Sunday, 29 April 2012

John Brunt VC

Given the British military tradition, and love of beer, it is rather surprising that there is only one pub in the British Isles named after the winner of a Victoria cross, the John Brunt VC in Paddock Wood, Kent.

John Brunt was born in Shropshire in 1922, and in 1934 his family moved to Paddock Wood. The main pub in the town was the Kent Arms and apparently the teenage Brunt was ofter there, so it was apt that this was the pub destined to bear his name.

John helped with the Paddock Wood Home Guard untl he was old enough to enlist as a private in 1941. By January 1943 he was commissioned, and posted to North Africa with the 6th Battalion, Royal Lincolnshire Regiment. On 9 September 1943, the Lincolns landed at Salerno in Italy and Lieutenant Brunt was given command of No.9 Platoon in A Company. For most of December and January Brunt platoon were in action, including on December 15th an assault across the river Asa that earned Brunt the Military Cross.

After R&R in the Middle East Brunt was back in Italy in July, promoted to temporary Captain, and 2nd in command of D company. The Royal Lincolnshires were part of the forces driving the German army back through Italy, and it was a hard slog, with each town being fiercely defended. By December 9th their divsion had stormed the town of Faenza near Ravenna, and established defensive positions expecting a counter attack. It was here that John Brunt won his Victoria Cross.

Ruins in Faenza

The full citation appeared in a supplement to the London Gazette of 6 February 1945:

   " War Office, 8th February, 1945

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:—

Lieutenant (temporary Captain) John Henry Cound Brunt, M.C. (258297), The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) (Paddock Wood, Kent).

In Italy, on the 9th December, 1944, the Platoon commanded by Captain Brunt was holding a vital sector of the line.

At dawn the German 90 Panzer Grenadier Division counter-attacked the Battalion's forward positions in great strength with three Mark IV tanks and infantry. The house, around which the Platoon was dug in, was destroyed and the whole area was subjected to intense mortar fire. The situation then became critical, as the anti-tank defences had been destroyed and two Sherman tanks knocked out. Captain Brunt, however, rallied his remaining men, and, moving to an alternative position, continued to hold the enemy infantry, although outnumbered by at least three to one. Personally firing a Bren gun, Captain Brunt killed about fourteen of the enemy. His wireless set was destroyed by shell-fire, but on receiving a message by runner to withdraw to a Company locality some 200 yards to his left and rear, he remained behind to give covering fire. When his Bren ammunition was exhausted, he fired a Piat and 2 in. Mortar, left by casualties, before he himself dashed over the open ground to the new position. This aggressive defence caused the enemy to pause, so Captain Brunt took a party back to his previous position, and although fiercely engaged by small arms fire, carried away the wounded who had been left there.

Later in the day, a further counter-attack was put in by the enemy on two axes. Captain Brunt immediately seized a spare Bren gun and, going round his forward positions, rallied his men. Then, leaping on a Sherman tank supporting the Company, he ordered the tank commander to drive from one fire position to another, whilst he sat, or stood, on the turret, directing Besa fire at the advancing enemy, regardless of the hail of small arms fire. Then, seeing small parties of the enemy, armed with bazookas, trying to approach round the left flank, he jumped off the tank and, taking a Bren gun, stalked these parties well in front of the Company positions, killing more and causing the enemy finally to withdraw in great haste leaving their dead behind them.

Wherever the fighting was heaviest, Captain Brunt was always to be found, moving from one post to another, encouraging the men and firing any weapon he found at any target he could see. The magnificent action fought by this Officer, his coolness, bravery, devotion to duty and complete disregard of his own personal safety under the most intense and concentrated fire was beyond praise. His personal example and individual action were responsible to a very great extent for the successful repulse of these fierce enemy counter-attacks.
Tragically, having survived so many desperate actions, Brunt was killed by a fluke the next day. He and his men were having their first proper meal for 48 hours and Brunt was standing in a doorway holding a cup of tea when a mortar round landed right at his feet - he was killed outright.

In 1947, the Kent Arms was renamed the John Brunt VC in his honour.