b. 07/03/1891 St Anthony, Cornwall. d. 01/07/1968 Redruth, Cornwall
Horace Augustus Curtis (1891-1918) was born on 7th March 1891 in St Anthony-in-Roseland, Cornwall, the fourth and final child for Thomas Curtis, a gamekeeper and his wife Catherine (nee Ball). Thomas was gamekeeper at Place House in St Anthony-in-Roseland. Horace’s older siblings were called Hilda, Eldred Barrington and Wilfred. They lived in a small cottage called Cellars Cottage near to the beach. In order to help with the children, Catherine’s sister Louisa Ball used to help out.
Tragically, Thomas Curtis died when Horace was only four years old and the census of 1901 describes his widow as a pauper. It was around this time that the family moved out of the area as the cottage had come with the Game Keepers job. Catherine and her four children moved to Fiddlers Green near Newlyn East. Like many other young men in the area Horace became china clay worker as soon as he had completed his education.
A few weeks after the outbreak of the 1st World War, Horace travelled to Bodmin and enlisted with the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry. He was attested into The Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry (DCLI) at Bodmin on 14 September as No.15833 Private Curtis. Only four days later he was transferred to the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, because of a shortage of men in that Battalion.
The 7th (Service) Battalion was assigned to 30th Brigade in the 10th (Irish) Division at the Curragh. The 30th Brigade also contained the 6th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the 6th and 7th Battalions of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. The 30th Brigade moved to Dublin in February 1915 and then embarked for England in May 1915 and onto the Basingstoke area where they underwent training for the next 3 months. During that time, The Division was inspected by King George V on 28th May at Hackwood Park and by Field Marshal, Lord Kitchener on 1st June.
The Division embarked from Devonport on the 11th July 1915 aboard H.M.T. Alaunia. They called at Malta and Alexandria and landed on the island of Mitylene off the Turkish Coast on the 25th July. The Battalion then moved on to Sulva Bay Gallipoli Peninsular Turkey on the 7th August. After Gallipoli, the 10th Division sailed for Greece. During a long stay in the Macedonian theatre of war and bitter fighting, Horace earned promotion in 1916 from unpaid Lance Corporal, on 7th February, to fully paid Sergeant on 17th November. He was also mentioned in Dispatches in the London Gazette on 21st July 1917.
Horace was next to see action in Palestine and was finally sent to France on 23rd May 1918. They landed at Marseilles on the 31st of that month. On 6th June his Battalion was reduced of all surplus personnel, and Horace found himself transferred to the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers. France was his fourth theatre of war.
On 20th June 1918 Horace returned to England where he went to Bermondsey Military Hospital in London for treatment for malaria and afterwards was able to return to his home in Fiddlers Green on 24th July; the first time in four years. He was finally cleared to return to his unit in France on 19th August and was back in France by 1st September. On the 21st he sent up to the battle front.
On 18th October 1918 aged 27, No. 14107 Sergeant Horace Augustus Curtis, 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers fought in action near Le Cateau that earned him the Victoria Cross. His platoon came under attack from intense machine gun fire. Realising that the attack would fail unless the enemy guns were silenced, Sjt Curtis, without hesitation, rushed forward through our own barrage and the enemy fire and killed and wounded the teams of two of the guns, whereupon the remaining four guns surrendered. Then turning his attention to a train-load of reinforcements, he succeeded in capturing over 100 enemy before his comrades joined him. His valour and disregard of danger inspired all.
Following his gazetting for the VC on 6th January 1919, his medal was presented to him by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 8th March 1919. Horace married Rhoda Grose Phillips in 1922 in St Columb, Cornwall, and went on to live a normal quiet live, never mentioning his wartime experiences. A biography records that, ‘he rarely spoke of his achievement humbled that he had been singled out for such an act when he had witnessed friends and colleagues carrying out similar acts of courage over those 4 long years, without official recognition, many of them losing their lives in the process. The overpowering emotion he recalled at the time of his action was one of anger.’
Horace died aged 77 in Redruth District Hospital on 1st July 1968, with many of the people around him having no idea that he was a hero. He was cremated at Penmount Crematorium, Truro, Cornwall. In 1992, at an auction at Glendinning’s, London, his VC was purchased by Michael Ashcroft and is now on display in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London. The location of his campaign medals is not known.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: PENCOUNT CREMATORIUM, TRURO, CORNWALL. CREMATED
Horace Curtis's VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (August 2014).
Mentioned in Despatches
Curtis' medal card
Attestation Papers for the Royal Dublin Fusiliers
St Newlyn East. Cornwall