Heroes of the Great War - G. A. Leask

Lieutenant Martin Leake, the Man Who Won Two V.C.S

Before describing the heroic deeds that won for an army doctor his second Victoria Cross, let us note a few facts about medical work at the Front. A number of army doctors have gained the coveted distinction, and it is sometimes said that every member of the Royal Army Medical Corps deserves it. The latter, although popularly regarded as a regiment, is really a department of the Army. From early times surgeons accompanied the Army in the field, but it was only in 1897 that the various units of our Military Medical Service were co-ordinated and given the now familiar name—Royal Army Medical Corps. Army doctors became officers with regimental rank. In our Army they are classed as non-combatants, and are unarmed.

When an engagement develops, a Field Ambulance is set up 2000 yards from the firing-line, and officers and orderlies proceed to within two yards of the firing-line and set up a Dressing Station.

Many doctors go into the actual zone of fire. Some have been killed and many wounded while bravely helping to rescue fallen men. The army doctor is beloved by the soldiers, who have pet tames for the Corps, such as 'Linseed Lancers,' 'Poultice Wallopers,' the 'Pills,' etc. Without waiting for the stretcher-bearers to bring the wounded down to the Dressing Station, the army medical officers often go to the stricken soldiers, inject morphia where the man is in agony, render first-aid, and in many cases help to carry our gallant soldiers off the battle-field. It was for work of this kind that the hero we are about to describe won his V.C.

The rare distinction of twice receiving the V.C. is borne by Lieutenant Leake, of the Royal Army Medical Corps. This doctor-hero won the V.C. on May 13, 1902, in the Boer War, and again in the present campaign. As no man, however, can actually wear two Victoria Crosses, the second award is represented by a Clasp. Only one other Clasp had been awarded at the date when Lieutenant Leake received the honour; he shared the distinction with Lieutenant-General Sir C. J. S. Gough, K.C.B. Of course the Cross has many times been awarded to an officer or soldier for more than one act of bravery.

Lieutenant Leake is about forty years of age, and one of four brothers, another of whom, Captain W. M. Leake, is also serving in the British Army in France. His elder brother, Captain Francis M. Leake, who was captain of the Pathfinder  when she was blown up, was later given command of a flotilla of destroyers.

After leaving Westminster School, Lieutenant Arthur Martin Leake became a student at University College Hospital, eventually being put in charge of a hospital at Hemel Hempstead. Then the South African War broke out, and the young doctor heard the clear call. He resolved to throw in his lot with the first regiment that would accept him. Hence he proceeded to the seat of war with the Hertfordshire Yeomanry, and later drifted into Baden-Powell's Police, in which he saw a good deal of service.

The story of his first V.C. is soon told. While the engagement at Vlakfontein was at its height Leake attended a wounded man under heavy fire from Boers posted within a hundred yards of the place where he was at work. It is the doctor's instinct always to save life, and Lieutenant Leake faced the deadly bullets with fearless courage, and brought the wounded man to safety. Later he was thrice shot while trying to place a wounded officer in a more comfortable position, but would not give up his work until he was utterly exhausted from loss of blood. Even then he refused to take water until eight other wounded had been satisfied.

After the Boer War he returned to England, and settled down for some time in the sleepy old-world town of Ware, in Hertfordshire. But the call of the Army again reached him, and he obtained a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He went to India, where he remained as a doctor in connection with one of the railways until the Balkan War, when he joined the Serbian Army.

A friend, who first met the 'double V.C.' hero in the Balkans, says:

"I was struck by the reticence, the modesty—I had almost said the shyness—of the man, for I knew, though not from himself, that he possessed the great decoration for valour. Somehow I associated with the possession of the V.C. stalwart physique, overflowing animal spirits, volatile energy. Lieutenant Leake justified not one of these descriptions. He is a thin, spare man, well under the medium height, with fair hair, a light fair moustache." The writer goes on to say that his friend is a pleasant and lovable companion, simple and unaffected. This is the type of character common to all our V.C. heroes.

At the conclusion of the Balkan War Leake returned to India. In September 1914 he rejoined the Army with the rank of lieutenant. Since gaining his second V.C. he has been promoted to captain, and, later, major.

This quiet-spoken, modest doctor-hero won his V.C. Clasp at Ypres. If you search the official accounts of this decisive and sanguinary engagement, you will not find the name of Lieutenant Leake. He rescued no guns, killed no Germans; yet the deeds for which he received the coveted award were as heroic as any of the war. There was nothing of the spectacular about his heroism, but it was superb all the same.

Dr. Leake to the rescue


Throughout the campaign Leake showed conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. His splendid services culminated in the period October 29 to November 8, 1914. During this time was fought the terrible battle of Ypres, one of the most critical of the whole war. The Kaiser had set his heart on taking Calais, and hurled his massed legions against the British lines, with the fierce determination to break through at all costs. Again and again the pick of the German army tried to hack a way to the Channel port. It was in vain; the dauntless khaki line barred the road.

The fighting was particularly severe near Zonnebeke, the little Belgian town north-east of Ypres.

For days the battle swayed. Our casualties were very heavy, so that the medical units had their hands full day and night.

Lieutenant Leake was in his element. At night he would go out even to the enemy's trenches to succour the wounded. German snipers were active, and the riflemen in the trenches were on the alert for the men who should dare death for their wounded comrades. But again and again Leake ventured out on his errand of mercy. When he had reached one of our wounded his medical skill enabled him to relieve the sufferer, after which the stricken man was helped back to safety.

It was for a series of heroic feats of this nature that Lieutenant Leake won his V.C. Clasp. The official account mentions that his deeds were performed during a period from October 29 to November 8, near Zonnebeke, and that he showed "most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in rescuing, while exposed to constant fire, a large number of wounded who were lying close to the enemy's trenches."

Many of our heroes have received the V.C. for rescuing one of their comrades, facing heavy odds in so doing. Lieutenant Leake rescued 'a large number.' His was not an isolated deed of heroism, but a succession of noble and dangerous feats. All our Red Cross workers expose themselves in tending the wounded, from the highly-placed officer to the humblest stretcher-bearer; it testifies, therefore, to the surpassing merit of Lieutenant Leake's work that he should have been so signally honoured.