Victoria Cross awarded to Corporal Alfred Alexander Burt
Corporal Burt was the first member of the Hertfordshire Regiment to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the Battle of Loos.
Alfred Burt was a gas fitter for the Hertford Gas Company and lived in Nelson Street, Hertford. Prior to the war, Alfred joined the Hertfordshire Regiment as a part time Territorial Force soldier in 1911.
Alfred was with the first arrivals from the Herts Regiment landing in Le Havre in November 1914 and saw action at the Battle of Festubert in May the following year. The Battle of Loos, the largest British battle that took place in 1915 on the Western Front, began on 25th September following a four day artillery bombardment in which 250,000 shells were fired, and was called off in failure on 28th September. It was the first time the British used poisonous chlorine gas, which backfired when the wind changed. Many British soldiers, unable to see through their fogged up gas masks had removed them. Alfred was one of many surviving soldiers to suffer chronic health problems caused by inhaling the deadly gas.
The British battle was part of the attempt by the Allies to break through the German defences in Artois and Champagne. The Franco-British attacks were contained by the Germans, and the British forces sustained nearly 50,000 casualties.
On the 27th September Alfred’s battalion were lined up waiting to go over the top, near Cuinchy, when their section of the line came under heavy fire, forcing greater numbers of men into the already crowded trench. They were hit by a German Trench Mortar barrage and a Minenwerfer shell landed in the trench. Alfred immediately ran to it, put his foot on the fuse and wrenched it out before it could explode, saving the lives of over 20 of his comrades. He was rewarded by being the first man of the Hertfordshire Regiment to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
Alfred was honoured by the town of Hertford on Easter Monday 1916 when he was formerly presented with a gold watch and chain, illuminated address and a voucher for £100. The children of Cowper County Council School also made a collection and gave him an inscribed silver cigarette case. Over 3000 people gathered in the grounds of Hertford Castle to witness the presentation. Alfred told those assembled “I only did what many other British soldiers have done, but I was very fortunate to be recognised”.
Following the war, Alfred became a publican. His health prevented him from taking part in the Second World War and he died in 1962 at the age of 67.