Memory Lane: Arnold schoolboy who became a war hero

Mid-morning of April 10, 1918, Capt Reg Newman escaped from the German soldiers who had been holding him captive and reported back to headquarters of the 2/5th battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

By Claire Lark
Friday, 12th July 2019, 2:59 pm
John Schofield VC

Mid-morning of April 10, 1918, Capt Reg Newman escaped from the German soldiers who had been holding him captive and reported back to headquarters of the 2/5th battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers.The Army chaplain arrived with the message the enemy had taken Windy Corner, a strategic road junction near the farming village of Cuinchy, in northern France.The commanding officer of the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers ordered men from the battalion’s D Company to form a defensive flank on the left with C Company supporting it. Messages had been received from the 1/4th King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment on the right that the Germans were advancing through its centre along a communication trench and they requested reinforcements. But a platoon of C Company was all that could be spared as the main threat at that time was over at Windy Corner, where the enemy was held by D Company.And so the men from battalions B Company moved forward and ran into a large party of Germans, probably displaced there by a counterattack further along the line. The Germans were driven back and B Company sent two platoons to the aid of 1/4th Loyal North Lancashire on the left. They worked their way up two communication trenches from Windy Corner, cutting off and capturing many Germans, before taking up position. Soldiers from A Company withdrew having sustained heavy casualties.The two remaining platoons of B Company were ordered to move up two communication trenches, known as Orchard Road and Wolfe Road, in the left and centre of 1/4th King’s Own’s position. Second Lieutenant John Schofield led the platoon in Orchard Road. Born in Lancashire, Schofield was a former pupil of Arnold School in Blackpool and was 26-years-old at the time.CSM R Walker of B Company, 1/4th King’s Own, met Schofield, having advanced with two NCOs along Orchard Road. Schofield told Walker that the Germans still occupied the front line and they put together a party of Lancashire Fusiliers to bomb the trench held by the enemy. While leading nine men against a defended strong point, Schofield was attacked by a group of 100 Germans, who were heavily armed with bombs. He quickly deployed his men and opened such effective rifle and Lewis gun fire, that the enemy was forced into the cover of nearby dugouts. Private C McGill climbed on to the parapet and began firing at the enemy while under heavy fire, killing several Germans and throwing the remainder into confusion. Schofield personally captured 20 and went on with other parties to clear the whole area. Having reformed his team, he set off with 10 men towards the front line, having first ensured that his commanding officer was informed of the situation. He ran into large numbers of Germans in the trench, and in a drain to the left and right, who opened rapid fire.Undeterred, Schofield climbed on to the parapet in the face of point blank machine gun fire and forced them to surrender. In total Schofield’s actions led to the capture of 123 prisoners. He was killed a few minutes later. In June 1918 Schofield was awarded the Victoria Cross, ‘For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in operations’ at Windy Corner.His official citation in the London Gazette describes him as, ‘a very gallant officer’.Schofield was assisted throughout by Private McGill, who was awarded the DCM. Both platoons succeeded in gaining the front line.Numerous memorials to Schofield’s actions during the war were displayed in the former Arnold School’s foyer and a plaque commemorating his Victoria Cross was located outside the school’s memorial hall. Those items are now in the care of AKS Lytham, following the closure and subsequent demolition of the Arnold School building.He was buried at Vielle-Chapelle New Military Cemetery, Lacouture.n Victoria Crosses on the Western Front – Continuation of the German 1918 Offensives by Paul Oldfield is available from Pen & Sword Military priced £40.

The plaque which used to be displayed at Arnold School
The site of the battle as it is today

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The Victoria Cross
John Schofield's war papers