b. 18/02/1896 Portman Square, London. d. 31/07/1917 Bellewaarde, Belgium
Thomas Riversdale Colyer-Fergusson (1896-1917) was born at 13 Lower Berkeley Street, London on 18th February 1896. He was known to the family as “Riv”. His father, Sir Thomas Colyer-Fergusson, married Beatrice Stanley Muller on 30th January 1890. Sir Thomas held a number of appointments – Warden of Rochester Bridge, JP 1896 and High Sheriff of Kent 1906. The family lived at a moated medieval manor house, near Sevenoaks in Kent, called Ightham Mote. Thomas’ mother died in 1902 when he was only 6, and his father remarried in 1914 to Mary Freda Cohen at Bramshot, Hampshire. Thomas had five siblings – Max (who died in a WWII air raid in 1940), Mary, William, Phillis and Beatrice.
Riv was educated at Summerfields School, Oxford and Harrow from 1909-1914, where he was a Sergeant in the Rifle Corps. He was due to go to Oriel College, Oxford when war broke out. Instead Riv enlisted in 16th Middlesex (Public Schools) on 25th September 1914 in London. He joined at Kempton Park on 27th September and was serving in I Company at Woldingham on 5th February 1915 when he applied for a temporary commission. He was posted to 3rd (Reserve) Northamptonshire at Weymouth on 19th February and received a temporary commission in the Special Reserve two days later.
Riv went to France to join 2nd Battalion on 5th December. He applied for a permanent commission on 25th February 1916, which was granted in July with seniority from the 4th. Meanwhile he had received a gunshot wound to the arm at Contalmaison on 7th July and was evacuated to England, and he was found unfit for service for three weeks and sent on leave until 23rd August. He was then passed fit for Home Service and was attached to 3rd (Reserve) Northamptonshire at Gillingham, Kent. He eventually returned to the front in November. He was then appointed Acting Captain to command B Company. In February 1917 he led an attack on the ridge overlooking Bouchavesnes as the Germans pulled back to the Hindenburg Line.
On 31st July 1917 at Bellewaarde, Belgium, Captain Colyer Fergusson found himself with a Sergeant and five men only. He carried out the attack nevertheless, and succeeded in capturing the enemy trench and disposing of the garrison. His party was then threatened by a heavy counter-attack from the left front, but this attack he successfully resisted. During this operation, assisted by his Orderly only, he attacked and captured an enemy machine gun and turned it on the assailants, many of whom were killed and a large number driven into the hands of an adjoining British unit. Later, assisted only by his Serjeant, he again attacked and captured a second enemy machine gun, by which time he had been joined by other portions of his company, and was enabled to consolidate his position. The conduct of this officer throughout forms an amazing record of dash, gallantry and skill, for which no reward can be too great, having regard to the importance of the position won.
He was shot by a sniper soon afterwards and died at the 24th Field Ambulance later that day. He was buried in Menin Road South Cemetery, near Ypres, Belgium. On 21st August, his binoculars and gold wristwatch were sent to his father. Riv left over £3,000 in his will. As he never married, his VC was presented to his father by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 20th October 1917. In addition to his VC, he was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The VC passed to Sir James Colyer-Fergusson, 4th Baronet, following the death of Riv’s father, before being presented to the Regiment. It is held by the Northamptonshire Regiment Museum, Abington Park, Northampton.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NORTHAMPTON REGIMENT MUSEUM, NORTHAMPTON.
BURIAL PLACE: MENIN ROAD SOUTH CEMETERY, YPRES, BELGIUM.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT II, ROW E, GRAVE 1
The Colyer Arms, Station Road, Betsham.
Ightham Mote Chapel, Kent.
War Illustrated, 22nd September 1917
Northamptonshire Regiment Museum (Nigel Atter)
MOD Building, London (Terry Hissey)
St Peter's Church, Ightham, Kent (Neil Bright)
Harrow School Chapel (Terry Hissey)