A pencil drawing by talented Portadown sign-writer and artist Bracken Anderson of a legendary war hero has found pride of place at the Union Jack Club in London – among 155 winners of the highest honour, the Victoria Cross.
Bracken Anderson presented the superb drawing of Colonel Richard Annesley West (VC, DSO and Bar, MC) to the North Irish Horse Regt Association in Belfast, and the portrait was then presented as a gift to officials of the Union Jack Club in London an Ex-Serviceman’s Club.
The club had 155 other portraits and photos of VC winners adorning its walls, but Col. West was a notable absentee - until now.
Richard West has his roots deep in County Fermanagh – at the Park, Brookborough. He was a Boer War veteran (1899-1902), having served as a Trooper in the 45th Irish Hunt Company, Imperial Yeomanry before transferring to Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts with whom he was commissioned.
He remained in South Africa after the war, serving in the Transvaal Horse Artillery Volunteers until 1912. West then came home and joined the North Irish Hors (NIH) at the outbreak of war in 1914. Before he left Belfast for the bloodied fields of France, he had not been gazetted, meaning his rank as Lieutenant had not been officially confirmed.
Impatient, he kept wiring the War Office in London to confirm his officer’s commission. The War Office told him he must await his turn, but West was keen not to let his men down, so on 20th August 1914, Private Richard Annesley West sailed from Belfast .
He commanded a Troop of Horse in C Squadron NIH, commanded by Major Lord Massereene and Ferrard of Antrim. He wore officer’s uniform but not displaying any badges of rank! Some weeks later his officer pips were on his cuffs.
By July 1915, the slow pace of the war for Cavalrymen encouraged many eager young officers to transfer out to other front-line fighting units, as did Richard West. He moved to the North Somerset Yeomanry with the temporary rank of Major, and was awarded the DSO for his actions with them.
By 1917 he had moved again to the newly created Tank Corps (6th Tank Battalion). In August 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions. On 21st August he was awarded a bar to his DSO. West’s was the last of four VC’s won by the Tank Corps during WW1. He was awarded the VC - ”for most conspicuous bravery, leadership and self-sacrifice”.
His commanding officer having been killed, as had most of his NCO’S, West, now an acting Lt. Colonel, took command of his battalion. He had two horses shot from under him directing his tanks. On 2nd Sept. 1918 West went ahead of his troops, riding up and down the line, encouraging his men - “Stick it men, show them fight, for God’s sake put up a good fight”.
Those were the last words he spoke. Col. West ignored heavy rifle and machine gun fire as he rode in front of the Germans encouraging his men to fight. Eventually he fell dead, riddled with machine gun bullets.
His medals were presented to his widow at Buckingham Palace on 15th February 1919. Two months after his death, Col West’s wife gave birth to their daughter in November 1918. Colonel West is buried in France.