b. 12/04/1879 Ilford, Essex. d. 18/04/1918 Le Verguier, France.
John William Sayer (1879-1918) was born in Ilford, Essex, on 12th April 1879. He was the the son of Samuel and Margaret Sayer. His father was a farmer and the family home was at Wangye Hull Farm, Chadwell Heath. Apparently, the Sayers had lived in the area for several generations. Sayer went to school in Illford and married Edith Louise Maynard of 35 Old Lower Road, Hastings in Illford Parish Church on 15th August 1904. Over a period of thirteen years he and his wife had six children, four daughters and two sons. It seems that he left Ilford and went to Cricklewood, were he ran a corn and seed merchant’s business.
His parents still farmed in Chadwell Heath and he joined up on 25th July 1916, went to France in December 1916 and was promoted to Lance Corporal in 1917. On 21st March 1918 at Le Verguier, France, Lance Corporal Sayer held the flank of a small isolated post for two hours. Owing to mist the enemy approached from both sides to within 30 yards before being discovered, but the lance corporal, on his own initiative without assistance, beat off a succession of attacks, inflicting heavy losses. During the whole time he was exposed to heavy fire but his contempt of danger and skill in the use of his fire-arms enabled the post to hold out until nearly all the garrison had been killed and he himself wounded and captured.
Sayer was taken to a German field hospital at Le Cateau, where despite treatment, he succumbed to his wounds four weeks later on 18th April 1918. He was buried in Le Cateau Military Cemetery. His VC was gazetted on 9th June 1919, having surprisingly not even been mentioned in the Regimental Diary for the date of 21st March 1918. It was the omissions and mistakes that inspired Sayer’s grandson, an amateur historian called David Baker, to find out more about his grandfather and set the record straight. His research, published recently in Stand To, the journal of the Western Front Association, eventually led to Australia. There he met the elderly daughter of Sayer’s platoon commander, Claude Piesse, and discovered letters and diaries which revealed the full significance of his grandfather’s actions. In particular, he discovered a two-page letter written in August 1918 by Hugh Peirs, then still commanding the 8th Battalion in France, to Piesse, who had himself been captured and was in a German prison camp.
The 8th Battalion’s role in the events of that day, and the actions of Peirs himself as its CO, have been well documented. Their success was applauded in British newspapers at the time. They were praised by General Haig, and in September 1918 Peirs was awarded a second bar to his Distinguished Service Order, for his ‘great courage and fine leadership’.
But what has not been acknowledged, until today, is the key role of John Sayer in that crucial battle. It must be assumed that Peirs, having received all the credit, was reluctant to undermine his own reputation: he went on to recommend Sayer for the Victoria Cross but nowhere in his citation did he mention the wider ramifications of Sayer’s actions. Sayer’s widow received her husband’s VC at Buckingham Palace from King George V on 16 November 1919. Sayer’s medals were passed down to his daughter, Ivy and still remain in her family privately held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: OWNED BY HIS DAUGHTER IVY’S FAMILY.
BURIAL PLACE: LE CATEAU MILITARY CEMETERY, FRANCE.
PLOT I, ROW B, GRAVE 59.
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.