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Barrett, John Cridlan - VC TD DL FRCS
Rank : Colonel
Unit : 3/5th Bn, 1/5th Bn, 5th Bn
John Barrett was educated at Arnold Lodge School (Leamington Spa) and Merchant Taylors' School (then in the City of London). While at the latter, he was a fine swimmer, was in the 3rd XV rugby team and, as a Sergeant in the OTC, in the summer holidays of 1915 he was attached as an instructor to a battalion of The London Regiment at Tidworth; he later reached the rank of Company Quartermaster in the OTC. He was commissioned into The Leicestershire Regiment on 27.1.1916, and posted to 3/5th Bn. He was posted to France on 1.8.1916, where he was Signals Officer of 1/5th Battalion Feb 1917 to May 1918. Wounded at Gommecourt, Feb 1917. Promoted Lieutenant 27.7.1917. Gassed at Gorre May 1918. Won the Victoria Cross in France for his action during the attack on Pontruet on 24.9.1918, the citation in the London Gazette (14.12.1918) reads: "For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 24th September 1918, during the attack on Pontruet. Owing to the darkness and smoke barrage a number of men lost direction, and Lieutenant Barrett found himself advancing towards Forgan's Trench which contained numerous machine guns. Without hesitation he collected all available men and charged the nearest group of machine guns, being wounded on the way. In spite of this, he gained the trench and vigorously attacked the garrison, personally disposing of two machine guns and inflicting many casualties. He was again severely wounded, but nevertheless climbed out of the trench in order to fix his position and locate the enemy. This he succeeded in doing and, despite exhaustion from wounds, gave detailed orders to his men to cut their way back to the battalion, which they did. He himself refused help and was again wounded, so seriously that he could not move and had to be carried out. In spite of his wounds he had managed to fight on, and his spirit was magnificent throughout. It was due to his coolness and grasp of the situation that any of his party were able to get out alive."
The V.C. was presented to him by HM King George V at Buckingham Palace on 13.2.1919. During the same year, Leamington, his home town, made him a Freeman of the Borough, and presented him with a gold wristlet watch. He was present at Westminster Abbey for burial of the Unknown Warrior on 11.11.1920.
After the First World War he resumed his medical studies at St Thomas's Hospital, where he was awarded the Bristowe Medal for Pathology and qualified MRCS, LRCP in 1924. He obtained the MB BS in 1925 and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) in 1928. He did several house jobs at St Thomas's Hospital, including Senior Resident Surgical Casualty Officer from 1926, and at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, where he worked from 1929. He was also a surgeon at Hinckley & District Hospital, and consulting surgeon to the Leicester Isolation Hospital and to the City General Hospital, Leicester. He also retained his commission in the Territorial Army. He was OC C Company 5th Battalion The Leicestershire Regiment (TA) from 1926-31 when he became Bn 2IC, being awarded the Territorial Decoration in 1936. As a Lieutenant Colonel he commanded that Battalion from 1937 until mid-1939, and 1/5th Bn from 30.6.1939-14.10.1939. Believing that at the age of 42 he would be more use to the wartime Army as a general surgeon, he transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps, commanding a surgical unit in Northern Ireland.
After the Second World War he was senior surgeon of the Leicester Royal Infirmary from 1945 to 1962, and was an elected member of the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons from 1958 to 1966, contributing to various medical journals. He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Leicestershire on 20.12.1950, and completed 40 years’ military service as Honorary Colonel of 5th Battalion The Royal Leicestershire Regiment (TA) 1953-58.
He was President of the Provincial Surgeons Club of Great Britain 1961-63, and Director of the Leicester Branch of the British Red Cross Society 1962-67, Deputy President 1967-71 and Honorary Vice-President from 1971 until his death on 7.3.1977, aged 79. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered on Rosebed 14 at Gilroes Crematorium, Leicester. His widow died in Leicester on 11.2.2000.
