b. 02/01/1885 Billingford, near Diss, Norfolk. d. 31/03/1918 Moreuil, near Amiens, France.
Gordon Muriel Flowerdew (1885-1918) was born on 2nd January 1885 in Billingford, near Diss, Norfolk. He was one of fourteen children born to Arthur John Blomfield Flowerdew, a farmer and his wife, Hannah (nee Symonds). Gordon, alongside his nine brothers, was educated at Framlingham College in Suffolk from 1894-1899. He was more sporting than academic however.
On the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, four of Gordon’s brothers volunteered to fight, but Gordon, being just 14, was too young to enlist. Shortly after finishing his studies at Framlingham, he contracted pleurisy, which left him weak and sickly. At the age of 18, in 1903, he decided to emigrate to Canada in search of a cure for his poor health.
Working his way across the prairie lands of Saskatchewan and Alberta, he eventually wound up in a pioneering settlement on the edge of the Rockies. Walhachin, British Columbia, was a ‘Little England’ populated by a band of gentlemen horticulturists who included among their number the sixth Marquis of Anglesey, Lord Victor Paget, and descendants of King George V, Cecil Rhodes and the British prime minister Herbert Asquith. Described as a Canadian ‘Camelot’, the aristocratic community discovered in Gordon Flowerdew its own Sir Galahad. Daring and dashing, he was a sometime rancher, storekeeper and lawman who acquired celebrity status for the Wild West-style horseback chase and capture of two bandits who had beaten and robbed a Chinese businessman. His reputation was enhanced by his performance as a volunteer trooper in the locally-raised 31st British Columbia Horse. In the years leading to the First World War, he set records as steeplechaser and marksman.
Flowerdew’s rise mirrored his equestrian prowess. One of 44 (out of a male settler population of 45) who volunteered from Walhachin, he was swiftly transferred to the Lord Strathcona’s Horse and from lance-corporal to sergeant in seven months. Dismounted service on the Western Front, where Canadian cavalry units helped make up for infantry shortages, neither dulled his enthusiasm nor stunted progress.
A soldier by instinct, he displayed stoicism, manning trenches where “the water was well over my knees”, and fearlessness, leading night patrols across no-man’s-land. On one such foray he resorted to clubbing an enemy soldier with his revolver after forgetting to remove the safety catch. The result was one finger smashed between revolver and steel helmet and two prisoners secured. His leadership skills earned him a commission, but opportunities for further distinction were few and far between. By spring 1916, the Lord Strathcona’s Horse, having resumed its mounted role, was among those cavalry units held back in the hope of exploiting a breakthrough that seemed to be a distant prospect. “I very much doubt,” he wrote home prophetically, “if the war is more than half over.”
Fleeting hopes of a return to open warfare following early successes around Arras and Cambrai in 1917 proved transitory. It was no little irony, therefore, that his only chance to lead a classic cavalry charge should result not from a British but from a German breakthrough. The so-called Kaiserschlacht, launched on 21 March 1918, struck a devastating blow against the thinly spread, overstretched British positions in front of St Quentin, occupied largely by Fifth Army. In the first day alone, the massed German army advanced over four miles and took more than 20,000 prisoners. On 27th March the Canadian Cavalry Brigade was assigned to the 2nd British Cavalry Division, and three days later was ordered to recapture Moreuil Wood, which had recently fallen to the German advance. The plan was for the Dragoons to assault with the LSH in support and the Fort Garry Horse in reserve, and the Dragoons were soon heavily engaged.
On 30th March, at Moreuil Wood, France, when reaching his first objective, Lieutenant Flowerdew saw two lines of enemy, each about sixty strong, with machine guns in the centre and flanks; one line being about two hundred yards behind the other. Realizing the critical nature of the operation and how much depended on it, Lieut. Flowerdew ordered a troop under Lieut. Harvey, VC, to dismount and carry out a special movement, while he led the remaining three troops to the charge. The squadron (less one troop) passed over both lines, killing many of the enemy with the sword; and wheeling about galloping on them again. Although the squadron had then lost about 70 per cent of its members, killed and wounded from rifle and machine gun fire directed on it from the front and both flanks, the enemy broke and retired. The survivors of the squadron then established themselves in a position where they were joined, after much hand-to-hand fighting, by Lieut. Harvey's part. Lieut. Flowerdew was dangerously wounded through both thighs during the operation, but continued to cheer his men.
Flowerdew was taken to No 41 Casualty Clearing Station near Amiens for treatment for his wounds. Sadly, he would not recover from his wounds and died the following day. He was buried in Namps-au-Val Cemetery, near Amiens. He was posthumously awarded the VC on the 24th April 1918, and on 29th June 1918, his mother, Hannah, received her son’s medal from King George V at Buckingham Palace. His medal was eventually donated to his old school, Framlingham College, and are currently on loan to the Imperial War Museum in London, where it is on display in the Ashcroft Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: NAMPS-AU-VAL CEMETERY, AMIENS, FRANCE.
Gordon Flowerdew's VC with his riding crop on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London. (August 2014). The items are on loan from Framlingham College.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier PLOT I, ROW H, GRAVE 1
Part of the wooden cross from his grave
Munnings painting of Flowerdew's charge
Demuin, France (Thomas Stewart)
St Leonards, Billingford, Norfolk