Whilst doing some research for his History homework, Jack Barrett, a Year 9 student at Richmond School and Sixth Form College, was amazed to discover a brave World War 1 hero in his family tree.
Jack’s research and discussions with his Dad revealed that he is related to William Cotter, who won the Victoria Cross in the First World War.
Jack said: “I could not believe it when I found out that my Great, Great, Great Uncle was awarded the Victoria Cross. I was so excited and proud and having found out more about his incredibly heroic actions, I am so humbled by his bravery. This has really inspired me to learn more about the History of World War 1.”
According to the National Army Museum, William Cotter joined 1st Battalion The Buffs in 1902 and went on to serve in India, Aden, England and Ireland before being discharged to the Reserve in February 1914. Following the outbreak of war in August 2014, he returned to the colours, despite having earlier lost the sight in his right eye. In March 1916, Cotter was serving with the 6th (Service) Battalion of The Buffs, part of 37th Brigade, 12th Eastern Division, when he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for bravery in action. His unit was attempting to take a position known as ‘Triangle Crater’ near the Hohenzollern Redoubt at Loos.
According to the ‘London Gazette’ of 28 March 1916: ‘For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. When his right leg had been blown off at the knee and he had also been wounded in both arms, he made his way unaided for fifty yards to a crater, steadied the men who were holding it, controlled their fire, issued orders, and altered the dispositions of his men to meet a fresh counter-attack by the enemy. For two hours he held his position, and only allowed his wounds to be roughly dressed when the attack had quieted down. He could not be moved back for fourteen hours, and during all this time had a cheery word for all who passed him. There is no doubt that his magnificent courage helped greatly to save a critical situation’.
He lived long enough to know that he had been successfully recommended for the VC. The VC ribbon was pinned to his chest by Lieutenant-General Sir Hubert Gough, commander of I Corps, while he lay in hospital at Lillers. His wounds were so severe that he died on 14 March 1916, aged 33. His Victoria Cross medal is currently displayed in the National Army Museum. Further information about William Cotter’s life can be found here http://www.vconline.org.uk/william-r-cotter-vc/4586263485
Mrs Mawer, Lead Teacher for History, said: “It was wonderful to see History come alive for Jack when he found out that his relative had been extraordinarily brave during the First World War. The class had been studying the war and from a homework task, they were able to see how the soldiers involved were real people.
“The story of William Cotter is very inspirational and gave all of us a real insight into the dangers and bravery involved. It was wonderful that Jack could share it with us and I think it inspired others to look into their own family history too.”