Lieutenant Colonel DUDLEY G. JOHNSON VC DSO MC

2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment

Sambre Canal - 4th November 1918


Lt-Col D.G.Johnson VC DSO MC (left) and his runner in the Sambre operations, Sgt E.J.Brown DCM MM, Croix de Guerre, 1919  (©WSRO)

Citation from the London Gazette, January 6, 1919

"Lieutenant-Colonel Dudley Johnson D.S.O., M.C., South Wales Borderers, attached 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex, for most conspicuous bravery and leadership during the forcing of the Sambre Canal on November 4th, 1918. The 2nd Infantry Brigade, of which 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex formed part, was ordered to cross the lock south of Catellon. The position was strong and before the bridge could be thrown, a steep bank leading up to the lock and a waterway about 100 yards short of the canal had to be crossed. The assaulting platoons and bridging parties Royal Engineers, on their arrival at the waterway were thrown into confusion by a heavy barrage and machine gun fire and heavy casualties were caused. At this moment Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson arrived and realising the situation at once collected men to man the bridges and assist the Royal Engineers and personally led the assault. In spite of his efforts heavy fire again broke up the assaulting and bridging parties. Without any hesitation he again organised the platoons and bridging parties and led them at the lock, this time succeeding in effecting a crossing after which all went well. During all this time Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson was under heavy fire, which, though it nearly decimated the assaulting columns, left him untouched. His conduct was a fine example of great valour, coolness and intrepidity, which, added to his splendid leadership and offensive spirit that he had inspired in his Battalion, were entirely responsible for the successful crossing."

Dudley Graham Johnson was a regular army officer, born at Bourton on the Water, Gloucestershire, on 13th February 1884. he joined the South Wales Borderers, and served with them in France, being awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, and Military Cross. He transferred to the Royal Sussex, and was commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion from March 1918 - April 1919. He continued to serve after the Great War, finally achieving the rank of Major General and was awarded a CB. He died at Church Crookham in Hampshire on 21st December 1975, and was buried there. His VC is held at the regimental museum of the South Wales Borderers, at Brecon in Powys, who often claim this award!

On 4th November 1918 the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex were participating in the Battle of the Sambre - Oise Canal. Their objective was to cross an area of fields, bordered with high hedges, and then cross the canal at a point where their was a Lock House. The Germans defended this position with machine-guns, and several rifle teams. The 2nd Bn advanced on the canal, with the advance elements commanded by Dudley Johnson reaching the canal. The Royal Engineers attached to them placed small foot bridges across the lock, while some Royal Sussex Regiment men actually climbed up onto the lock gates - one firing a Lewis Gun from the hip as he went! Johnson and his men cross the lock, took the Lock House and pushed on to their final objectives near the Etreux road.

This was the last Royal Sussex VC of the Great War.

Today the lock, Lock House and area around the canal are very much as they were in 1918. In the mid-1990s two 2nd Bn veterans placed a small memorial on this site, commemorating the action and their former commanding officer, Lt Col D.G.Johnson VC DSO MC.


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