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Heaviside, M.W., V.C., 1914-18 (1939)

Photo : Shields Gazette

Photo : Ancestry VC Page

Photo : Dorothy Hall

Headstone at Craghead

Medal Index Card for Private Heaviside

Photo : Shields Gazette

Wife Elizabeth with the 7 children

In St Thomas Churchyard, Craghead is the Commonwealth War Grave of 11796 and 4/9720 Private Michael Wilson Heaviside V.C., 15th (Service) Battalion Durham Light Infantry, who died on the 26th April 1939.

Michael Wilson Heaviside was born on the 20th October 1880 at 4 Station Lane, Gilesgate, Durham, the son of John Wilson Heaviside (born 1862), a grocer, and Annie (born 1870), a dressmaker. Michael was the eldest child of four children.

His grandfather was Thomas Heaviside, born 1828, died 1886, who was a well known Durham Photographer.

By 1891, the family had moved to Kimblesworth where Michael was educated at Kimblesworth Council School, the local school, and his father was a head keeper. The family were residing at 18 Charles Street, Kimblesworth with the addition of three other children, Ethel born 1882 Annie born 1884 and Thomas born 1887.

The family then moved to Sacriston, because his father had been transferred to another colliery, and were residing at 3 Mavins Buildings, Sacriston.

Michael's mother had died, so he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was in the Boer War. His service number was 11796 and he was a private. Michael was a Stretcher Bearer at No 11 General Hospital then based at Kimberley, and eventually was invalided home due to Enteric fever. He received the Queen's South Africa Medal, with clasp Orange Free State, and the King's South Africa Medal with clasp Cape Colony.

He requested to be discharged 25th January 1902 but was not actually discharged until the 30th September 1902, as time expired. The Kings South Africa Medal was later restored to him in 1921 as he was not entitled to be awarded the medal due to Misconduct!

He was now in the reserve, and started working underground as a Hewer at Burnhope Colliery. He met his future wife Elizabeth Draper (born 23rd July 1887, Houghton-le-Spring), at Burnhope and they were married at Lanchester Registry Office on December 13th 1905.

In 1911, the company is recorded as the Consett Coal and Iron company as his employer.

They had three children showing on the 1911 census: Richard born 27th October 1906, (married Hilda born 14th February 1912, in 1939 at Evenwood Lane Cottage, Barnard Castle. Richard was a Colliery Stone Drift Man Heavy Worker), John Wilson, born 5th November 1907, (married Elsie, born 22nd August 1909, in 1939 they were at 27 Standerton Terrace, Stanley, with their daughter Sylvia born 8th September 1927. John was a Coal Miner (Hewer) Heavy Worker below ground), and Annie born 1910.

Michael and Elizabeth eventually had a total of 15 children- eleven sons and four daughters. Richard (1906-1934), John Wilson, [born 5th November 1907, was married to an Elsie, born 22nd August 1909], died 1975, they were residing at 27 Standerton Terrace, Stanley, Durham, with a daughter called Sylvia Bell, (nee Heaviside), born 8th September 1927, Annie (1909-1990), Norman (1912-1990), William Draper (1912-33), Michael Wilson (1914-1988), Matthew Draper (1915-1983), Victor (1917-1944), Thomas (1918-1919), Sarah (1919-1922), James Henry (1922-1987), Elizabeth Selina (1924-1987), Margaret (b/d 1926), Joseph (1929-1997) and Thomas (1930-1931).

In 1913, they moved to Front Street, Craghead and Michael worked as a hewer at Oswald Pit.

Michael enlisted on the 7th September 1914 and was posted to the 4th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, service number 4/9720, at Barnard Castle. 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion August 1914, at Barnard Castle. A depot/training unit, it moved on mobilisation to the Tyne defences. Moved in December to Killingworth, went to Forest Hall in January 1915 and finally to Seaham Harbour in September 1915, where it then remained as part of the Tyne Garrison.

He then was posted to the 15th (Service) Battalion Durham Light Infantry. He left for France on the 10th June 1915.

He was the Battalion Stretcher Bearer. He was wounded and lost an eye whilst in France in July 1916, and was in Hospital for about a month before returning back to the Front line.

On the morning of the 6th May 1917, a movement was seen in a shell-hole not more than 40 yards from the Germans. It was a wounded man waving an empty water bottle. To send out a stretcher-party while daylight lasted was, of course, impossible; but Private Michael Heaviside, stretcher bearer and veteran of the South Africa War, a miner from Craghead, at once volunteered to take food and water to the sufferer. Crawling forward steadily from shell-hole to shell-hole, pausing to rest when the ground offered a little protection, escaping as by a miracle sniper's bullet and machine-gun fire, Heaviside covered the distance unharmed. He found a badly wounded man, who had lain out for several days and nights suffering agonies from thirst, and rendered him such aid as he could.

Then, when darkness fell, Heaviside made the return journey and with a stretcher-party went out again and brought the man in.

The cool unselfish courage which finds its expression in rescue or care of the wounded at great personal risk was a marked characteristic of the Durham soldier throughout the war.

Private Heaviside's deed won him the Victoria Cross.

On the 9th June a local reporter went to see Elizabeth Heaviside who was sitting on her doorstep in Craghead reading about her husband's success.

GAZETTE ISSUE 30122, VICTORIA CROSS. The Gazette. His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned:- No. 4/9720 Private Michael Heaviside, 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. On 6th May 1917 near Fontaine-les-Croiselles, France, when the Battalion was holding a block in the line a wounded man was observed about 2pm in a shell hole some sixty yards in advance of our block and about forty yards from the enemy line. He was making signals of distress and holding up an empty water bottle. Owing to snipers and machine-gun fire it was impossible, during daylight, to send out a stretcher party. But Private Heaviside at once volunteered to carry water and food to the wounded man, despite the enemy fire. This he succeeded in doing, and found the man to be badly wounded and nearly demented with thirst. He had lain out for four days and three nights, and the arrival of the water undoubtedly saved his life. Private Heaviside, who is a stretcher bearer, succeeded the same evening, with the assistance of two comrades, in rescuing the wounded man.

