Cator, Sergeant Harry, VC, MM


Cator was a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry.

He was born in Drayton in Norfolk, the son of a railway worker. After leaving school, he was a porter at Beach Station, Great Yarmouth, on the London Midland and Great Northern Joint Line, before joining a building contractor in Great Yarmouth. Immediately prior to joining-up to the army, he was employed by Messrs. Chateau & Co. of Southtown. Before the war he was a regular attendant at St. Paul's Church, Yarmouth and his wife was a Church District Visitor and a Sunday School Teacher.

Cator lived at 5 Beaconsfield Road in Great Yarmouth with his in-laws Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Morris. He joined the British Army in September 1914 and arrived on the Western Front in June 1915; already a sergeant in the 7th Battalion, the East Surrey Regiment.

In 1916, at the time of the Somme Offensive, he was awarded the Military Medal for bringing back 36 wounded men from no-mans land.

He earned his Victoria Cross and a Croix de Guerre first class with laurel leaves during the Arras offensive. On 9th April 1917 near Arras, Sergeant Cator's platoon had suffered heavy casualties from a hostile machine-gun. Under heavy fire Cator, with one man, advanced across the open to attack the gun and when his companion was killed, he went on alone. Picking up a Lewis gun and some ammunition drums on his way, he succeeded in reaching the enemy trench and sighting another hostile machine-gun, he killed the entire team and the officer. He held the end of the trench with such effect that a bombing squad were able to capture 100 prisoners and five machine-guns.

A few days later he was injured by an exploding shell and was repatriated to the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol. After the war, Cator worked as a postman and as a civil servant.

Cator served with the rank of captain in the Home Guard during the Second World War, and was a commandant for a prisoner-of-war camp. He retired from the Army in December 1947. He died in 7th April 1966 in Norwich and is buried in Sprowston Cemetery.

His Victoria Cross is exhibited in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum, London.

Sergeant Cator wrote home about mining on the Western Front: Sounds have been heard by the sentry and mining engineers, who have listened with their instruments. Yes, the enemy is mining. So we must counter-mine. The miners start to work to try to get to the enemy as quickly as possible. This is a very dangerous task, because the enemy may have noticed your work or even heard you at work, so he stops work in his own gallery and puts a sentry to listen for you and branches off in another direction. Our miners work on, swift and silent as possible.

But, the keen ears of the enemy sentry has heard the noise of your falling chalk as you pass to his right or left or under him or perhaps above him. The enemy engineers drive a bore through and a cylinder of poisonous gas is discharged into your gallery killing and gassing the miners. One of the preventatives for this is to take canaries down in cages, which of course, soon die at the first sign of gas, thus warning the miners. Another method of stopping your work and progress is to wait until you have passed and then put a charge of high explosive in and blow up your gallery. But, our miners are very careful and work more silently than the Boche, and more often than not he is caught. Besides, we always work much deeper, as a rule, and so foil him in this way. Then, it is a race who can get the mine in first.

Our mine is ready, the charge has been put in and stemmed. The generals know and have issued orders to certain regiments to be ready to take the outer lip of the crater caused by the explosion. The bombers are loaded with bombs, ready to leap over and take possession scarcely before the earth has had time to settle. Others are ready with picks and shovels to consolidate the position and dig communication trenches back to the front line. The men are crouching in their trenches and the mine is to go off at a certain time. The guns are going to put a barrage on the Boche’s front line.

The mining officer pushes down the handle, the earth gives a terrible shudder, there is a great dull explosion and tons of earth are suddenly thrown up in the air; crash go the guns and the shrapnel comes whistling and shrieking over. The bombers are racing over the broken ground to get to the great pit just made.

Simple is the brief report, which one reads in the daily paper: ‘British Official: Last night we exploded a mine under the enemy’s position and occupied the crater.’ But, as soon as the mine explodes the enemy’s guns open fire and he also puts up bright lights, which makes the night almost as light as day. Machine guns are also crackling and he sweeps the space between the mine and the front line with deadly fire. Those working on the trench that is to connect up to the crater are put at a fearful risk. Often many are killed or wounded. The enemy also works up to the lip of the crater and tries to hurl bombs and so our bombers have to work like mad to keep him away. Your front line gets a heavy shelling, so that those carrying bombs, sandbags etc. to those in the crater also get a bad time. This is one of the minor operations that the men have to go through, working and struggling through the reek of shells all through the night.

As dawn breaks, things generally quieten down until the enemy gets his trench mortars ready. Then he trains them into the crater. It reminds one of putting a basin on a table and throwing peas into it. So, I will leave you to guess the awful time the men spend, who are detailed off to hold positions such as this.