THEY were very different men: among them a postman, a professional footballer, a teacher and a farmer's son. Some knew each-other; most didn't. A few died young, their lives cut tragically short. Others lived to a good old age, surrounded by family and loved ones.

What all the men we efature today today have in common, however - apart from the fact that they grew up in or near York - was that they all demonstrated conspicuous valour during the shattering war that tore Europe apart 100 year ago. They all won the Victoria Cross.

We have told some of their stories before: but never in the detail we can today, thanks to a stunning new book which will be published on Monday.

Victoria Cross Heroes of World War One by Robert Hamilton brings together the stories of all 628 British and Commonwealth recipients of the ultimate medal for valour during the Great War.

Meticulously researched, the book - which runs to almost 400 pages and includes 2000 rare or unseen photographs - stands as the perfect tribute to those men.

Almost half the Victoria Crosses ever awarded went to men who fought in the Great War. More than 20 of those men were Yorkshiremen. Here, we concentrate only on those who grew up in or near York. But for anyone interested in the war more generally, the book makes for a powerful, moving, unforgettable read...


Charles Hull, from Harrogate

York Press:

Charles Hull, centre

Charles Hull was a Harrogate postman before enlisting in the 21st Lancers, a cavalry regiment which spent the war in India. He was a shoeing-smith, making and fitting shoes to the officers' horses.

On September 5, 1915, Private Hull rescued an officer from certain death at the hands of tribesmen at Hafiz Kor on the North West Frontier. "Acting entirely on his own initiative and under close fire by the enemy ...he rescued Captain Learoyd, whose horse had been shot, by seating the captain behind him and galloping to safety," writes Hamilton.

Private Hull received both the Victoria Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. After the war, he became a policeman in Leeds. He died aged 62, and was buried in Woodhouse Lane cemetery.


Archie White from Boroughbridge

Archie White was educated at Harrogate Grammar School, where he knew Donald Bell, also featured today.

York Press:

Archie White after receiving his VC from the King at Hyde Park on June 2, 1917

After graduating from King's College London with an English degree, he became a teacher at Westminster School. When war was declared, he was commissioned into the Green Howards.

At the end of September 1916 Captain White was in charge of the troops holding the southern and western faces at Stuff Redoubt - German fortifications protecting Thiepval Ridge. "For four days and nights he held the position under heavy German fire and against several counter-attacks," Hamilton writes. "Although short of supplies and ammunition, White's determination never wavered and when the enemy attacked in vastly superior numbers he personally led a counter-attack which finally cleared the Germans."

After the war, Captain White worked as an instructor for the Army Education Corps. He also served in the Second World War, retiring as a honorary colonel in 1947. He was living in Surrey when he died and was cremated at Brookwood Crematorium in Woking. His VC medal is on loan to the Green Howards Regimental Museum in Richmond, North Yorkshire


Donald Bell from Harrogate

York Press:

Donald Bell

Donald Bell's is one of those poignant stories that brings home powerfully the shocking waste of war. He was killed a month after his wedding - and less than a week after the action for which he was posthumously awarded the VC.

Born in Harrogate in 1890, he went to Harrogate Grammar School - where he knew Archie White - then Westminster College, where he qualified as a teacher. But he was also an outstanding sportsman, and became a professional footballer with Division Two side Bradford Park Avenue to supplement his teacher's salary.

In 1914, he enlisted and joined the West Yorkshire Regiment, where he was soon commissioned. In early June, 1916, while on leave, he married his sweetheart Rhoda Bonson.

Honeymoon over, he was sent to the front just as the Somme offensive began. On July 5, his 9th Yorkshire’s were part of an Allied force which attacked a mile-long section of the enemy line near La Boisselle known as Horseshoe Trench. “The battalion came under heavy enfilade fire, and he recruited two help him put the gun responsible out of action,” Hamilton writes.

Lt Bell’s citation records that he “rushed across the open under heavy fire and attacked the machine gun, shooting the firer with his revolver and destroying gun and personnel with bombs. This very brave act saved many lives and ensured the success of the attack.” Lt Bell himself was more modest in a letter written home shortly afterwards. “I with my team crawled up the communication trench and I hit the gun first shot from about 20 yards and knocked it over,” he wrote. “We then bombed the dugout and did in about 50 Bosches… I must confess it was the biggest fluke alive ...I only chucked the bomb and it did the trick.”

