WW1 – The Battle for Hill 60, Two More VC’s

2nd Lt Geoffrey Woolley (left) and Private Edward Dwyer (right)

Private Edward Dwyer

Edward Dwyer joined the East Surrey Regiment in 1912 aged just 17 and was posted to the 1st Battalion. Three years later he found himself in the middle of one of the fiercest battles of the 1st World War; the battle for Hill 60. Hill 60, despite being nothing more than a large spoil heap from the digging of a cutting on the Ypres-Comines Railway, was prized by both sides as it gave excellent views of the surrounding countryside and afforded the holder the high ground from which to fire on the trenches below.

Despite being just 19 years old, Dwyer displayed extreme courage under fire when his trench was attacked by grenade throwing enemy soldiers. He climbed up onto the parapet exposing himself to a hail of enemy grenades and bullets and used his own hand grenades to disperse the enemy. Earlier the same day he had rushed from his trench under heavy fire to bandage his wounded comrades.

Crater on Hill 60

For his extreme bravery, Private Dwyer received the Victoria Cross and was later promoted to Corporal in the 1st Battalion. Sadly Private Dwyer was killed in action on September 9th, 1916, at Guillemont, France during the battle of the Somme. At the time he was leading his section to victory. He is remembered on the memorial at Flatiron Copse Cemetery in France.

Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Harold Woolley

2nd Lt Geoffrey Woolley

Born on May 14th, 1892 Geoffrey Harold Wooley would also go on to find himself in the midst of fierce fighting at Hill 60. Unlike Edward Dwyer he was not a regular soldier, he was a commissioned officer in the 9th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles), a territorial unit of the British Army.

On the night of the 20th of April 1915 Second Lieutenant Woolley was the only officer on the hill, and only had a handful of men with him. Despite this he successfully resisted all attacks on his trench. And continued throwing bombs and encouraging his men until relieved. Throughout the night his trench was being heavily shelled and strafed by machine gun fire. For his actions that night he was awarded the Military Cross and Victoria Cross, the first territorial officer ever to win the award.

Second Lieutenant Woolley went on to join the Church after the war and served as a chaplain to the British Army. He died in Surrey on December 10th, 1968, aged 76.

WW1 – The Battle for Hill 60: Second Lieutenant Benjamin Handley Geary VC

Hill 60 near Ypres in Belgium was actually a large spoil heap from the digging of a cutting on the Ypres-Comines Railway. The hill was a strategic landmark because of the view it gave to the surrounding area, and as a result it was fought over and changed hands numerous times. On April 17th, 1915, the British began a campaign to seize Hill 60 from the Germans, as with most battles of the period it would be a bloody affair, with many casualties on both sides.

Benjamin Handley Geary VC

Benjamin Handley Geary was born in Marylebone, London on June 29th, 1891. He was educated at Keeble College Oxford, and at the outbreak of war he was teaching at Forest School in Walthamstow. He was also a talented rugby player and played for England against France. When war broke out Geary immediately answered the call to arms and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. He proved to be a talented and efficient officer and was soon sent to the front.

In April 1915, the East Surrey Regiment was sent to Ypres to take part in the battle for Hill 60. Geary was attached to the 1st Battalion during the battle and on April 20th and 21st he found himself leading the defence of a large crater on the left of the British position. The crater’s defences were destroyed by a heavy German artillery barrage, and throughout the night was subjected to repeated bomb attacks leaving the area strewn with dead and wounded. With only his own platoon, a handful of men from the Bedford Regiment, and a few reinforcements who came up during the night, they managed to repel near constant German attacks. Geary himself used his rifle to good effect, as well as throwing grenades in order to beat off the attackers. In between attacks he spent his time arranging for the supply of ammunition and reinforcements.

Hill 60

Throughout the attack Geary repeatedly exposed himself to the enemy in order to use the light from flares to spot the enemy when they attempted to rush his position. Finally he was seriously wounded himself and had to be evacuated, but he had done his duty and the position was held. As a result of his wounds Geary lost the sight in one eye, and injured the other, forcing him to be evacuated back to England for treatment and recovery. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions, and vowed to return to the front, which he later did as a Captain with the East Surrey Regiment. He was wounded again on August 21st, 1918, suffering a gunshot wound to the abdomen, he was treated by the 1st New Zealand Field Ambulance and later transferred from the front by the No. 16 Ambulance Train.

Victoria Cross

After the war Benjamin Geary followed in his fathers footsteps and joined the church. He was ordained at Chelmsford Cathedral on October 2nd, 1921, and later served as Chaplain to the forces from 1926 to 1927. He resigned in 1927 and moved to Canada. During World War 2 he again answered the call to arms and served with the Canadian Army, reaching the rank of Major. He died in Ontario, Canada on May 26th, 1976, aged 84, and was buried in St Mark’s Cemetery, Niagara-on-the-Lake.