PEARSE Samuel George, VC, MM
Sgt Samuel George Pearse, VC, MM 133002 45th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (formerly Corporal 2870, AIF) Killed in action 29th August 1919 at Emtsa, North Russia, Age 22.
Some months ago, an article appeared in the "Western Mail" challenging the fact that Samuel George Pearse, who had been awarded a posthumous V.C for an action in the Archangel Campaign of 1919.had been educated at the Bluecoat School in Liverpool. For many years the Bluecoat School had believed that he was the Samuel George Pierce who had been one of their pupils, and he had been identified as such on a plaque in the school. An amateur historian, Sid Lindsay, has recently cast doubt on this, and, after some research, I can confirm that he is correct. The V.C. was awarded to Sgt. Samuel George Pearse, who was educated, not in Liverpool, but at Penarth. On the 24th September 1900 he began his education at the Albert Rd. Board School, not far from where the Pearse family were then living at Salop Place.
He had been born in the town on the 16th. July 1897, the eldest child of George Stapleton Pearse,( whose occupation is listed as "cement burner"), and his wife, Sarah Ann, who had come to Penarth respectively from Exeter and Fiddington, near Bridgwater. By the 1901 census he had a younger brother named Robert and a sister named Louisa, and the family was living at 10 Salop Place. By 1905 they had moved just around the corner to 60 Salop St. Indeed, they seem to have lived at a number of addresses in Penarth, because the family has details of them having lived at Glebe St., and Paget St. ( possibly Paget Rd or Paget Tce.). They most probably moved to larger houses as the family expanded. The family belonged to the Salvation Army, and the male members played instruments in the band. Sam already showed signs of the bravery that was later to distinguish him, for in 1910 it is said that he saved a child from being killed by a bolting horse.
In 1911, Sam, his brother Robert and their father emigrated to Australia, where George obtained a property at Mildura ,Victoria, an area where plots of land were being offered at a token price to suitable settlers prepared to work in the vine and citrus industry. Here they began farming, and once they had established themselves at Koolong, they were joined by Mrs Pearse and the rest of the family. Once again, Sam was responsible for saving a life when he rescued a young neighbour who had fallen into a water tank. He worked as a fruit picker, and in the off-season as a labourer, trapper and as a deck hand on the paddle steamer "Viola" before enlisting in the A.I.F. on the 5th July 1915, a few days before his 18th birthday. He had been a member of the Legion of Frontiersmen before the war and was eager to enlist as soon as he was of an age to do so.
On the 10th September 1915 he embarked at Melbourne on HMAT "Star of Victoria" with the 9th Reinforcements of the 7th Battalion, replacements for the heavy casualties from the attacks on the Gallipoli Peninsula. After serving briefly at Gallipoli in December, he was evacuated at the end of the month. He sailed back to Egypt, arriving on the 7th January 1916, and then on to France, disembarking at Marseilles on the 31st of March. Four months later he was on the Somme, seeing his first action in France in the fierce Australian attack at Poziers. He transferred to the 2nd. Machine Gun Coy. which was later to became part of the 1st Machine Gun Battalion. On the 24th August 1916 he was wounded in action, but was soon back with his mates, and took part in the thick of the fighting at Passchendaele in September 1917. Between the 18th and the 22nd of September he served as a runner around Ypres as well as attacking an enemy post and for these actions he was awarded a M.M. He was also moving through the ranks, being promoted lance-corporal in November and corporal in April 1918, shortly before receiving a "blighty" on 19th May 1918. After spending a month in the General Military Hospital at Edmonton and a further period at No.4 Australian Convalescent Depot at Hurdcott his war should have been over when the Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918. However, instead of being sent back to Australia, on the 1st December 1918 he was posted back to the 1st Australian Machine Gun Battalion in France, but a month later, after damaging his foot he returned to the U.K.
However, the end of the war with Germany and her allies was not the end of the hostilities in which Britain had become embroiled. In April 1918, in an attempt to maintain the Eastern Front and to secure the equipment and stores that had been left there after the Russian decision to withdraw from the war, a landing had been made at Murmansk by 130 Royal Marines, a force that was gradually increased over the next few months, and in August another allied force occupied Archangel, the place chosen as a base for a military mission. This mixed force consisted of Americans, French, Serbs and Poles as well as British troops. According to Major General Edmund Ironside, the object was to restore order in Russia and then clear out. Indeed, with the signing of the Armistice in November 1918 the Russian Expeditionary Force fully expected to be pulled out and sent home. However, as peace came to the Western Front the objective of defeating the Bolsheviks became more important than a swift withdrawal from Russia. The appointment of Winston Churchill as Minister of War in January 1919 led to renewed efforts in Russia in support of the White Russians with the hope that they would be joined by recently released Serb and Czech prisoners. General Ironside appealed for reinforcements but these were not available. The need to police a turbulent expanded Empire and the "Troubles" in Ireland left no troops available for fighting in Russia. The only answer seemed to be an appeal for volunteers to join a "Russian Relief Force" to enable the men of the North Russian Expeditionary Force to return home.
During the time that he had been recuperating in England, Sam had met a young W.A.A.C. named Catherine (known as Kitty) Knox of Newbottle, County Durham, and they were married at Durham on 1st June 1919. Nevertheless, Sam was persuaded to join the volunteers, one of the 8,000 men who were to make up the North Russia Relief Force. On 18th. July1919 he was discharged from the A.I.F. to join the 45th Battalion Royal Fusiliers who, along with the 46th Battalion were to serve around Archangel under their tough Australian commander, Colonel Davis. He sailed immediately for Archangel on the troopship "Czar", and was soon thrust into action, for the Fusiliers were sent into a forested area which in high summer was full of mosquito ridden swamps where the fighting was desperate and progress was slow due to the difficulty of moving men and equipment. After a successful attack on the Bolshevik held village of Seltsoe on the 10th August, on the 29th of August the 45th were moved to Emtsa, a village along the Archangel to Vologda railway line which was to change hands several times before being finally taken by the Fusiliers. Here the brave Sergeant, who had already seen more than his share of action, took part in the attack that was to cost him his life and win him a Victoria Cross, the second awarded to a soldier during this campaign.
His citation, gazetted on 23rd. October, reads " Sergeant Pearse cut his way through the enemy barbed wire under very heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and cleared a way for the troops to enter the battery position. Seeing that a blockhouse was harassing our advance and causing us casualties, he charged the blockhouse single-handed, killing the occupants with bombs, and it was due to him that the position was carried with so few casualties. His magnificent bravery and utter disregard for personal danger won for him the admiration of all troops". Moments later, he was mortally wounded by another Russian machine gun, and bled to death. He was buried in the Obozeryska Burial Ground, but is now commemorated on Special Memorial B107 at Archangel Military Cemetery.
He was never to know his daughter, Victoria, born after his death and named after the award that was presented to his widow at Buckingham Palace on 25th. March 1920. Two months later, mother and daughter sailed to a new life in Australia. His V.C. remained in the care of his direct family, but his M.M. was carried throughout the 2nd. World War by Sam's youngest brother, Jackie. He managed to hide it during his 3 year incarceration at Changi Prison in Singapore, and it was eventually returned to Sam's daughter Vikki.
One of the officers with whom he served described his award as "a fitting tribute to the the bravest man I have ever seen", and I do no think that anyone would disagree with that statement. Sergeant Samuel Pearse was a man of whom Wales and Australia can be justly proud.