Monday, 12 November 2012

Britain could, once again, become a country for its old, long dead war heroes who served it with valour

On the left, this was the Queen yesterday, at 11 o'clock in the morning at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, leading the country in commemoration of those servicemen who have given their lives in defence of Britain and its interests since 1914. At that precise moment, two minutes silence were observed in Britain's churches and public places, marking the moment on 11th November in 1918 when the First World War, in which 885,138 British and Commonwealth men had been killed, came to an end.

On the right, this was Queen Victoria at Hyde Park in June 1857 awarding the first 'Victoria Crosses' to those men below the rank of officer who had carried out acts of great courage in the Crimean War and she and her successors continued to do so in all the conflicts since then.

This is Albert Jacka, an Australian soldier who fought in the First World War and awarded a VC for his actions in the Dardanelles where, after he entered an enemy trench, shot five and bayoneted two enemy soldiers, forced the remainder to flee and then held the tench alone for the remainder of the night. On the right, his immaculate gravestone at St. Kilda , Melbourne.

This is Claude Dobson who won his VC during the campaign in the Baltic Sea in 1918-19, when the British helped the White Russians try to stop the advance of the Bolsheviks and took a flotilla of boats through a chain of forts and heavy machine-gun fire and then launched two torpedoes which crippled the Bolshevik battleship the Andrei Pervozvanny. This is his dirty gravestone with almost unreadable inscription in Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham, Kent, about 3 km from where I live.
Clifford Coffin was awarded his VC on July 31, 1917 for bravery in BelgiumDisgrace: The overgrown grave of Clifford Coffin VC, which has been left to crumble in the Holy Trinity Churchyard East Sussex This is Clifford Coffin who, commanded an attack in the First World War near Westhoek. in Belgium in 1917 and walked through the heaviest fire  in full view of the enemy, going from shell hole to shell hole, giving advice and cheering his men. Itb was repoted of him that : ‘His gallant conduct had the greatest effect on all ranks and it was largely owing to his personal courage and example that the shell hell hole line was held.’

This is his gravestone with its tumbling cross and plot overgrown at Holy Trinity Churchyard,  East Sussex.

This is James Firth who, as a sergeant in South Africa in 1900, during the Second Boer War, when in an action at a farm, picked up a wounded fellow soldier and carried him to cover then later that day, rescued a wounded officer and carried him over a ridge to shelter and in the process was himself shot through the eye and the nose.

This is his gravestone with it face eroded at Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield.

Britain has about 1,000 VC graves which have fallen into neglect because either blood lines die out or families become unaware of their existence, or else cannot afford to look after them. Contrary to popular belief, these gravestones  are not the responsibility of the 'Commonwealth and War Graves Commission,' which is concerned only with the graves of those who died in the two World Wars.
 Hope, however, is at hand :

This is Gary Stapleton, who :

* happened to visit the grave of Thomas Bryan, VC at the Arksey Cemetery near his home in Doncaster and was shocked by the condition it was in.

* contacted his local council who arranged for the site to be cleaned and re-turfed and the headstone to be cleaned.

*  was appalled to find that the grave was not a 'one off' and said that : "It soon became clear that, this was and is, a nationwide problem. I find it disgraceful that these graves are neglected in this way. After all, these men were revered in their lifetimes, so why don’t we extend that same reverence to their graves?"

*  set up the 'Victoria Cross Trust' and is raising funds to carry out a survey of all graves, including those overseas and aims to ‘provide and maintain memorials and grave markers to commemorate the lives of holders of the Victoria Cross, as well as to educate the public about their lives and resting places.'

* said : "It is fantastic that we’ve come a step closer to enshrining in law the protection of graves belonging to people honoured for the highest act of valour. It will give people a sense of pride in the country and tell the whole world that we are proud of these men. We want Victoria Cross graves to become like Grade II listed buildings, so they are always maintained and nothing can happen to them without permission."
This is Thomas Bryan who, in 1917 near Arras inn France, although wounded, went forward alone, in order to silence a machine-gun which was inflicting much damage, approached the gun from behind, disabled it and killed two of the team.
This is, thanks to Gary, his spruced up headstone surrounded by fresh turf.

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