Sgt. Frederick Hobson, VC & Major Okill Massey Learmonth, VC, MC
A Centenary Action

18 August 1917

Sergeant Frederick Hobson, VC.
Credit: Canada. Department of National Defence, 2017.

Sergeant Frederick Hobson, VC  

On 15 August 1917, at 41 years of age, Sergeant Frederick Hobson, of Galt/Cambridge, Ontario, attacked Hill 70 alongside men of “A” company of the 20th Battalion (Central Ontario). Clearing a section of enemy trench known as Nabob Alley, Sgt. Hobson and his men established a blocking position for the inevitable counter-attacks. For the next three days the outpost held out, until a heavy bombardment in the early morning of 18 August wiped out the 20th Battalion headquarters and all but one of the Lewis guns in the forward positions. As the lone Lewis gun began to fire, a German shell struck, burying the gun and sole surviving crew member in mud and debris. Sensing the situation, Hobson dashed forward, digging the buried man out. 

“Guess that was a close call,” said the survivor, Private A.G. Fuller. 
“Guess so : let’s get the gun out,” replied Hobson.  
(Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 52) 
 
As they began to dig, the enemy fired at them and advanced across the open wasteland.  

‘A bullet hit Hobson, but he took no notice of his wound. Together he and Fuller got the gun into position and opened up on the Germans, who were now pouring down the trench. They were holding the enemy well when the gun jammed. Hobson picked up his rifle. 

“I’ll keep them back,” he said to Fuller, “if you fix the gun!” ‘  
(Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 52) 

Already wounded, Sgt. Hobson charged the group entering the trench, holding them off with rifle, club and bayonet. In the midst of the melee, a single rifle shot hit Sgt. Hobson, killing him just as Private Fuller brought the Lewis gun back into action, ending the enemy threat. Reinforcements arrived only a few minutes later. For his actions that day, Sergeant Frederick Hobson was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. His body was lost in the subsequent fighting, and he is thus commemorated on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

Page 1 – The official medal citation for Sergeant Frederick Hobson, VC (bottom of right-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 16 October 1917, Supplement: 30338, Page: 10677.
Page 2 – The official medal citation for Sergeant Frederick Hobson, VC (top of left-hand column).
Credit: The LondonGazette, Publication date: 16 October 1917, Supplement: 30338, Page: 10678.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Major Okill Massey Learmonth, VC, MC 

“Major O.M. Learmonth, M.C., D.S.O. (Killed)” (on right)
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-007451

Having already earned the Military Cross for prior actions in 1917, Major Okill Massey Learmonth, of Quebec City, went into the attack on Hill 70 with the 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario Regiment). Having held their line for three days, by the 18th of August, the 2nd Battalion had only 614 men left when enemy let loose a terrific bombardment in the early morning hours. Attacking with flamethrowers, the enemy was able to enter the 2nd Battalion trenches before a bombing party drove them out.  

The attacks continued throughout the morning, with Learmonth personally charging an enemy force threatening his entire company, catching and hurling back enemy grenades and shouting encouragement from the parapet. Wounded twice, “he carried on as if he were perfectly fit and whole” (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 57). A third wound broke Learmonth’s leg, but failed to break his spirit. “Lying in the trench, he continued to direct his men, encouraging them, cheering them, advising them” (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 57). As the enemy attacks died off, Learmonth was finally loaded onto a stretcher and carried out, passing valuable details to his junior officers along the way. He would die of his wounds the same day in hospital. 

Major Okill Massey Learmonth, VC, MC was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross and later buried in Nouex-les-Mines Communal Cemetery. He was 23 years old.   

The official medal citation for Major Okill Massey Learmonth, VC (left-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 6 November 1917 Supplement: 30372 Page: 11567