1352 Sergeant Claud Castleton, VC
5th Australian Machine Gun Battalion, Australian Imperial Force
12th April 1893 – 29th July 1916
The 1st July 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, in which Claud fought at the Battle of Pozières, a two-week struggle for the French village of Pozières and the ridge on which it stands.
On 26th September 1916 Claud was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for most prestigious gallantry, for his actions at Pozières, on 29 July 1916. Claud was killed during a night attack on enemy trenches. The infantry was driven back and held down by intense enemy machine gun fire. On two occasions Claud went out in the face of German fire to bring in wounded men on his back. The third time he went out he was shot in the back.
Claud’s name is proudly preserved and celebrated on a Roll of Honour which is displayed in the academy’s entrance hall, and Claud’s body is buried in Pozières British Military Cemetery, France (IV L 43).
Claud Castleton was born on 12 April 1893 at 5 Morton Road, Kirkley, South Lowestoft. His father was Thomas Charles Castleton (1867–1944) a bricklayer/builder living at Carlton Colville, Lowestoft in 1881. His mother was Edith Lucy Castleton née Payne (1868–1923), born at Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. Thomas and Edith married on 4th September 1887 at Christ Church, Lowestoft, Suffolk. The family lived at 62 Whapload Road, Lowestoft, before moving to 5 Morton Road, Kirkley, South Lowestoft by 1891. They had moved to Rose Cottage (believed to be No. 18), Wilson Road, Kirkley by 1901. Thomas died at his home at 20 Rochester Road, South Lowestoft in 1944.
Claud had a twin brother, Frank William Castleton (1887–1952), who was a law clerk in 1911 and later Town Clerk of Folkestone, Kent. He married Lily Elizabeth Shanks (1886–1930) in 1919 at Depwade, Norfolk and they had a daughter, Dorothy Helen Elizabeth Castleton born in 1925. The family lived at 7 West View, Canterbury Road, Folkestone.
Claud attended Morton Road School in Kirkley prior to becoming a student at Lowestoft Municipal Secondary School where he studied from 1905 to 1910.
The following is an image of a slide kindly shared by Mr Chris Brooks. It shows an entry from Morton Road School log book.
Claud returned to Morton Road School as a student teacher from September 1910 – August 1911 and emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, in October 1912, where he worked on a sheep farm and also prospected for gold before moving to Tasmania. He traveled throughout Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland with the intention of working his way home via New Zealand, India and Africa. When war broke out,he was in Port Moresby, New Guinea (later Papua New Guinea). With another white man, he was in charge of a group of native troops on coastal defence duties. He also worked for a cable and wireless station before returning to Australia, where he enlisted in the AIF at Liverpool, Sydney on 11 March 1915. He was described as 5’ 7½” tall, of fair complexion, with blue eyes and brown hair. Claud embarked on HMAT A40 Ceramic at Sydney with 18th Battalion on 25 June, disembarking at Alexandria, Egypt and moving to Camp Heliopolis.
He was engaged in operations at Gallipoli from 16th August with D Company until reporting sick with dysentery at No 1 Australian Casualty Clearing Station on 15 September. He was taken by hospital ship to No 4 Auxiliary Hospital, Abbassia, Cairo, Egypt on 27th September and discharged at Helwan on 22nd October. Claud returned aboard HMT Royal George on 8 November, was promoted Corporal at Mudros on 7th December and returned to active service next day.
Following the evacuation of Gallipoli, Claud went to Alexandria from Mudros on 9th January 1916 and moved to Tel el Kebir. He reported sick with malaria and was admitted to 1 Australian Stationery Hospital on 27th January until discharged to duty at Ismailia on 16 February, appointed Temporary Sergeant on 20 February and was posted to 5th Australian Machine Gun Company on 8th March. He was promoted Sergeant on 16th March and embarked at Alexandria for Marseilles, France next day, arriving on 23rd March.
Claud Castleton was killed during a night attack on enemy trenches. The infantry was driven back and held down by intense enemy machine gun fire. On two occasions Claud went out in the face of German fire to bring in wounded men on his back. The third time he went out he was shot in the back. On 26th September 1916 Claud was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for most prestigious gallantry, for his actions at Pozières, on the night of 29th July.
His body was recovered from no man’s land and is buried in Pozières British Military Cemetery, France (IV L 43). In addition to the VC, he was also awarded the 1914–15 Star, British War Medal 1914–20 and Victory Medal 1914–19. Claud never married and the VC was presented to his father by the King at Buckingham Palace on 29th November 1916. It is held at the Hall of Valour, Australian War Memorial, Treloar Crescent, Campbell, Canberra, Australia.
Claud was named on one of eleven plaques honouring 175 men from overseas awarded the VC for the Great War. The plaques were unveiled by the Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities, Baroness Warsi, at a reception at Lancaster House, London on 26th June 2014 attended by the Duke of Kent and relatives of the VC recipients. The plaques were then sent to the recipients’ home countries to be displayed at prominent locations.
Claud is also commemorated in a number of places within Lowestoft:
Mr Paul Oldfield, historian and battlefield guide, made contact with Ormiston Denes Academy during early 2015, when he was researching for a book about the Somme VCs, to be published by Pen & Sword. The third in a nine-book series on Western Front VCs, the 500-page tome, entitled Victoria Crosses on the Western Front – Somme 1916, includes a comprehensive biography of Claud, and was published in 2016. Our grateful thanks go to Mr Oldfield for sharing some of his research with us.
On Sunday 24th July 2016 a commemorative paving stone was unveiled at Lowestoft’s Royal Plain by the war memorial, to commemorate the town’s war hero. Head Girl Nabila, along with Year 11 student Hubert, represented Ormiston Denes Academy and read a history of Claud’s life and details of his VC actions.
The Lowestoft Journal also covered the event.
Mr Kerry and Mr Dack visited Claud’s grave in Pozières British Cemetery on 29th July 2016, and laid a wreath on behalf of all at the academy in recognition of this extraordinary war hero and former student.
You can see Claud’s enlistment papers at the National Archives, here.
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