His deed was witnessed by a Tyneside officer who had left this graphic eye witness account:- There have been many fine deeds performed in this war, but nothing could surpass the sublime heroism of Heaviside. It was a case of a man deliberately risking his own life, not once, but many times, in order to assist a fellow creature who might even have beyond human aid before he was reached. During a lull in the operations when we were standing by in expectation of fresh orders, somebody noticed frantic signals being made from a shell hole within a stone's throw of the enemy lines. We soon discovered it was a wounded man, who was sheltering there as best he could with the enemy guns and our own dropping shells too close to be comfortable. It was out of the question to send him assistance, for the ground between us and him was swept by continuous fire. Heaviside said he was going out to see what could be done for the chap. He got water and first-aid outfit, and jumped out of the trench. Immediately he came under very heavy fire, and after trying to run the gauntlet of it for a few minutes he had to give up. He threw himself on the ground and started wriggling towards the shell-hole where the poor devil was.
The enemy could make him out plainly and they must have known what Heaviside was after, but they kept peppering away, and we could see bullets striking the ground right around the spot over which Heaviside was crawling. Every minute we expected to be his last, but the brave chap went on. He was now quite close to where the wounded man lay, and the enemy seemed to be more than ever determined to hit him, the bullets were splattering about more viciously than ever. Anyway, Heaviside got through. He found the poor chap crazy from the continuous exposure without food and water, and after he had given him both he started to fix him comfortably. He stayed with the chap until he was quite cheerful again, and then left promising to come back later with a stretcher to bring him in. He was as good as his word. With two of our chaps on the same job, Heaviside went across again that night and found the poor chap little the worse. He was brought in safely and sent down to the base. All who saw the deed say that Heaviside richly merited the Cross, and they hope he will live long to wear it.

On Thursday 12th July, Private Michael Heaviside was arriving home from leave on the 6.13pm train from Newcastle, to be presented with the Victoria Cross. At Shield Row railway station, Private Heaviside got off the train and was met by his father, three of his children and dignitaries. There was a procession led by the South Moor Colliery Band, 'D' Company of the 1st Battalion Durham County Volunteers Stanley and the Church Brigade cadets from Beamish. He was escorted to a car to Stanley Town Hall. The band played "See the Conquering Hero Comes." Then the speeches, then on to South Moor. At 7.45pm the cars and the procession stopped at Craghead Football ground. Here the presentation was made to him. More speeches followed and the children sang "Rule Britannia".

There was a subscription fund opened for Private Michael Heaviside organised by Mr H.Y. Greener manager of Craghead Colliery, of 1 Shafto Terrace, Craghead, and in the Newcastle Journal dated Monday 16th July 1917 shows a list of subscribers.

Michael Heaviside was presented with the Victoria Cross on the 21st July in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace by King George V.

On Saturday 28th July 1917, in the presence of a large crowd of villagers and friends from further afield, Private Michael Heaviside was made the recipient of a public testimonial in proof of the appreciation of his workmates. The sum of 133 had been subscribed, and the gift took the form of a gold watch and chain, costing 35, and a number of war certificates. Mr T.Y. Greener presided, and Mr Robert W. Cooper also representing the South Moor Colliery Co., handed the testimonial to Private Heaviside, amid much cheering. Mr Aneurin Williams M.P. in a felicitous speech, congratulated the hero, and Private Heaviside briefly replied.

He told the crowd that he had only done his duty and that he was proud to have brought honour to Durham and to Craghead, in particular.

After the war was over, Michael Heaviside returned to the Craghead Colliery and worked there until his death on the 26th April 1939 at Bloemfontein Terrace. He was just 58.

Newcastle Chronicle 06/05/1939 reads:-

North West Durham's only VC was buried on Saturday but there was no gun carriage available for him. Every gun carriage in the whole of the North East is in use for training the soldier of today. The hero of yesterday had to be taken to his last resting place on a horse lorry.

For years he suffered from asthma after he had been gassed in the War.

Newcastle Evening Chronicle 28/04/1939 reads:-

He was a pioneer of the British Legion movement in Craghead and was also associated with other organisations instituted for the betterment of ex-servicemen.

The medals belonging to Private Michael Heaviside, V.C. were handed over to the D.L.I. Regimental Museum whilst it was at Brancepeth Castle on the 12th July 1957 by C.S.M. Norman Heaviside. 32 members of the family attended the event. The medals were added to a display of medals already in the Museum. (In 2017 on display at Palace Green.)

Elizabeth Heaviside married John Cooper 1939 and died in 1967 at Craghead.

Victor Heaviside born in 1917, and joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was killed in action 09/08/1944 aged 27 years and is buried at Brouay War Cemetery, Normandy.

Michael Heaviside's grave was only marked by a wood border because his family couldn't afford a headstone. In time the wood rotted away and the grave was lost. It took a determined effort by his descendants and friends to locate the grave and it is now marked by a Commonwealth War Grave headstone.

He is remembered at Craghead at C120.10 in Durham D47.071 and also at Sacriston on S113.06.

Anglo Boer War site
The 15th Battalion Durham Light Infantry in WW1
Archive Film of Private Heaviside arrival by train.
RAMC in the Boer War
Durham At War website

If you know more about this person, please send the details to janet@newmp.org.uk