2nd Lieut Gabriel Coury - Croxteth’s Victoria Cross recipient

PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 November 2016

2nd Lieut Gabriel Coury

2nd Lieut Gabriel Coury

not Archant

As the nation pauses in remembrance this month, Chris Vere recalls the story of one soldier from Liverpool who served in both World Wars and was awarded a Victoria Cross.

The Victoria CrossThe Victoria Cross

In the year that saw the centenary commemorations for the Battle of the Somme – in which a generation of young men were killed before breakfast time on day one – this month’s Remembrance Day events will hold a special poignancy.

The country will come to a standstill at 11am on November 11 to remember those ordinary men and women who have endured extraordinary experiences in conflicts around the globe. Some never returned to the lives they had left behind, some came back but were never the same again. All should be honoured.

War memorials in towns and villages the length and breadth of the country record the names, but behind each name is a life, a family and a story which grows increasingly faint as the years pass.

For some, such as 2nd Lieut Gabriel Coury from Croxteth, the stories are still fresh. His relatives were present this summer when the tales of his wartime bravery and heroics were re-told as a commemorative stone tablet was unveiled in Liverpool.

The commemoration stone in Sefton Park. Six more remembering VC winners will be unveiled in the city before November 2018The commemoration stone in Sefton Park. Six more remembering VC winners will be unveiled in the city before November 2018

Coury, a former pupil of Stonyhurst College, was awarded a Victoria Cross after he saved the life of his commanding officer during a British attack on the German-held village of Guillemont.

The 20-year-old was commanding a half company of pioneers from the 1/4th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment who were supporting the 1/4th Battalion, Kings Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment.

The battle was fierce and the fighting intense, as the citation for his VC made clear: ‘By his fine example and utter contempt of danger he kept up the spirits of his men and completed his task under intense fire. Later, after his battalion had suffered severe casualties and the Commanding Officer had been wounded, he went out in front of the advanced position in broad daylight and in full view of the enemy found his Commanding Officer, and brought him back to the new advanced trench over ground swept by machine-gun fire. He not only carried out his original tasks and saved his Commanding Officer, but also assisted in rallying the attacking troops when they were shaken and in leading them forward.’

And the tribute from one of his junior NCOs, printed in the Liverpool Post of the day is even more telling. ‘He was the bravest officer I ever served under. The task given to the men under him was no soft one. To dig a new trench in the thick of a battle is a thing that requires some nerve, and a better officer than Lt Coury could not have been chosen to direct the operation. He showed absolute contempt for death, and made us all feel that a dozen deaths were as nothing compared with the necessity of completing the task given to us.

‘It was when we got into the captured position that Lt Coury showed what he was capable of. We had gone through a hellish ordeal. We had suffered severely and a lot of our officers and men lay out there in the open, wounded. It blew hurricanes of fire across the open and it seemed to invite certain death to go out there.

‘Word was brought that our commanding officer was among the wounded. Lt Coury determined to go out to him. He started out under fiendish fire. The enemy’s snipers were after him from the first but he ran on, regardless of the hail of bullets flying around him. He reached the spot where our commander lay, and after resting for a while started back again, carrying the commander’.

He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant as a result. Coury’s remarkable career continued with a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps, which later became the Royal Air Force. He survived serious crashes and gained his pilot’s wings. Demobilised and returning to Liverpool, he resumed work as a cotton broker. Volunteering in World War Two, with the Royal Army Service Corps, he landed in Normandy in 1944 as a Major.

As the cotton trade diminished, one of his enterprises was The Frying Pan fish and chip shop in Brunswick Street, a cafe in West Derby and a concession for the catering in Liverpool’s parks. He kept close contact with his old school, Stonyhurst, supporting the Combined Cadet Force there.

He died in February 1956 and was buried with full military honours at St Peter and St Paul’s RC churchyard in Crosby. In 1961 his widow, Katherine Coury, presented his VC to the Regimental Association of the South Lancashire Regiment for safe keeping and it is now in the care of Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment Lancashire Infantry Museum in Preston.

In what is thought to be its first display outside the museum, the VC was taken to the Palm House in Sefton Park Liverpool where the commemorative stone tablet was unveiled on the VC’s 100th anniversary in August. Four members of the Coury family were present including his daughter, Rita Shepherd.

For more information log on to lancashireinfantrymuseum.org.uk The museum, at Fulwood Barracks, Preston is open on Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday from 10am-4pm. Admission and car parking are free. ID, such as a photo driving licence, is required.

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