pic: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada
Claude Joseph Patrick Nunney VC is buried in Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension; he was born in Hastings as Stephen Sargent Claude Nunney. His father was William Percy Nunney and his mother Mary Nunney formerly Sargent at 42 Bexhill Road, Hastings on 19 July 1892. His father was born in Burford, Oxfordshire. Claude, as he was called within his family, was the fourth of eight children. The family left Hastings in 1895 and moved to Kentish Town, St Pancras, in London where his mother was to sadly die of food poisoning in February 1899. Two of Claude’s younger siblings died very young, and of the remaining six, five passed into the care of the Catholic Church. The three boys born in Hastings, Frederick George, Stephen Claude and Alfred Nunney all became “Home Children” in Canada.
Alfred and Stephen Nunney travelled together aboard the SS Tunisian in October 1905 to Quebec and then on to St George’s Home at Hintonberg, Ottawa, Ontario. They were split up and sent to different families, Alfred moving to the Micksburg County, Renfrew, and Claude to North Lancaster. Alfred was just twelve, as he was born on 29 September 1893, and Claude thirteen when they went in their separate directions. Claude Nunney was placed with Mrs Donald Roy McDonald, where he lived and worked as a “Home Child”. The term “Home Child” covered the young girls and boys sent as child emigrants by various agencies to Canada to start new lives.
Unbeknown to Claude, his brother George Nunney, who came as a Home Child to Canada in October 1904, was drowned on the 19 July 1908 in the Jock River, Jockvale. This is around 150 kilometres from North Lancaster. He was aged only 17. He had also been born in Hastings on 27 December 1890. He had been placed with Patrick Houlahan, a local farmer.
Claude in the period 1913 and 1914 up to the outbreak of the First World War travelled to work in Trenton and St Catherine’s, Canada. He returned to the North Lancaster Township in early 1915.
On the 8 February 1915, Claude Nunney attended the Drill Hall, Alexandria, Glengarry County; he was one of the very first to enlist into the newly authorised regiment in Ottawa, the Eastern Ontario Regiment, which was known as the 38th Canadian Expeditionary Force. He re-attested in Ottawa on the 8 March 1915. Nunney claimed to have been born in Dublin. Claude had no previous military service. He was five foot six inches tall with blue eyes and red hair. The colour of his hair led him to be known by his fellow soldiers as “Red Nunney”.
The 38 CEF were sent overseas in August 1915, not to France as they wanted and antipated, but to Bermuda, where they took over as the Garrison troops. Eventually in June 1916 the men of the 38 CEF landed at Plymouth and travelled to Aldershot. The 38 CEF joined the 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Division. They underwent more training in preparation for the trench warfare across the Channel.
The 38 CEF embarked on 13 August 1916 to fight in France and Flanders, where they fought right through to the end of the war on 11 November 1918. The Ottawa regiment’s first large scale action was on the 18 November 1916 with the battle for the Ancre Heights, where they were involved in the fierce fighting for the Desire Trench, where they had to attack across a sea of mud to get to their objectives.
Private Claude Nunney was involved in the heavy fighting to take the Vimy Ridge on the 8 April 1917. He was sent with his Lewis Machine Gun crew to support Captain Thain McDowell. For the bravery shown that day Captain MacDowell was to be awarded the first Victoria Cross to the 38 CEF. Private Claude Nunney for his support in part of Captain MacDowell was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, DCM. Claude had been wounded in the left shoulder, before he went back into action with MacDowell. He received a second wound in his right leg. He was soon back with the 38 CEF by the 12 April. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in the weeks immediately after the Battle for Vimy.
After Vimy the fighting took the 38th steadily northwards toward Lens. They were ordered to attack Avion on 26 June 1917. They were in the front line for the next four days attacking into the buildings on the outskirts of Avion. On the 28 June Claude Nunney went over the top and before he reached the enemy trenches Lt MacLennan, his platoon officer, had been wounded and he found himself in charge as the platoon sergeant. He was to be awarded the Military Medal MM. The citation records he displayed the greatest energy strength and courage, on that day and in the subsequent two days. Claude also had assisted in the treatment and rescue of a wounded soldier, Private William Murray, who had been shot in the head by a sniper, when there were no stretcher bearers available.
Claude Nunney was gassed during German shelling on the night of 28/29 July 1917 and spent two months in hospital. He returned to his unit at the end of September 1917. He was attached to the Canadian Corps School, and remained with them for the next few months. Nunney was not with the 38 CEF when they fought in the Third Battle of Ypres, the Passchedaele offensive.
By mid April 1918 the 38 CEF were back in the Vimy area. Claude was to face a field court martial for striking a superior officer. On the 25 April 1918 he was found guilty. Whilst waiting to be transported to prison, he attempted with several other soldiers to rescue the pilot and observer from a German Aeroplane that had been shot down nearby. He was to suffer burns to his face and hands. For his bravery he was to have his sentence suspended. But he did lose his Sergeant’s stripes, reverting to being a Private. Claude Nunney was able to rejoin the 38 CEF on 18 August.
His brother Alfred Nunney was killed in action with the 44 CEF on the 10 August 1918 in their attack on Fouquestcourt.
The Canadian Army divisions were all heavily engaged in the heavy fighting that took places in the last 100 days of the war and the 38 CEF were as ever involved. Over the two days starting on the 1 September 1918, the Eastern Ontario Regiment attacked the well constructed and heavily fortified defensive trench systems known as the Drocourt-Queant Line at Dury. Private Claude Nunney distinguished himself, as had been his habit throughout his time in France and Flanders, by visiting the various regimental outposts during the height of the fighting encouraging his fellow Canadian soldiers with his words as well as his example. On the second day Nunney was to be badly wounded in the face and neck. He was evacuated to Mingoval where he succumbed to his wounds on 18 September 1918. He is buried in the Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension. On the 9 September 1918 Nunney was recommended by the British First Army for the award of the Victoria Cross for conspicuous gallantry during the Scarpe Operations to capture the German fortified trenches forming the Drocourt-Queant Line.
Claude Nunney’s award of the Victoria Cross was published in the London Gazette on the 14 December 1918. The citation records “Number 410935 Private Claude Joseph Patrick Nunney DCM MM, 38th Battalion, Eastern Ontario Regiment. For most conspicuous bravery during the operations against the Drocourt-Queant line on the 1 and 2 September 1918. On the 1 September, when his battalion was in the vicinity of Vis-en-Artois, preparatory to the advance, the enemy laid down a heavy barrage and counter attacked. Private Nunney, who was at this time at company headquarters, immediately on his own initiative proceeded through the barrage to the company outpost lines, going from post to post and encouraging the men by his own fearless example. The enemy were repulsed and a critical situation was saved. During the attack on the 2 September his dash continually placed him in advance of his companions, and his fearless example undoubtedly helped greatly to carry the company forward to its objectives. He displayed throughout the highest degree of valour until severely wounded.”
Red Nunney was one of seven Canadian soldiers to be awarded the Victoria Cross for the successful attacks on the Drocourt-Queant line.
Private C J P Nunney VC DCM MM was the mostly highly decorated other rank in the Canadian Army in the Great War. He was to be the 38 CEF second and final VC recipient. Claude Nunney was the only man born in Hastings to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War.