Over a two day period in September the team from the Victoria Cross Trust were busy in Brookwood cemetery cleaning the graves of Victoria Cross recipients and developing its veteran community in the use of specialist equipment and cleaning techniques. All made possible through support and funding received as part of the Maintaining the Memories project from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund.
The Doff system used delivers 150 degree low pressure steam from the lance to the surface to remove dirt and grime that has built up over time. The system minimises any chance of damaging the stonework or lettering restoring the grave to very near its former glory.
The stories and history behind the men who earned the VC are spectacular and their final resting place needs to be kept pristine in keeping with their service to the country. The following graves were restored.
With Frisby VC being checked and tidied
In addition we also took the time to clean family graves of Mangles VC and Wright VC and also a grand memorial to the Moir family as a thankyou to Brookwood cemetery .
Mangles VC was our first on arrival and immediately behind family members were also attended to. We were joined by Tony Jones who had travelled to join us to lend his support.
Ross Lowis Mangles VC was one of only four civilian recipients of the VC, a member of the Bengal Civil Service. His action caused a change in the rules of eligibility to allow civilians to be awarded in the face of the enemy. At the siege of Arrah 13th July 1857 during the Indian Mutiny he carried a wounded colleague for 6 miles through swampy ground to safety over 48 hours in enemy territory.
Only cleaned 5 years ago the grave had deteriorated considerably with a black deposit covering all areas.
He was 28 years old and serving in the 2nd Bn, Gordon Highlanders. After the main Boer position was taken, the Gordons started to waver under heavy fire as they were about to charge a kopje. Seeing the danger, Meiklejohn sprang forward, calling on the men to follow him. The position was captured, but he was severely wounded, losing an arm. He died on 4 July 1913, following a fall from his horse.
Hartley VC – very close by to Meiklejohn and in need of attention but due to its structure and stone type not as badly affected as Meiklejohn.
At MOROSI’S MOUNTAIN 5 June 1879 aged 32 years old and serving in the Cape Mounted Riflemen, South African Forces he crossed open ground under heavy fire and carried Corporal Johns to safety. He then returned under fire in order to dress the wounds of the other wounded men. This work he did throughout the day. He died on 20 March 1919.
Day 2 saw the weather hold and work on Wright VC and family commenced with both graves in a sorry state.
Wright VC - NIGERIA 26 February 1903 aged 27 years old and serving in the 1st Bn, Queen’s West Surrey Regiment when, with just 45 men, he repulsed the most determined attacks by 1,000 cavalry and 2,000 infantry for two hours. When the enemy, after heavy losses, fell back in good order, Wright continued to pursue them until they were in full retreat. The personal example of this officer, as well as his skilful leadership, contributed largely to the brilliant success of the operation. He also served in both world wars, and was mentioned in dispatches five times. Wright is one of only a few VC holders who became MPs. He died on 25 March 1953.
In quick succession and due to close promity we were able to address three graves in the north cemetery very quickly.
Reynolds VC – In good state having been placed in recent times commemorating one of the very first VCs. Following a light clean the grave set came up beautifully.
ALMA 20 September 1854 aged 27 years old and serving in the Scots Fusilier Guards. When the formation of the regiment became disordered, he behaved with conspicuous gallantry in helping to rally the men around the colours. He died on 20 October 1869.
The headstones of Hollowell VC and Kenny VC are side beside overwatched by Reynolds VC enabling us to crack on and clean all three with minimal movement of the extremely heavy Doff equipment
Hollowell VC - LUCKNOW 26 September 1857 He was 34 years old and serving in the 78th Regiment of Foot, later the Seaforth Highlanders Ross-shire Buffs (Duke of Albany’s). When the British were forcing their way into the Residency, he was with a party of wounded men left behind in the streets. Under heavy fire, he helped Surgeon Anthony Home, Assistant Surgeon William Bradshaw, Private Peter McManus and Private John Ryan to get the wounded into a house. The three privates kept up a steady fire, shooting rebel after rebel, all the time shouting in chorus to make the enemy think they were more numerous. At one point two privates dashed out into the open to bring back a wounded officer. Meanwhile the two surgeons tended to the wounded, and Home even found time to help in shooting at the rebels. After half an hour the house was set on fire, and they had to flee with the wounded to a nearby shed, which they held for 22 hours. The rebels climbed on to the roof and the defenders had to shoot them through the roof. Soon after dawn, when the group had given up hope of survival, they were rescued. All five men were awarded the VC. He died from heart disease on 4 April 1876.
And next to him Kenny VC
YPRES, Belgium 23 October 1914 He was 34 years old and serving in the 2nd Bn, Gordon Highlanders. He rescued wounded men on five occasions under heavy fire. Twice previously he had saved machine-guns by carrying them out of action, and he conveyed many urgent messages under very heavy fire. He was one of 74 VC holders who formed the honour guard at the interment of the Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920.
Both together Hollowell VC and Kenny VC
Addison VC - We were joined at the grave of Addison VC by Nick Forwood from Secure Construct who supported our stay at Brookwood allowing us to save much needed funds.
SANNA-I-YAT, Mesopotamia 9 April 1916 He was 32 years old and serving in the Army Chaplains Department when he carried a wounded man to cover and assisted several others to the same cover, after binding their wounds. This was carried out under heavy fire. By his splendid example he encouraged the stretcher-bearers to go forward under fire and collect the wounded. He was one of 74 VC holders who formed the honour guard at the interment of the Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920.
Our final grave Sherwood-Kelly VC wrapped up the primary cleans for the two days
MARCOING, CAMBRAI, France 20 November 1917 He was 37 years old and commanding the 1st Bn, Norfolk Regiment (Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers). When heavy fire prevented another battalion from crossing the canal, he personally led the leading company of his battalion across, and then under heavy fire reconnoitred the high ground held by the enemy. The left flank of his battalion became held up by wire, so he crossed to that flank and with a Lewis gun team covered the advance. He later led a successful charge against some rifle pits, during which he captured 5 machine-guns and 46 prisoners. Sherwood-Kelly had also served in the Matabele Revolt of 1896, the Second Boer War, the Zululand Rebellion of 1906 and with the North Russia Relief Force, but was court-martialled for publicly criticising the handling of the BEF. He died from malaria on 18 August 1931. His grandfather Private James Kelly took part in the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’.
Our final act was to clean the memorial to Lieutenant Rex Moir died 1915 and Sir Ernest William Moir 1862 to 1933. Whilst these were not VC there were nonetheless serving their country during WW1 and deserving of remembrance. The team cleaned the statue and Celtic cross with seated area.
Gazette and quotes courtesy of Brazier, Kevin. The Complete Victoria Cross : A Full Chronological Record of All Holders of Britain's Highest Award for Gallantry . Pen and Sword.