b. 08/06/1919 Southport, Lancashire. d. 23/04/1943 Guiriat el Atach, Tunisia.
Willward Alexander Congreve Sandys-Clarke (1919-1943) was born in Southport, Lancashire on 8th June 1919, the son of an Army officer, William Edward Clarke (1893-1976), and Edith Isobel Congreve (nee Sandys) (1893-1937). Through his mother, he was related to four holders of the Victoria Cross – Lord Roberts of Kandahar and his son Frederick, and General Walter Congreve and his son William. He was thus the fifth member of his family to win the nation’s highest honour, and the third (with Frederick Roberts and William Congreve) to be awarded it posthumously.
Willward attended Uppingham School in Rutland, and following schooling, he enlisted with The Loyal Regiment, and in 1941, he married Dorothy Irene Deakin at the United Reform Church in Belmont, near Bolton, Lancashire. They lived at Dimple Hall, Egerton, near Bolton.
On 23rd April 1943 he was a 23-year-old platoon commander in B Company, 1st Loyals at Guiriat El Atach, Tunisia. Counter-attacked by the enemy, his company was almost wiped out, leaving him as the sole remaining officer. Although slightly wounded in the neck and head by splinters, he was convinced he could retake his company’s objective. Gathering together an improvised platoon of about 20 men, many of them wounded, he set off from Battalion headquarters, initially making good progress until held up by a machine-gun. Deploying his men to give him covering fire, he tackled the machine-gun post single-handed with his revolver, killing or capturing the crew, and knocking out the gun. Soon afterwards the platoon came under fire from two more machine-guns. Again, arranging for covering fire, he once more went forward alone and put both guns out of action, before finally leading his men onto their objective.
While his newly-won position was being consolidated, the improvised platoon came under fire from two sniper’s posts. Without hesitation Willward Sandys-Clarke again went forward alone, but this time, having got to within a few feet of the enemy, he was killed outright.
For his gallant example and magnificent leadership he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. In the words of the citation:“His quick grasp of the situation and his brilliant leadership undoubtedly restored the situation, whilst his outstanding personal bravery and tenacious devotion to duty were an inspiration to his company, and were beyond praise.” Two days after his wife received the telegram telling her of his death, their son Robin was born.
Willward was laid to rest in Massicault War Cemetery, near Tunis, Tunisia. His VC was presented to his widow, Irene at Buckingham Palace, and the medals are still held by the Sandys-Clarke family.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: MASSICAULT WAR CEMETERY, MANOUBA, TUNISIA.
PLOT V, ROW B, GRAVE 1.