b. 27/01/1895 Greenwich, London. d. 29/08/1918 Fremicourt, France.
Cecil Harold Sewell (1895-1918) was born on 27th January 1895 at 26 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London. His parents were Harry Bolton Sewell and his wife, Mary Ann. Cecil’s father was a clerk when he met Mary Ann and later became a Barrister BA LL.B (Cantab) and Coroner for West Kent. Cecil had four elder brothers, Harry Kemp, Frank Hersey, Herbert Victor and Leonard Ralph. He also had four sisters in Mary Beatrice, Emily Kate, Ethel Maud and Victoria Ruth. Sadly, three of the brothers including Cecil would not survive the Great War.
Cecil and his brother Leonard were both educated at John Roan's School, Greenwich and Dulwich College. Cecil Harold left Dulwich College in July 1912. He studied Law at London University and was articled to his father. In November 1914 he enlisted into the 21st (4th Public Schools Battalion) Royal Fusiliers, Machine Gun Section, and left for France in November 1915. He applied for a Commission and was posted to No 1 Officer Cadet Battalion at Newton Ferrers, Devon in March 1916. Having been Commissioned in August he returned to France to join the 1st Royal West Kent in September 1916 and was transferred to C Battalion Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps (forerunners of the Tank Corps) in December.
In 1918 he was a Lieutenant in the 3rd (Light) Battalion, in command of a section of four “Whippet” light tanks. On 29th August, near Bapaume, France, during the last “Big Push” which eventually led to the Armistice, Lieutenant Sewell’s section was advancing towards the German lines in support of New Zealand troops. The official V.C. citation in the London Gazette of 29th October 1918 takes up the story. “When in command of a section of Whippet light tanks in action this officer displayed most conspicuous bravery and initiative in getting out of his own tank and crossing open ground under heavy shell and machine-gun fire to rescue the crew of another Whippet of his section which had side slipped into a large shell-hole, overturned and taken fire.” The tank’s door had become jammed against the side of the shell hole so Cecil Sewell dug away the earth so that the door could be opened and the crew was able to escape.
Seeing one of his own crew lying wounded behind his tank, he again dashed across open ground to his assistance. He was hit in doing so, but succeeded in reaching the tank when a few minutes later he was again hit, fatally, in the act of dressing his wounded driver. During the whole of this period he was within full view and short range of the enemy machine guns and rifle-pits, and throughout, by his prompt and heroic action, showed an utter disregard for his own personal safety.
He was buried where he fell, but in 1920 he was re-interred at Vaulx Hill Cemetery, France. His parents were presented with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 13th December 1918. His other medals were the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. Cecil Harold’s VC and medals were donated by his sisters Ethel Maud and Victoria Ruth Annis to the Royal Tank Regiment and are currently on display at the Royal Tank Regiment Museum at Bovington, Dorset. They are on display with the actual tank in which he went into action.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: BOVINGTON TANK MUSEUM, BOVINGTON, DORSET.
BURIAL PLACE: VAULX HILL CEMETERY, VAULX-VRAUCOURT, FRANCE.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT I, ROW D, GRAVE 3.
The reverse of Sewell's VC courtesy of The Tank Museum.
Caesar II Tank of Cecil Sewell VC on display at The Royal Tank Regiment, Bovington, Dorset
John Roan School in Greenwich Memorial
(Picture courtesy of Marian Darragh)
Royal Tank Regiment (Thomas Stewart)
Johnson Beharry VC present at the VC Stone in Greenwich Park