Eric Colbourne

Newfoundland Soldier Who Received the Iron Cross

 

 

On January 27, 1917, Company Sergeant-Major Cyril Gardiner from British Harbour, Trinity Bay was cited a second time in two months for distinguished conduct in front of the enemy. He had already received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) at the battle of Gueudecourt the previous October. At 5.30 a.m. on January 27 Sergeant-Major Gardiner and his squad were assigned the task of collecting the wounded in the wake of an advance by the English Border Regiment at the battle of Sailly-Saillisel.

As his company of stretcher-bearers moved forward, Gardiner noticed a German officer and his heavily armed soldiers in a nearby trench that the Border Regiment had missed in their advance. Gardiner coolly shouted, "tres bon, you're late, everyone else has kameraded." The German officer immediately surrendered with his entire company of 72 men. While marching his prisoners back to allied lines the Newfoundland soldier was challenged by a British officer who threatened to open fire. Gardiner stepped in front of the prisoners and told the officer in no uncertain terms that the unarmed enemy soldiers were under his protection. The British officer backed down. At that moment the German officer realized that Gardiner had saved their lives. In gratitude he removed the Iron Cross from from his own uniform and pinned it to the breast of the the Newfoundland soldier.

The Iron Cross represented the highest award for gallantry in the German military and was the equivalent of the Victoria Cross for British forces.

Sergeant-Major Gardiner was promoted to Lieutenant shortly after Sailly-Saillisel. Two and one-half months later on April 14, 1917 he died at the Battle of Monchy-Le-Preux.

(Cyril was born at British Harbour, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, the son of Arthur Gardiner and Mary Colbourne. His older brother, Edward James Gardiner died at Beaumont Hamel on July 1,1916.)

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