John William Sayer VC

Lance Corporal John William Sayer VC 8th Battalion The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment) (Wiki Image)

Lance Corporal John William Sayer VC
8th Battalion The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment)
(Wiki Image)

Le Verguier, France: Action of 21 March 1918

For most conspicuous bravery, determination and ability displayed on the 21st March, 1918, at Le Verguier, when holding for two hours, in face of incessant attacks, the flank of a small isolated post. Owing to mist the enemy approached the post from both sides to within 30 yards before being discovered. Lance-Corporal Sayer, however, on his own initiative and without assistance, beat off a succession of flank attacks and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Though attacked by rifle and machine-gun fire, bayonet and bombs, he repulsed all attacks, killing many and wounding others. During the whole time he was continuously exposed to rifle and machine-gun fire, but he showed the utmost contempt of danger and his conduct was an inspiration to all. His skilfull use of fire of all descriptions enabled the post to hold out till nearly all the garrison had been killed and himself wounded and captured. He subsequently died as a result of wounds at Le Cateau [18 April 1918].

A day before arriving at Le Cateau Cemetery we wandered through Ulster Tower, the nearby battlefield park, and afterwards Lochnagar Crater filled around its perimeter and at its cross with poppy commemorations. These are not unvisited lands…they…(we)…come here often, students, pilgrims, researchers, family, the interested. (we are all of these). This was one day when we also visited the German Great War Cemetery at Fricourt (17,000 burials) finding crosses and tablets with stones set upon the markers of German Jewish veterans…Wolff, Müller. Weissmann, and Zürndorfer…there may well be others here amongst fellow German non-Jewish veterans Hees, Hillug, Theile. Schaible and Baur. Leaving here we turn to a lasting memory of the Devonshire Cemetery…The Devonshires Held This Trench. The Devonshires Hold It Still…Our day maintained its forward movement…to several sites until time to rest at Auchonvillers in the Avril Williams Guesthouse and Tea Rooms.

Fed and watered and well rested…our new day brought us to Le Cateau…as we drove along the sunken road the lone tree at Le Cateau came into view…the site of the 1914 rearguard action. Here was 1914…the Old Contemptibles of the British Expeditionary Force…the 26 August 1914 2nd Battalion Suffolk Regiment Memorial…Le Cateau German Military Cemetery (over 5,000 burials) and alongside – the Commonwealth burials numbering nearly 700 graves. It is here against the wall, with tall, green leaves and stalks with golden tassels and silk behind the perimeter that John William Sayer VC is buried. Sayer’s actions were made on the first day of the German spring offensive, the Kaiserschlacht, 21 March 1918. Sayer was wounded, captured and died of wounds near a month later…18 April 1918…these are not unvisited lands.

Sayer marker at La Cateau Military Cemetery, France. (P. Ferguson image, September 2006)

Sayer marker at La Cateau Military Cemetery, France. Age 39
(P. Ferguson image, September 2006)

Helpful Link
The Queen’s Royal West Surreys

The lone tree of Le Cateau. Taken within the car on the sunken road. (P. Ferguson image, September, 2006)

The lone tree of Le Cateau. Taken within the car on the sunken road.
(P. Ferguson image, September, 2006)

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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