On Wednesday 20th February 2019, at 11am, the Town Mayor of Thatcham, Councillor Jan Cover unveilled a new memorial panel with Lt Col James Gayner MBE, Commanding Officer of 7th Battalion The Rifles HM Lord-Lieutenant of the Royal County of Berkshire, Mr James Puxley. Representatives from the Royal School of Military Survey; 7th Battalion The Rifles; Thatcham Branch of the Royal British Legion; and relatives of William John House were in attendance.
Unusually, Thatcham is the home to three recipients of the Victoria Cross. When the Department of Communities and Local Government provided commemorative stones to the home towns of 504 servicemen from the British Isles who were presented with the Victoria Cross during WW1, Thatcham Town Council decided that the two soldiers who had fought in other wars should be honoured in the same way.
On Monday 28th September 2015 exactly 100 years after the battle that led to Alexander Buller Turner being posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, his stone was unveiled alongside stones honouring William John House and Victor Buller Turner.
Shortly after the stones were unveiled discussions started about having an interpretation panel to enable people to understand more about the history of the men commemorated. Research was undertaken and designs carefully considered to ensure that the information presented was meaningful to residents and visitors. Having received a donation towards the panel from local residents, Mr & Mrs D. Nicholls, who organised a fundraising concert, the Town Council agreed to cover the remaining costs.
Details of the VC recipients and their citations:
Private William John House, 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment
William John House, son of Mr Thomas House of Park Lane, Thatcham, was born on 7th October 1879, enlisted into the Royal Berkshire Regiment on 3rd November 1896 and was duly gazetted to the roll of the Victoria Cross on his 23rd birthday, in 1902. He received the Victoria Cross from HM King Edward VII on 24th October 1902.
On 2nd August 1900, it was resolved to make an attack upon the Boer position at Mosilikatse Nek, and, for the purpose of ascertaining a better idea of the enemy’s force, a sergeant was sent forward to reconnoitre. Before he could, however, rejoin his comrades, he was seen by the enemy, who, opening fire, wounded him most severely. He lay on the open ground, in full view of the Boer marksmen, who kept up a hail of bullets on and around him. House, though cautioned that almost certain death lay before him, sprang out from the cover, behind which he and the rest of the troops were concealed and attempted to carry in his wounded comrade. While making this heroic attempt he himself was badly shot, and, though lying fully exposed, in his turn, to the Boer rifle fire called to his comrades not to come to his assistance until the advance was made. This act, for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross was performed under the immediate command of Captain Sir Edward Pasley, Bart., Sir Ian Hamilton being Chief.
Second Lieutenant Alexander Buller Turner, 3rd Battalion (attached 1st Battalion)
The citation for his award, published in the London Gazette on 18th November 1915 reads:
Second Lieutenant Alexander Buller Turner, 3rd Battalion (attached 1st Battalion), Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire Regiment).
For most conspicuous bravery on 28th September 1915, at ” Fosse 8,” near Vermelles.
When the regimental bombers could make no headway in Slag Alley, Second Lieutenant Turner volunteered to lead a new bombing attack: He pressed down the communication trench practically alone, throwing bombs incessantly with such dash and determination that he drove back the Germans about 150 yards without a check. His action enabled the reserves to advance with very little loss, and subsequently-covered the flank of his regiment in, its retirement, thus probably averting a loss of some hundreds of men. This most gallant Officer has since died of wounds received in this action.
Major (temporary Lieutenant-Colonel) Victor Buller Turner, The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own)
Victor Buller Turner was the younger brother of Alexander Buller Turner. Victor was born 17th January 1900 in Reading and moved to Thatcham House in 1902. After WW2 Victor moved to Norfolk and retired from the army in 1949. In 1950 was appointed to the Royal Household, with a post in the ceremonial King’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard and rose to be “Clerk of the Cheque and Adjutant” of the Guard in 1955. He was appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in 1966 in connection with his services to the Royal Household and was promoted to Lieutenant of the Queen’s Bodyguard in 1967. He died on 7th August 1972 in Ditchingham, Norfolk.
For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on the 27th October 1942, in the Western Desert. Lieutenant-Colonel Turner led a Battalion of the Rifle Brigade at night for 4,000 yards through difficult country to their objective, where 40 German prisoners were captured. He then organised the captured position for all-round defence; in this position he and his Battalion were continuously attacked from 5.30 a.m. to 7 p.m., unsupported and so isolated that replenishment of ammunition was impossible owing to the concentration and accuracy of the enemy fire.
During this time the Battalion was attacked by no less than 90 German tanks which advanced in successive waves. All of these were repulsed with a loss to the enemy of 35 tanks which were in flames, and not less than 20 more which had been immobilised.
Throughout the action Lieutenant-Colonel Turner never ceased to go to each part of the front as it was threatened. Wherever the fire was heaviest, there he was to be found. In one case, finding a solitary six-pounder gun in action (the others being casualties) and manned only by another officer and a Sergeant, he acted as loader and with these two destroyed 5 enemy tanks. While doing this he was wounded in the head, but he refused all aid until the last tank was destroyed.
His personal gallantry and complete disregard of danger as he moved about encouraging his Battalion to resist to the last, resulted in the infliction of a severe defeat on the enemy tanks. He set an example of leadership and bravery which inspired his whole Battalion and which will remain an inspiration to the Brigade.