During the First World War, Corporal Francis Vercoe served with the 7th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery and fought at the Battle of the Ypres. In January 1916, Corporal Vercoe was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)
“for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty near Ypres on 29 December 1915, when, under heavy fire of high explosives and gas shells, he left his dug-out and went about 200 yards through a dense cloud of gas to a farm where another Battery was billeted and rendered first aid to several wounded men. While he was doing this a bursting shell blew him across the room in which he was working, but he coolly picked himself up and returned to his work.” (London Gazette 22 January 1916)
His exploits were also described in a letter dated January 2nd 1916, received by his mother from a comrade:“We were heavily shelled and gassed. He (Gunner Vercoe) rendered first aid to the wounded and then volunteered to go to the assistance of another battery about 200 yards away. We could hear the moans of the wounded and we knew they needed attention. Through a cloud of gas and bursting shell Gunner Vercoe proceeded on his errand of mercy. How ever he arrived is a mystery. The poor man he was dressing was killed by a shell which burst inside the barn and your son was blown out of the barn, badly bruised, burned and gassed. He did good work there and did not leave until all were attended to.”
A couple of months later he was awarded a Bar to his D.C.M.
“For conspicuous gallantry. He went out with his Officer under heavy shell fire and assisted in rescuing the Drivers of a wagon which had been hit by a shell. Drivers and horses being wounded. He and his Officer were then wounded by a shell, the latter very severely. Gunner Vercoe, wounded as he was, carried him back under heavy fire and refused to have his own wounds attended to till he had assisted to dress those of his Officer”. (London Gazette 30 March 1916)
Corporal Vercoe was killed by a shell in Belgium on 4 June 1917 whilst off duty and sitting reading outside his dug-out. He was only 28 years old and was buried at Underhill Farm Cemetery, Ploegsteert, Belgium. In a letter to his mother, his section officer, Lieutenant G. Cecil North declared: “I have never known a man more fearless, more keen and more devoted to duty. Nothing seemed to tire him; nothing discouraged him; nothing was ever too hard for him.”The Officer referred to in his D.C.M. and Bar citation and also depicted in “Deeds That Thrill the Empire” being carried back on Corporal Vercoe’s shoulders was Lieutenant Robert McDiarmid Murray, M.C. who was from Edinburgh. Sadly, he succumbed to his wounds on 25 February 1916 and died at the age of 22.
Corporal Vercoe was the second man from Hemel Hempstead to be awarded the D.C.M., Sergeant R (“Jack”) Evans, who worked for Kent’s Brushes, being the first.
The Dacorum Heritage Trust has recently purchased at auction three First World War medals, which were awarded to Corporal Francis Vercoe of Hemel Hempstead.The three medals are the 1914-15 Star Medal, the British War Medal 1914-18 and, most important, the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.), with a Dated Bar for a Second Award of gallantry. Only 80 Dated Bars were awarded in the First World War, five of these going to members of the Royal Artillery.
By the Dacorum Heritage Trust