Life of Rushden VC hero celebrated in new book

Bernard Vann (front row centre) with the officers of 6th Sherwood
Bernard Vann (front row centre) with the officers of 6th Sherwood

The life of a Rushden-born fighting clergyman who won the Victoria Cross is to be celebrated in a new book.

Lieutenant Colonel Bernard William Vann was posthumously decorated after storming to victory with the 46th North Midland Division at the Battle of Bellenglise on September 29, 1918.

The Cambridge University Hockey Team 1910. Bernard is second from the right on the back row

The Cambridge University Hockey Team 1910. Bernard is second from the right on the back row

They breached the Hindenburg Line and captured 70 guns and 4,000 prisoners.

Charles Beresford, author of The Christian Soldier about Lt Col Vann’s life, said: “It was perhaps the greatest success of any territorial formation in the First World War, but tragically, Bernard was killed four days later.”

Vann spent seven of his most formative years with his four brothers at Higham Ferrers, where his father was the headmaster of the grammar school, Chichele College.

As a former amateur Northampton Town FC player, he scored five goals in three league matches in the 1906/1907 season.

Pte J. GRICE, Capt F.W. HIPKINS, Lieut Col. B.W. VANN M.C (later V.C.).  1/6 Sherwood Foresters.  All KIA 3rd October 1918

Pte J. GRICE, Capt F.W. HIPKINS, Lieut Col. B.W. VANN M.C (later V.C.). 1/6 Sherwood Foresters. All KIA 3rd October 1918

Vann was chaplain and assistant master at Wellingborough School when war began in August 1914.

The muscular sportsman, with a strong personality, would go on to become one of only three Anglican clergymen to command a battalion on the Western Front - the 6th Sherwood Foresters.

The only Church of England cleric to win the Victoria Cross as a combatant, Vann is thought to be the most decorated University of Cambridge soldier for gallantry in the Great War – having also been awarded the Military Cross, Bar and Croix de Guerre avec palme.

Mr Beresford, whose uncle Private Jack Marlow of the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment was killed at the Battle of Loos a few days short of his 17th birthday, said: “During my research, it became abundantly clear that it was not a case of Bernard swapping the Bible for the sword.

“As a fighting soldier, Bernard continued to attend to his clerical duties when he could – standing in for the chaplain at church parades, administering Holy Communion and reading the burial service on occasions in no man’s land when bodies could not be recovered.”

In 2006, Rushden Historical Society erected a blue plaque on the house where Vann was born and lived for the first 12 years of his life.

The Rushden branch of the British Legion managed to lobby successfully for a new residential development to include a Bernard Vann Close so his name would be perpetuated in the town.

Mr Beresford said: “I feel privileged to have helped the memory of Bernard Vann emerge out of the shadows and hope that the life and achievements of this fine soldier and Man of God will now be appreciated more widely by current and future generations.”

To read more about Lt Col Vann and the street named after him, click here

The Christian Soldier. The Life of Lt. Col. Bernard William Vann, V.C., M.C. and Bar, Croix de Guerre avec palme is available to buy from Amazon and www.helion.co.uk.