An article by Lawrence Holmes taken from the 10Group Newsletter



The year 2006 marks the 150th anniversary of the institution of the Victoria Cross, the nation’s greatest award for gallantry. The Victoria Cross received Royal assent on 29th January 1856 and the very first investiture by Queen Victoria took place at a Review in Hyde Park on 26th June 1857. Since that date some 1350 awards have been made to all manner of servicemen for brave deeds. Only 51 VCs have been awarded to airmen. The Victoria Cross is made of bronze from two cannon captured from the Russians at Sebastopol in the Crimea in 1854. At first it was only to be awarded to men and it was available to women only after 1919, even then there were people who were against this amendment to rules. Also initially, the VC could only be awarded to a survivor but after 1902 it was decided to award the VC posthumously. Sadly many VCs have been awarded to brave men killed in action.

The earliest VC was awarded for an act of gallantry carried out in 1854. 628 VCs were awarded in World War One but only 181 in World War Two. Only 11 have been awarded since WWII. The largest number of VCs awarded in any single action was at Rorkes Drift in the Zulu Wars in 1879. The oldest recipient was 62 years old and the youngest was 15 years 3 months old. 8 VCs have been forfeited by award holders who have later committed serious offences. Three men have been awarded the VC twice (bar) and a number of families have two members of the family who were awarded the VC.

The VC has intrinsically little value but the emotional value is almost priceless and one VC recently fetched £235,000 at auction. No members of the Royal Observer Corps have been awarded the Victoria Cross for ROC service but one ROC member was the holder of the Victoria Cross earned for gallantry in the First World War. His name is James Pollock.

James Dalgleish Pollock was born on 3rd June 1890 in Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire, Scotland. He spent his early years at Tillicoultry before moving to Glasgow in 1910. Two years later, in 1912, he moved to the Paris branch of his firm and was in France when the First World War broke out in 1914. He then returned to Britain and tried to enlist into his local Territorial Unit, the 5th Scottish Rifles, but on finding that it had mobilised to its full complement, he joined ‘Lochiel’s Battalion of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. This became the 5th (Service) Battalion, attached to the 9th (Scottish) Division.

Pollock was soon promoted to Corporal and the Division, as part of Douglas Haig’s 1st Army, was sent out to France in March 1915. By 10th May 1915 the Battalion was entrenched near Loos.
He was commissioned as a temporary Lieutenant on 6th July 1915. On 25th September 1915, as part of the French Artois offensive, the 1st Army attacked German positions at Loos. There were no significant positive results and casualties were high.
On 26th of September there was a major attack by the 2nd Worcestershire regiment in the northern part of the battlefield where there was a significant German defensive position called the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Gas was used and this killed as many British soldiers as German ones.

James Pollock aged 24 years
in his Army uniform in 1914

On 27 September 1915 near the Hohernzollen Redoubt, France, at about 1200hrs noon, the enemy’s bombers in superior numbers were successfully working up the ‘Little Willie’ Trench towards the Redoubt. At 1000hrs seventy men of the Black Watch and thirty Camerons, amongst them No. 12087 Corporal Pollock of ‘C’ Company were sent up to the Redoubt. This party rallied the defenders and checked the German advance after several prolonged bombing fights. Corporal James Pollock, after obtaining permission, got out of the British trench alone and walked along the top edge of the enemy parapet with the utmost coolness and complete disregard to danger, and compelled the enemy bombers to retire by bombing them from above. He carried his grenades across the trench under heavy fire and worked his way along it hurling bombs at the enemy. The Germans were taken completely by surprise and were held at bay for an hour by Pollock who, although under heavy machine gun fire, remained unscathed until he jumped down into his own trench when he was wounded in the arm.

For this selfless act of bravery Corporal Pollock was awarded the Victoria Cross. The award was gazetted on 18th December 1915 and James Pollock’s VC was presented to him by King George V on 4th December 1915. Whilst at home after recovering from his wound in 1916 he attended the first Officer Cadet school at Gailes, Ayrshire and during this time he met his future wife, Margaret Bennett. In July 1916 Pollock was commissioned Second Lieutenant into the 6th Battalion. He then served on the Somme and, as a Captain, he was wounded at the Battle of Arras in 1917 by the premature bursting of a rifle grenade which caused him to lose the sight of his left eye. As a result he was invalided out of the Army. In the book ‘Last Man Standing’ by Norman Collins, James Pollock is referred to thus ‘.....on 6th May 1917, it is very hot, like July or August, just had tea with J D Pollock VC Cameron Highlanders. He is a top hole man. In the convalescent home in Eastborne, I again met Lieutenant Pollock of the Cameron Highlanders, he had been wounded and now only had one eye. Occasionally we used to go down to the Grand Hotel and listen in the Palm Court there to the orchestra. On another occasion I remember going to London with him. We were walking past Horse Guards Parade and got quite a shock when the sentry called out ‘Guard turn out’. The whole guard turned out and presented arms for Pollock because he had won the VC’. Astonishingly, his cousin Corporal J. L. Dawson, also won a VC at Hohenzollern, just sixteen days later.

