The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Cecil Harold Sewell V.C.

By Mike Sewell

This article was originally published in the December 2001 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.

When I submitted the article about George Samuel Sewell G.M. and Bar, which was published in August 2001, I had no idea that his son is Eric Sewell, a Society member and frequent contributor to this journal. Eric was able to add some personal recollections about his father’s remarkable story. So I wonder whether there is anyone in the Society with connections to Cecil Harold Sewell V.C. ?

victoria crossI discovered him while doing some research for our local museum about men who died in the First World War. In a book which lists army officers’ deaths, out of interest I looked up “Sewell” (as you do,) and found twelve, plus one Sewill. However, it was the abbreviation V.C. after one of the names which aroused my interest. These letters of course stand for Victoria Cross, which is the highest award for bravery in the face of the enemy. Founded by Queen Victoria in 1856, the V.C. has been awarded just over 1500 times. One of theses V.C.’s was awarded to Cecil Harold Sewell in 1918 during the First World War. Fortunately, the details about V.C. winners are relatively easy to find. For the First World War there is a series of books which recount the awards in date order, and much of what follows comes from the volume entitled, “The Road to Victory 1918.”

Cecil Harold Sewell was born on 27th January 1895 at 26 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London. His parents were Harry Bolton Sewell and his wife, Mary Ann. Cecil Sewell was aged 19 when the First World War broke out and he eventually joined the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) as a 2nd Lieutenant. He later transferred to the Tank Corps and in 1918 he was a Lieutenant in the 3rd (Light) Battalion, in command of a section of four “Whippet” light tanks.

Whippet light tankOn 29th August, near Bapaume, France, during the last “Big Push” which eventually led to the Armistice, Lieutenant Sewell’s section was advancing towards the German lines in support of New Zealand troops. The official V.C. citation in the London Gazette of 29th October 1918 takes up the story. “When in command of a section of Whippet light tanks in action this officer displayed most conspicuous bravery and initiative in getting out of his own tank and crossing open ground under heavy shell and machine-gun fire to rescue the crew of another Whippet of his section which had side slipped into a large shell-hole, overturned and taken fire.” The tank’s door had become jammed against the side of the shell hole so Cecil Sewell dug away the earth so that the door could be opened and the crew was able to escape.

The London Gazette continues. “Seeing one of his own crew lying wounded behind his tank, he again dashed across open ground to his assistance. He was hit in doing so, but succeeded in reaching the tank when a few minutes later he was again hit, fatally, in the act of dressing his wounded driver. During the whole of this period he was within full view and short range of the enemy machine guns and rifle-pits, and throughout, by his prompt and heroic action, showed an utter disregard for his own personal safety.”

Cecil Sewell lies buried at Vaulx Hill Cemetery, near Bapaume and his parents were presented with his V.C. at Buckingham Palace on 13th December 1918. His medals are now on display at the Tank Museum, Bovington, together with the actual tank in which he went into action.

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