b. 19/01/1893 Liverpool. d. 31/01/1982 Haslemere, Surrey.
Cyril Edward Gourley (1893-1982) was born at 6, Victoria Park, Wavertree, Liverpool, on the 19th January 1893, and was the second of five sons and one daughter born to wholesale grocery and provisions merchant Galbraith Gourley and his wife Martha Ann (nee Ashcroft). The family moved across the Mersey to the Wirral in 1899, and lived at 23, North Road, West Kirby, and two years later they moved to 39, Westbourne Road, also in West Kirby. Gourley won a scholarship to study at Calday Grange Grammar School and then going on to Liverpool University, where he graduated with a degree in commercial science in 1913.
Gourley was employed by Messrs Alfred Holt & Co., of the Blue Funnel Line, a shipping firm based in Liverpool, and had joined the Territorial Army when he enlisted as a Private with the 4th West Lancashire Howitzer Brigade on the 14th May 1914, and upon the outbreak of war he was mobilised. The 7th and 8th Batteries were located at the HQ of the unit on Botanic Road, near Edge Lane, and after their early training in Sevenoaks and Canterbury, the Brigade sailed for France on the 28th September 1915. The Territorial unit had been absorbed by the regular army early on in the war and were now part of the 55th (West Lancashire) Division, and were sent to the Kemmel sector south of Ypres, where it was involved in limited actions.
The Brigade then moved to Pont-Remy, where they were reorganised with the Howitzer Brigade being disbanded and reformed with just one Howitzer Battery and three 18-pounder batteries to each group and the 7th and 8th Batteries being renamed the D/276 and D/275. The batteries then moved to a position six miles south-west of Arras, before being transferred to the Somme, in the third week of July 1916, where they were involved in continuous action around the Guillemont area. On the 28th September the unit were moved back to Ypres Salient, where they were again in almost continuous action and were subjected to enemy bombardments.
On the 1st June 1917, the batteries took part in the week long bombardment of German positions on the Messines Ridge, prior to the attack and capture of the ridge by British forces. In July 1917, Gourley was awarded a MM after he extinguished a fire that had broken out in an ammunition dump following a bombardment by enemy artillery. Gourley and his battery were then moved south to Cambrai to take part in the forthcoming battle, and it was here that he was to carry out the following deed for which he was awarded the VC.
On 30 November 1917 at Little Priel Farm, east of Epehy, France, during the Battle of Cambrai, Gourley was in command of a section of howitzers. During an enemy advance, when their forces were within a few hundred yards of him, both to the front and on one flank, and though plagued by snipers, Gourley managed to keep one gun firing. At one point he pulled the gun out of the pit and engaged a machine-gun at 500 yards, knocking it out with a direct hit. All day he held the Germans in check, firing over open sights on enemy parties, thereby saving his guns, which were withdrawn at nightfall.
The citation reads:
For most conspicuous bravery when in command of a section of howitzers. Though the enemy advanced in force getting within 400 yards in front, between 300 and 400 yards to one flank and with snipers in the rear, Sjt. Gourley managed to keep one gun in action practically throughout the day. Though frequently driven off he always returned, carrying ammunition, laying and firing the gun himself, taking first one and then another of the detachment to assist him. When the enemy advanced he pulled his gun out of the pit, and engaged a machine gun at 500 yards, knocking it out with a direct hit. All day he held the enemy in check, firing with open sights at enemy parties in full view at 300 to 800 yards, and thereby saved his guns, which were withdrawn at nightfall. He had previously been awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry. — London Gazette, 13th February 1918
Two months later Gourley was given a commission as a Second Lieutenant, although he had originally been denied a commission due to “defective eyesight”, and remained with the 55th Division until it was disbanded in Brussels in the spring of 1919. For the presentation of his VC on the 16th March 1918, Gourley wore his Sergeant’s uniform to Buckingham Palace and also to the civic reception and presentation he was given back in Liverpool.
After being demobilised on the 19th May 1919, Gourley returned to the Wirral where he began working for Lever Brothers, in the export department and spent many years travelling widely, spending many years in the Balkans and Central and South America to open up new business for the company. He attended the 1920 VC Garden Party and in November the same year was also present at the unveiling of the Cenotaph and burial of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. When the King and Queen visited Liverpool on the 19th July 1924, for the consecration of the new cathedral, Gourley was one of the VC holders presented to His Majesty at the review of the 55th West Lancashire Territorial Division, in Wavertree Park on the afternoon.
In 1925, he moved to Hill Close, School Lane, off Column Road, Grange, West Kirby, and his house was later renamed Gourley Grange and the lane renamed Gourley’s Lane in his honour. The gardens created there by Gourley have now been redeveloped as a small housing estate. During the Second World War, Gourley was a firewatcher in Liverpool, dealing with many of the air raids that the city endured.
In 1952, he moved south to Haslemere, Surrey, where he lived with his mother, brother and sister and in 1956 he was present at the VC Centenary Review in Hyde Park. Two years later he retired from Unilever, formerly Lever Brothers, and spent his retirement tending his garden and restoring his house until he died on the 31st January 1982. He is buried in Grange Cemetery, West Kirby, Wirral. Gourley never married.
The Cyril Edward Gourley, VC, Scholarship is awarded in his honour by Liverpool University to undergraduates from Calday Grange Grammar School, West Kirby Grammar School or the Hoylake/West Kirby area. His VC, along with his other medals which include the Croix de Guerre, is held in storage at present following the closure of the Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich, London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL ARTILLERY MUSEUM, WOOLWICH.
BURIAL PLACE: GRANGE CEMETERY, WEST KIRBY, THE WIRRAL. SECTION F, PLOT 17
Thomas Stewart – VC Medal Group at Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich.
Brian Drummond – Images of Gourley’s VC Grave in West Kirby, his VC Stone in Liverpool, and the accompanying VC Board in Liverpool.
Mark Sanders – Gourley’s Medal Card.