Sergeant 5190 Harry Cator
Harry Cator was born at Drayton near Norwich, on 24th January 1894 and educated at Drayton School. He was married to Rose Alice Morris on 2nd September 1914 and enlisted the following day, landing in France on 23rd June 1915 with the 7th Battalion East Surrey Regiment.
During the Somme Offensive, he was awarded the Military Medal for bringing back 36 wounded men from no-mans land.
During the advance of the 12th (Eastern) Division the capture of an egg shaped position north of the village of Tilloy-les-Mofflaines on 9th April 1917 Harry’s platoon suffered heavy casualties from a machine-gun.
The war diary for the battalion noted,
‘6.23 a.m. the F.O.O. reported Black Line, 6th Trench to be captured. H.Qrs. then moved to the report centre in the tunnel and there found a message from Capt. Roberts stating that the 4th line had been captured and later that the Black Line, 6th German Trench had been taken. At 8 a.m. H.Qtrs. consisting of the Colonel, Capt. Anns, and Lieut. Ward moved up to O.G.3 and found that the 3rd wave was consolidating in shell holes in front of the Black Line and that all the the attacking battalions had slightly lost direction and had drifted to the right, this was adjusted. Enemy machine guns were firing from the Blue Line as well as enemy snipers ad the West Kents were pressing over the captured line.’
The rest of the account is taken up below from the war diary,
As noted Harry took on the gun team and he was awarded the Victoria Cross in the subsequent action and his citation stated,
‘For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. Whilst consolidating the first line captured system his platoon suffered severe casualties from hostile machine gun and rifle fire. In full view of the enemy and under heavy fire Sjt. Cator with one man advanced across the open to attack the hostile machine gun. The man accompanying him was killed after going a short distance, but Sjt. Cator continued on, .and picking up a Lewis gun and some drums on his way, succeeded in reaching the northern end of the hostile trench. Meanwhile, one of our bombing parties was seen to be held up by a machine gun. Sjt. Cator took up a position from which he sighted this gun and killed the entire team and the officer, whose papers he brought in. He continued to hold that end of the trench with the Lewis gun with such effect that the bombing squad was enabled to work along, the result being that 100 prisoners and five machine guns were captured.’
London Gazette 8 June 1917
He was wounded on 12th April 1917, where his jaw was broken by shrapnel, and it was after he recovered from his wounds that the award of the V.C. as well as the French Croix de Guerre. He was awarded the in France on 14th July 1917 and his Victoria Cross was presented by King George V outside Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1917.
‘On 30th March, 1918 Harry Cator was given a hero’s welcome at Drayton and he and his wife Rose were drawn through the village on a wagon pulled by local men. Railway engines blasted signals and children waved Union Jacks. Celebrations were centred round the village green where he was presented with a watch and chain, engraved “From his friends at Drayton.”‘
In the Second World War he was commissioned, becoming a Temporary Captain in the 6th Norfolk Battalion Home Guard, and was at one time the Commandant of a POW camp near Cranwich near Mundford.
Harry Cator is Norfolk’s most decorated other rank of the First World War and in very much the same light as Harry Patch is quoted as saying,
‘Real soldiers curse all war and war makers. I have seen men driven mad in the trenches. They gave me a decoration. In that hell a soldier may as easily do one thing as another.’
Harry died at Norwich on 7th April 1966 and is buried at Sprowston Churchyard.