Captain John Brunt V.C.,M.C.
Captain John Brunt V.C., M.C.
Back in the spring I received a phone call from Dorothy Barker asking if I might be interested in a small photo album that her father had taken on a pilgrimage he made in 1991 to Cassino and other Battlefields in the area.
Dorothy told me that amongst the photographs were several individual headstone pictures. You may recall that over the winter we were able to help one of our members get a photograph of a family headstone as he was unable to travel to Italy because of his health issues. So, I told Dorothy that if she or the family did not want them I would be happy to look after them on behalf of the ISA.
A few days later a package arrive in the post, I sat back and flicked through the pages the early photographs being taken in the Cassino Cemetery. I then got to the individual headstone pictures, the personal family inscriptions always worth reading particularly those of a more personal nature. I turned over another page or two then in front of me was the unmistakeable headstone of a very brave young man, a VC holder. The thought always goes through my mind when I see one ‘What did he do that was so special’? Looking closer I noticed that this young man who was only 22 years old (about the same age as my father when he was in Italy at that time) also had the M.C.
Closer inspection showed me that I was looking at the headstone of Captain J. H. C. Brunt. That rings a bell I thought and searched my bookcase, it did not take long to find a book titled ‘All for Valour (the story of Captain John Brunt V.C., M.C.) by Richard Snow. This book had been in the bookcase for many years have only had the occasional glance from me. There is a pub about three miles from my house called the John Brunt V.C. could this really be the same man? I had always assumed that the pub was named after a young officer from the first world war based on the image on the pub sign. It did not take long for me to discover that I had been under this misapprehension for almost 58 years.
John henry Cound Brunt was born 6th December 1922 in Priest Weston Shropshire. He was always getting into mischief as a boy on the farm where he lived as a child. He was enrolled in Ellesmere College where his mischievous pranks continued. While there he suffered the usual childhood dieses of mumps and measles the latter resulting in his need to wear glasses for the rest of his life. He was a sportsman playing cricket, hockey, rugby, water polo and wrestling. It was in 1934 that the Brunt family moved to the quiet Kent village of Paddock Wood where he would join his family during the school holidays. Between 1940 and 1943 assisted by his father he helped train the Paddock Wood Home Guard He spent his last days in Paddock Wood helping with the hop harvest.
His military career had started in 1941 when he trained as a Private in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. Receiving his commission on 2nd January 1943 he was posted to North Africa, it should be noted that although he was commissioned in the Sherwood Foresters he never served with them, being posted to the 6th Battalion, Royal Lincolnshire Regiment having become friends with Captain Alan Money of the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment while on the boat to Africa.
It was on 9th September 1943 that Brunt’s regiment landed at Salerno and Lieutenant Brunt was given command of Number 9 Platoon in A Company. They subsequently moved south east to set up their base in a farm near the river Asa.
Commanding a Battle Patrol, Lieutenant John Brunt and his men saw near constant action between December 1943 and January 1944. It was in the early hours of 15th December they were ordered to destroy an enemy post in some housed 200 yards north of the River Peccia. In their effort to break the enemy line they crossed and re crossed the river so many times that the troops called it ‘Brunt’s Brook’. After an intense bombardment, he led a section into an assault. Clearing the first two houses which contained just two enemy soldiers, the third house proved to be more of a challenge. Using tommy guns and grenades they managed to kill eight of the enemy outside as well as inside the house, all part of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Herman Goering Panzer Grenadier Regiment. After some 35 minutes of intensive fighting, Brunt withdrew his patrol having had one man killed and six wounded. While the rest of the Patrol pulled back, Lieutenant Brunt remained behind with his Sergeant and a Private to retrieve their wounded soldier. For his actions on that day he was awarded the Military Cross.
In a sick bed in a rear hospital on 5th January 1944 he pleaded with doctors to be allowed to take part in an attack. Given their permission he led his patrol under heavy fire, only to be back in hospital 24 hours later with concussion. A piece of shrapnel almost split his helmet, he would have continued fighting had it not been for an NCO who forcibly led him away from the front line. Later it was reputed that he said to friends, ‘I’ve won the M.C., now for the V.C.!’.
