- Name: John William SAYER
- D.O.B: 12th Apr, 1879
- D.O.A: 21st Mar, 1918
- D.O.D: 18th Apr, 1918
- Award: Victoria Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Lance Corporal, 8th Battalion The Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, 17th Brigade, 24th Division
Near St Quentin, France 21 March 1918
21 March 1918
The First World War 1918
On 21 March 1918, the first day of the German Spring offensive (see above), there was heavy fighting around the German held town of St Quentin, about twenty-five miles south-east of the VC actions near Bapaume. 8th Battalion The Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regimentwas in the British Line at Le Verguier, about seven miles north-west of St Quentin. The German advance surrounded the village on three sides but, such was the strength of the resistance, it was not until the following day that they secured the village itself. It was here that Lance Corporal J W Sayer displayed great bravery in its defence. Four miles southwest of Le Verguier was Marteville. East of here and north-west of St Quentin 61st Division was in the line. Second Lieutenant J C Buchan, attached 1/8th Battalion (TF) Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, fought gallantly all day but his position was eventually overrun. In the same sector Lieutenant A E Ker and his men of 61st Battalion, Machine Gun Corps, though in a hopeless position, kept a significant force of the enemy engaged for three hours before they were forced to surrender. South of here the Front was manned by 30th Division. 16th Battalion The Manchester Regiment was in the line, a couple of miles due west of St Quentin, between the villages of Francilly-Selency and Savy. Just south of Francilly lay Manchester Hill with its Redoubt. As elsewhere, the forward positions were quickly overrun by the German advance and Manchester Redoubt was surrounded. However, Temporary Lieutenant Colonel W Elstob inspired his men to carry on resisting the enemy until he was killed during the final German assault at about 3.30pm. His last message to HQ was ‘Goodbye’. To the south-west of St Quentin 36th (Ulster) Division was in the line. When its forward positions were captured Second Lieutenant E de Wind, 15th Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles, held out until 6pm at Racecourse Redoubt, on the St Quentin-Chauny railway, near Grugies, two miles south of St Quentin. The thirty or so men left in the garrison were taken prisoner soon after de Wind was killed. Five or so miles to the south, 18th Division was in the line west of the Oise Canal around Vendeuil. 10th Battalion The Essex Regiment was left holding on to positions at Caponne Farm and Moulin Farm, supported by two artillery batteries from 83rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, C and D, commanded by Captain Haybittel and Lieutenant Ellis. At 8pm Captain Haybittel ordered C Battery to withdraw. Gunner C E Stone was one in a party of six men detailed to provide protective cover. Haybittel and Ellis were both awarded the DSO for their actions. Along most of the front, the German offensive had swept over British positions and in the south the Germans had advanced as far as the Crozat Canal, which linked the Oise to the Somme.
For most conspicuous bravery, determination and ability displayed on the 21st March, 1918, at Le Vergoier, when holding for two hours, in face of incessant attacks, the flank of a small isolated post. Owing to mist the enemy approached the post from both sides to within 30 yards before being discovered. Lance-Corporal Sayer, however, on his own initiative and without assistance, beat off a succession of flank attacks and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Though attacked by rifle and machine-gun fire, bayonet and bombs, he repulsed all attacks, killing many and wounding others. During the whole time he was continuously exposed to rifle and machine-gun fire, but he showed the utmost contempt of danger, and his conduct was an inspiration to all. His skilful use of fire of all description enabled the post to hold out till nearly all the garrison had been killed and himself wounded and captured. He subsequently died as a result of wounds at Le Cateau.