The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War
Samuel NEEDHAM, V.C.
I have been unable to identify a service record for Sam Needham, so presume it was among those lost in the Blitz. In the absence of a service record, below represents the best biogaphy I am able to produce about Sam's life and service.
Samuel Needham was born in Great Limber, Lincolnshire on 16 August 1885, to Septimus and Mary Needham. His father was one of Lord Yarborough's grooms and Sam was to follow in his fathers footsteps. When he left the Brockesby Stables, he worked in several other hunting stables, including the Duke of Westminster's and the Earl of Fitzwilliam's.
When war broke out in August 1914, Sam's parents had both passed away and he was living with his married sister (Mrs Baron) at 6 Astley Street in Hull. His interest in and experience with horses led him to enlist initially as Private RTS/5023 in the Army Service Corps and he went to France on 13 January 1915. Having been wounded (or taken ill) and recovered in England, he was transferred into the Bedfordshire Regiment as Private 203329. Looking at the service numbers around his, it would appear he joined the regiment at the end of 1916 or early in 1917. As a result, he may have physically joined the 1st/5th Battalion in Palestine at any time between late 1916 and late 1917, depending on whether he spent time in one of the reserve battalions in England before sailing to the Middle East.
Although major operations in that theatre of war were paused in response to the threat posed by the German Spring Offensives on the Western Front in March 1918, they resumed late that summer. During an overnight fighting patrol that was in very real danger of being overwhelmed and annihilated early on 11 September 1918, his complete disregard for his own personal safety and "berserk fury" saved his patrol from certain destruction.
An extract from The London Gazette, dated 29 October 1918, records his citation:
"For most conspicuous bravery and initiative when with a strong patrol which was heavily attacked by the enemy and forced back in confusion. At this critical moment Private Needham ran back and fired rapidly at a body of the enemy at point-blank range. His action checked the enemy and enabled the patrol commander to reorganise his men. The patrol had many casualties, but successfully got back all their wounded, and it was due to the action of individuals, of which this is the most outstanding, that the entire patrol was not cut off. Pte. Needham's example was of the greatest value at a critical moment, and the bold and determined stand made by him did more than anything to inspire confidence, and undoubtedly saved a critical situation."
Page 232 of Captain F.A.M. Webster's book 'The History of the Fifth Battalion Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (TA)' says:
'At one stage of operations on the Bureid Ridge, one of Captain Yarde's patrols suddenly bumped into a very much stronger Turkish patrol and, when our men were getting demoralised by our casualties, Private S Needham, who was a miner from Hull, saved the situation and won the Victoria Cross. He charged the enemy single handed and, fighting like one possessed, accounted for many Turks. His berserk fury created such a diversion in the darkness and confusion that, for the moment, the enemy was checked and themselves gave way before him. His comrades were unanimous in thinking that Private Needham's action enabled them to get away, otherwise they would have all been surrounded and cut off. Had this happened the valuable information that Captain Yarde brought back would not have been available for further operations. It should be noted that Captain Yarde himself won a bar to his MC on this occasion.' (See here for information on Captain Yarde, MC and Bar).
With an irony that so often befalls the tallest of hero's, Sam survived all the war could throw at him but died within a few days of it's ending.
According to a privately printed pamphlet detailing the life of Samuel, he died on 4 November 1918 from a gunshot wound to his head received whilst at No. 1 Base Depot in Kantara. Although unconfirmed so far, this appears to have been as a result of an accident of some kind.
Chris Bailey was kind enough to send me the below article from the Hull Times. Given the time between him winning his V.C., the award being granted, it appearing in the papers and his death, the article must have been only a matter of days or perhaps weeks before his sister was to learn of his death.
In 1956, one of his sisters - Mrs Baron from Hull - donated Sam's VC medals group to the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regimental Museum. All that is known about his surviving family at the moment is that Sam himself was single and that he had four sisters. Other than Mrs Baron, one lived in Waltham, another was a cook in Sir Alec Black's household and the fourth moved to Canada.
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