On his return to Italy on 3rd July 1944 after resting in Syria and Egypt, John Brunt had been promoted to temporary Captain and second in command of ‘D’ Company. In early December 1944, the regiment was operating near Ravenna fighting the German’s as they retreated north through Italy. It was on the night of 3rd December that the regiment began their attack on the town of Faenza. They took the village of Ragazzina near Faenza on the evening of 6th December and after heavy fighting the Lincolns had established defensive positions in Faenza itself.
For his actions on 9th December 1944 in this area Lieutenant (temporary Captain) John Henry Brunt was awarded his Victoria Cross. The following day 10th December 1944 he was eager to return to the offensive, keeping alert for more trouble as he stood in the doorway of his platoon headquarters having a mug of tea with friends while they awaited breakfast (their first hot meal for 48 hours), a stray German mortar bomb landed at his feet, he was killed outright. He had celebrated his 22nd birthday just four days before he was killed.
He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross on the 8th February 1945 and is buried in the Faenza War Cemetery.
The citation reads as follows.
“The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to: —
Lieutenant (temporary Captain) John Henry Cound Brunt, M.C. (258297), The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) (Paddock Wood, Kent).
In Italy, on the 9th December 1944, the Platoon commanded by Captain Brunt was holding a vital sector of the line.
At dawn, the German 90 Panzer Grenadier Division counter-attacked the Battalion’s forward positions in great strength with three Mark IV tanks and infantry. The house, around which the Platoon was dug in, was destroyed and the whole area was subjected to intense mortar fire.
The situation then became critical, as the anti-tank defences had been destroyed and two Sherman tanks knocked out. Captain Brunt, however, rallied his remaining men, and, moving to an alternative position, continued to hold the enemy infantry, although outnumbered by at least three to one.
Personally, firing a Bren gun, Captain Brunt killed about fourteen of the enemy. His wireless set was destroyed by shell-fire, but on receiving a message by runner to withdraw to a Company locality some 200 yards to his left and rear, he remained behind to give covering fire.
When his Bren ammunition was exhausted, he fired a PIAT and 2 in. Mortar, left by casualties, before he himself dashed over the open ground to the new position. This aggressive defence caused the enemy to pause, so Captain Brunt took a party back to his previous position, and although fiercely engaged by small arms fire, carried away the wounded who had been left there.
Later in the day, a further counter-attack was put in by the enemy on two axes. Captain Brunt immediately seized a spare Bren gun and, going round his forward positions, rallied his men. Then, leaping on a Sherman tank supporting the Company, he ordered the tank commander to drive from one fire position to another, whilst he sat, or stood, on the turret, directing Besa fire at the advancing enemy, regardless of the hail of small arms fire.
Then, seeing small parties of the enemy, armed with bazookas, trying to approach round the left flank, he jumped off the tank and, taking a Bren gun, stalked these parties well in front of the Company positions, killing more and causing the enemy finally to withdraw in great haste leaving their dead behind them.
Wherever the fighting was heaviest, Captain Brunt was always to be found, moving from one post to another, encouraging the men and firing any weapon he found at any target he could see. The magnificent action fought by this Officer, his coolness, bravery, devotion to duty and complete disregard of his own personal safety under the most intense and concentrated fire was beyond praise. His personal example and individual action were responsible to a very great extent for the successful repulse of these fierce enemy counter-attacks.
The next day Captain Brunt was killed by mortar fire”.
The legacy of John Brunt lives on. During 1946 his sister Dorothy gave birth to boy whom she named John Brunt Miller, in honour of his heroic uncle. On 3rd September 1947, the Kent Arms public house in Paddock Wood as renamed the John Brunt V.C. in his honour. In 1997 the pub changed its name to The Hopping Hooden Horse and after local outrage it reverted to The John Brunt V.C. (although many locals always referred to it as The John Brunt). The Victor comic featured a cover story named Brunt V.C. in its 17th July 1965 edition, a two-page strip based on the actions that won him the V.C. During his military career, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the Military Cross, the 1939-1945 Star, The Africa Star, The Italy Star and The British War Medal 1939-1945, all of which are on display at The Royal Lincolnshire Regimental Museum in Lincoln.
Some years ago, I used to play darts in the John Brunt as a member of a visiting team and attend meetings of my local RBL Branch there with my father in law.