George Thomas Dorrell VC M.B.E.

George Thomas Dorrell VC MBE © Imperial War Museum (Q79792)

“For continuing to serve a gun until all the ammunition was expended, after all officers were killed or wounded, in spite of a concentrated fire from guns and machine guns, at a range of 600 yards, at Nery on 1st September.”



George Thomas Dorrell's story

Born on July 7 1880, in the Registry District of Chelsea, London, George Thomas Dorrell was 15 years old when he joined the army, although the ‘official’ age registered was 19.

Having served in the Second Boer War, by 1905 he was a Sergeant in the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA)  in Lucknow, India and qualified as a Battery Rough Rider. By the outbreak of war in 1914, he would have been an experienced and highly trained gunner.

The artillery were taught that guns must be fought to the last, and that cavalry and infantry should be supported to the last possible moment, even if it meant the loss of the guns. This would have been second nature to George Dorrell, by now a Battery Sergeant Major, as he left for France in August 1914 with L. Battery Royal Horse Artillery.

Thinking that the nearby ridge was still held by the French the Brigade was instructed to settle down for the night. L Battery was positioned in an orchard south of the village, opposite them, alongside a road that was in a deep cutting, were the 2nd. Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays). On the 24 August, during the retreat from Mons they held up a German attack near Quivering by knocking out the German guns, stopping the attempt to outflank the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and two days later they were in the great artillery duel at Le Cateau. By the 31 August, the BEF had retreated behind the Aisne and L. Battery, with the 1st Cavalry Brigade, exhausted after many hours of fighting were told to bivouac at Nery.

At 0230 hours on 1 September, the men of L Battery got up, rubbed down the horses, breakfasted, harnessed up and hooked in, ready to move at a moment’s notice. However, due to a thick mist they were told to stand fast until further notice. Sgt. Maj. Dorrell took the opportunity to water the horses, so the right half battery was taken a short distance away, to a pond behind the sugar factory, watered, brought back and hooked into the guns and wagons while the left half battery went off to water.

Meanwhile, in the mist, a patrol of the 11th Hussars had almost run into the German cavalry, but the alarm that they raised was too late. The French had pulled off the nearby ridge and been replaced by ten German guns and two machine guns.

At 0540 hours, a shell smashed into L. Battery, followed by shrapnel and machine gun bullets killing a number of men and bringing down about 150 horses. Capt. Edward Bradbury shouted "Come on, who’s for the guns!" as men raced to get the guns into position. Guns were damaged as horses bolted in panic, and one of them overturned on a steep bank. Only three could be unlimbered and manhandled into action and one of these soon had its spokes blown out while the second was hit and its whole detachment killed.

As the mist cleared, the last 13 pounder went into action. Gunner Darbyshire desperately fired for 20 minutes until concussion left him bleeding from his nose and ears. Lt. Campbell took over the firing position while the gunner supplied ammunition, but the lieutenant was blown off the gun and killed. Captain Bradbury, who had been acting as layer, had his leg blown off but carried on directing the firing until he died from his wounds, still propped against the side of the gun. Sergeant Major Dorrell had already taken over from Lt. Mundy who had been wounded, but now he took over command and with the dead and dying all around them, he and Sergeant Nelson kept firing until the last shot. They had, in true artillery style kept their blood stained, battered, gun firing to the end and they had managed to silence the German guns. The action went down in regimental history as "Dorrell’s Duel" for by a quarter to nine in the morning, the battle was over and the Germans had been given a distinct shock.

They had given 4th. Cavalry time to arrive on the scene, supported by I. Battery RHA and they were able to attack the Germans from the flank, capturing all but four of their guns.

Dorrell’s Victoria Cross, gazetted in November 1914, was one of the three awarded for L Battery’s historic stand at Nery, with one going to Sgt. Nelson and the other being a posthumous award to Capt. Bradbury. Before bringing what remained of his battery home to the UK, George Dorrell received a commission in the field, and later returned to France as battery commander of A. battery, 119th Brigade RFA in the 38th (Welsh) Division.

He left the Army in 1921 as a Lieutenant Colonel and served with the Home Guard during the 2nd. World War.

George Dorrell died at Stoke D’Abernon, Surrey on January 7th 1971, he was 90 years old. Although he had been long retired from the army, Lt. Col. Dorrell was accorded the honour that would have been given to a serving officer. He was given a regimental funeral with his coffin on a gun carriage escorted by King’s Troop RHA to the cemetery at Leatherhead and laid to rest as trumpeters played the Last Post. His last journey was, as he would have wished it, as an old horse-artilleryman.

Image credit: © Imperial War Museum (Q79792)