LOCAL HERO

HARRY CATOR

HARRY CATOR, V.C.

Cator Road. How many people, on passing Cator Road, off School Road, Drayton  give a thought to the man who bore the name?  Cator Road bears mute testimony to the heroism of one of Norfolk’s most decorated soldiers.

 Harry Cator was born in a little terraced cottage at Fakenham  Road, Drayton, on 24th January 1894, next door to Alfred George Senior. At that time Alfred was a coal porter at Drayton Railway Station. It is believed Harry’s father was a plate-layer on the railway.

At the age of three or four he started his education at the local village school on School Lane as it was called then. Another village lad, Robert George Carter, later to be a most successful builder, was already attending there, he being about two years older. There were two teachers, Miss Gamble who was the Headmistress, and Miss Smith who taught the infants. About this time the children were supplied with slates and sponges for writing.

Harry left school about 1908 when he was fourteen years of age. Not long after  he obtained a job as a porter on the M&GN  Joint railway at Thursford. Following this he had other jobs, some in the building trade.

In 1914 at the age of nineteen Harry was working as a builder’s labourer at Great Yarmouth. There he married Rose Alice Morris on 2nd September, and on the very next day answered Kitchener’s call for volunteers. There is no record of what Rose had to say about this! Lord Kitchener had appealed for 100,000 volunteers and soon after for another 100,000 men. They were referred to as K2 Service Battalions of Kitchener’s Army because they were not regulars and were trained at Colchester Barracks. Harry was posted to the 7th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. Nine months later, on the 23 June, 1915, he was posted to France and fought in Flanders which entitled him to wear the 1914–15 Star.

In 1916 at the age of twenty-two he was a sergeant. The battle of the Somme, which was fought between 1st July and November, 13th   saw terrible losses. In the last week of June one and a half million shells rained down on the German positions, then on 1st July the British troops moved forward only to find the Germans had not been badly affected by the bombardment. That morning alone the British suffered 60,000 casualties, 20,000 of them died and many others suffered terrible wounds which in many cases required amputations. In all the British suffered 420,000 casualties, the French 200,000 and the Germans 500,000. The Battle of the Somme was one of the terrible tragedies, the worst battle of W.W.I.  At the end, 13th November, heavy snow caused the British and French to retreat. During this campaign Sgt Cator rescued thirty six of his men from no-man’s land where they had been held up in German barbed wire. For his action he was awarded the Military Medal.

Between April 9th and 14th 1917 the Battle for Arras was fought. On 9th April  was the first battle of the Scarpe (a river). On the opposite side of the Arras – Cambrai road – the 12th Division was suffering badly from German machine gun fire coming from a position named Hangest Trench.  Harry Cator was sergeant of ‘C’ platoon. For his actions here that he was awarded the Victoria Cross.  The citation told how his platoon suffered heavy casualties from German machine gun and rifle fire. Under heavy fire from the Germans, he and one man advanced to attack the hostile machine gun position. The other man was killed but Sergeant Cator alone with a Lewis machine gun destroyed the German machine gun position and held off a German counter attack which allowed a British bombing party to capture a trench along with 100 prisoners and five machine guns. Three days later, on 12th April, he was severely wounded by a piece of shrapnel from a high explosive shell which shattered both his upper and lower jaw.

On 14th July he was presented with the Croix de Guerre by the French for his bravery at Arras and on 21st July he was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace, accompanied by his father and brother. On 30th March, 1918 Harry Cator was given a hero’s welcome at Drayton and he and his wife Rose were drawn through the village on a wagon pulled by local men.  Railway engines blasted signals and children waved Union Jacks. Celebrations were centered round the village green where he was presented with a watch and chain, engraved “From his friends at Drayton”.

After the war Harry first worked with the post office then the Unemployment Assistance Board. He moved from Drayton and settled in Sprowston. On 24th November, 1934 Drayton Royal British Legion was formed and on Sunday, 2nd June, 1935 Drayton Standard was dedicated at a ceremony at Drayton Park, belonging to the Walter family. There were mass bands and nearly forty R.B.L. Standards from East Anglia and the region took part with more than 1500 Legionaires marching. The parade was led by Harry Cator proudly bearing the Drayton Standard past the saluting base at the village green. He continued to be the Drayton  Branch Standard  Bearer for some years after.

During W.W.II – in 1942 – Harry Cator was commissioned as Captain – he had declined this in W.W.I – as Quartermaster to 6th Battlion Norfolk Regiment Home Guard. Later he was posted to a transit camp and then became Commandant of a prisoner of war camp of Germans at Cranwich near Mundford. After the war some of the Germans from his camp returned for a reunion with him. He was regarded as a very fair man.

Harry Cator (right) with fellow veterans.

Harry Cator (right) with fellow veterans.

In 1947- 48 Cator Road off School Road was being built – the first house being occupied in 1948. Sadly on 7th April, 1966 Harry passed away aged 72, at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.  He was buried at Sprowston and in January, 1969 his widow Rose Alice was buried with him. In 1985 his Victoria Cross and other medals were sold for £10,500 on behalf of his son.

By about 1986 the grave had fallen into disrepair and in December 1987, after his gravestone had been restored and newly laid (paid for by members of his old W.W.I  regiment , the 7th East Surrey Regt) a short graveside service was held by members of Sprowston Royal British Legion and the Last Post was sounded.

Harry, Norfolk’s most decorated other rank of the First World War, is quoted as saying: “Real soldiers curse all war and war makers. I have seen men driven mad in the trenches. They gave me a decoration. In that hell a soldier may as easily do one thing as another.”

His Citation reads:-

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. Whilst consolidating the first line captured system his platoon suffered severe casualties from hostile machine-gun and rifle fire. In full view of the enemy and under heavy fire Sergeant Cator, with one man, advanced to cross the open to attack the hostile machine gun. The man who was accompanying him was killed after going a short distance but Sergeant Cator continued on and picking up a Lewis gun and some drums on the way succeeded in reaching the northern end of the hostile trench. Meanwhile, one of our bombing parties was seen to be held up by a machine gun. Sergeant Cator took up a position from which he sighted this gun and killed the entire team and the officer whose papers he brought in. He continued to hold that end of the trench with the Lewis gun and with such effect that the bombing squad was enabled to work along, the result being that one hundred prisoners and five machine guns were captured”.

 Date of Act of Bravery

9th April 1917        Arras                                                              

 London Gazette  8th June, 1917.

BASIL KYBIRD

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