Major David Nelson VC (1886 - 1918):
|David Nelson VC|
David Nelson was the first Ulster soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War and one of the first in the entire armed forces during that conflict (the first of all was an Irishman from Westmeath, which is however not in Ulster).
Nelson was born in Stradnooden, County Monaghan. He originally enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery in 1904 but later transferred to L Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery where he was promoted bombardier (corporal) in 1910 and also obtained a first class certificate in gunnery from the School of Gunnery at Shoeburyness, the Ministry of Defence establishment for testing guns and training gunners founded in 1849 and located east of London, near Southend. The United Kingdom declared war on 4 August 1914 and the following day Nelson was promoted Sergeant in L Battery, Royal Horse Artillery. The British army, which was very small compared to the millions of troops of the German army which stormed through Belgium and northern France, was though a highly-trained, experienced professional force which attempted to stop the German advance at the town of Mons in Belgium. However, on 23 August the French army – like the German army millions strong but composed mostly of inexperienced conscripts. The British had little choice but to retreat as well. During the retreat there would be engagements in which the retreating troops would try to hold up their pursuers.
One such action took place on 1 September at a place called Néry, about 35 miles north-east of Paris. For a whole morning Nelson’s unit, L Battery, held up a considerably larger force, the German 4th Cavalry division. Though of short duration, fighting was bitter and highly destructive. It began early, before morning mist had cleared, and L Battery lost three of its six guns before they Battery deployed to fire back, and it soon lost two more guns. L Battery manned the last gun as best it could, and was able under heavy bombardment to keep its own fire until the last shell had been used. One of those working the gun to the last was Nelson, whose precise job was range-finder; he stuck to his position even though seriously wounded and ignoring orders to retire. This required hospitalisation, and two days later was taken prisoner, though he managed to escape soon after.
Nelson’s VC was gazetted (published in the relevant official journal on 16 November 1914, the day after he was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Nelson was promoted first lieutenant in June 1915 and spent a period as a Captain-Instructor at the School of Gunnery. On 1 March 1918 he was promoted major and given command of D Battery, 59th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery and sent back to France, where an enormous German attack was pushing the British and French armies back far behind their positions, a serious crisis. In April he was severely wounded in action and died on 8 April in a casualty clearing station at Lillers, where he is buried. The gun used at Néry survived and is on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.
|Born:||3 April 1886|
|Died:||8 April 1918|
Richard Doherty & David Truesdale: Irish Winners of the Victoria Cross (Dublin, 2000); John Keegan: The First World War (London, 1998); David Stevenson: 1914-1918: The History of the First World War (Penguin Books, 2004); www.iwm.org.uk
© 2020 Ulster History Circle