b. 24/01/1894 Drayton, Norfolk. d. 07/04/1966 Norwich, Norfolk.
Harry Cator (1894-1966) was born at Drayton, near Norwich, Norfolk on 24th January 1894. His father, Robert, a railway platelayer of Caston, Norfolk. His mother, Laura nee Shinn, a general servant, married Robert on 2nd April 1893 at St Nicholas, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Harry had a brother, Arthur, born in 1898.
Harry was educated at Drayton School, Norwich and was also a keen boy scout. He was employed by the Midland and Great Northern Junior Railway as a porter at Thursford Station near Fakenham and at Beach Station, Great Yarmouth. Later he worked for Chateau and Company in Great Yarmouth. Harry married his cousin, Rose Alice nee Morriss on 2nd September 1914 at the parish church of St Nicholas in Great Yarmouth (where his parents married). They would have a son, Harry, born in 1922. Harry enlisted on 3rd September 1914, the day after his wedding, apparently promising his wife he would do his best to earn a Victoria Cross. He went to France after training on 23rd June 1915 and was promoted to Sergeant in July. He was awarded the Military Medal for rescuing thirty-six wounded men from German barbed wire at Ovillers on the Somme on 3rd July 1916 while the Battalion was clearing the dead from the failed 37th Brigade attack.
Just under a year later, Harry would achieve his “promise” to his wife, and earn a VC for his actions on 9th April 1917 at Hangest Trench, near Arras. Sergeant Cator's platoon had suffered heavy casualties from a hostile machine-gun. Under heavy fire the sergeant, with one man, advanced across the open to attack the gun and when his companion was killed, he went on alone. Picking up a Lewis gun and some ammunition drums on his way, he succeeded in reaching the enemy trench and sighting another hostile machine-gun, he killed the entire team and the officer. He held the end of the trench with such effect that a bombing squad were able to capture 100 prisoners and five machine-guns.
Three days later, both his jaws were broken by shell fragments and he was evacuated to Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol, where he underwent several operations. Some fragments were still embedded in his shoulder for the remainder of his life. Harry was offered a commission, but politely declined. The VC was presented to him by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1917. He was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his actions at Arras. He was discharged from the Army in January 1919, and was a member of the VC Guard at the interment of the Unknown Warrior on 11th November 1920.
He set up a shoe repair business and worked for the Post Office in Norwich from February 1929. He may also have worked for the RAF on clerical duties and later was a clerical officer with the National Assistance Board, which was established in 1948. On 12th April 1927, he had become a Freemason, being initiated into the Wanderers Lodge in London. He was passed to the Second Degree on 11th October and was Raised on 8th November. On 6th May 1929, he became a Joining Member of the Naval and Military Lodge, meeting in Norwich, and served as Worshipful Master in 1944. He was appointed Provincial Grand Sword Bearer for the Province of Norfolk in 1949. He was also a prominent member of the British Legion and the Old Comrades’ Association.
In World War II, he was commissioned on the General List of the Army Emergency Reserve on 3rd October 1942. He was promoted to Lieutenant and Temporary Captain to be Quartermaster of Denton Transit Camp at Newhaven and then Commandant of the POW Camp near Cranwich, Norfolk. He treated the POWs well and spent holidays with some of them in Germany after the war. He transferred to the Territorial Army Royal Artillery as a Lieutenant in December 1947, before promotion to Captain in 1948 and continued to serve in 284th (1st East Anglican) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery TA until he retired in January 1951.
Harry died at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on 7th April 1966 and is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s and St Margaret’s Church, Sprowston, Norfolk. In addition to his VC and MM, he was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and the French Croix de Guerre. The medals were sold by Spink’s at the Cavendish Hotel, London on 6th June 1985 for £10,500. They were sold again by Spink’s in 1996 for £28,500 to Michael Ashcroft, and are held in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: SPROWSTON CEMETERY, NORWICH, NORFOLK.
Harry Cator's medals including VC and MM on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (August 2014).
All Saints Church, Kingston upon Thames
War Illustrated, 30th June 1917
Woolwich Barracks (Terry Hissey)
Cator's stone unveiling on 9th April 2017 in Drayton
(courtesy of Barry Moore)
Freemasons Memorial, London (Brian Drummond)