Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1918, Major Eric Stuart Dougall VC MC, Special Reserve attached to “A” Battery, Royal Field Artillery, was killed in action during the Battle of the Lys in Belgium.
His parents’ only son, he was educated at Cambridge and had taken up an appointment as Assistant Engineer to the Bombay Port Trust. After the outbreak of the Great War he served with the Bombay Light Horse until the end of 1915, when he returned to England to apply for a commission, and arrived in France in July of 1916. He saw action in the Battles of the Somme and the Ancre, before moving on to Ypres, when he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions on the first day of the Battle of Messines, his “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” being noted. He had been wounded but remained on duty in observation posts in advanced exposed positions, ensuring communication with Headquarters was maintained, working “under heavy fire with great coolness and gallantry."
In March of 1918 his Battery moved to meet the German offensive in Flanders. The Battles of the Lys began on the 9th of April, and the following day his superb gallantry won him the Victoria Cross. Four days later he was directing the fire of his Battery when he struck on the neck by a shell, dying instantly.
His Victoria Cross citation reads: "For most conspicuous bravery and skilful leadership in the field when in command of his battery near Messines on April 10th, 1918. Captain* Dougall maintained his guns in action from early morning throughout a heavy concentration of gas and high-explosive shell. Finding that he could not clear the crest owing to the withdrawal of our line, he ran his guns on to the top of the ridge to fire over open sights. By this time our infantry had been pressed back in line. Captain Dougall at once assumed command of the situation, rallied and organised the infantry, supplied them with Lewis guns, and armed as many gunners as he could spare with rifles. With these he formed a line in front of his battery which during this period was harassing the advancing Germans with a rapid rate of fire. When one gun was turned over by a direct hit, and the detachment knocked out, casualties were replaced and the gun brought into action again. Although exposed to both rifle and machine-gun fire, this officer fearlessly walked about as though on parade, calmly giving orders and encouraging everybody. His remark to the infantry at this juncture, 'So long as you stick to your trenches I will keep my guns here,' had a most inspiring effect on all ranks. This line was maintained throughout the day, thereby delaying the enemy's advance for over twelve hours. In the evening, having expended all ammunition, the battery received orders to withdraw. This was done by man-handling the guns over a distance of about 800 yards of shell-cratered country, an almost impossible feat considering the ground and the intense machine-gun fire. Owing to Capt. Dougall's personality and skilful leadership throughout this trying day there is no doubt that a serious breach in our line was averted." (*His promotion to Major was posthumous.)
Several officers wrote to his parents after his death expressing their sorrow and admiration, one of whom was the Major who had for some time commanded the Battery: "I thought the world of him. He was quite fearless and a most determined officer, equally popular with both officers and men. He was always cheerful under the most trying circumstances, very unselfish and always ready to do a job of work for other people. He was a wonderful person to have in a Battery, as, apart from being such a fine soldier, he was a charming companion and the mess was never dull so long as he was there to keep up our spirits…The Colonel thought quite as much of him as I did, and he was often selected for difficult and dangerous work on account of his great courage and determination."
He is buried in the Westoutre British Cemetery in Belgium.
Eric, from Tonbridge Wells, was killed the day after his 32nd birthday.