Private Samuel Harvey VC

Samuel Harvey (1881-1960) was awarded the Victoria Cross whilst serving with the York and Lancaster Regiment for his heroic action at the Battle of Loos in 1915. His citation for the award in The London Gazette on 16 September 1915 records how:

On the 29th September, 1915, in the big Willie Trench near the Hohenzollern Redoubt, France, during a heavy bombing attack, more bombs were urgently needed. Private Harvey volunteered to run across open ground under intense fire backwards and forwards, and succeeded in bringing up 30 boxes of bombs over a 13 hour period before he fell with a head wound. It was largely due to his cool bravery in supplying the bombs, that the enemy was eventually driven back.

Having read several articles on Samuel in the local press, I was left intrigued as to what influenced and shaped his life, and undertook some research at the Ipswich Record Office. I was surprised to discover, that despite the undoubted high point of the Victoria Cross, Samuel’s life was marred with many lows, eventually ending with an interment in a communal paupers’ grave. What follows is a summary of my research.

Family and early life

Samuel “Monkey” Harvey, as he was affectionately known, was born on  17 September 1881, along with a twin sister, in Bulwell, Nottinghamshire. He was the son of Suffolk born parents, William Harvey (born Framsden) and Mary Ann Calver/Carver (born Kenton). William and Mary had their first child in Manningtree, Essex, before moving to Bulwell, where they had a further 4 children, including Samuel. The family returned to Suffolk (Ipswich), circa 1882, where another 4 children were born.

Teenage years

Samuel had several brushes with the law during his teenage years, making an appearance at the Ipswich Police court at the age of 14 for stealing tobacco. He went on to make two further court appearances, again for stealing. The last of these resulted in him being sent to the Warwick Reformatory until he reached the age of 19. When released, it appears that he was given, or took, a job on a local farm, as the 1901 census lists him at Warren Farm, Amington and Stonydelph, Warwickshire, an unmarried ‘farm servant general’.

 First taste of Military Service

Samuel joined the Army Service Corps at Woolwich on 12 February 1903, having taken the oath at Stowmarket. His early Army service saw him twice in civil custody for criminal assault, and at the end of the second period of custody in May 1904 he was discharged from the army for misconduct.

Return to Civilian Life

Samuel then returned to Ipswich and back into trouble. His offences and punishment were: ‘Disturbing the peace – 7 days Imprisonment or 8/- fine’ and ‘Disorderly refusing to quit – 14 days Hard Labour or £1.4.2’.

 Military Service again

Samuel re-enlisted in the Army, joining the 3rd Bn. Suffolk Regiment on 28 February 1905, transferring to the York and Lancaster Regiment on 27 July the same year. He spent seven years with the latter regiment in India, before coming out to the reserve six weeks before the outbreak of war. He was soon recalled to the colours and went out to France in 1914 with the British Expeditionary Force. During his time in France he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroics at the Battle of Loos.

On 17 July 1916, whilst on leave from France, Samuel visited his old school, Argyle Street Boys’ Council School, Ipswich, and spoke to the pupils. His visit was recorded in the school log-book

Samuel was transferred from the York and Lancaster Regiment to the 3rd (Home Service) G Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers on 7 October and was honourably discharged from the army on 15 March 1918.

Life after the War

Samuel’s post-war years back in Ipswich were far from easy. He scratched a living as an odd-job man, digging people’s gardens, and working as an ostler at the Great White Horse Hotel. Whilst digging people’s gardens, it is recorded that he was heard continually muttering “dig that trench”.

He lived at a series of address in Ipswich, as well as living rough in a wooden hut in Wolves Wood near Hadleigh. Later in life he was a resident at the Salvation Army hostel on Fore Street and Heathfields Old People Home. In 1944 Samuel married widow Georgina Brown at St Peter’s, Ipswich. They lived at 10 Adelphi Place until 1948 when Georgina died from diabetes.

Unfortunately, it appears that Samuel’s most enduring love was the bottle. During the 1950s several Ipswich residents can remember Sam regularly asleep on the Town Hall steps first thing in the morning.

Final Resting Place and Commemoration

Samuel died penniless on 23 September 1960 at Stow Lodge Hospital, Stowmarket, where he had been a patient for 16 months. His only possession was his V.C. miniature medal group, which were next to his pillow.

He was buried with full military honours in a public communal paupers’ grave at Ipswich Old Cemetery. It was not until 2000 that Samuel was honoured with a headstone, forty years after his death.

In 2013 a campaign was initiated, by a group from Park Side Care Home, to further honour Samuel. This culminated with the renovation of his gravestone, and the planting of a Commemorative tree near his grave. 2015 saw a stone slab commemorating his bravery unveiled at the main entrance to Christchurch Park in Soane Street, Ipswich. The stone slab was originally planned for Nottingham, the place of his birth, but local pressure resulted in the placing of the slab in Ipswich. A fitting memorial to this colourful First World War hero of Ipswich.

Steve Harvey

Searchroom Assistant

Ipswich Record Office