7 December 2014

Sgt 18449 Laurie Legg, MM

Laurie Legg was an Original volunteer to the West Ham Battalion. Born in Leytonstone and growing up in Wathamstow, he lived at home with four sisters in Forest Road just before the Great War. His dad had been a piano tuner, but Laurie worked as a shipping clerk. The house and many others around it were hit by a V1 in 1944, but you can see how it looked judging by the houses which are still remaining.

Laurie enlisted early on and served in the Hammers all through the battles of the Somme and Ancre in 1916, and made it to the rank of Sergeant along the way, but it was at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 that he really made his mark. He was a member of D Coy and was one of those facing the Germans on November 30th beside the Canal du Nord.

D Company made a magnificent Last Stand at their Lock 5 position and even managed to capture more than a dozen Germans and took them prisoner. These men were placed in the care of the reserve platoon which was under the command of Laurie, however the rifle ammunition and grenades in D Coy’s possession were starting to run worryingly low. Many men of D Coy were killed and the survivors quickly became aware that they were virtually surrounded. Captain Robinson, another Original from West Ham, duly shortened the Line and began a 'harassing action' with sniping to conserve ammunition. 

Captain Robinson then held a meeting with the other surviving Officer, Lt Corps, before informing Company Sergeant Major Edwards and Platoon Sergeant’s Phillips, Fairbrass, Parsons, Lodge and Laurie Legg that he had decided to continue resistance for as long as possible and hold their ground at all costs until relieved, as per the original orders. Regardless of it being hopeless, the men of D Company, on being given this news by their sergeants, were in excellent spirits and in absolutely no mood to give up an inch of ground. They repaired the fire steps and reorganised themselves for all round defence. Some were using the bodies of dead Germans as extra cover. The resultant redoubt was immensely strong and easily defended. 

Yet the German hold on both sides of the canal was rapidly strengthening all around them. A call for two volunteers to attempt to get a message back to HQ was answered by Laurie and one other man. As they set off into the maelstrom of grenades, pistol and rifle fire, snipers, sweeping Maxim machine guns, trench mortars and heavy artillery shells,  I don't think many inD Coy thought much for their chances to pick a way through the Germans who were by now attacking C Coy with a fury...  

The German attacks finally tailed off as night arrived. Both sides were completely exhausted but there was to be no 'stand down'. As darkness fell, Lt  Col Walsh in the Hammers HQ was feverishly trying to create a semblance of order out of the chaos. 6th Brigade HQ was also desperately trying to make contact with forces west of the canal and they were both asking the same question: where was D Company? Nothing had been heard of them since 10.20am that morning.  

At 8pm, they got their answer. From in front of the West Ham lines crawled a mud drenched and weary Sgt Laurie Legg accompanied by another soldier, his identity now lost.

Legg immediately headed to Walsh at HQ. In the smoky and flickering light of the cramped damp dugout his report was heard in a wide eyed hush. He described the ‘Council of War’, held four hours earlier by the remaining Officers and NCO’s who were determined to fight to the last but were now surrounded and extremely low on ammunition. 

Laurie had volunteered to attempt to get through the German line and bring desperately needed reinforcements. The attempt had been regarded as a ‘forlorn hope’ but, as military history has often witnessed, it succeeded. The news spread like an inspirational wildfire throughout the Hammers and to the whole Brigade. Numerous signal flares were sent up to indicate to the survivors of D Company that Legg and his companion had made it through. They were heard giving a hearty cheer. All through the night, “violent attacks” were made to reach the beleaguered Company. Sadly, none of them were successful.

Laurie was awarded the Military Medal for his incredible actions getting the message through and he received his ribbon and handshake on Christmas Day, 1917. By February 1918 the West Ham Battalion was disbanded and Laurie was posted to the 10th Essex. 

This brave young man was killed on 12th April, 1918. He was just 24 years old and unmarried.

Sadly, he has No Known Grave but today his name is remembered on the Memorial at Pozieres. 

images courtesy of Richard Parker, Gt-Nephew of Laurie

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