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    The Reverand Noel Mellish VC

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    "I Was There" was a series of about 50 magazines first published in the autumn of 1938, the 20th anniversary of the end of the Great War.

    Almost entirely dedicated to the British experience of the war, it published memoirs & accounts of ex-servicemens wartime experience - "Undying Memories of 1914 - 18".

    It was edited by J. A. Hammerton, as was "The Great War", a general history publication of about the same time.

    Hammerton had also edited the wartime "The War Illustrated", which was one of the most succesful British war magazines published during the Great War (another series of magazines bearing the same title was produced during the 2nd World War)

    Issue 23 of "I Was There", page 907 carried photographs of the Rev. Noel Mellish in a short "Then And Now" feature on three winners of the Victoria Cross, this photograph is the original used by the publication"

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    From the article "The Chaplain VC's of The First War", by Bob Coulson:

    Captain Mellish was the first member of the army chaplaincy to win the VC.

    Edward Noel Mellish was born on Christmas Eve 1880 at Oakleigh Park, Barnet, North London, the son of Edward and Mary Mellish.

    He was educated at Saffron Walden Grammar School and on completing his studies was to become a member of the Artists Rifles which stood him in good stead for the future as in 1900 aged 20 he went to South Africa and served with Baden-Powell's police against the Boers.

    One who served with him at this time described him as the bravest man he knew;

    "On one occasion his unit being surrounded by Boers there seemed little hope for them. Edward Mellish was given the task of summoning help. Somehow he got through but then with his duty done he returned to his comrades to tell them help was on the way and to assist with the defence until reinforcements arrived".

    After the war he returned to England for a while only to return to South Africa to take up a post in the diamond mines at Jagersfontein.

    During his time there he assisted at a local church and native mission where he would read the lessons and also minister to the sick and needy. He made a great impression on the local populace, one of whom was to remark;

    "It is such men as Mr Mellish who restore one's faith in mankind."

    Feeling that his work in Africa was over Edward Mellish returned to England to study at Kings College London taking holy orders in 1912 to become curate at St Pauls Church in Deptford. Here he did great work with the Church Lads Brigade taking over an old public house behind the Empire Music Hall and turning it into a boys club. The youngsters insisted on naming it after their curate and it became known as the Noel Club.

    When the war broke out Edward Mellish had no hesitation in offering his services to the chaplaincy and was to serve from May 1915 until February 1919.

    Tragedy was to befall him however when on September 25th of 1915 his brother 2nd Lieutenant Richard Coppin Mellish was killed in action whilst serving with the 1st Middlesex Regiment at the Battle of Loos.

    Early 1916 found the Reverend Mellish attached to the 4th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers who at that time were serving in the notorious Ypres Salient.

    The "Action of the St Eloi Craters" went on from late March until mid April 1916 but it was to be the first three days of this action that were to bring the award of the Victoria Cross to Edward Mellish.

    The object of this operation was to cut away a German salient that encroached on the British lines over a front of about six hundred yards.

    Tunnelling companies had prepared six mines which were blown in the early hours of March 27th. Following this at 4-15am the 4th Royal Fusiliers with the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers and some Canadian units went over the top to come up against withering rifle, machine gun and artillery fire from the Jaeger regiment manning the enemy trenches.

    Despite the opposition the attackers did manage to take the German first line trench but then had to consolidate, so weakened were they by the ferocity of the opposition.

    Artillery duels then commenced which went on for several days. Eventually the beleaguered British units were relieved, yet local attacks went on in the area until the middle of May.

    It was however the three day period of 27th - 29th March which would see the Reverend Mellish move into the annals of the Victoria Cross.

    On the first day he brought in ten badly wounded men from ground that was literally swept by enemy machine gun fire.

    By the second day the Royal Fusiliers had been relieved but undeterred out he went again to bring in twelve more men and on the evening of the third day he took charge of a party of volunteers who went out again to rescue any remaining wounded they could find.

    The following is a quote from a letter by an officer of the Northumberland Fusiliers who had witnessed these actions.

    "Nothing could be finer than the way Captain Mellish did his duty and more than his duty during the time he was near us. Immediately the troops captured the trenches and while the wounded were picking their way painfully back, the enemy's guns were turned on full blast and the intervening ground was deluged with shell and machine gun fire. Into this tempest of fire the brave Parson walked, a prayer book under his arm as though on church parade in peace time.

    He reached the first of the wounded and knelt down to do what he could for them. The first few he brought in himself without any aid and it made us think a bit more of parsons to see how he walked quietly under fire assisting the slow moving wounded and thinking more of saving them from discomfort than of his own safety.

    It was only during a lull in the fighting when the ambulance parties could get out that he finally took a rest.

    Next day he was out again unconcerned as ever. Some of the men would not have survived the ordeal had it not been for the prompt assistance rendered to them by Mr Mellish."

    Another story worth relating is that of a cockney soldier who was one of those brought in by the padre. This man was well known for his anti religious views yet when settled in a base hospital after the fighting enquired,

    "What religion is 'e".? When told he replied,

    "Well I'm the same as 'im now and the bloke as sez a word agen our church will 'ave 'is ****** 'ead bashed in.

    His Victoria Cross was gazetted on April 20th 1916 and he returned to London for the presentation of his award by the King on June 12th 1916 at Buckingham Palace.

    The Reverend Mellish continued to minister to the troops' needs until the war's end in November of 1918 and just three weeks after this he married Miss Elizabeth Wallace on December 3rd at his home church of St Pauls in Deptford.

    Finally leaving the Army Chaplains Department in February of 1919 Edward Mellish with his wife took over as vicar of St Marks church in Lewisham.

    The post war years saw him continue with his ministry although he did take time to attend the afternoon party given by the King for recipients of the VC held at Buckingham Palace on June 26th 1920. He was also present at the VC reunion dinner given by the Prince of Wales on November 9th 1929 at the House of Lords.

    During WW2 although by now in his 60's Edward Mellish saw service again as an air raid warden.

    On June 26th 1956 he was received by HM the Queen at the review of VC holders held in Hyde Park.

    His final years were spent in quiet retirement in Somerset where he passed away on July 8th 1962 in the village of South Petherton at the age of 82.

    His funeral service was held at Weymouth Crematorium.

    The Victoria Cross of this remarkable man can be seen today at the Royal Fusiliers Museum in the Tower of London.

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