1902, Vlakfontein

MARTIN-LEAKE, ARTHUR, Surgeon Captain. Arthur Martin-Leake, fifth son of Stephen Martin-Leake, of Thorpe Hall, Essex, and Marshalls, Ware, Herts, was born at Marshalls, on 4 April, 1874. He was educated at Westminster School, and University College, London, and qualified for the Medical Profession in 1898. When the South African War of 1899-1902 broke out he had recently been given charge of the District Hospital at Hemel Hempstead. As soon as it was settled to form the Imperial Yeomanry for service in South Africa he left the hospital and joined the Hertfordshire Company as a Trooper. Leake remained with this Company during its year's service in South Africa, taking part in several important engagements, notably Princeloo's surrender and the relief of Hoar's laager. When the Company went home he remained in South Africa, and was employed with the Army as a civil surgeon. Later, when the South African Constabulary was formed by General Baden-Powell, he joined that force in the rank of Surgeon Captain, and served with it until he was invalided home on account of wounds. The following account of the action during which Surgeon Captain Martin-Leake won his first VC is taken in an abbreviated form from a report by the Inspector General, South African Constabulary. On the 8th February 1902, a line of posts held by the C Division, South African Constabulary, near Van Tenders Hoek, in the Transvaal, was to be moved forward, as a force of Boers was known to be at that place. At 3.30 am a reconnoitring party, consisting of 130 mounted men, under Captain Capell, moved out and took up a position over­looking Van Tenders Hoek. At daybreak Captain Capell found himself within 400 yards of the Boer laager, and opened a heavy fire on it. The Boers were in strong force, replied by a determined attack on his front and left flank, and succeeded in rushing that flank, having come close up under cover of a donga in superior numbers. Captain Capell withdrew a portion of his centre to a second position, whence he was able to cover the retirement of his left flank. Seeing that he was largely outnumbered by the enemy, he endeavoured to withdraw his extreme right flank, which, under Lieutenant Swinburne, was holding a strong position, but the orderly conveying the message was shot while on his way, so that it never reached Lieutenant Swinburne, and consequently he did not leave his post. The Boers attacked him in a determined way, but he drove them off with loss. They then sent him a message advising him to surrender, otherwise they would give him no quarter; this he declined, and held his post the whole day, up to night­fall, and then withdrew his party safely in the dark. Captain Capell, meanwhile, being pressed by overwhelming numbers of Boers, withdrew the remainder of his force with great skill and coolness, and retired, contesting the ground, back to his line of block-houses, some seven miles distant. Captain Capell says, in his report: "I cannot speak too highly of every officer and man, the latter being cool and splendid while in the firing line. Cases of gallantry were numerous; Captain Leake, Medical Officer, was wounded in three places while attending Lieutenant Abraham under murderous fire; Sergeant Hoffe and 2nd Class Trooper Marks distinguished themselves by their good work with Lieutenant Swinburne; Corporal Reeves, No 4 Troop, during the retirement rode back under heavy fire, picking up a man whose horse had been shot, and was riding away with him when his own horse was shot dead; he and the other man were captured, resisting to the end; Hospital Orderly Odell, No 5 Troop, did good service in carrying a message to Lieutenant Swinburne while under fire. Our losses were heavy, viz: 2 officers and 6 men killed; 1 officer and 10 men wounded; 24 horses killed and missing. The Boers admit they were 800 strong, and had 12 casualties. I deeply regret the loss that the Corps has sustained in the death of Lieutenant D O P Abraham, Lieutenant A C Blackett, Sergeant G Robinson, 1st Class Trooper M H Hutchins, Trooper McLarity, Trooper A E Scott, Trooper C Morton, Trooper A Pearl. But by their gallant self-sacrifice they have added another honour to the many which the South African Constabulary has gained for itself. I am highly pleased with the gallant and steady conduct of all ranks in this particularly trying engagement, especially as a large number of them were under fire for the first time, and I congratulate them all upon their very complete vindication of their action. The gallant conduct of Leake in tending wounded under murderous fire, and that of Corporal Reeves, in going back under heavy fire to rescue a comrade, will be the subject of special report to the Commander-in-Chief". Surgeon-Captain A M Leake's name appeared in the War Office list of Casualties of 12 February' 1902, as "Severely wounded, right arm and left thigh". His wounds necessitated his return to England, where his right arm was very successfully operated on by Sir Victor Horsley. On 13 May, 1902, the following notice appeared in the London Gazette: "The King has been graciously pleased to signify His intention to confer the Decoration of the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned officer, whose claims have been submitted for His Majesty's approval, for his conspicuous bravery in South Africa, as stated against his name: Arthur Martin-Leake, Surgeon-Captain, South African Constabulary. For great devotion to duty and self-sacrifice at Vlakfontein, 8 February 1902, when he went out into the firing-line to dress a wounded man under very heavy fire from about forty Boers only 100 yards off. When he had done all he could for him, he went over to a badly wounded officer, and while trying to place him in a more