, Lieut. Col.'
The citation that accompanied the receipt of his D.C.M. read as follows:
'For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy made a strong bombing attack on his post, knocking out the NCO in charge and all the men except himself, he continued to throw bombs and held the post until assistance arrived.'
"More details were forthcoming from a report on the specific action he was involved in: 'Hardly had the 7th Worcesters taken over the front line when they were subjected to a fierce bombing attack. In one of the advanced posts the NCO in charge was struck down, and all the men save one. But the sole survivor, Pte. H. Tibbetts, held firm and answered bomb for bomb until help came.'"
The DCM was introduced in 1916, and replaced the Meritorious Service Medal which was first recognised in the Crimean War. It ranked as a superior decoration to the Military Cross and was thus the second highest award for gallantry in action after the Victoria Cross. The DCM was replaced by the Conspicuous Gallantry cross in 1993.
The Battle of the Somme in which Harry played his part is well documented, and accounted for hundreds of thousands of casualties. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for Pte. Tibbetts and his colleagues, but this extract written by Edward Wright, from one of the volumes of 'The Great War', describes the hell the soldiers went through, often after only gaining yards at the front line:
"All down the line, during the first rush into the hill villages, there was an almost general misapprehension of the strength of the enemy forces underground.
"The unparalleled strength of the enemy's underground defences may thus have been underestimated, and the destructive power of the new heavy British artillery overestimated. The troops that reached Contalmaison with relative ease arrived without any back-up and soon had to abandon their position. They drew back towards the vicinity of La Boisselle, under an indescribable combination of shell fire, machine-gun fire, and front and flank bomb attacks. The charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea, undertaken by long service men going at a gallop against slow, muzzle-loading guns and slow, short-range rifle fire, does not bear comparison with the charges which the new British infantry made at a walking pace, down valleys two miles long, against machine-guns firing six hundred rounds a minute, quick-firers throwing twenty shells a minute, and scores of siege-guns and trench-mortars."