Friday, 30 September 2011

News - Memorabilia gift to museum sheds light on war hero Collie

COLLIE Sallmayer was the sort of officer his men would die for.

Just after the end of the First World War one of his soldiers, Sherwood Foresters Lance Corporal J Freeman, of 15 Wordsworth Road, West Bridgford, wrote to Sallmayer at the regimental barracks in Kilworth Camp, County Cork.

"I am proud of having served with you and, also the platoon, would go through fire and water for you. Perhaps you already know that, Sir."

LCpl Freeman was probably referring to a day of bitter fighting on the San Sisto Ridge in northern Italy when 2nd Lieutenant Coleman Leonard James Maurice Sallmayer of the 1/8th Battalion Sherwood Foresters won the Military Cross.

The Foresters were holding a 1,000m line against a massed attack by the Austrian army.

Casualties were heavy, officers falling at the head of their troops. Sallmayer was the only one left to command a hard-pressed company of men. Under heavy fire, he organised an orderly withdrawal, never leaving his men ... even though he was in agony, his leg having been splintered by shrapnel from an exploding shell.

It was during the same battle that Foresters senior officer, Lt Colonel Charles Hudson, won the Victoria Cross.

This week, more than 90 years after Sallmayer's heroism saved the company, the medal he won that day was handed over to the Sherwood Foresters museum. It came with a few pieces of the shrapnel that was embedded in his leg, all part of a remarkable collection of memorabilia passed on by his family.

Collie Sallmayer's Military Cross is all the more valuable to the Sherwood Foresters museum, housed in Nottingham Castle, because he won it twice.

In the final weeks of the war, having been returned to active duty after the wounds suffered at San Sisto Ridge, Sallmayer was leading an attack in northern France to take ground the Germans had held since 1914.

They put up fierce resistance, heavy machine-gun fire forcing the attack to waver. Sallmayer rallied his troops and urged them forward until they had reached and captured their objective. He was later awarded a bar to his MC.

Now his medals and letters, including the one from a grateful L Cpl Freeman, together with a silver-plated knife, fork and spoon stamped with the Foresters' badge, have been handed to the museum.

The articles had been passed down to cousins Colleen Howells, stepdaughter of Lt Sallmayer, and Elizabeth Rees who decided that now was the right time for them to go to the museum.

Colleen's mother Daisy married Coleman (Collie) Sallmayer in 1938, just a few months before he died of TB. Daisy then remarried and had Colleen.

When Daisy passed away Coleman Sallmayer's effects were split between Colleen and her cousin Elizabeth Rees. As both are suffering from failing health, they have chosen to donate the items to the museum.They were delivered from Mrs Howell's home in Wales by family friend William O'Brien who explained: "Colleen is not in good health and she felt the collection should be given to the museum to ensure its safety. She feels it is the most appropriate place.

"They are very proud of their association with Collie Sallmayer and the Sherwood Foresters."

The items were received by Cindy Baines, curator and assistant regimental secretary, and museum trustee Cliff Housley, who said: "It is an absolutely wonderful collection. To have so many items from one man is fantastic."

Documents will be preserved and the medals will go on show.

Sallmayer's home was in the heart of London's Mayfair.

"He had studied in Heidelberg before the war and later was a teacher. He was a true academic," said Mr O'Brien.

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