b. 13/06/1896 Liverpool. d. 02/02/1956 Liverpool.
Gabriel George Coury (1896-1956) was born at 16 Croxteth Grove, Toxteth, Liverpool, Lancashire on 13th June 1896. His father, Raphael, was Turkish of Armenian origin and was born in Alexandria, Egypt. He was a merchant operating throughout the Ottoman Empire in cotton and silk. His mother was Marie nee Dagher, who originated from Beirut, Lebanon. They had seven children including Gabriel.
Gabriel was educated at St Francis Xavier’s School, Liverpool from 1901-07, Hodder Place from May 1907 to 1909 and then Stonyhurst College until April 1913. He was fluent in French, served in the Officer Training Corps and was a better sportsman than scholar, particularly in cricket and shooting. By the time he finished school, he took a position with Reynolds and Gibson, Cotton Brokers and Merchants in Liverpool.
On 11th September 1914, he enlisted with 2/6th King’s and trained at Blackpool, Canterbury, Margatee and Upstreet Camp in Kent. He was commissioned in 3rd South Lancashire (Special Reserve) on 25th April 1915 and went to France on 15th August, attached to 1/4th Battalion on 11th September.
On 8th August 1916, near Arrow Head Copse, France, he was in command of two platoons ordered to dig a communication trench from the firing line to the position won. 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.
He was appointed temporary Lieutenant the following day and was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps on 28th August as an Observer, joining 13 Squadron at Savy Aubigny on photo reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions. His first operational flight was on 3rd September.
He received a civic reception in Liverpool on 15th November, and on 18th November received his VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace. At the same investiture, four other VCs were presented, and Albert Ball, received his DSO and Two Bars. Gabriel returned to duty on 25th November.
On 4th April 1917, his aircraft dropped two bombs, resulting in three explosions in gun pits. Two days later, over Etaing, he was directing artillery fire and dropped bombs on Brebieres. His squadron, and the RFC, in general, suffered heavy losses against the German Albatross D111 in what became known as “Bloody April”. He was recommended for a gallantry award on 17th April, but it was not approved. Gabriel returned to Britain on 18th May 1917 to undertake pilot training at No 1 School of Military Aeronautics, Reading, Berkshire. He was promoted Lieutenant on 1st July and posted to 66 Training Squadron at Yatesbury, Wiltshire, on 23rd July. He was posted to 7th Aircraft Acceptance Park at Kenley Common, Croydon, where he test flew new aircraft and ferried them across the Channel to operational RFC units at the front.
On 22nd November, he volunteered to ferry an aircraft from Kenley to France in bad weather because there was a shortage at the front. His wing hit a flagpole, the aircraft crashed and burst into flames, burning his face, arms and legs. He was treated at the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich. Having been discharged in January 1918, he was assessed as 30% disabled by the medical board and assigned to light duties. He transferred to the newly formed RAF on 1st April as a Lieutenant in the Aeroplane and Seaplane Branch. He was passed fit for flying on 13th April, but he was diagnosed with neurasthenia and crashed in June, and was in hospital for three months.
He was found unfit for flying in August 1918, and was transferred to the Administrative Section of the Medical Branch as a Medical (Administrative) Officer. He contracted Spanish influenza in February 1919 and was admitted to Mount Vernon Hospital, Northwood, London when pneumonia and pleurisy set in. He was demobilised on 30th April, and relinquished his Special Reserve commission on 1st April 1920.
Gabriel had married on 7th January 1918 to Katherine “Kitty” Mary Christina nee Lovell at St Mary’s RC Church, Clapham, London. She was a volunteer with a medical/welfare group during the Great War. They went on to have three daughters – Joan Marie Louise (born 1918), Carmen Katherine Mary (born 1921) and Margaret Mary (born 1923). Gabriel returned to work with Reynolds & Gibson, including in Egypt from 1927-1932 as cotton agent and shipper. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant RASC on 9th September 1940 and served with 913 Company RASC at Eccles, Manchester. He took part in the Normandy landings and served in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany until demobilised in August 1945.
After the war, Gabriel opened a fish and chip shop by converting part of his home in Brunswick Road, Liverpool. He opened a second shop in Everton Road. He then opened a café in West Derby Road. He passed the management of the business to his wife in 1952 and returned to the cotton trade as manager and senior salesman of George Way & Company.
Gabriel was a heavy smoker and developed carcinoma of the bronchus and was admitted to Walton Hospital, Liverpool. He returned home where he died on 23rd February 1956. He was buried in a family grave in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s RC Church, Crosby, Merseyside. His funeral was attended by Lt Colonel Donald Farmer VC. Sadly at the time of his death, he was estranged from his wife Kitty.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, 1939-45 Star, France & Germany Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. On 12th November 1961, the VC (but not the other medals ) was presented by Kitty to Brigadier HH Whalley-Kelly on behalf of the Regimental Museum at the Grosvenor Hotel, Victoria, London. The VC is held by the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment Museum, Fulford Barracks, Preston. In February 1982, there was a break in at the museum and the VCs on display were stolen. However, the museum only had replicas on display and the originals were safe.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: QUEEN'S LANCASHIRE REGIMENT MUSEUM, PRESTON.
BURIAL PLACE: ST PETER/ ST PAUL CHURCHYARD, CROSBY, MERSEYSHIRE. (FAMILY GRAVE)
War Illustrated, 11th November 1916
Sefton Park, Liverpool (courtesy of Steve Lee)
Courtesy of Chris Vere and the LANCASHIRE Infantry Museum, Preston.
The images of the Gabriel Coury VC appear with the kind permission of the Lancashire Infantry Museum, Fulwood Barracks, Preston.