b. 12/03/1891 Burton Hall, Neston, Cheshire. d. 20/07/1916 Longueval, France.
William La Touche “Billy” Congreve (1891-1916) was born at Burton Hall, near Neston, Cheshire on 22nd March 1891 and was known as Billy. His father was General Sir Walter Norris Congreve VC KCB MVO, nicknamed “Squibs” or “Old Concrete”. His father was a highly decorated soldier who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at the Battle of Colenso on 15th December 1899. He later served in World War One, the conflict which claim the life of his son, making them one of only three father and son VCs and the only pair from the same Regiment. Billy’s mother, Cecilia Henrietta Dolores nee La Touche, born in India. His parents married in London on 3rd June 1890, and she served as a nurse in Belgium and France during the Great War and was awarded the Reconnaissance Francaise and the Belgian Medaille de la Reine Elisabeth for being one of the last nurses to leave Antwerp with the wounded in 1914. She was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre for her actions when nursing at Rosieres-aux-Salines, near Nancy, it was shelled and bombed by aircraft in 1918. Billy had two brothers – Commander Sir Geoffrey Cecil Congreve DSO RN, who was killed in World War II, and Major Arthur Christopher John Congreve who served in World War II.
Billy was educated at Miss Linton’s Day School in Farnborough, Summerfields School in Oxford 1899-1902, Eton May 1903-July 1907, before being prepared for Sandhurst. In his early years he was a sufferer from rheumatic fever and convalesced with family friends. He finally joined the Royal Military College Sandhurst later in 1909. Having passed out in 2nd place, he was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade on 4th March 1911. He joined the 3rd Battalion at Moore Park Camp, Tipperary, Ireland and was promoted Lieutenant on 1st February 1913.
The 3rd Rifle Brigade sailed for Holyhead, aboard SS Patriotic on 17th August 1914 and moved to Cambridge and Newmarket. It embarked at Southampton on the Canadian steamship SS Lake Michigan on 10th September 1914 and arrived at St Nazaire on the 12th. Billy became ADC to Major General Hubert Hamilton, GOC 3rd Division, on 23rd September. When Hamilton was killed by shrapnel on 14th October 1914, Billy continued as ADC to his successors, Major Generals Mackenzie, FDV Wing and JAL Haldane. He was promoted to Captain on 6th June 1915 and appointed GSO3 with HQ 3rd Division on 15th July vice Brevet Lieutenant Colonel ARC Sanders. Appointed Brigade Major of 76th Brigade on 10th December vice Temporary Major Viscount RG Howick, Northumberland Fusiliers.
He was awarded the French Croix de Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur on 15th October 1915 for his work during the Second Battle of Ypres. It was presented by General de Boiselle, GOC of the French XXX Corps, at a joint parade on 6th November. He was then awarded the Military Cross for his actions at Hooge in November 1915 (gazetted on 14th January 1916). He was then awarded the DSO for his actions at the Bluff, St Eloi, Belgium on 27th March 1916. An unknown number of Germans occupying No 5 Crater started firing on the attackers from behind. Billy realised that some Germans were willing to surrender while others were not. He thought bluff might work and instructed an officer and four men to follow him, including his orderly. He dashed for the crater under fire, and captured two officers and seventy-two soldiers and was recommended for the VC by Brigadier General RJ Kentish, commanding 76th Brigade on 6th April, but it was downgraded to the DSO on 22nd April.
Billy married Pamela Cynthia nee Maude on 1st June 1916 in London. They had a brief honeymoon before Billy returned to the front. She wouldn’t see it again. Billy and Pamela did have a daughter, who was born in March 1917 called Mary Gloria Congreve. Back in France, Billy was appointed Brevet Major on 3rd June 1916. During the period 6th July to 20th July 1916 at Longueval, France, Major Congreve constantly inspired those round him by numerous acts of gallantry. As Brigade Major he not only conducted battalions up to their positions but when the Brigade headquarters was heavily shelled he went out with the medical officer to remove the wounded to places of safety, although he himself was suffering from gas and other shell effects. He went out again on a subsequent occasion tending the wounded under heavy shell fire.
Finally, on returning to the front line to ascertain the position after an unsuccessful attack, he was shot and died instantly.
Billy, the first officer to be awarded the VC, DSO and MC was buried in Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension. One of mourners was his father alongside Billy’s batman, Private Cameron. His widow was given all three gallantry medals from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 1st November 1916. His widow married Major (later Brigadier) The Honorable William Fraser DSO MC of the Gordon Highlanders in December 1919. In addition to the VC, DSO and MC, he was awarded the 1914 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf and the French Legion d’Honneur. His daughter, Mary, sold the medals for £26,000 on 30th June 1983 at Sotheby’s to buy a house in Spain. They are held by the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL GREEN JACKETS MUSEUM, WINCHESTER, HAMPSHIRE.
BURIAL PLACE: CORBIE COMMUNAL CEMETERY, AMIENS, FRANCE.
PLOT I, ROW F, GRAVE 35
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.
Thomas Stewart – Images of his VC Medal Group at the Royal Green Jackets Museum Winchester, and the two images from RMA Sandhurst.
Paul Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – West Felton War Memorial.