By Paul Vickers, Friends of the Aldershot Military Museum
In March 1918 Second Lieutenant (Acting Captain) Maurice Toye of the Middlesex Regiment led a serious of courageous actions against the German spring offensive which resulted in the award of the Victoria Cross. Captain Toye is the only holder of the Victoria Cross to have been born and raised in Aldershot.
Alfred Maurice Toye (he preferred to be known as Maurice) was born on 7th April 1897 at ‘D’ Terrace, Stanhope Lines, and was educated at the Aldershot Garrison School. At the start of the First World War he was serving with the Royal Engineers, until commissioned into the Middlesex Regiment in 1917.
At the time of the battle of Passchendaele, Toye was serving in the 2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (23rd Brigade, 8th Division), who were in the initial attacks of 31 July. The 8th Division area of attack was a line from the eastern edge of Zouave Wood to the north-west corner of Railway Wood, their objective was the “Black Line”, to be attacked by the 2nd Scottish Rifles on the right and 2nd Middlesex on the left. The 2nd Middlesex crossed the German front line at 04.20 and continued on to the Black Line, taken by 05.45, but from 08.00 the Germans began heavy shelling of the Middlesex positions, followed by several counter-attacks. However, the Middlesex held on until relieved on 1 August. For his actions during this attack, 2/Lt Toye was awarded the Military Cross, and promoted to Acting Captain. The medal citation read:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When in charge of communications Toye went to a most forward position and carried out his duties under heavy and continuous fire of every description with great ability and fearlessness, and it was due to him that the situation was cleared up and communication maintained.”
On the 21st March 1918, the 2nd Middlesex were defending a section of the River Somme and Captain Toye’s Company was assigned the defence of the bridgehead at Eterpigny. Driven out by overwhelming German force, Toye’s company rallied to retake the position only to be forced to withdraw again under heavy fire. They regained the position, but after taking heavy casualties Toye’s company withdrew to the village which was then surrounded by the Germans. Toye was ordered to hold out at all costs, but he took the initiative and broke out with one officer and six men. He found 70 men of the Durham Light Infantry who were retiring, rallied the men and led a counter-attack which was so effective that the whole German advance in the Eterpigny sector was checked. When relieved, Toye’s Company was reduced to only 10 survivors.
In the days that followed, Toye led a group of personnel through an occupied village under heavy enemy fire. Despite being wounded twice, Toye charged the enemy firing rapidly, and by this heroic act led his men out of danger. By 1st April Toye was in command of a mixed unit which he led in the recapture of a defensive line which had been abandoned just before his arrival.
Captain Toye’s VC citation records that he was given the award
“for most conspicuous bravery and fine leadership displayed in extremely critical circumstances ... His valour and skilful leading throughout this prolonged period of intense operations were most conspicuous.”
Toye was invested with the Victoria Cross by King George V on 8th June 1918 during a ceremony on Queen’s Parade, Aldershot. Five days later he married Flora Robertson in the Aldershot Parish Church of St Michael.
In 1919 he was on the staff of the force in North Russia, then served with the Rhine Army, and was Chief Instructor of the Royal Egyptian Military College from 1925 to 1935. He was promoted to Major in 1938 and at the start of World War Two he was Commandant of the School of Chemical Warfare and later taught at the Staff College. He was promoted to Colonel in 1942 and served with the 6th Airborne Division in 1943-44.
After the war he was promoted to Brigadier and was at GHQ Middle East. Toye retired from the Army in 1949, and was appointed Commandant of the Home Office Civil Defence School. Illness forced him to retire and he died at Tiverton, Devon, in 1955 aged 58.
In 2011 the Friends of the Aldershot Military Museum wanted to have Maurice Toye’s story told in the museum and based their contribution on the remarkable medal entitlement of this illustrious and gallant soldier. Toye’s original medals are housed in the National Army Museum in London, so the Friends purchased a high quality set of replicas and mounted these along with a photographic portrait of Toye and a summary of his career.
Toye’s medal entitlement was:
By Mike Gardiner, Friends of the Aldershot Military Museum
On Sunday 25th March 2018, the Alfred Maurice Toye VC Memorial was unveiled in the Municipal Gardens, Aldershot. Below are some images from the event.