The superb Second World War Tunisia Medjez El Bab 25th November 1942 ‘D’ Company Commander’s Military Cross group awarded to Captain A.A. Townsend, 2/6th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, a 22 year veteran who had once been Regimental Sergeant Major of the 2nd Battalion, who when his company and another were pinned down by withering machine-gun fire on the banks of the River Medjerda, personally crawled for with a light machine gun and covered the withdrawal, being later killed in action on 26th February 1943.
Group of 6: Military Cross, GVI 1st type, reverse dated 1943; 1939-1945 Star; Africa Star with 8th Army Clasp; Defence Medal; War Medal; Regular Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, GVI 1st type bust; (3436177 C.SJT. A. TOWNSEND. LAN. FUS.)
Albert Anthony Townsend was born on 29th December 1902 in Manchester, and having been educated in army schools, then enlisted into the British Army on 17th June 1919, joining as a Private (No.3436177) the Lancashire Fusiliers, and was posted to the 2nd Battalion, being posted out to India from 11th December 1920, he was appointed to Acting Lance Corporal on 6th December 1922 and then promoted to Corporal on 1st April 1925, before opting to extend his service to complete 12 years with the Colours on 30th July 1925.
Townsend was appointed to Lance Sergeant on 19th September 1928 and promoted to Sergeant on 22nd March 1930, and was then posted home to the Depot on 12th November 1931. With the outbreak of disturbances in China as a result of Japanese aggression, Townsend found himself posted to the 1st Battalion on 9th January 1934 and having been appointed to Sergeant Instructor of Musketry on 13th May 1935, was then posted out to China from 12th December 1935.
Townsend then relinquished his position as the Instructor of Musketry on 1st November 1936 and was posted home to the Depot on 29th December 1936, being then promoted to Colour Sergeant on 15th April 1937 and held the position of Company Quartermaster Sergeant at the Depot, being awarded his Regular Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in Army Orders for October 1937.
Townsend was promoted to Warrant Officer 2nd Class and Company Sergeant Major on 20th April 1938, being then posted on the same date to the 2nd Battalion, and was serving at home on the outbreak of the Second World War, being then posted to the 50th Holding Battalion as Warrant Officer 2nd Class and Company Sergeant Major on 5th June 1940, and was then appointed to paid Warrant Officer 1st Class and Regimental Sergeant Major on 15th June 1940 and posted in this position to the 1/8th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers on 16th June 1940 before being confirmed in this rank on 15th September 1940, and having been put forward for a commission, was then discharged to a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant (No.178971) on 24th March 1941, having by then served for 21 years and 282 days in the ranks.
Townsend was posted out to the Middle East from 18th October 1941 when he re-joined the 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers then serving with the 8th Army in the Western Desert, and then joined the 2/6th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers on 26th November 1941, and was appointed to Acting Captain on 14th March 1942, and promoted to Temporary Captain on 14th July 1942.
Townsend found himself appointed to command ‘D’ Company, and it was for his gallantry in action at Medjez El Bab on 25th November 1942 that resulted in the award of his Military Cross in the London Gazette for 23rd September 1943.
The original recommendation reads as follows: ‘At Medjez El Bab on 25th November 1942, this officer showed conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the face of the enemy. When his own and ‘C’ Company were pinned down to the river banks by withering machine-gun fire, he crawled forward and got his light machine-gun into a position from which he could return the enemy’s fire. Although observed by the enemy, he continued to work his gun in an effort to help extricate ‘C’ Company. Later in the day, whilst ‘D’ Company was covering the withdrawal of the main part of the Battalion, he remained until the last possible moment with a few men, giving covering fire until his company was safely across. His own withdrawal was effected across an open plain under enemy fire.’
The regimental history gives the following details concerning this action: ‘Medjez El Bab means 'gateway', and the little town of this name, lying on both sides of the broad and muddy River Medjerda, is, in fact, the gateway to Tunis from the west. The Germans, appreciating its significance, held the right bank of the river with three parachute battalions backed by supporting arms. It was here that the 2nd Battalion fought their first fight when, in company with the Northamptons, they tried to seize the bridge. It was a tough introduction to battle. Their approach to Medjez-el-Bab was slowed down by flanking machine gun fire; the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel L.A. Manly, was killed as he went forward to reconnoitre, and Major Linden Kelly took command.
It was already daylight when ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies crossed the swirling yellow waters of the river, holding their rifles high above their heads. They were immediately assailed by mortar, machine gun and artillery fire, which prevented them from leaving the river banks. Four times they tried to press home their attack on the east bank, and four times they were beaten back; one platoon was almost entirely wiped out in the river bed. Now ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies tried another direction, but they too were subjected to heavy artillery fire, and Major Kelly decided to withdraw to the west bank to reorganise. This might have been a costly operation also, but for a concentration of supporting artillery fire that silenced the German guns. ‘C’ Company extricated itself without difficulty, but ‘D’ Company was almost caught by a German counter-attack with tanks that had already driven back the Northamptons. Shortly after this, the enemy blew up the bridge; mortifying as this was, it was an indication that the Germans had had enough, and were concerned to cover their retreat. When the East Surreys attacked next day, they found Medjez-el-Bab abandoned. The determination of the two attacking battalions had evidently made an impression. The cost was not light: as well as the Commanding Officer, the Battalion had 36 of all ranks killed, 47 wounded and 60 missing. Captain A. A. Townsend and Captain Barker-Benfield were both awarded M.Cs.’
Tragically, however, before the announcement of his M.C. had been announced in the London Gazette, Townsend was killed on action on 26th February 1943, aged 41 years. The husband of Mary Agnes Townsend of Rochdale, Lancashire, he was buried in the Medjez El Bab War Cemetery.