Pub renamed in honour of VC hero who made town his home
AFIRST World War hero who was awarded a posthumous VC has had a pub named after him in Neath, which became his adopted home town.
But a campaign continues to have Lance Corporal Allan Leonard Lewis recognised by the Great Western Railway company, for which he worked.
Lewis was just 23 years old when he was killed in action in northern France on September 21, 1918, less than two months before the end of the war.
On September 18, 1918, he was in command of a section of the 6th Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment on the right of the attacking line at Rossnoy, near Lempire,
Lewis and his troops were held up by intense machine-gun fire. He saw that two German guns were directing a volley of fire towards the advancing British line. Crawling forward alone, Lewis successfully bombed the guns and by rifle fire made the whole enemy team surrender. Three days later he rushed his company through the enemy barrage, but was killed while getting his men under cover from heavy machine-gun fire.
A contemporary account said: “The first incident described in the official records unquestionably ranks as one of the most valorous deeds, even in this war of unexampled bravery.”
Referring to the circumstances of his death, the account said: “He was struck in the head by shrapnel which penetrated the temple, death obviously being instantaneous.”
Lewis’ body lay undiscovered for nine days until it was found by an Australian soldier. His identity was confirmed from the pay book he had with him when he was killed.
Lewis came from a family of nine children and lived on the Herefordshire side of the border with Wales.
In Neath he found employment as a bus driver for the Great Western Railway, working on the Neath to Pontardawe route. It was also in Neath that he started to master Welsh and develop a more spiritual side.
One night, in March 1915, he announced to friends that he would not wait to be called up and in a burst of patriotism joined the Army the next morning.
Gareth Pugh, who is campaigning for a statue to be built commemorating Lewis, said: “Allan lived through interesting times. Initially he was a driver for the fledgling Army Service Corps and latterly he was a junior NCO in the infantry.
“He is also alleged to have had an affair with the Marquess of Bath’s daughter when recovering from a spell of jaundice at Longleat, a convalescence centre at the time.
“His two acts of bravery that saw him win the VC show the depth of character and courage of this man.
“The fact that he repeated his brave actions a few days after his initial action point to a well-balanced individual who would have been revered by the younger soldiers: it certainly impressed me as a former soldier of 26 years service.
“He is remembered on the Commonwealth Graves Commission cemetery at Vis en Artois and also on the Parish Memorials in Brilley and Whitney on Wye in Herefordshire.
“What makes this special, though, is that the good people of Neath recently voted to have a refurbished public house in the town renamed in Allan’s honour.”
The pub was officially opened at the weekend by Neath Town Mayor Mark Protheroe and Dawn Lewis, a great niece of Allan Lewis.
Mr Pugh said: “There is a twist to the tale. Every GWR man who joined up to fight in the Great War and was killed in service to his country and awarded the VC had a steam engine named in his honour: not Allan.
“It would be an easy thing to right this wrong in the spirit of commemoration to his generation and as closure on the centenary of the First World War. Emails to GWR on the subject have gone unanswered. Direct appeals by a member of the House of Lords to the GWR managing director have met with little success except for referral to their marketing department, and promised entries into future competitions the company is running. They appear not to get it.
“This is not about glorification or material gain but about a simple gesture to ensure Allan’s sacrifice is duly recorded by a company that he worked for.
“And, after all, no-one is alive today who could be accused of damning Lewis’ name.”
Dawn Lewis said: “It’s sad that he didn’t realise he had won the VC. And it’s a shame my mother isn’t alive to see a pub named after Allan. She would have been very proud.”
Mr Protheroe said: “Allan Lewis was not originally from Neath, but he made it his home and people in the town are very pleased to have the pub named after someone who became a war hero.”
A spokesman for GWR said: “I understand a peer recently wrote to us about the potential of naming a train after him and we replied a short time later. We are already aware of the anniversary and will look to mark it in some way.”
> The Neath pub named after the town’s adopted hero Lance Corporal Allan Leonard Lewis VC, who was killed in action in 1918