b. 15/07/1889 Surbiton, Surrey. d. 03/06/1953 Claygate, Surrey.
Douglas Walter Belcher (1889-1953) was born at 2 Park Villas, Arlington Road, Surbiton, Surrey on 15th July 1889. His father was Walter Harry Belcher, whose occupation was a draper. His mother was Emily nee Taylor, who worked as a cook for a surgeon called Edward Cook prior to her marriage. They married in 1884 at Kingston upon Thames. Douglas had a younger brother, Cecil George, who was born in 1891, who served in the Royal Navy in the Great War.
Douglas was educated at Tiffin Boy’s School, Kingston upon Thames from 1900. He was an active young man and enjoyed swimming, rowing, cycling, cricket and tennis. He was a member of the Surbiton United and Ditton Hill Cricket Clubs, St Mark’s Company, Church Lad’s Brigade and sang in the choir at St Mary’s, Surbiton. He worked in his father’s drapery business before being employed as a clerk by Joseph Randall Porter of Surbiton and later by the antiques department of Waring & Gillow’s, Oxford Street, London.
Douglas enlisted in 26th Middlesex (Cyclist) Volunteer Rifle Corps in 1906 and transferred to the 25th (County of London) Cyclist Battalion on 23rd April 1908 following the creation of the Territorial Force. He was discharged on 31st March 1909 and later served in 9th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles), winning the silver cup for shooting in 1912. In April 1913, he joined the 5th (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment. Douglas embarked for France from Southampton on SS Chyebassa as a lance-sergeant on 4th November 1914. The Battalion arrived at Le Havre and No 1 Rest Camp on 5th November, moved to St Omer two days later and by 22nd November the Battalion had moved to Ploegsteert, Belgium attached to 11th Brigade, 4th Division.
On 13th May 1915, south of the Wieltje-St. Julien Road, Belgium, Belcher was in charge of a portion of an advanced breastwork during continuous bombardment by the enemy. With very few men, Belcher elected to remain and try to hold his position after the troops near him had been withdrawn, and with great skill he succeeded in his objective, opening rapid fire on the enemy, who were only 150-200 yards away, whenever he saw them collecting for an attack. This bold action prevented the enemy breaking through and averted an attack on the flank of one of our divisions.
He was the first Territorial Force other rank to receive the VC when he was gazetted on 23rd June 1915. He received his medal from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 12th July. The following day he was received at his old school, Tiffin Boys’ and presented with a black marble clock. On 17th July, Waring & Gillow’s presented him with a silver rose bowl and a purse of gold at a ceremony at the firm’s premises in White City attended by over 3,000 people. On 21st July, on the last day of his leave, he received a civic reception from the people of Surbiton, and presented with a purse of money and an inscribed service revolver.
Douglas was commissioned into 3/9th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment on 10th February 1916. He was promoted to Lieutenant in August 1917 and demobilised from the TF on 29th October 1918. The following day he was seconded for service in the Indian Army on probation and attached to 1/6th Gurkha Rifles from 2nd November 1918 at Abbottabad. He was promoted to captain in 1920 and served as a company commander in Mesopotamia in 1921 following the Arab Rising. Later in 1921 he was attached to 5th Battalion, 70th Burma Rifles at Meiktila as a company commander and retired in July 1922 due to ill health.
Douglas had married Emily Frances Luxford on 31st January 1917 in St Mark’s, Surbiton and the couple went on to have two sons, Francis Douglas “ Bill” Belcher born in December 1917 and Brian Wynn Belcher born in February 1926. On his return from India, Douglas initially worked as a cigar merchant before returning to Waring and Gillow’s, but suffered from neurasthenia from 1926 and was forced to find other work. The family moved to Kent and he ran a greengrocer’s shop in Tunbridge Wells and became President of the local British Legion and in 1932, he founded and was later President, of the local branch of the Old Contemptibles Association which was named Belcher VC Branch in his honour.
In 1935, Douglas divorced Emily and gained custody of his two sons. By October 1937, Douglas was working as a clerk-commissionaire working for a city firm of chartered accountants living in Surbiton. On 24th May 1939, Douglas relinquished the rank of captain retired Indian Army on enlistment into the ranks of the London Rifle Brigade, The Rifle Brigade. He was promoted to Sergeant, but following a fall at Woolwich, was medically discharged in May 1940. He then became employed with the Royal Army Pay Corps and was also involved in POW duties. In 1941, he re-married to Gertrude Elizabeth Brine in London, and the couple didn’t have any children.
Douglas, who was an active Freemason, since initially joining the Arts and Crafts Lodge No 3387 in 1916, died at his home “Tera”, 16 Rythe Road, Claygate, Surrey on 3rd June 1953 and was buried in Holy Trinity Churchyard, Claygate. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Mdal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. It is not known if his War Medal or the Elizabeth II Coronation Medal were ever claimed or received. His son, Francis, presented the medals to the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester.
LOCATION OF MEDAL:ROYAL GREEN JACKETS MUSEUM, WINCHESTER, HAMPSHIRE.
BURIAL PLACE: HOLY TRINITY CHURCHYARD, CLAYGATE, SURREY.
Douglas Belcher's medal and photograph at the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester, Hampshire.
(Picture - Thomas Stewart).
Belcher's memorial stone unveiling. Pictures from Surrey Comet Newspaper.
War Illustrated, 20th January 1917
War Illustrated, 24th March 1917
War Illustrated, 24th March 1917
Union Jack Club
Freemasons Memorial, London (Brian Drummond)
VC Grove, Tunbridge Wells (Brian Drummond)