A doctor’s heroic devotion to duty in muddy Flanders Fields is remembered by Lord Ashcroft | History | News


Captain Harold Ackroyd was an unlikely hero as he undertook his medical duties at Flanders

To his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel BE Clay, he was “the most gallant man I have ever met”. To the young soldiers from his battalion, he was an inspirational figure who repeatedly risked his life to tend to their wounds just yards from the front line.

Yet aged 40, bespectacled and with thinning grey hair, temporary Captain Harold Ackroyd was an unlikely hero as he earnestly undertook his medical duties a century ago on the muddy Flanders fields close to the Belgian town of Ypres.

Like many of his generation Captain Ackroyd had divided loyalties: he was a devoted family man who knew that his wife Mabel and their three children needed him to survive the Great War if they were to enjoy future happiness together. 

Yet he had an immense sense of duty too and, as he served in France and Belgium for two long years at the height of the 1914-18 war, the repeated risks that he took made it clear that his commitment to his king, country and comrades was constantly endangering his life.

In fact Captain Ackroyd was killed in action 100 years ago today, 10 days after showing such outstanding bravery in the Battle of Passchendaele that he was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross (VC), Britain and the Commonwealth’s most prestigious gallantry medal.

I am the privileged custodian of Captain Ackroyd’s gallantry and service medals, having purchased them privately 14 years ago. This is my personal tribute to a man who fully deserves to be recognised as one of the “bravest of the brave”.

Harold Ackroyd was born in Southport, Lancashire, on July 18, 1877. He was the son of Edward Ackroyd, chairman of the Cheshire Lines & Southport Extension Railway Company, and his wife Ellen. 


The rescue of a wounded soldier at Passchendaele

Harold, who was a bright boy, was educated at Mintholme College, Southport, and Shrewsbury School before taking a BA degree at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

After his studies and doing some travelling he trained at Guy’s ­Hospital, London, gaining his MB (Bachelor of Medicine) in 1904 and his MD (Doctor of Medicine) in 1910. In the run-up to the First World War Ackroyd held several senior hospital positions and married Mabel Smythe, a matron at Strangeways Hospital, Cambridge, in August 1908. The couple went on to have two sons and a daughter.

On February 15, 1915, he was commissioned as a temporary…

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