He added that he believed God was watching over him. “It rests with him whether I pull through or not.” Five days later, he was killed while attacking another machine gun post at Contalmaison – leaving his new wife Rhoda a widow. His VC medal is now on display at the National Football Museum in Manchester.


Tom Dresser from Huby

York Press:

Tom Dresser

Born in Huby and educated in Middlesbrough, Tom Dresser was a steelworks foundry worker before enlisting in February 1916. He arrived at the Somme with the Green Howards in early September 1916.

On May 12, 1917, he found himself in the thick of the allied Spring Offensive near the small village of Roeux. “He had been tasked with delivering an important communication from battalion headquarters to the front line,” writes Hamilton. “Exhausted and in great pain from… two wounds ... Private Dresser was nevertheless determined and succeeded in conveying the message which proved vital to his battalion at a critical time.”

After the war, Private Dresser returned to his foundry job, before later taking over his father’s newsagent business. He served in the Home Guard in the Second World War and died at the age of 90 in Middlesbrough. His VC medal is on loan to the Green Howards Museum in Richmond.


Bertram Best-Dunkley from York

York Press:

Lt Col Bertram Best-Dunkley

Before enlisting with the Lancashire Fusiliers, Lt Col Bertram Best-Dunkley was a schoolmaster at Tientsin Grammar School, a school for the children of British expats in China.

On July 31, 1917 - the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele - he was in command of his battalion when it came under attack by rifle and machine gun from what had been thought to be Allied positions.

"He dashed forward, rallied his leading men and personally led them into attack on the enemy positions," Hamilton writes. "In spite of heavy losses, Best-Dunkley continued to lead his battalion until all their objectives had been gained. Later in the day, when the captured position was threatened, he again led his battalion into attack and beat off the advancing enemy, despite being wounded."

Col Best-Dunkley died of his wounds a few days later. He was 27. He is buried at Mendinghem Military Cemetery near Ypres, Belgium.


Arthur Poulter, of East Witton near Leyburn

York Press:

Arthur Poulter outside Buckingham Palace after receiving his VC from the King on December 13, 1918

Arthur was the youngest of twelve children. A farmer and then a brewer's drayman before the war, by March 1916 he had joined the Duke of Wellington's regiment.

On April 10, 1918, while acting as a stretcher bearer, he ten times carried badly-wounded men on his back through heavy artillery and machine gun fire at Erquinghem-Lys in France. "Two of the wounded were hit a second time whilst n his back," writes Hamilton. "Even after a withdrawal over the river had been ordered, he returned in full view of the enemy and carried back another man who had been left behind." He also bandaged 40 men whilst under fire - and was seriously wounded himself while attempting yet another rescue.

Two weeks later, he was badly wounded again when a bullet struck his head, narrowly missing his eye. Blinded and invalided home, he regained his sight after several operations. He was invested with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on December 13, 1918. After recovering from his wounds, he was discharged from the army and went to work for a tailor. He died in Leeds aged 62.


Harry Blanshard Wood from Newton on Derwent

York Press:

Harry Blanshard Wood

The son of a farm worker, Harry Wood worked as a station cleaner in York before enlisting with the Scots Guards aged 19. After eight years service he transferred to the Army Reserve, and was called up at the start of the war.

When his platoon sergeant was killed at St Python, France, on October 13, 1918, Corporal Wood took command. His platoon was advancing under heavy machine gun fire to clear the western edge of the village, and secure the crossing of the River Selle. "It was vitally important that the platoon took control of the ruined bridge even though the space in front of it was commanded by snipers," Hamilton writes. "Under heavy fire, Wood carried a large brick out into the open space, lay down behind it, and fired continually at the snipers, ordering his men to work across while he covered them... He drove off repeated enemy counter-attacks... until the whole of his party had reached their target."

Corporal Wood survived the war - but tragically died in unusual circumstances a few years later. He was on holiday with his wife in Devon. They were walking in Teignmouth when a car mounted the pavement. His wife suffered minor injuries. But while Private Wood wasn't injured, the shock caused him to collapse into a coma, from which he never recovered. He is buried on Soldiers' Corner at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol, and his medal is at the Castle Museum in York.

  • Victoria Cross Heroes of World War One by Robert Hamilton is published by Atlantic on Monday, priced £40.