How Stanley Harley won his DCM in 1917

On being honoured by Brierley Hill District Council in September 1917, Lance Corporal Stanley Harley modestly accepted a gift of a watch.  He didn’t give a full story of his achievements though – this would have been a breech of duty given the secretive nature of war.

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Following the war a book “The Worcestershire Regiment in The Great War” by H. Fitm. Stacke was published. The volume is available to view in the reference library in Stourbridge. It gives details of the “Action of Bouchavesnes” on 4th March 1917 where Harley won his medal.

As dawn broke (5.30 a.m.) on March 4th the British artillery opened a barrage fire. The opening crash of the bombardment served as signal (This was a variant on the usual method of synchronised watches) to the battalions detailed for the attack, and all along the front of the British trenches troops swarmed out and poured forward in a series of waves. The 1st Worcestershire were in the centre of the attacking line, with the 2nd Northamptonshire on the left. The right flank of the Worcestershire was on the road from Bouchavesnes to Moislains; south of the road the 2nd Royal Berkshire continued the front of attack.

The attack was immediately successful.

The German front line,”Pallas Trench,” was easily overrun and the attackers swept onward to their further objective, “Fritz Trench,” the German second line.

Led by Captain N. H. Stone, Lieutenant R. A. O’Donovan and 2/Lieut. J. A. Smithin the Worcestershire platoons charged “Fritz Trench.” These three officers were awarded the M.C.

There was a short but desperate struggle. The enemy resisted to the last, but the attackers were not to be denied.

For a few minutes a German machine-gun held up the onslaught, but the gun was rushed and captured by a party headed by Sergeant T. Guest. Sergeant Guest was awarded the D.C.M. for his actions.

Within a quarter of an hour from the start “Fritz Trench” had been secured.

In many places the trench had been so battered as to be unrecognisable; the attackers passed over it and pushed on down the slope to “Bremen Trench,” the enemy’s third line.

There they bombed dugouts and roped in prisoners until it was realised that our own shells were falling closely around. Recognising from this that they had gone too far, those foremost of the victors fell back and rejoined the main body of the Battalion, who were busily working to prepare the captured positions for defence, under the personal direction of Colonel Grogan.

The Colonel was everywhere, controlling the dispositions and the entrenchment, inspiring all by his own cheerfulness and courage. Colonel Grogan was awarded the D.S.O. for his gallant leadership.

From “Fritz Trench” good observation could be obtained over the whole of the Moislains Valley. The captured position was in fact very important, and the whole weight of the enemy’s artillery and infantry was at once thrown in to regain it.

The work of consolidation was continued under an ever increasing bombardment from all directions, and soon the enemy commenced a series of violent counter-attacks. Most of those counter-attacks were made against the flanking Battalions and a fierce bombing struggle raged all the morning around “Fritz Cut,” immediately to the left of the Worcestershire line; but presently the enemy began to dash forward in increasing numbers up the open slopes.

The Worcestershire platoons opened a hot fire. Lance-Corporal F. H. S. Harley, in particular, did notable execution with his Lewis-gun, and the remnant of the attacking enemy were driven to cover. L/Cpl. Harley was awarded the D.C.M.

All day the enemy’s shells beat against their lost trenches, but by nightfall “Fritz Trench” was securely in our hands and the firing died away.

Later the 2nd West Yorkshire came up to take over the captured ground, and the 1st Worcestershire, weary but triumphant, tramped back to “Asquith Flats.”

The casualties, nearly all due to the enemy’s shell-fire, had been very heavy—over 200, including ten officers. Killed, 6 officers (Capt. R. P. Birtles, Lieut. R. M. Ross, 2/Lts. W. E. Deakin, F. M. Marrs, A. P. Rosling and W. Ward) and 44 men. Wounded 4 officers and 358 other ranks. Missing 11.

Further details can be found at


Stanley Harley – the man on top of Brierley Hill War Memorial – a town honours its hero


Following the end of World War One residents in Brierley Hill wished to erect a war memorial. A design was chosen and the ex-servicemen’s association was asked who should model for photographs from which the sculpture was designed.

They chose Stanley Harvey, the first Brierley Hill man to win the Distinguished Conduct Medal in the war.

The London Gazette, 11th May 1917, announced Harley’s award.  Its citation read:

“16370 Pte, (acting L./Cpl.) F.H.S. Harley, Worcs. R.

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.  He opened fire with his machine gun at a critical time and defeated all enemy attempts to counter attach.  Later, he carried two machine guns out of action through a heavy hostile barrage.”

