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Remembering Bristol’s First World War VCs

August 26, 2014

This morning I unveiled a memorial stone to Captain Douglas Reynolds, on the hundredth anniversary of the action that led to him being awarded Britain’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.

In this centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War there will be many events around Britain and the rest of Europe. There will be further anniversaries to mark down to 11 Novemeber 2018, a hundred years after the Armistice on the western front that now sets the date for our annual Remembrance Sunday event for all conflicts.

The government is supporting a wide ranging programme of events over the next four years. These include battlefield tours for schools, where children will also be learning to play the “Last Post”. The Communities Department is providing memorial paving stones to be laid in the communities of origin of the recipients of the Victoria Cross.

There were 628 Victoria Crosses awarded to 627 individuals, as Noel Chavasse was the only man to be awarded twice. Over the next four years memorial stones will be laid across the British Isles, 361 in England, 16 in Wales, 70 in Scotland and 35 in Ireland, which at that time was all within the United Kingdom.  The remaining 145 memorials will all be laid at the National Memorial Arboretum on 9 March 2015, Commonwealth Day.

This Commonwealth group reminds us of the fact that the war was the first truly global conflict. It was a clash of European empires, drawing in colonial soldiers from around the world. I have visited the memorials in Ypres in Flanders, where the name Singh is more common than Smith or Williams. There was also combat at sea and on land around the world.

Some people may ask why are we commemorating a war that is now outside the life memory of everyone. I think it is right that we do so.  The First World War touched the lives of every community and family in a way not seen before.  The wars of the nineteenth century and before were fought in the main by regular soldiers and sailors. The war from 1914 – 18 was a total war, particularly after conscription was introduced in 1916. As so many men were in uniform, the role of women was also changed profoundly, working in the fields and munitions factories. After the end of the war, the British social order was never the same, with the ‘ruling class’ weakened by taxes, the end of deference and the universal franchise.

I hope the paving stones and various events will rekindle an interest in the war in every community.  There are war memorials in every town and many workplaces and schools, listing the names that could be brought to life by research.  I hope to discover more about my great-grandfather Stephen Davies, who served and survived physically but died in a mental hospital years later.

Today’s event in Castle Park, Bristol, was to commemorate the sixth winner of the VC, the first from Bristol.  Captain Reynolds was awarded his VC for an action on 26 August 1914, just three weeks after the war started. He led his men to recapture a gun at Le Cateau, Belgium Mons. He survived this episode but was killed by gas poisoning in February 1916 and is buried at Etaples. His VC is on display at the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich.

The next Bristol memorial stone will be laid on 20th November, the centenary of the VC being awarded to Thomas Rendle.  The other six Bristol VCs are Frederick Room (1917), Hardy Falconer Parsons (1917), Daniel Burges (1918), Harry Blansard Wood (1918), Manley Angell James (1918) and Claude Congreve Dobson (1919).

Bristol has one of the very best commemorative programmes in the country over the next four years. See for more details.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Peace permalink
    August 27, 2014 4:39 pm

    I believe we should talk less about war and more about peace. We should remember all the men, women and children on all sides who have been victims of war. But we should also remember the governments who start these wars and the fact that they are still doing it, supported by the military and the arms industry who make livings and profits out of war and death. Perhaps if we talked more about Conscientious Objectors, Pacifism and anti-war movements we would get a little bit closer to peace.

    • August 28, 2014 11:08 pm

      I will shortly be writing a blog about conscientious objectors in WW1.

      • Crow permalink
        October 8, 2014 6:56 pm

        How shortly? 🙂 Been awhile… Sorry…. I think it’s true though, there IS too much emphasis on war. It may still have gone un-noticed by many, but the Great Human Cull, as I have been calling it for a few years now, is very much under way. If ebola gets into the Middle East then all bets are off, the human world will be ripped open and gutless.

        It is high time we acted liek Churchill did, with a unifying spirit so we have the best shot at surviving what is likely to hit us soon of we do nothing, and it will take a lot more than guns and bombs to fix this, it will take the good will of most people on Earth to make it possible to self-regulate its population. It’;s already clear than if we do not, the Earth will force this on us, either by turning us against each other, or finding some other way to limit our predation on it. Our survival needs a lot more than some nice warmhearted ideology, we need to take more risks than before, and they are so big we can’t bear them alone.

        This coming cull will make two main choices for all of us: to join with those who negotiate some kind of adapted survival, or those who die because they failed to do this. The sooner we decide this the better, and talk of war is a bad way to go because it occupies too many minds for too much of the time in thought that won’t get much solved. We need to learn from the past, but not to bury ourselves in it. The future is catching up too fast to allow it now. What we do in the nest few years, as Churchill said, will make the future that others will be able to celebrate, if we are willing to deal with the threats in a way that does not leave us divided and beaten.

  2. Joe permalink
    September 26, 2014 7:18 am

    No doubt quickly followed by one on why bombing Iraq is the right thing to do…

  3. Crow permalink
    October 8, 2014 6:42 pm

    Two posts in two days, then nothign for nearly two months. It’s a great day for blogging somethign to do with the Liberals. Wakey wakey, poke…poke. 🙂

    I’ll respond to the imaginary post anyway:

    While I am sorely tempted to vote Labour as part of the best shot at pulling the country out of a dive it can ill-afford, Clegg’s closign speech today was the best thing I’ve heard said for a very long time, it is convincing, and if held firm, sets a course that might work yet. After all, the IMF have stated that our recession was not as bad as first thought (and even the Tories had to accept that it was not a triple dip recession). And I hear recently that some credit-setting bods (fitch, Standard and Poor, or suchlike), said that if Britain leaves the EU it’s credit rating will be downgraded. Fair enough, given that if a person or group in debt runs from its debtors into self-imposed miserliness, the first thing to go is trust in that person or group paying its debts! The swiveleyesed isolationists are dangerous, likely to court their own worst nightmares, and there was VERY little of the kind of thought and speech that we at last heard today from Clegg. I could say ‘too little too late’, but perhaps it is better to say ‘better late than never’!

    I’m not sure that this speech has won my vote back, but it has at least made the decision a difficult one, and if undecided come the day, the Liberals would get my vote.

    All that said, I think last election, instead of failing to talk to Labour, and perhaps to get them back on the horse and make sure they rode it straight, when instead of this, the Liberals never even spoke to Labour, and took just five days to get in bed with the Tories, that was a disgraceful thing. That really hurtm far more than all the things people usually say against the Liberals. That one was really bad, it was a decision that did not fairly judge the situation, and left me and many others feelign betrayed. That error has cost the Liberals very heavily. The Tories would have prolonged the crisis, using to gain much more unfair advantage for a rich few than they already, nakedly and openly now, profess to do! The Liberal guy on the PM program today was right, the Tories would have left us worse off if they’d ruled alone, and we’d not have seen a recovery that even in its unequal state, does at least seem to be real now.

    Today’s words from Clegg suggest that things I warned of in posts here at least two or more years ago are now fuly recognised. Now, I’m no soothsayer, this should have been obvious long ago. But as I say, better late than never. If you help pull this country out of the worst self-inflicted dive it has seen in living memory, then you’ll gain more than you ever lost, because you won’t be gaining it selfishly and with the kind of cruelty that ‘gain’ seems to mean right now..


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