By late summer 1918, 1st Devons were serving with the 5th Division on the Somme to the south of Achiet-le-Petit. The British Army was now advancing again, following the series of withdrawals during the spring and early summer.
On 22 August 1918, Lance Corporal George Onions was thirty-five years old. He was sent out with Private Eades to act as scouts to their company in order to make contact with the flanking battalion, with whom, in the thick mist, they had lost contact. They located an old trench, which they found for almost its entire length to be entirely unoccupied. Then as one supposes, they were planning their next move across more open ground to their right, 'a crowd of Germans appeared from nowhere' and jumped into the trench. (It is said they were part of a force ordered to counter-attack a New Zealand Division but had become hopelessly lost.) Onions and Eade, instead of disengaging silently as prudence might have suggested, at once opened rapid enfilade fire with astounding results. Without returning the fire, the Germans, about 250 strong, put up their hands in surrender and Onions, forming the whole group into fours, marched them off to Honywill who sent them back to the Commading Officer.
The effect of this marching host emerging from the mist on Battalion HQ was apparently electric. Signallers and others, who had not fired a rifle in years, turned out to man trenches and a considerable amount of confusion resulted until Halford through his field glasses saw the party was unarmed and headed by Lance Corporol Onions with his rifle slung, while Eades brought up the rear as a sort of whipper-in. The effect on the East Surreys was only a little less profound. A man was sent over to ask why the Devons had taken to practising ceremonial drill on the battlefield!
This act of remarkable gallantry by Lance Corporal Onions and Private Eades was recognised by the award of the Victoria Cross to George Onions for 'his magnificent courage and presence of mind', while Private Eades was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
During a visit to the 1st Battalion at Le Quesnoy on 8th December 1918, the King presented Lance Corporal Onions his Victoria Cross. The award and citation was official promulgated in the London Gazette on 11th December.
After the war, George Onions served in the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary during the Anglo Irish War. George Onions eventually reached the rank of Major and died in Birmingham in April 1944.
Lance Corporal Onions' Citation
Extract from The London Gazette, 11th December 1918
1st Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment
Onions, No 63514 Lance Corporal George
Act of Bravery for which recommended:
For most conspicuous bravery and initiative south of Achiet-le-Petit on 22nd August 1918, when, having been sent out with one man to get in touch with the battalion on the right flank, he observed the enemy advancing in large numbers to counter-attack the positions gained on the previous day.
Realising his opportunity, he boldly placed himself with his comrade on the flank of the advancing enemy, and opened rapid fire when the target was most favourable. When the enemy were about 100 yards from him, the line wavered and some hands were seen to be thrown up. L/Cpl Onions then rushed forward, and, with the assistance of his comrade, took about 200 of the enemy prisoners, and marched them back to his company commander.
By his magnificent courage and presence of mind, he averted what might have been a very dangerous situation.