Local History

The grocer’s boy who won the VC | Looking Back

Only 1,358 Victoria Crosses have been awarded since the first one in 1857 and few have deserved it more than World War One hero Jack Counter.

His remarkable courage was also commemorated on a postage stamp and led to him becoming the first honorary freeman of Blandford, where he was born in 1898 and educated at the National School.

Private Jack Counter, VC

Jack Counter was a humble grocer’s apprentice at Blandford’s International Stores before he joined the King’s Liverpool Regiment in February 1917.

At Boisleux St Mare in France the following year, his battalion found itself facing an enemy breakthrough.

‘It was necessary for information to be obtained from the front line in which the enemy had effected a lodgement,’ says the official account of Counter’s heroism.

‘The only way was from the support line along a sunken road and thence down a forward slope for about 250 yards with no cover, in full view of the enemy and swept by their machine-gun and rifle fire.’

A small party tried to get through but their leader was killed and another man wounded.

Officers then decided that a lone runner would stand a better chance.

This was attempted five times but each time the runner was killed in full view of his comrades.

‘Private Counter, who had seen the five runners killed one after the other, then volunteered to carry the message,’ the citation continues.

‘He went out under terrific fire and succeeded in getting through.

‘He then returned, carrying with him the vital information with regard to the estimated number of enemy in our line, the exact position of our flank and the remaining strength of our troops.

‘This information enabled his commanding officer to organise and launch the final counter-attack, which succeeded in regaining the whole of our position.

‘Subsequently this man carried back five messages across the open under a heavy artillery barrage to company headquarters.’

Counter’s courage in the face of ‘almost certain death’ was officially described as ‘extraordinary’.

He received the VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace on June 22, 1918, and came home to a hero’s welcome.

Counter gets a hero’s welcome before a large crowd in Blandford Market Place. Pictures from Blandford Forum: A Pictorial History, by Ben Cox (1995)

A huge crowd gathered at Blandford station, where detonators were exploded as Counter alighted from his train.

He was met by the Mayor and other dignitaries and more people lined the streets as he was taken to a crowded Market Place in a procession led by the Town Band.

Glowing tributes were paid by the Mayor and others and Counter received a £100 war savings certificate and inscribed gold watch and chain as well as the Freedom of the Borough.

The soldier modestly replied that he had only been doing his duty to king and country.

After the war Counter settled in Jersey, where he worked for the Post Office, but he actually died in Blandford during a return visit in 1970.

His heroism was commemorated on a Jersey postage stamp in 1971.

By: Roger Guttridge

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