As the first local man to win such a high military honour the town was greatly excited.  The local newspaper wrote:

Brierley Hill DCM

Amongst those mentioned in last Friday’s “London Gazette” as having been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal is Lt Cpl F.H. Stanley Harley, Worcestershire Regiment, son of Mrs Murray,  and stepson of Mr Charles Murray, 9, Hill Street, Brierley Hill. we understand the act of gallantry which gained Lance Cpl Harley the honour occurred in our attack on March 12 last. He was in charge of two guns. Upon the battalion reaching their objective all his team were wounded, and he was left alone; but though under very heavy German shellfire, he succeeded in bringing the guns safely through. The lance Cpl is an old boy of Bent Street Council Schools. He enlisted on September 2, 1914, when only 16 years of age, and will not be 19 until next July. He expects to come home shortly, and we understand arrangements are being made to publicly recognise the honour he has brought to his native town.  Before joining the colours he was employed at the Earl of Dudley’s Round Oak Works.

County Express 19 May 1917

Lance Corporal Harley returned on leave to Brierley Hill in September 1917.  The town council, meeting in the old Technical Institute building on Moor Street, honoured him with a presentation:

“A Hero Indeed.”

Brierley Hill DC medallist

Publicly Honoured by District Council

L-Cpl Stanley Harley, son of Mrs Murray, and stepson of Mr Charles Murray, of Hill Street, Brierley Hill, was the first Brierley Hill man to receive the DCM decoration. 
He arrived home last weekend on a 10 days leave, and as the time was too short to enable the town authority to arrange for a public reception, they decided to invite the soldier to Monday’s meeting of the Urban Council, so that the chairman (Mr AE Marsh) might, in the name of the town, congratulate him upon the distinguished honour he had won. 

L-Cpl Harvey was accompanied by Mr Murray, and on entering the Council Chamber received a very hearty welcome.

Brave, Brilliant, and Gallant.

The Chairman said he had a very pleasant duty to perform. 

They were met to congratulate L-Cpl Stanley Harley, of the Worcestershire Regiment, who had recently received the DCM for a very brave, brilliant, and gallant episode, of which he was the hero, and which occurred on March 4th  last-(hear, hear). 
Although all the men who were with him were killed, Harley, at great personal risk, took charge of two Lewis guns and brought them out of action safely-(hear, hear). It was a very brave and courageous act, and well merited the signal honour which has been conferred upon him-(hear, hear). 

Harley, he believed, was the first Brierley Hill man who had received the DCM decoration, and it was felt that such a distinguished honour reflected credit on the town itself, and should be publicly recognised. As chairman of the Council he congratulated L-Cpl Stanley Harley, and at the same time asked him to accept a little present-a silver luminous wrist watch-as a small token of the gratitude of the town for his noble action-(hear, hear). In handing to the hero gift the Chairman said: “We are all very proud of you, and I have very great pleasure in welcoming you to this Council meeting tonight.”

A Hero Indeed.

Mr G Fred James (vice chairman) said he would like to associate himself with the appreciate reading remarks from the chair. 

L-Cpl Harley was a hero indeed-(hear, hear). Few of them three years ago thought the war would be on now. During that time anxiety is had crowded upon them. Many of the people of Brierley Hill has lost their dearest and best.  The papers has been almost daily filled with the stories of horrors perpetrated by a faux unequalled insanitary in the history of the world. 

But although they had had their terrible happenings, they had on the other hand read  of actions which had gladdened their hearts. The bravery of our men was worthy of the most distinguished honours; they were heroes indeed. And what has pleased their most was the fact that Brierley Hill boys were among them – (hear, hear). 

The Staffords and the Worcester’s has distinguished themselves on many occasions, and he hopes that the time was not far distant when the town might welcome back all those brave lads who have so faithfully fought our cause in foreign lands-(hear, hear).

Although many have distinguished themselves, perhaps when the records of the regiments came to be written they would hear something about individual doings. In the meantime we all prayed that the war might be quickly over, so that we might have the pleasure of welcoming back our brave lads. Perhaps when the proper time pain they would be able to give their heroes are more public welcome-(hear, hear).

The Town Pride.

Mr T Williams said he has known Harley’s family for many years. Brierley Hill was very proud of him-(hear, hear). Many other Brierley Hill lads had won distinctions. Several have been decorated with Militarily Medals, and he thought it was up to the Council and the town to see that these heroes were properly recognised. He thought steps should be taken almost immediately to show that the town appreciated the honours which the men had brought to it-(hear, hear).

A Modest Reply.

L-Cpl Harley, who was warmly received, thanked the Council for their congratulation, and the chairman of his very nice present. The lads of the Black Country were all doing their bit to bring glory to their native towns-(hear, hear). He was unable to give his experiences publicly, but he would be glad and proud to tell the story of how he won the DCM to any of the members of the Council should they care to hear it-(hear, hear). As to the probable length of the war, he thought that the next three years would see the finish of it -(laughter).

The Chairman said he would very much like to hear Harley related his experiences. He added that there had not been time to have an inscription engraved on the watch, but this would be done later. 

County Express 8th September 1917