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  • Christina Drummond

Sergeant Samuel Pearse VC MM, 45th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1919, Sergeant Samuel Pearse VC MM, 45th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers, was killed in action in Emtsa while serving with the North Russia Relief Force.

Born in Wales, he moved to Australia with his family as a child in 1911, where he later had a series of jobs, including rabbit-trapper, labourer, paddle-steamer hand, and fruit-picker. He served in the Militia for two years, then volunteered for overseas service with the Australian Imperial Force once he turned eighteen in July of 1915.

Sailing for Gallipoli, he arrived shortly before the evacuation and spent two weeks there on the line in December of 1915. On his return he transferred to the 2nd Machine Gun Company, and saw action on the Western Front, where he was wounded in August of 1916.

In September of 1917 he single-handedly raided an enemy machine gun post near Ypres, for which he was awarded the Military Medal, at which time it was recorded that “he showed an utter disregard of danger in carrying messages, guiding parties and in bringing in wounded men on every return run”. Two months later he was promoted to lance-coproral, and the following April to corporal, just before being wounded in action for the second time. He was sent home to England to recover, not able to return to his unit until the end of the war.

Sergeant Pearse left the Australian Imperial Force in July of 1919 and enlisted with the Royal Fusiliers; unlike many of his Australian former comrades, he had been on active service for the entire war and was considered - at the age of twenty-two - a “battle-hardened veteran” and was rapidly promoted from private to sergeant.

On the day of his death he was at Emtsa in North Russia when his actions won him the Victoria Cross. The citation tells the story: “For most conspicuous bravery, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice during the operation against the enemy battery position north of Emtsa, North Russia, on the 29th August. 1919. Sergeant Pearse cut his way through enemy barbed-wire under very heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and cleared a way for the troops to enter an enemy battery position. Seeing that a blockhouse was harassing our advance and causing us casualties, he charged the blockhouse single-handed, killing the occupants with bombs. This gallant non-commissioned officer met his death a minute later and it was due to him that the position was carried with so few casualties. His magnificent bravery and utter disregard for personal danger won for him the admiration of all troops.” He is buried at Obozerskay on the railway between Emtsa and Archangel, North Russia.

Samuel, born in Penarth, Glamorganshire, was 22 years old and married; his only child was born six months after his death.

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