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Sussex war heroes must be honoured
12:00pm Sunday 11th August 2013 in News
Memorial plaques will be laid in Sussex streets over the next four years to mark the bravery shown by First World War soldiers.
The Government has announced plans to lay special commemorative paving stones in the home towns and cities of every UK soldier awarded the Victoria Cross for valour “in the face of the enemy” during the First World War.
Twenty-eight stones will be unveiled next year to commemorate medals awarded in 1914 with the other stones unveiled each year during the First World War celebrations.
Each stone will also have a QR reader, which people can scan using a smartphone to reveal details about the recipient.
The paving stones are just one of a number of projects both locally and nationally planned to mark the centenary of the Great War beginning next year.
Other projects include plans to restore war memorials up and down the country, while two pupils and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in England will take in a visit to the battlefields of the Western Front.
Paving stones will be laid in East Grinstead to mark the birthplace of Private Sidney Godley, while Hailsham is also set to be adorned with a plaque in 2016 to mark the achievements of Sergeant Major Nelson Carter.
However, while these local heroes will once again have their moment in the limelight, more than 20 other VC holders lying in Sussex graveyards will not be included because they weren’t born where they now lie.
These include five buried in Brighton cemeteries including Frederick Booth, who during an attack in Tanzania in 1917 came to rescue an injured man and then rallied the poorly organised native troops.
Pic: Spink/PA Wire
Other heroes include Major General Clifford Coffin who was awarded the Victoria Cross while inspecting frontline positions in Belgium under heavy machine gun fire.
His grave in Holy Trinity Church, Colemans Hatch near Crowborough was dubbed the “worst kept in the country” until it was restored by The Victoria Cross Trust in January.
Trust chairman Gary Stapleton welcomed the move to mark the VC holders but said it was “frustrating” that many of their resting places remained forgotten or neglected.
He said: “Part of the frustration for us is the Government paying for these paving slabs when so many of these graves are in a bad order.
“As much as it’s great for any memorial for the VCs, it’s disappointing that we are ignoring the graves themselves.”
Councils across the county have started work on their plans to mark the centenary.
Brighton and Hove City Council said they are working on plans to match the national commemorative events marking the anniversary of the start of the First World War in 2014, the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 2016 and Armistice Day in 2018 among other dates.
A Brighton Museum-led project is already under way collecting First World War stories, photos and mementoes for a major new exhibition.
Cllr Geoffrey Bowden, chairman of Brighton and Hove City Council’s economic development and culture committee, said: “In Brighton and Hove we are preparing a vibrant and respectful programme of events with a historical, cultural and community focus.
“The emerging programme is already well developed, for example though our work with the Civil Military Partnership Board.
“We will add to this in the autumn when we will meet with military representatives, veteran groups, residents and community groups to discuss our approach and develop ideas for the four year centenary period.”
Private Sidney Godley
Sidney Godley was the first private to win a Victoria Cross.
The East Grinstead soldier received the award for his heroic defence of a strategically important bridge, bravely manning a machine gun to defend a position while under heavy fire from German soldiers.
Godley fought on despite being injured by shrapnel in his back and a bullet lodged in his skull.
During his four years as a prisoner of war, he was told by his captors that he had been awarded the VC and was invited to dine with the Germans one Christmas Day as a mark of respect.
He died in 1957 and was buried with full military honours in Loughton Cemetery in Essex, where his grave now lies in an untidy state.
His medal was sold at auction this year for £276,000.
Sergeant Major Nelson Carter
CSM Carter was awarded the Victoria Cross after valiantly giving his life in battle.
A company sergeant major in the 12th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, he died from injuries sustained during the fighting at Boar’s Head in France in June 1916.
Under intense shell and machine gun fire he managed to penetrate a second enemy line to inflict heavy casualties with bombs.
When forced to retire, he captured a machine gun and shot the gunner with his revolver. After carrying several wounded men to safety, he was mortally wounded and died moments later.
His Victoria Cross is at the Eastbourne Redoubt Museum and a blue plaque is on display on the wall of his home in Greys Road in Eastbourne.
Bid to restore war hero’s grave
A charity has launched its largest ever fundraising campaign to restore the grave of a war hero.
The Victoria Cross Trust is looking to raise £25,000 to restore the neglected grave of Lieutenant-General Sir Wilbraham Oates Lennox, which lies in Woodvale Cemetery in Brighton.
Lennox became the first soldier from the Royal Engineers to receive a VC during the Crimean War.
In 1854 at Sevastopol he led 100 men into rifle-pits which had just been captured from the enemy, and despite extreme exposure to attack, managed to maintain the position through the night.
He was born in Goodwood in 1830 and is a first cousin to the ancestors of the current Duke of Richmond and Earl of March.
Lennox died in February 1897 and was buried in Woodvale Cemetery, where his grave has become overgrown and neglected more than a century later.
Gary Stapleton, chairman of The Victoria Cross Trust, said the restoration of Lennox’s grave would be the most expensive in its history.
He said: “The grave is part of a family plot so we can’t just repair Lennox’s grave and leave the others.
“There is a tree growing in the middle of the grave which is expensive to remove and we will also have to pay to replace it.
“There is a lot of lettering on these stones, each stone has up to 400 letters on them, and it costs £1.50 a letter so the costs quickly mount up.”
Mr Stapleton said if the “neglected and damaged” grave was not repaired soon, it would “disappear”.
He added: “If you repair this grave then people will come to see it.
“We’ve already had people contact us saying they are going to Brighton and want us to tell them exactly where the grave was.
“We’ve had people from New Zealand, Australia, the US and Japan ask about the grave.”
Mr Stapleton said if residents of Brighton and Hove helped to meet the fundraising target, the trust would pay for a commemorative plaque in Brighton to mark Lennox’s memory.
Stonemasons a cut above
A Sussex-based firm of stonemasons are the only firm entrusted to restore the graves of Victoria Cross heroes.
The Victoria Cross Trust said they exclusively use Tilleys Stonemasons, which has offices in Worthing and Brighton.
The family firm were formed in 1930 and have been involved in work for the War Graves Commission since the 1940s.
Vanessa West from Tilleys said: “The firm has been involved with war graves for a long, long time, going back to the 1950s.
“It’s very important work, all the graves have to be spot on and it is a nice thing to be known for.”
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