Harold Mugford was born at 149 Keetons Road, Bermondsey, London on 31 August 1894, the second son of Richard John Sanford and Rose Lillian Mugford (nee Parsons). The family later moved to 2 Gillett Avenue, East Ham where he attended the Shrewsbury Road School. On leaving school, he found employment as a clerk with a shipping company, Furness Withy. Harold was a keen cricketer, enjoyed other outdoor pursuits, and was a member of the Essex Yeomanry.
He was mobilised in August 1914, and after a period of training in Suffolk went overseas with the Regiment when it embarked for France on 29 November 1914. Mugford saw action in the Ypres Salient in the early part of 1915 and again in May, where Yeomanry distinguished themselves at the Battle of Frezenberg Ridge. He was with the Regiment at the Battle of Loos on the 27/28 September 1915, a sector to which they returned in the early part of 1916. Mugford had his share of adventures and narrow escapes, being buried on no less than three occasions when high explosive shells exploded close to his post.
The machine-gun detachment of the Essex Yeomanry, in which Mugford was then serving, was transferred to the 8th Squadron, Machine Gun Corps (Cavalry) on 3 March 1916, although they remained attached to the Regiment.
On 9 April 1917, the British First and Third Armies launched a major offensive on a 14-mile front from Vimy Ridge to Croisilles; the main thrust being in the central sector, east of Arras. The German front was broken and advances of nearly four miles were made in some places on the first day, and it seemed likely that a wider breakthrough might be achieved. Cavalry units were brought forward in the hope of exploiting the early success.
Early on the morning of 11 April, the 8th Cavalry Brigade (of which the Essex Yeomanry formed part) were ordered to move forward and to capture the high ground on the east and north east of Monchy-le-Preux, which it was believed had been taken by infantry units of the 37th Division. Heavy enemy fire from the village of Roeux in the north forced a change in the direction of the Yeomanry's advance into Monchy itself. It was found that that although the enemy had withdrawn, the village was not defended and was under imminent threat of counter-attack. The Regiment therefore took steps to secure and hold the village. The Germans put down a heavy box-barrage on the village and brought up a large numbers of reinforcements during the day.
The 8th Machine Gun Squadron did great work in helping to keep the attackers at bay, and it was the extraordinary bravery of Harold Mugford that earned him the Victoria Cross. The citation states:
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when under intense shell and machine-gun fire at Monchy-le-Preux, Lance Corporal Mugford succeeded in getting his machine-gun into a forward and very exposed position. From this point he was able to deal most effectively with the enemy, who were massing for counter-attack. His No 2 was killed almost immediately, and at the same moment he himself was severely wounded. He was then ordered to a new position and told to go to the dressing-station, but continued on duty with his gun, inflicting severe loss on the enemy.
Soon after he was again wounded, a shell breaking both his legs. He still remained with his gun, begging his comrades to leave him and take cover. Shortly afterwards this non-commissioned officer was removed to the dressing-station where he was again wounded in the arm.
The valour and initiative displayed by Lance Corporal Mugford was instrumental in breaking up the impending counter-attack of the enemy. For his conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Harold Mugford was not expected to survive his dreadful wounds. He was in a critical condition when he was brought back to England, and underwent six operations. Both his legs were amputated above the knee and, in addition to the wound to his arm, shrapnel was removed from his hip, tongue and jaw. Despite his injuries and suffering, he remained cheerful - indeed "quite jolly" to use his mother's words.
It must have been a terrible time for his parents because they had two other sons serving in the army, and had not heard from either of them for some months. Their eldest son, Sgt Richard Mugford, had returned from employment as a Customs Official in China and joined up soon after the outbreak of war and was serving in the 1st King Edward's Horse (The King's Overseas Dominions Regiment). Fortunately, Richard was to survive the war but their youngest son, Pte Percy Mugford, of the 4th Essex, who had been reported ‘wounded and missing' following the First Battle of Gaza on 26 March 1917, was not to return. He is commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial.
HRH King George V presented Harold Mugford with the Victoria Cross at an open-air investiture in the grounds of at Buckingham Palace on 3 July 1918. This was followed, in August, by a public presentation by the Mayor of East Ham of a cheque for £300, the proceeds of a fund raised in the Borough as a token of appreciation of the honour conferred upon him.
Harold Mugford was discharged from the Army on medical grounds and married Amy Key at All Saints' Church, Forest Gate on 23 April 1919. They moved to Chelmsford in the late 1920s. Their first home was at Mill House, Little Waltham, later moving to 'Ashburton' in Chignal Road, Chelmsford. Despite his disability, Harold Mugford involved himself in the life of the town and was a supporter of a number of local organisations, most notably of the Chelmsford Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (a banjo he made is now in the Essex Yeomanry and Regiment Museum, Chelmsford). He died on 16 June 1958 at the age of 63. He was afforded the honour of a military funeral in Chelmsford Cathedral, prior to cremation at the Southend Crematorium. Mrs Mugford died in 1978. They had no children.
The Victoria Cross awarded to Harold Mugford was bequeathed, in Amy Mugford's will, to Furness Withy & Company Ltd., his pre-war employers, who had continued to pay her husband an ill health pension up to the time of his death. The medal is on long-term loan to the Imperial War Museum where it can be seen in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
Surprisingly, perhaps, other than the display of Harold Mugford's VC and associated information at the Imperial War Museum, there was no permanent memorial to Harold Mugford until June 2006 when a plaque was unveiled by Lord Petre, HM Lord Lieutenant for Essex, in St Peter's Chapel in Chelmsford Cathedral. The idea for a memorial stemmed from a proposal by the Essex Branch of The Western Front Association, which was carried forward jointly with the Essex Yeomanry Association; it also received the enthusiastic support of the Machine Gun Corps Old Comrades Association and The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association. All four organisations shared the cost of the project.
Article and images submitted by Essex Branch, Western Front Association