After leaving the Army, Pollock worked for the Ministry of Munitions for a while and after the end of the war he returned to France to work for the board responsible for the disposal of war surplus stores. He returned to Scotland in 1919 to marry and settle in Ayr. He attended the VC Garden Party at Buckingham Palace on June 26th 1920 and in September paraded at Inverness when the Duke of York (later King George VI) presented Colours to the 7th and 9th Camerons at the Regimental Depot. In 1923 he moved to London and worked as a director of an importing company.

An artistís impression of Pollock
at the Hohenzollern Redoubt
carrying out the bombing which
earned him the VC.

On 9th November 1929 he attended the VC Reunion Dinner held at the House of Lords. James Pollock returned to Scotland in 1940 and apart from five years in Leicester, he remained in Scotland as a director and sales representative for Midland Hosiery Mills in Leicester.

However, when the call went out for volunteers for the Royal Observer Corps, at the age of 50 plus, sometime after 1940, James Pollock joined the ROC.
The book ‘Forewarned is Forearmed’ by T E Winslow lists J D Pollock VC as an Observer Officer and full time Duty Controller in No 33 Aberdeen (Ayr) Group. As far as is known, he is the only ROC Officer in history of the Corps to hold the Victoria Cross. Along with other members of No 33 Group James Pollock would have stood down on or before 12th May 1945.

To commemorate the ending of WWII the Air Ministry arranged a huge Rally at RAF North Weald in Essex from Saturday 23rd June to Monday 25th June 1945. Almost 2000 members of the ROC from all over the United Kingdom attended the Rally. King George VI had approved the design of a Royal Observer Corps ensign and the ensign, which was RAF blue with the Union Jack in one corner and bearing the Corps badge, was dedicated at a service at North Weald on Sunday 24th June 1945. On that day at 1800hrs, almost 2000 observers carried out the first ever march past to the accompaniment of the RAF Band with the Under Secretary of State for Air, Lord Beatty, taking the salute. They then formed into a huge square and the Royal Observer Corps Ensign was presented by Lord Beatty. The Ensign was borne to the drumhead by Observer Lieutenant J D Pollock VC. In the parade Observer Lieutenant Pollock carried the Ensign flanked by two senior NCO’s at the head of the contingent of observers. James Pollock was not awarded the ROC Medal indicating that he was in the Corps for less than 12 years.

On 26th June 1956 Pollock was on parade for the VC centenary celebrations and in April 1958 he made a business trip to Canada and three weeks later he was dead. James Dalgleish Pollock died at Ballochmyle Hospital, Ayrshire, Scotland on 10th May 1958 at the age of 67 years. His wife had died in 1957. He is buried in the Bennett family grave in Ayr Cemetery and his Victoria Cross and other medals are in the Highlanders Museum in Fort George, Scotland. As well as his VC, James Pollock was entitled to a 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and a Victory Medal.

No 33 Group Aberdeen was formed in 1940 and stood down in May 1945. The Group was not re-formed until 1951 and was re-designated to No 25 Group Ayr in 1953. No 25 Group’s last Group Commandant was Observer Commander John Sharpe, who is the current national Chairman of the Royal Observer Corps Association. No 25 Group closed at general stand down on 30th September 1991.

Obs Lt J D Pollock carrying the ROC Ensign at the RAF North Weald Rally in June 1945 at the head of the ROC contingent.




DIED 4th FEB 1938 AGED 81
DIED 12th MAY 1938 AGED 84
DIED 12th NOV 1957 AGED 61
DIED 10th MAY 1958 AGED 67

 (The above is a research article by Lawrence Holmes. Lawrence is indebted to Bob Campbell, Jim Mackie, Frank Alexander, Chris Paine, Geoff Paine and Richard Sirley for the help given in the preparation of this article).

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