comfortable position he was shot three times. He only gave up when thoroughly exhausted, and then he refused water until other wounded men had been served". The Victoria Cross was presented to Surgeon-Captain Leake by King Edward VII at St James's Palace on 2 June, 1902. As soon as he was able to do so he resumed his professional studies, and having passed the necessary examination, was admitted a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in June 1903. In the autumn of 1903 he went to India to take up an appointment as Administrative Medical Officer of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway—an appointment which was eminently suited to his taste for all descriptions of sport and his devotion to his profession. With his headquarters at Calcutta and the facilities of a railway extending through the Central Provinces from east to west almost across India, he is able to employ much of his spare time in big game shooting, and has collected many fine trophies; as the Chief Medical Officer of the line he has under his charge a fine hospital and unlimited practice in surgery; the railway personnel provides two battalions of Infantry Volunteers, of which he is the Medical Officer. The Balkan War of 1912-13 commenced on the 8th October 1912, by Montenegro declaring war on Turkey, Leake was then at home on leave from India. The formation by the British Red Cross Society of a unit for service with the Moutenegran Army afforded him another opportunity for seeing active service. He managed to see a great deal of the fighting, which took place round Scutari and Tarabosh Mountain, and was awarded the Montenegran Red Cross decoration by King Nicholas. On the morning of 5 August 1914, the declaration of war against Germany was known in Calcutta. Leake obtained leave of absence from his railway duties, and by good fortune found a companion—Captain Benson, ADC to the Viceroy—who was also anxious to be in time to break a lance with the Hun. They left Calcutta together on the following afternoon, and, after a few days' delay in Bombay, caused by the report that a German cruiser was in the vicinity, sailed for Europe in the P & O SS Caledonia on 22 August 1914. As this ship was not to call at Marseilles, they landed at Malta. The question of a passage onward to Marseilles proved a difficult one. The French fleet was at Malta, and the Admiral promised to take them, but, unfortunately, just then the Fleet was ordered to the Adriatic. The authorities at Malta began to think that the procedure was irregular, and threatened shipment to England; but fortune smiled again, and an agreement with the Captain of the SS Queen Eugenie, bound for Marseilles with a cargo of wheat, solved the problem. The journey came to an end at the Hotel Bristol, Paris, on 30 August 1914. This informal method of joining the Army must have taken the authorities rather by surprise; it was, however, the most critical period of the war, and not the time to make difficulties; Leake was appointed to the 5th Field Ambulance, 2nd Division, with the rank of Lieutenant. By the time he joined his unit the Germans were in full retreat from the Marne to the position which they subsequently held on the Aisne plateau. Then followed the extension north­ward of the French left flank, and the move of the British Army into Belgium to cover the Channel Ports. The German advance in that direction was stopped by the first battle of Ypres, which continued from 19 October 1914 to 17 November 1914. It was during this battle that Leake won the bar to his VC. He was mentioned by Sir John French in his Despatch of the 14th January 1915; and the London Gazette of 18 February 1915, contained the following notice: "His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned officers and men for conspicuous acts of bravery and devotion to duty whilst serving with the Expeditionary Force: Clasp to the Victoria Cross. - Lieutenant Arthur Martin-Leake, Royal Army Medical Corps, who was awarded the Victoria Cross on 13 May, 1902, is granted a clasp for conspicuous bravery in the present campaign. For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty throughout the campaign, especially during the period 29 October to 8 November 1914, near Zonnebeke, in rescuing, whilst exposed to constant fire, a large number of the wounded who were lying close to the enemy's trenches". The clasp was presented by His Majesty the King to Lieutenant Martin-Leake at Windsor Castle on 24 July, 1915. He continued to serve with the Expeditionary Force, and was promoted Captain on 5 March, and Major on 27 November 1915. Owing to his previous experience in the Balkans, he was selected to accompany the Adriatic Mission which was being despatched to assist the Serbians, then hard pressed by the Austrian invasion of their country, with supplies and medical assistance. The Mission left towards the end of November, but owing to the rapidity of the Serbian retreat was not able to be of much assistance. After spending some time in Italy and visiting Corfu, where numbers of refugees and sick and wounded were collected, Leake came home on 6 March 1916, and returned to France on 20 March, 1917. On 3 April 1917, he was given command of a Field Ambulance, and promoted to the temporary rank of Lieutenant Colonel; and subsequently he commanded a Casualty Clearing Station with the 1st Army. He was mentioned by Sir Douglas Haig in his Despatch of 7 May 1918. At the termination of his contract in September 1918, Leake left the Service, and, after a short period of leave in England, returned to his appointment with the Bengal-Nagpur Railway. The British Medical Association at a meeting in June, 1915, awarded to him the Gold Medal of the Institution.

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