.455 Webley Fosbery automatic revolver
Previously owned by William (Billy) La Touche Congreve Brevet-Major VC, DSO MC
and Knight's Cross of Légion d'Honneur
The Rifle Brigade
Approximately 4750 of these revolvers were made and they were expensive, even at the time. This revolver was bought by Billy Congreve in 1911 when he was serving in Tipperary Ireland.
Major Congreve’s father Lieutenant-General Sir Walter Congreve VC KCB MVO won his VC on the 15th of December 1899.
There are only 3 instances of a father and son both winning the Victoria Cross, two of which are the Congreve and the Roberts families mentioned below.
During the Boer War in South Africa the then Captain Walter Congreve, together with Lieutenant the Honourable Frederick H S Roberts also of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, (son of Field Marshal Lord Roberts VC KG KP GCB OM GCSI KSsJ VD PC) and Capt. H N Schofield RA and Corporal George Nurse, took part in a gallant attempt to rescue the guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery, at the Battle of Colenso . Two of the twelve guns were recovered. All four of them were awarded the Victoria Cross, unfortunately Frederick Roberts died two days later.
Billy had a very interesting and well documented, albeit short, military career. It is very well documented in the book Armageddon Road, A VC’s Diary 1914-1916 edited by Terry Norman. After a fond farewell from Ireland and a brief stop in England he arrived with the 3rd battalion the Rifle Brigade in France on the 13th September 1914. He was involved in the fighting right from the beginning, taking part in the battle of the Aisne in September and then the fighting at Neuve Chapelle in October then on to Kemmel the Battle of Menin Road and First Ypres. Billy also witnessed and was horrified at the Christmas truce. In 1915 he was involved at St Eloi and 2nd Ypres winning a Military Cross at Hooge in June 1915. He was also in the same trenches at Spanbroekmolen as Aubrey Moore, who is described below. In April 1916 he was again at St Eloi this time being awarded the DSO and then the VC posthumously in June 1916 in France. He was also mention four times in Despatches.
Not only did this revolver have a well-known owner, the Webley Fosbery is a rare and interesting piece in itself. Unlike a normal revolver that needs to be cocked ready for the next shot the main upper body of the Fosbery recoils and rotates the cylinder 1/12th of a turn on the rearward movement cocking the revolver and 1/12th of a turn on the forward movement thus rotating the cylinder 1/6th of a turn in total and ready for the next shot (see photos below).
Billy Congreve’s father
(known affectionately to Billy as Pops)
Lieutenant-General Sir Walter Congreve VC KCB MVO
Captain Walter Congreve’s Victoria Cross citation reads:
At Colenso on the 15th December 1899, the detachments serving the guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery, had all been killed, wounded, or driven from their guns by Infantry fire at close range, and the guns were deserted. About 500 yards behind the guns was a donga in which some of the few horses and drivers left alive were sheltered. The intervening space was swept with shell and rifle fire. Captain Congreve, Rifle Brigade, who was in the donga, assisted to hook a team into a limber, went out; and assisted to limber up a gun. Being wounded, he took shelter; but, seeing Lieutenant Roberts fall, badly wounded, he went out again and brought him in. Captain Congreve was shot through the leg, through the toe of his boot, grazed on the elbow and the shoulder, and his horse shot in three places.
Brief accounts of Billy's medals:
An extract from the London Gazette, dated 24th October 1916 records the following:
"For most conspicuous bravery during a period of fourteen days preceding his death in action. This officer constantly performed acts of gallantry and showed the greatest devotion to duty, and by his personal example inspired all those around him with confidence at critical periods of the operations. During preliminary preparations for the attack he carried out personal reconnaissance’s of the enemy lines, taking out parties of officers and non- commissioned officers for over 1,000 yards in front of our line, in order to acquaint them with the ground. All these preparations were made under fire. Later, by night, Major Congreve conducted a battalion to its position of employment, afterwards returning to it to ascertain the situation after assault. He established himself in an exposed forward position from where he successfully observed the enemy, and gave orders necessary to drive them from their position. Two days later, when Brigade Headquarters was heavily shelled and many casualties resulted, he went out and assisted the medical officer to remove the wounded to places of safety, although he was himself suffering severely from gas and other shell effects. He again on a subsequent occasion showed supreme courage in tending wounded under heavy shell fire. He finally returned to the front line to ascertain the situation after an unsuccessful attack, and whilst in the act of writing his report, was shot and killed instantly."
The French awarded the Knight's Cross of Légion d'Honneur. It was presented by General Hély d'Oissel commander of 36th Army Corps.
Billy and Pamela Maude on their wedding day
On the 3rd April 1916 at the Mound, St Eloi, Belgium, Billy captured 5 officers and 77 men at Crater No 5 with his revolver and was recommended for the VC for the first time but instead he was awarded the D.S.O.
Eyewitness account: A note by then Captain Billy Congreve, Brigade-Major of 76th Brigade.
"Imagine my surprise and horror when I saw a whole crowd of armed Boches! I stood there for a moment feeling a bit sort of shy, and then I levelled my revolver at the nearest Boche and shouted 'Hands up, all the lot of you!' A few went up at once, then a few more and then the lot; and I felt the proudest fellow in the world as I cursed them".
Billy was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at Hooge in 1915.
Major General Alexis HELY D'OISSEL with a British General
On the 1st July 1916 Billy married Pamela Maude, just three weeks before his death, leaving her a pregnant widow. The Bishop of London officiated their wedding ceremony as he was good friends with the Maude family. They shared the grief when the Lord Bishop’s youngest son Lieutenant Gilbert Talbot (of whom Talbot House, Poperinge is named after) was killed at Hooge on the 30th July 1915. Pamela and Gilbert were good friends from childhood and Gilbert became a good friend of Billy's.
Lieutenant Gilbert Talbot buried in Sanctuary Wood
British Military Cemetery, Zillebeke, Belgium.
On the 20th July 1916 near Longueval France Billy was recommended again for the Victoria Cross for his general behaviour and different deeds during the previous 15 Days, this time it was awarded, but posthumously.
Billy had been shot through the throat by a sniper, he stood for a second and then fell to the ground and died instantly. He is buried in Corbie Communal Cemetery, France.
A full and detailed account of his life and career will be on display.
Registered Firearms Dealer, Belgium
BTW No: BE0631.911.151
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