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100 years ago: Bravest Swinton teen, 17, saves CO under fire for Distinguished Conduct Medal

Tales of First World War bravery in the face of the terrible fury of enemy fire never fail to fascinate and this story from the Eccles and Patricroft Journal from September 1916 really shows how brave some of these young men were.

Joseph Owens was just 17 when he was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), an honour awarded for outstanding bravery.

It was the first award to recognise an act of gallantry in the field by a member of the armed forces who was below the rank of officer.

Distinguished Conduct Medal - George V

Distinguished Conduct Medal – George V

Before signing up with thousands of other local teenagers Joseph was living at 71 Pendlebury Road in Swinton and worked at the Caxton Printing Works in Pendlebury.

Joseph’s proud parents were the first to find out when they received a letter from their boy to say he had been recommended for the DCM for saving his Commanding Officer.

In his letter he stated that he had paraded the previous night with the “old gunners” and then went up to the front line with a “good heart ready for anything”.

At 7am that morning he had gone over the top straight into the German firing line.


In his own words wrote: “The Fritz did not answer much with his artillery, but with what few shells he did send over, did their work.

“Our team however had the greatest of luck.

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“Over we went with machine gun and tripod, and if only we could have kept together a little longer, that gun could have done some terrible work.

“We advanced along the line and took the Boche’s first line and went on until they were out of our sight, killing with the bayonet and bullet whoever with a ‘squarehead’ on his shoulders came in our way.

They chased the Germans through the trenches, killing and wounding any one who stood in their way.

Suddenly a German sniper shot his Commanding Officer through the top lip, knocking out some of his teeth and rendering him unconscious while his face poured with blood.

Owens ran towards him and did his best to ease his pain, applying bandages while enemy shells were exploding around them.

The pair were not hit but almost buried alive by the booming, falling earth.

He and several other soldiers managed to drag the wounded officer back to safety where he could receive medical attention.

I find it incredible that a lad of such tender years should be so calm under enemy gunfire – but also sad that a young man should be placed in such a terrible situation.

Little further record exists of Joseph Owens – although SalfordOnline.com’s history researchers may be able to tell us whether he returned home to Swinton alive.

Main image: Soldiers in flooded trench – Mary Evans

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.