Pub re­named in hon­our of VC hero who made town his home

Western Mail - - NEWS - Mar­tin Ship­ton Chief Re­porter mar­tin.ship­ton@waleson­

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

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