Friday, April 25, 2014
A fund of £100,000 has been announced to boost the restoration of the UK graves of our First World War Victoria Cross heroes.
Harry Cator was born in Drayton in 1894, and enlisted in the army the day after his marriage in September 1914. He received the Victoria Cross for heroism near Arras, France, in April 1917, when he advanced with another man across open land and under heavy fire, to attack an enemy machine gun. His companion was killed, but Sgt Cator continued, reached the German trench and killed the entire team operating the gun. He died in Norwich in 1966, and was buried in Sprowston.
The project aims to restore all of these graves in need of repair, including the Sprowston grave of Norfolk’s Harry Cator as well as the Hampshire and London graves of Norwich man Sidney Day and Shipdham-born Arthur Cross.
Headstones will be cleaned or replaced so that the final resting place of those who received the highest military award for valour is a truly fitting tribute to their sacrifice.
The new funding, announced by communities secretary Eric Pickles, will give a significant boost to funds already being raised by the Victoria Cross Trust – a charitable organisation that works to ensure the graves of every Victoria Cross recipient are maintained.
While some graves only require minor work, others have fallen into disrepair. Headstones have become illegible, stones have crumbled away leaving them unstable, and some are in danger of collapse. As a result many people are unaware that a Victoria Cross recipient is buried in their area.
Sidney Day was born in Norwich in 1891, and won the Victoria Cross for actions on August 26, 1917.
After commanding a bombing section which cleared a maze of trenches, he went alone to bomb his way further.
After returning to his side he seized a stick bomb which fell into a trench with men and officers, and threw it over the trench, where it exploded. He then remained at his post for 66 hours, despite “intense hostile shell and rifle grenade fire”.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles said: “An entire generation of men fought for Britain’s freedom in the First World War and all fought valiantly. But for hundreds of those men their bravery was of such an exceptional nature they were bestowed with the highest military award, the Victoria Cross.
“As these men were honoured then for their extreme bravery on the battlefields, they should be honoured still. That is why I am privileged to offer more than £100,000 towards this project to ensure that their final resting places are venerated memorials where communities can pay their respects and learn about their local heroes.
“This will make sure the graves of our Victoria Cross heroes become places to reflect on their selfless service to the nation. Alongside the creation of commemorative paving stones we will create a fitting tribute to honour these heroes.”
Brian Wilson, chairman of the Norfolk and Norwich Combined Ex-services Association, said: “I think it’s a good thing because we should remember them.
Arthur Cross was born in Shipdham in 1884. He won a Victoria Cross after advancing alone on an enemy trench. He was a fire-watcher in the Blitz, when his wife and two children died. He lent his VC to David Niven, (pictured below), for the film Carrington VC, and died in 1965.
“The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is doing the graves and memorials in France so I can’t see why the graves over here shouldn’t have some respect too.
“Sometimes I think the word hero is used too liberally but the men who were given the Victoria Cross were true heroes and we don’t know if they still have any family looking after their graves.”
Last year Mr Pickles announced a national campaign of commemorative paving stones to be laid in the place of birth of First World War Victoria Cross winners across the country so that communities will have a permanent memorial of their local heroes.
The commemorative paving stones will be laid in over 400 communities across the UK, the first of which will be laid in August 2014.
For more information, about the Victoria Cross Trust and its work, visit http://victoriacrosstrust.org/contact
More information on government’s plans for the First World War centenary can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/first-world-war-centenary