b. 28/02/1895 Whitney, Herefordshire. d. 21/09/1918 Rossnoy, France.
Allan Leonard Lewis (1895-1918) was born on 28th February 1895 in Whitney-on-Wye, Herefordshire, close to the Welsh border. He was one of nine children in total, and by 1901, the family settled in neaby Brilley. His parents were George Lewis, who born in Brilley in c. 1868 and his wife, Annie, who was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset in 1869. Allan was the second oldest child of the family, with only his brother Frank, older than him. He attended local schools, but by the age of 13, he had left to work on the land as a farm labourer.
By the 1911 Census, Allan had left home as a 16-year-old and was working as a cow man on a farm owned by Arthur and Mary Ann Price on the Welsh border near to Hay on Wye. He eventually became a gardener at Truscoed House near Llandeilo in West Wales.
Allan always enjoyed working with machines, though, and this led to him becoming an employee of the Great Western Railway. He moved to Neath, and, after a period as a conductor, he drove a GWR bus on the Pontardawe route.
Allan joined the army in Neath in March 1915 and in doing so he left his job without seeking official permission from his employer. This seems to have been too much to bear for the managers of the GWR, and they long harboured a grudge against the man who was to die seven weeks before the end of the war.
Allan had an interesting life in the Army, initially being a driver for the fledgling Army Service Corps and latterly he was a junior NCO in the infantry. He is also alleged to have had a dalliance with the Marquess of Bath’s daughter, Lady Kathleen when recovering from a spell of jaundice at Longleat, a convalescence centre at the time. The papers reported at the time to the affect “she had more than a passing interest in this handsome young soldier.”
On 18th September 1918 at Rossnoy, near Lempire, France, Lance-Corporal Lewis was in command of a section on the right of the attacking line, held up by intense machine-gun fire. He saw that two guns were enfilading the line and crawled forward alone, successfully bombed the guns and by rifle fire made the whole team surrender. On 21st September he rushed his company through the enemy barrage, but was killed while getting his men under cover from heavy machine-gun fire.
A contemporary account said: “The first incident described in the official records unquestionably ranks as one of the most valorous deeds, even in this war of unexampled bravery.” The account also recorded that “he was struck in the head by shrapnel which penetrated the temple, death obviously being instantaneous.” Lewis’ body lay undiscovered for nine days until it was found by an Australian soldier. His identity was confirmed from the pay book he had with him when he was killed.
Tragically, the site of Allan’s final resting place was lost, and he is commemorated on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Haucourt, France. He is also remembered on parish memorials in Brilley and Whitney-on-Wye. Allan’s parents travelled to Buckingham Palace in April 1919 to receive his Victoria Cross from King George V.
Earlier this year, the Allan Leonard Lewis VC pub was opened in Orchard Street, Neath by the Mayor Mark Protheroe and Allan’s great niece, Dawn Lewis. There is a campaign for the Great Western Railway to remember their former employee. Sadly Allan is the only GWR man awarded the VC without a steam engine named after him. It is hoped that the GWR will commemorate Allan later this year on the anniversary of his death. The A L Lewis Memorial Fund will be unveiling a statue of Allan in the Old Market, Hereford on 22nd September as well as the unveiling of his VC commemorative stone at Hereford Cathedral.
Allan’s medals not publicly held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: VIS-EN-ARTOIS BRITISH CEMETERY, HAUCOURT, FRANCE. (PANEL 7)
War Memorial at St Mary's Church, Brilley, Herefordshire
Neath, Wales (Dawn Lewis)
Whitney on Wye Memorial (Thomas Stewart)
Neath Railway Station
Old Market Hall, Hereford
Hereford Cathedral (Kelvyn Jenkins)