b. 29/08/1886 Gilfach Goch, Llantrisant, Wales. d. 27/09/1918 Anneux, France.
George Henry Prowse (1886-1918) was born on 29th August 1886 in Brynsion Terrace, Gilfach Goch, Llantrisant and a Blue Plaque was placed on the house (Brynsion Terrace has since been renamed to be part of High Street) by the local council, Rhondda Cynon Taff on 21 October 2006. According to his service record held at The National Archives, Prowse was born on 28th August 1896, however the Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives his age at death as 32, which would place his birth in 1886 matching the recently discovered birth certificate.
He worked as a collier in the Gorseinon district of Swansea, first at Grovesend Colliery, and then at the Mountain Colliery. He was a good soccer player and had played for Gorseinon A.F.C. in the 1910/11 season. He moved around the Grovesend area, living in Station Road and New Rd., before getting married to Sarah Lewis of Landore at Swansea Registry Office on the 8th November 1913 and settling at 65, Pentretreharne Rd., Landore. They had no children.
On the 25th. February 1915, George enlisted under Lt. John Hodgens, in the expanding Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, with the Service No. WZ424. Instead of going to sea, as he might have expected, he found himself in the Drake Battalion, in the Royal Naval Division, and ultimately on the battlefields of France and Flanders.
Prowse was initially rated Ordinary Seaman, on 5th May 1915 he was promoted to Able Seaman (rank). After completing training at Blandford, in September 1915 he was posted to the Drake Battalion, which was then engaged in the Gallipoli Campaign. It is not clear how much active service Prowse saw at this time as he spent significant periods hospitalised with first jaundice and then gastroenteritis, finally rejoining his battalion in Egypt on 9th January 1916. The division remained engaged in the Gallipoli Campaign until May 1916 when it was transferred to France. Prowse arrived at Marseilles on 7th June 1916, on 20th June he was promoted Petty Officer.
In November 1916 the Division was employed in the Battle of the Ancre, the final attempt to resolve the Battle of the Somme. Prowse received a gunshot wound in his left thigh on 13th November (the opening day of the battle) and after initial treatment in France was admitted to a hospital in Epsom on 17th November. Having been discharged from hospital, he went back to the base at Blandford on 9th January 1917, and eventually returned to his battalion in France on 28th March 1917.
His qualities of leadership, as well as his courage under fire, made him an obvious candidate for promotion, and on 28th April 1918 he became C.P.O. Prowse. On the 2nd September, a few weeks after the fighting at Longeast Wood, his courage was again tested at Pronville when he saw more distinguished action, and for this he was awarded a Victoria Cross. Chief Petty Officer Prowse led a small party of men against a strong point, capturing it, together with 23 prisoners and 5 macbine guns. On three other occasions he displayed great heroism in dealing with difficult and dangerous situations, and at one time he dashed forward and attacked and captured two machine gun posts, killing 6 of the enemy and taking 13 prisoners, and two machine guns. He was the only survivor of this gallant party.
He knew that he had been recommended for a V.C., and wrote a letter home to his wife, who was herself employed on war work in a local factory, saying “For the last show of ours I have the honour of being recommended for the V.C., and if I happen to get it, which is very doubtful, I shall be granted special leave. Don’t set your mind on me getting the V.C., but to know I have been recommended for such an award is the greatest of honours, and you can quite imagine I must have done something very great. You say, I shall not half be swanking now, but you know there is not very much swank attaching to me.” He asked one of his friends, who was going home on leave, to tell his wife all the details of the action, but, unfortunately, he was not able to contact her. The first news that she received, a few weeks later, was that her husband had been killed on 27th September near Arleux during the fighting for the Bapaume – Cambrai Road.
Sadly, his body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial. On 17th July 1919, his VC was presented to his widow at Buckingham Palace by King George V. His medals including the VC, DCM, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 were purchased privately in 1990 by Michael Ashcroft and are now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: VIS-EN-ARTOIS MEMORIAL, FRANCE. PANEL 1-2.
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of Prowse VC’s name on the Paulton War Memorial.
Dawn Lewis – Images of the Prowse VC Stone and its unveiling programme in Gilfach Goch.