Gordon Muriel Flowerdew
The Germans launched a great offensive on 21 March 1918 against the entire front of the British Third and Fifth Armies. Breaking through the British lines, they advanced rapidly towards Armies to exploit a gap between the British 20th Division to the north and the French to the south. The three mile wide gap was dominated by Moreuil Wood, a dense grove of ash trees and saplings over a mile long on the right bank of the Avre river about 12 miles south-east of Amiens.
The Canadian cavalry were operating as part of the British 2nd Cavalry Division which had been ordered to move forward to close the gap. On the morning of 30 March, battalions of the German 243rd Division began to move into the gap. The brigade was ordered to cross the Avre at Castel and engage and delay the enemy. The Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD), leading the advance to the northern portion of the wood, came under heavy rifle and machine gun fire, suffered heavy casualties, and were soon completely committed to battle over the whole brigade objective. The Strathcona's were ordered forward in support of the RCD as German reinforcements were entering the wood at the north-east corner, and C Squadron was ordered to attack them.
Detaching one dismounted troop under Lieutenant F.M.W.Harvey (who had won the Victoria Cross in 1917) to outflank the enemy lines, Flowerdew led his own men at the gallop round the corner of the wood and came across a steep bank held by the Germans. They had been forced out of the wood by the RCD, and another enemy column was marching across the open towards the wood. Flowerdew wheeled his three troops onto line, charged the German reinforcements with sabres drawn and scattered them. He then charged the enemy holding the bank. In the course of thia action Flowerdew was fatally wounded.
The citation for the Victoria Cross, which Flowerdew was awarded posthumously, reads in part:
"The squadron (less one troop) passed over both lines, killing many of the enemy with the sword, and wheeling about galloped on them again. Although the squadron had lost about seventy per cent of its members, killed and wounded, from rifle and machine gun fire directed on it from the front and both flanks, the enemy broke and retired. The survivors of the squadron then established themselves in a position where they were joined, after much hand to hand fighting, by Lieut. Harvey's party. Lieut. Flowerdew was dangerously wounded through both thighs during the operation but continued to cheer on his men. There can be no doubt that this fine officer's great valour was the prime factor in the capture of this position."
James Lunt in his Charge to Glory - (Heinemann, 1961) writes:
"The charge of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade will always remain one of the most famous incidents in the history of the Canadian cavalry, and each year on the anniversary of the charge, Lord Strathcona's Horse commemorates the matchless courage of Gordon Flowerdew and the Strathcona's Horsemen he inspired to follow him to certain death. The regiment has distinguished itself on many a battlefield since the days when it charged at Moreuil Wood - Italy, Holland, Germany and most recently Korea - but for Lord Strathcona's Horse Moreuil Wood will always be a battle set apart."
Gordon Muriel Flowerdew was born at Billingford in Norfolk, England on 2 January 1885. The son of a farmer, he emigrated to Canada in 1903 to settle in British Columbia where he joined the British Columbia Horse, a militia regiment, before the First World War. He later transferred to Lord Strathcona's Horse and saw his first action in 1915 as a lance sergeant. At the time of the battle of Moreuil Wood he had recently taken over command of C Squadron. He was laid to rest in French soil on 31 March 1918.
Flowerdew's Victoria Cross is owned by his school, Framlingham College, England, which he attended from 1894 to 1899. Nine of his brothers also attended Framlingham, which had the distinction of having three old boys awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War. It was loaned to the War Museum for the 1993 exhibition, "The Canadian War Art of an Equestrian Painter", marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It is now on long term loan to the Lord Strathcona's Museum in Calgary, Alberta.
The oil painting of the Moreuil Wood action, "The Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron," was one of twenty-nine rarely exhibited paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings which were on display depicting the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Canadian Forestry Corps. These paintings were completed under the Canadian War Memorials Fund programme and form part of the Canadian War Museum's art collection.
Research: Howard Mansfield and General Sir Patrick Howard-Dobson, GCB
Editor: Jack Howett
French Translation:Marie-France Lagarde
Published by: Friends of the Canada War Museum
Victoria Cross Citation
For most conspicuous bravery and dash when in command of a squadron detailed for special service of a very important nature. On reaching the first objective, Lt. Flowerdew saw two lines of the enemy, each about sixty strong, with machine guns in the centre and flanks, one line being about two hundred yards behind the other. Realising the critical nature of the operation and how much depended upon it, Lt. Flowerdew ordered a troop under Lt. Harvey, V.C. to dismount and carry out a special movement while he led the remaining three troops to the charge. The squadron (less one troop) passed over both lines, killing many of the enemy with the sword; and wheeling about galloped at them again. Although the squadron had then lost about 70 per cent of its numbers, killed and wounded, from rifle and machine gun fire directed on it from the front and both flanks, the enemy broke and retired. The survivors of the squadron then established themselves in a position where they were joined, after much hand-to-hand fighting, by Lt. Harvey's party. Lt. Flowerdew was dangerously wounded through both thighs during the operation, but continued to cheer on his men. There can be no doubt that this officer's great valour was the prime factor in the capture of the position..