His name is commemorated on Heritage Panel at the Regent Hotel, Leamington, and there is a brass plaque in his memory in the Regimental Chapel in Leicester Cathedral. A painting by Terence Cuneo of the action for which he was awarded the VC hangs in the Regimental Museum, Newarke Houses, Leicester, where his medals are also displayed. In August 2018 he was awarded a Green Plaque by Leicestershire County Council. On 23.9.2018 (the centenary of the action for which he was awarded the VC) a VC commemorative paving stone was dedicated at the War Memorial in Euston Place, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.
There is more on him at http://www.victoriacrossonline.co.uk/john-c-barrett-vc/4585952352.
During the First World War there were at one time and another seven Old Merchant Taylors serving in 1/5th Battalion The Leicestershire Regiment. Three were killed in action, William Maurice Cole, Percy Measures and Cyril Bernard Wilson Buck. At the end of the war the 4 surviving officers (Godwin Edward Banwell, John David Hills, Donald Burman Petch and John Cridlan Barrett) presented a trophy to the school – The 5th Leicestershire Trophy, Inter-House Athletic Sports Championship – to commemorate this fact. The trophy is now 2018 presented to the School's 'Most improved rugby player – senior'.
The deeds of these seven OMTs (and others who served in the Battalion) are covered fully in the book ‘1/5th Battalion the Leicestershire Regiment in the Great War’, by Captain J. D. Hills MC (himself an OMT) which was first published in 1919. Its review in The Taylorian magazine stated,
“This book claims to be a record of the progress of a territorial battalion during the war from mobilisation to demobilisation. To say that it completely attains its object is to give it less than its due. It is in reality much more. “Mutatis mutandis”, it is an epitome of the life of any of the best territorial battalions from 1914 to 1919. The reason why the majority of books on the war are unsatisfactory and untrue is that their authors are either journalists or would-be journalists. They strive to give the public what the public is supposed to want – “purple” passages, isolated incidents, lurid and harrowing descriptions – with the result that their work is already voted stale and unprofitable. In this book the author has steadfastly resisted all temptations of “ fine writing”, he has preserved his sense of proportion throughout, and has given us a plain and unvarnished account of the daily work, the joys and sorrows, the life in the line and out of it of one of the finest battalions of the first Territorial Division to cross the Channel. It is to books like this that the student of history in days to come will turn for a true account of the doings of our hard-fighting and seldom praised County Regiments. It is a pity that there are so few of them. So much for the book in general. But to us Merchant Taylors it has a much more intimate appeal, for it gives us a glimpse of the work in France of Old Boys who, a few months before, had been working and playing beside us at the School. We read how Lieut. J. C. Barrett, V.C., “literally covered with wounds,” after disposing of three enemy machine-gun posts and their teams and overcoming the bombing-parties which assailed him, extricated his men from a perilous position before he, refusing all help, made his own way back to the Aid Post. We learn how the late Second-Lieut. W. M. Cole, M.C., accompanied by his corporal, stalked a German sentry, shot him, noted his regiment for purposes of identification, and made his way back to our line under heavy machine-gun fire – a feat well described as “a very fine piece of patrol work, calling for courage, initiative and cunning of a high degree.” This gallant young officer, whom we remember with deep affection, died of wounds ten days later, on the day on which the Military Cross was awarded him. The names “A” Company (Petch) and “ C ”Company (Banwell) have a familiar ring about them, – we note with pride that these two officers – the former thrice, the latter six times wounded – together with the author of the book, are three out of the four officers of the battalion who won the MC and bar. Finally, we deduce a great deal concerning the author himself, who sailed to France with the 5th Leicestershires, and returned to England in command of their “cadre” in June 1919. He had during that time served throughout the war with his battalion and filled every possible place in it. We feel that he was the best man to write its history and that he could not have done it better.”
Date of Birth : 10.8.1897
Place of Birth : Leamington Spa, Warks
Date of Death : 7.3.1977
Place of Death : Leicester
Civil Occupation : Surgeon
Period of Service : 1916-58
Conflicts : WW1, WW2
Places Served : France, England, Northern Ireland
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