Thomas Rendle

(1884-1946) – only VC stretcher bearer

Thomas Rendle was the only stretcher bearer to receive a Victoria Cross for bravery in the war. He was already a Bandsman with the 1st Battalion DCLI when war broke out, having trained at Bodmin. Carrying a wounded officer to safety on 21 November 1914 earned him this accolade.

Credit: Cornwall’s Regimental Museum, Bodmin

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Thomas Rendle was born in Bristol on 14th December 1884.  He enlisted into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry as soon as he reached the age of eighteen.  After completing his recruit training at the Regimental Depot in Bodmin, he was initially posted to the 2nd battalion at Crownhill Barracks in Plymouth.  At the outbreak of the First World War he was serving as a Bandsman with the 1st Battalion at the Curragh in Ireland, and accompanied them to France on 13th August 1914.

Bandsmen were not only musicians, but were also trained in first aid and had the additional role in battle as stretcher bearers.  Thus it was that on 21st November 1914 Rendle was on duty as a stretcher bearer in a section of the front line near the village of Wulverghem which came under prolonged and heavy enemy artillery fire.  The regimental history records how, throughout that terrible day, ‘in all the horrors of the bombardment, Rendle worked in the coolest and most devoted way’.  In the late afternoon, a direct hit on a forward trench blew in the sides making it impassable, at the same time severely wounding an officer.  Rendle immediately exposed himself to continuous shell and rifle fire, crossing the blown-in portion to reach the officer and render first aid.  Then, with the greatest difficulty, he crawled back to comparative safety carrying the officer on his back.  For his selfless gallantry throughout the day, Rendle was awarded the Victoria Cross. 

It is perhaps strange that despite the fact that stretcher bearers, by the nature of their duties, led the most hazardous lives of any on the battlefield, Rendle is the only one who has ever been awarded the crowning accolade for bravery.  To commemorate his achievement a paving stone was laid in his honour in Bristol in 2014 and the Royal School of Military Music now has a Rendle VC Platoon.  His name and his achievement will become familiar to future generations of military musicians and Bristolians.

Key words: trenches

Credit: Cornwall's Regimental Museum, Bodmin