b. 04/05/1893 Wallington, Surrey. d. 06/12/1960 Bournemouth, Dorset.
Alfred Oliver Pollard (1893-1960) was born at Rycroft, Melbourne Road, Wallington, Surrey on 4th May 1893. His father, James Alfred Pollard FCII, was an insurance broker and was eventually appointed Director of Alliance Assurance Company, London. He married Ada Jane Payne in 1883. She was originally from the Isle of Wight. They had five children including Alfred. He had one brother, James, who sadly was killed in action at Ginchy, France on 10th September 1916, and three sisters called Lily, Eva and Amy.
Alfred was educated at Merchant Taylor’s School from 1906-1908 and was then employed as an insurance clerk by Alliance Assurance Company, the same company as his father. When war broke out, he asked the branch secretary if he could enlist, but was rejected. As he left the office at the end of the day he told the secretary, “You’ll always remember I asked you, sir!” Next morning he went to enlist and didn’t return to work.
He enlisted with the Honourable Artillery Company on 8th August 1914 and commenced training at its HQ at Armoury House on 11th August. At the end of August, he volunteered for active service and was allotted to No 8 Section, 10 Platoon, C Company. The Battalion was inspected by its Captain-General and Colonel, the King, and moved into camp at Aveley, Essex, expecting to have six months training. The unit was soon embarking for St Nazaire, France, before moving to BEF HQ at St Omer and on 5th November travelled by bus to Bailleul for attachment to the Lahore Division, but they were not required as it was assumed from the unit title that they were artillery. The Battalion was then attached to 7th Brigade, 3rd Division and went into the trenches in front of Kemmel, Belgium in early December.
Alfred collapsed with jaundice after coming out of the line on Christmas Day and was evacuated to a base hospital. He was concerned at being regarded as a shirker in the Battalion and begged the doctors not to repatriate him. He was released on 4th January 1915, having actually had a chill on his liver. At Rouen he was billeted in a transit camp with the first group of reinforcements for the Battalion and fell out with the camp Sergeant Major for not attending morning parade, drill, fatigues and duties for eight days. Alfred did not believe they applied to him as he had front line experience and managed to avoid punishment. He was then appointed Batman to Second Lieutenant Douglas Stalman Davis, a newly commissioned former Sergeant and also volunteered as a cook in the company officers’ mess. He was promoted to Acting Corporal on 17th June.
He took part in the attack on Bellewaarde, during which he was a company runner. He was promoted to Corporal the same month and was also involved in a night attack in support of 1st Wiltshire, during which he first encountered the art of bombing. He went home to Wallington for a few days leave on 31st July and on return submitted an application for a commission. While that was being processed, he attended a bombing course at the Second Army Grenade School at Terdeghem and returned to the Battalion to take charge of the bombing platoon on 23rd September. He was promoted to Sergeant three days later.
He was then awarded the DCM for his actions at Sanctuary Wood, Hooge, near Ypres on 30th September 1915. The Germans had blown a mine under the 4th Middlesex’s position and Alfred’s bombing platoon was ordered to retake it. He was joined by five Royal Scots bombers, making a party of 21 men. During the attack, a German bomb hurled him back against a barricade, knocking him unconscious. He shook himself conscious and began to throw bombs and encourage the men. He jumped over the barricade and collected a bag of bombs and was handing them to another man when the latter was killed. Pollard was shot through the shoulder by the same bullet, but initially felt nothing. With one arm useless, he believed he could still direct operations, but his legs gave way, and the attack was abandoned. In the same action, Rupert Hallowes was posthumously awarded the VC. Alfred’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Harold T Hanson, recommended him for the VC, and was disappointed when he received the DCM instead.
He was evacuated for treatment at Crumpsall Infirmary, Manchester on 6th October, where he underwent two operations to remove the bullet. He was discharged for two weeks convalescence leave and joined 3/1st Reserve Battalion at Richmond, Surrey, where the CO, Colonel William Evans, offered him a commission. While his wounds healed, he was commissioned on 19th January 1916, and attended three weeks’ officers training course at Chelsea Barracks, London. He embarked for France on 24th May and rejoined 1st Battalion at Hesdin on 30th May. He was appointed to B Company on 5th June and was also Battalion Bombing Officer, earning the nickname “Bombo”. During the nightly reconnaissance patrols in preparation for the Somme, he injured a knee on rusty barbed wire and it became badly infected. He was evacuated and was out of action until November 1916. He returned the Battalion in January 1917 and took command of 7 Platoon in B Company and was back in the front line on 13th January.
