The Durham Light Infantry Tribute - John Attle Gallery 3

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Gallery No 3 - The Funeral of Captain Richard Annand, VC
Monday, January 17, 2005



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Richard Wallace Annand, soldier, born November 5 1914; died December 24 2004

On May 15 1940 during the Wehrmacht's lightning advance in Belgium on the River Dyle, Dick Annand, who has died aged 90, won the British army's first second world war Victoria Cross while a second lieutenant with 2nd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.

On May 12, 2nd DLI had set up its headquarters at La Tombe, above the river. Three companies moved down into the valley with A on the right, B in the centre and D defending the road bridge on the left. C Company, meanwhile, was sent across the Dyle to watch for any movement. On May 14 the first refugees and retreating Belgian and French troops began crossing D Company's bridge.

At about 11pm, amid rumours that the Germans were in the woods, C Company withdrew to the river and the bridge was blown. During the afternoon of May 14, C Company halted the German advance long enough to withdraw across the river. The next morning, with the enemy right on the opposite bank, the assault began with heavy mortar fire hitting D Company's position beside the ruined bridge. With the main German attack falling on 16 Platoon, Annand led two counter-attacks, in the second of which he was wounded.

The Germans then crossed the river, overrunning a platoon of B Company. After desperate fighting this attack was halted, but the DLI was unable to push the enemy back across the river. During the afternoon of May 15, the DLI's position was raked with fire. A further attack was inevitable and, shortly after dark, under cover of intense fire the enemy again struck D Company's position. Annand, armed with grenades, again went forward, inflicting further significant casualties.

Against the odds, the DLI held on, but elsewhere the Germans broke through, so, just before midnight, the withdrawal was ordered. Leading his platoon away early on May 16, Annand realised his batman, Private Joseph Hunter, was missing so he went back and, having found Hunter wounded, wheelbarrowed him off.
Annand had been making good progress when he found his path blocked by a fallen tree. Weak from loss of blood, he was unable to lift Hunter over. Reluctantly, Annand left Hunter and set off for help. Eventually he collapsed but was later taken to safety and evacuated. For his rescue attempt and courageous actions, Annand was awarded the VC on August 20 1940.

Annand was born in South Shields, the son of a naval lieutenant commander killed in action in 1915. On leaving Pocklington School, east Yorkshire, Annand worked in a bank, and in 1933 joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. In 1937 he applied for a Royal Navy commission, but because of his age, was only offered an administrative post. As he had only ever wanted to be a seaman officer, he declined. Annand's age was acceptable to the army so, in 1938, he was gazetted to the DLI's supplementary reserve. Then came the war.

As a result of permanent damage to his hearing, Annand served in Britain for the rest of the conflict. Much of his service involved training young soldiers, members of the Home Guard and commandos, and also included a spell at the War Office. He was invalided out in 1948 with the rank of captain.

Annand went to work at Finchale Abbey training centre for disabled people, near Durham in 1948, and for the next 30 years devoted his life to helping disabled people, especially those who, like him, had hearing difficulties. He was president of the North East League of the Hard of Hearing and a founder member of the British Association of the Hard of Hearing and of the County Durham Association for the Disabled. In addition, he maintained close links with his regiment, and was president of the Durham Branch of the Light Infantry Association until 1998.

Appointed a deputy lieutenant for the County of Durham in 1956, that same year he attended the Centenary VC celebrations. A founder member of the Victoria Cross & George Cross Association, he invariably attended their reunions. In May 2003 he was present in Westminster Abbey when the Queen unveiled the Victoria Cross and George Cross Memorial.

Dick Annand was a delightful man and even in great old age retained his boyish charm. His main leisure interest was golf. In everything he did he was supported by his wife Shirley, a former JP who, for many years, was deputy president of the County of Durham Branch of the British Red Cross, whom he had married in 1940. This was fortunate because their married life together did not get off to an auspicious start. The bridegroom had to admit to his new wife that he had forgotten to book a room, so they spent the first night of their marriage sitting on a freezing station platform.

In February 1979, at the age of 64, Annand rescued Shirley from drowning after she had fallen into the River Tyne during an evening aboard the Bacchante. Never happy to be talking about himself, he was always full of praise for his wife, who survives him.

Paying respects: War veterans line the path as the coffin of Captain Richard Annand is carried out of St Cuthbert's Church, Durham

A man of grace and valour

Captain Richard Annand, VC
1914 - 2004

Old soldiers joined family and friends to pay their last respects to a North-East military hero yesterday. St Cuthbert's Church, in Durham, was packed to overflowing for the funeral of Captain Richard "Dickie" Annand, the first serviceman to win the Victoria Cross during the Second Wor ld War.

Until his death in the University Hospital of North Durham, on Christmas Eve, Capt Annand was the last surviving Durham Light Infantry (DLI) VC winner. Six weeks earlier, old comrades from the DLI Association gathered outside the home he shared with his wife Shirley, in Whitesmocks, Durham, to mark his 90th birthday with a parade of bugles and drums.

Many members of the association formed a guard of honour as the family cortege arrived at the North Road church, yesterday.

Capt Annand's Victoria Cross and other medals were carried into the church by Major Chris Lawton MBE, the regimental county secretary of the Light Infantry Association. For the duration of the service, the medals were placed on his coffin, alongside Capt Annand's military cap.

Canon Jon Bell, team rector of Durham, who knew Capt Annand and his widow, Shirley, as regular members of the congregation at St Cuthbert's, described it as an "allelujah day" to remember his life and brave deeds. He described Capt Annand as a remarkable valorous man, who also had a strong sense of honour, reliability, grace and modesty. Canon Bell said: "He was an utterly modest man, who felt his VC was for all those who served with him."

He spoke of Capt Annand's campaign work for the hard of hearing, saying that he devoted much of his life to working for the disabled. Canon Bell said: "Dickie Annand, the man, the husband, the soldier, the hero, the Christian disciple and campaigner - we salute you!"

A reading was made by the industrialist Sir David Chapman, a family friend.

Hymns included He Who Would Valiant Be, and the DLI regimental hymn, Abide With Me, before buglers from the 2nd Battalion Light Infantry, a successor regiment to the DLI, played the Last Post, preceding a minute's silence, and the Reveille. Pallbearers from the 2nd Battalion DLI carried the coffin from the church prior to a private family cremation service at Durham Crematorium.

Many members of the congregation then gathered at the nearby DLI Museum for a funeral tea. Capt Annand earned his VC when, as a second lieutenant in the DLI's 2nd Battalion, he ignored heavy German fire to rescue his batman in a wheelbarrow, in Belgium, in May 1940. He lost consciousness due to his wounds and was invalided back to England, but rejoined the reformed battalion the following month. A year later, he was discharged from the 2nd Battalion when, as a result of rifle practice on the ranges, he lost what remained of his hearing.

A memorial service of thanksgiving to the life of Capt Annand will be staged at Durham Cathedral on Monday, February 7, at 2.30pm.


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