Private Frederick Dancocks VC (by Major J H Cotterill MBE MERCIAN)
Frederick Dancocks was born in Barbourne, a poor area of the City of Worcester,
in 1879. A large man of ‘blunt spreech and forcible
views’, he grew up to become a hay-baler and by the time the Great War broke
out, was living in Dolday (an even poorer area of
Worcester) with his wife Ellen, and three- soon to be four – children. In 1915
he enlisted into the 4th Battalion The Worcestershire
Regiment, a regular battalion which had been stationed in Burma
before the War. Dancocks served with the Battalion
in Gallipoli and on the Somme without injury.
By the time the Third Battle of Ypres opened in summer 1917, he was a veteran
and something of a battalion character; rejoicing in the nickname “Dando”,
he was the sanitary Orderly in Headquarter Company.
At 0700 hours on 9 October 1917, the first two Companies of the 4th
Battalion moved across footbridges over the Broonbeek
stream, 200 yards behind a dense rolling barrage. Third Ypres
(or the Passchendaele Offensive as it became known) was two months old. In
those 60 days, the British Army had hauled itself forward only 6000 yards.
In the process, heavy bombardments had wrecked the drainage system of the Ypres salient and reduced it to a sea of mud marked only
by the remnants of splintered woods and shattered villages. Both sides fought
from the shelter of lines of shell holes but, as the British penetrated the
German Flanders Line defensive position, they came up against more and more
well built concrete blockhouses which protected German machine guns from the
crushing weight of British heavy artillery.
Within 30 minutes, the Worcestershires forward Companies had reached the first
objective – the Namur Crossing, a railway crossing
some 1500 yards northeast of what is now the Langemarck
and 1800 yards northwest of Poelcapelle. Here as
planned, they unstrapped their entrenching tools and
dug in whilst sheltered by the brown wall of the barrage just in front of them.
The plan was for the two rear Companies of the Battalion to pass through them
and push on to the second objective before the Newfoundland Battalion, in its
turn passed through to the third objective. However, the Worcestershires found
themselves pinned down by heavy machine gun fire from a bunker to their left
front. The fire was so furious that the men could not even dig themselves in.
A message was sent back for a trench mortar to neutralise the bunker but before
it could arrive, the fire from the German bunker stopped. As the Worcestershires
raised their mud-spattered heads with caution, a surprise was in store for them:
one by one, forty unarmed Germans emerged from the bunker. Behind them came
the figure of Frederick Dancocks, a grenade in his
hand. Instantly his comrades jumped up cheering and laughing to see the unlikely
hero with cries of “Good old Dando!”.
It transpired that he had been detailed as ‘mopper-up’ but had become separated from the rest of his group
and worked his way unseen from shell hole to shell hole until he managed to
get into the bunker. His burly figure, with his grenade, had been enough to
secure the surrender of its garrison. He then returned to take possession of
a German machine gun which he fired in great good humour for the rest of the
As a result of Dancocks’ heroism, the attack continued
and, by the end of the day, the Worcestershires had taken all of their objectives,
200 German prisoners and five machine guns. The cost had been 23 killed, 112
wounded and 40 missing from the Battalion.
The VC was Gazetted on 27 November and Ellen Dancocks
received a message that he husband would be home on leave, for the first time
in over a year, to receive the medal from the King on 30 November. This was
the first VC to be won by a citizen of Worcester.
All of Worcester
was in turmoil that day, Dolday
was hung with patriotic bunting as was the Railway station. Ellen, her four
children (aged from 2 to 16), a band, civic worthies and hundreds of excited
locals waited at the station. On the arrival of the 4.40 pm from Paddington,
wild cheering broke out, but Dancocks was not on the
train, nor was he on any other train that day. The crowd dispersed after the
arrival of the last train at 8 pm. In fact, the 4th Worcestershires
had been thrown in to stem the German counterattack which tried to win back
the gains of the British offensive at Cambrai and,
consequently all leave had been cancelled. Tragically, Frederick Dancocks
had been struck by shrapnel and killed as half of Worcester
waited at Shrub Hill Station.
Ellen received the VC at an investiture at Buckingham Palace but was later forced to sell it
due to extreme poverty. It is now held within the Regimental Collection.