He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions at Grandcourt on the Somme on 7th-8th February 1917. He led a patrol on a difficult reconnaissance into the village to establish enemy positions, but took a wrong turn on the return and the patrol stumbled in behind the German line before getting away. The following night he led the company after his OC was wounded north of the Ancre, and he was hit three time, twice in the helmet and once below the shoulder blade. He took his objective in a sunken road and Miraumont Alley and beat off two counterattacks under heavy shellfire. He held the position for eight days and seven nights until relieved. He had just 35 out of 150 men left.
After a short spell out of action due to a sprained ankle, he was awarded a Bar to his MC for his actions at Gavrelle on 16th April 1917, when he carried out a dangerous reconnaissance of the enemy front line under heavy fire and obtained valuable intelligence. Having cut the wire, he entered the German trench to find it full of enemy. Beating a hasty retreat he lost a man, went back to find him and had to run along the enemy parapet for almost 100 metres to find a gap through which to escape.
On 29th April 1917 at Gavrelle, France, the troops of various units had become disorganized owing to the heavy casualties from shell fire and a subsequent determined attack with very strong forces caused further confusion and retirement. Second Lieutenant Pollard realized the seriousness of the situation and with only four men he started a counter-attack with bombs, pressing it home until he had broken the enemy attack and regained all that had been lost and much ground in addition. This officer’s splendid example inspired courage into every man who saw him.
Major General Lawrie, commanding 63rd Division, came to congratulate him and Bill Haine the next day. Pollard was then appointed acting Captain from May to October 1917 and promoted to Lieutenant on 19th July. The VC, MC & Bar and DCM were presented by King George V outside Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1917. Alfred attended a Lewis Gun course at Le Touquet on Boxing Day 1917. From March 1918 he trained Americans at Etaples and was then attached to a US Division to advise on training. He was later Adjutant of No 2 Reinforcement Camp at Quiberville, but returned to England in July possibly due to wounds. He returned to the Battalion in mid October 1918, but contracted influenza. After the Armistice, he served in Germany in the Occupation Forces with Second Army’s Deputy Provost Marshal at Spa and Koln until he was demobilised in February 1919. He remained in the Honourable Artillery Company until December 1921.
He married Mary Ainsley on 4th June 1918, at Christ Church, Purley, Surrey. The marriage ended, childless, in divorce in 1923. The experience had a bad effect on him, and he became a little reckless. He found it difficult to find work following demobilisation, partly due to his outlook resulting from war service. In a newspaper article in 1932, he wrote that “war decorations have no practical value in peacetime….their possession instead of being an asset, frequently act as a definite hindrance in the fight for existence.”
He was offered his old job at Alliance Assurance and had remained on the payroll throughout his service. However, after 4 and a half years of active outdoor life, it did not appeal, and he declined. He took a variety of jobs, including travelling salesmen, director of Low Engineering Company and broadcasting for the BBC. In July 1924, he was granted a Short Service Commission in the General Duties Branch of the RAF as a probationary pilot officer and was posted to No 2 Flying Training School, RAF Digby. He would resign his commission in 1926. He then chose to write a book, and by 1929 was writing full time; including as a columnist on a number of London and provincial newspapers. He also wrote his autobiography “Fire Eater; The Memoirs of a VC” in 1932.
Alfred remarried in 1925, to Violet Irene Swarbrick on 5th September in Brentford. They had no children. They lived mostly in Bournemouth from 1949 onwards. Alfred joined the Committee of the VC and GC Association and became close friends with Bill Haine, with whom he was awarded the VC. On 4th December 1960 he went outside his home at Queens Park Gardens, Bournemouth to fix a dislodged panel in a strong wind. Back inside he sat in the kitchen to read the Sunday paper when he collapsed. He died shortly afterwards and the cause of death was coronary thrombosis. He was cremated at Bournemouth Crematorium, where his ashes were scattered.
In addition to his VC, MC & Bar, and DCM, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. His medals and sword were presented to the Honourable Artillery Company by his nephew, Richard Robert William Chown, son of his sister-in-law, Lilian, in 1961. The medal is held by the Honourable Artillery Company Museum, London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: HONORABLE ARTILLERY COMPANY, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: BOURNEMOUTH CREMATORIUM, DORSET. ASHES SCATTERED.
Andy Arnold – Images of the Pollard VC Stone and accompanying programme in Wallington, Surrey.