100 years after his death, a parishioner of St Chad’s Headingley who was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross, has been honoured with a commemorative paving stone at the church’s war memorial.
Acting Captain David Hirsch (from Weetwood Grove, Far Headingley) served with the Prince of Wales’s own 4th Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment. He was killed in action, at the age of 20, on St George’s Day 1917.
This week, during a moving ceremony at their war memorial, St Chad’s unveiled a commemorative stone dedicated to his memory.
The ceremony, which was attended by the Lord Mayor of Leeds and David Hirsh's great nephew, included an overview of his life, the formal citation, and the dedication of the commemorative stone. It was feaured on local TV Made in Leeds.
Announcing the VC award on 14 June 1917, the London Gazette said: “Captain Hirsch, although twice wounded, returned over fire swept slopes to satisfy himself that the defensive flank was being established. Machine gun fire was so intense that it was necessary for him to be continuously up and down the line encouraging his men to hold the position. He continued to encourage his men by standing on the parapet and steadying them in the face of machine gun fire and counterattack until he was killed. His conduct throughout was a magnificent example of the greatest devotion to duty”.
ST GEORGE’S DAY 1917
Acting Captain David Philip Hirsch was killed whilst standing on the parapet above the position his men were holding. He was serving with the 4th Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, part of 150 Brigade.
As part of the 50th Division Captain Hirsch and his men were ordered to attack the German positions in what became known as the Second Battle of the Scarpe. This offensive was to be carried out over a nine mile front. The attack would be made by the 150th Brigade with the 4th East Yorks on the right and 4th Yorks on the left. Each battalion kept one company in support. They moved forward but after only about 100 yards ran into their own creeping barrage which was advancing too slowly. Intense enemy fire also held up the 4th Battalion which was only able to charge into the German front trench after help from one of the supporting tanks.
However, by 05.25 hours, they reached the German trench. Their success was not matched by the two battalions on either side of them. The 4th Yorks soon found themselves alone and under fire from three sides. They therefore began to dig in along a line 100 to 200 yards to the west of the first objective. Though enemy rifle and artillery fire had practically ceased, machine-gun fire was increasing in intensity, particularly from the left flank. Captain Hirsch, who was by this time the only officer left, established a defensive flank with half of ‘Y’ Company along a line above and parallel to the River Cojeul. With the remainder of the Battalion – about 150 men – he decided to hold on to his position and sent back for reinforcements and ammunition. The situation was critical for the Yorkshiremen. The Germans were seen massing for a counter-attack and Hirsch knew that something extraordinary would be needed if the position was to be held.