Stone commemorates first VC officer

Lancaster And Morecambe Citizen: Recipients of the Victoria Cross are being honoured as part of First World War commemorations Recipients of the Victoria Cross are being honoured as part of First World War commemorations

The first officer to be awarded a Victoria Cross in the First World War was honoured today exactly 100 years since his heroic action.

A commemorative paving stone in memory of Captain Francis Grenfell was unveiled at a ceremony in Guildford, Surrey, as part of a nationwide scheme.

Part of Britain's First World War centenary commemorations, the scheme will see each VC winner from the Great War remembered with a paving stone in their home town.

Capt Grenfell, who was born at Hatchlands, East Clandon, near Guildford, was the first officer to be awarded a VC in the war for his bravery while helping to cover the withdrawal from Mons.

Today's commemorations in Guildford, attended by around 20 members of the officer's family, included a service at the town's Holy Trinity Church followed by a ceremony at Tunsgate Arch on Guildford High Street, where the stone was laid.

Members of the 9th/12th Lancers Prince of Wales's Regiment also travelled from Germany to attend the ceremony, bringing Capt Grenfell's medals which he left to his regiment.

The officer, who joined the army straight from Eton, was commissioned into the infantry and served during the South African war. An international polo player, he transferred to the 9th (Queen's Royal) Lancers.

Exactly 100 years ago today, he rode with the regiment in a charge against a large body of German infantry at Audregnies, Belgium.

After heavy casualties he was left as the senior officer and was rallying part of the regiment behind a railway embankment when he was twice hit and severely wounded.

In spite of his injuries, he and some volunteers helped save the guns, pulling them out of range of enemy fire.

Capt Grenfell was brought home wounded twice and each time returned to the Western Front but was killed in action at Hooge in the Ypres salient on May 24 1915, aged 34. His regiment carried his body five miles out of the lines to bury him in Vlamertinghe churchyard.

Awarding him the VC for his bravery, King George V wrote to his guardian and uncle: "The Queen and I are grieved beyond words that your gallant nephew has fallen in battle.

"I was proud to give him his nobly earned Victoria Cross and trusted that he might live to wear it for many years. Our heartfelt sympathy."

Councillor Matt Furniss, portfolio holder for Guildford's First World War commemorations, said: "We are honoured to commemorate the life of a local World War One hero, Captain Francis Grenfell."

As part of the scheme, e ach of the 430 men awarded the Victoria Cross - the British Empire's highest medal for military valour - in the First World War will have their names enshrined in a paving stone in their home town.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "One hundred years ago today these brave young soldiers were rightly awarded Britain's highest military honour for acts of exceptional courage in the cause of liberty.

"Today communities are gathering to lay the first paving stones in their honour as a fitting tribute to their bravery. We remember that these men were not born heroes. They came from towns and cities just like ours, but went on to carry out astonishing acts of valour in service of their country."

Each stone will be installed on the 100th anniversary of the action for which each medal was issued, and will include a digital sign or QR (Quick Response) code giving people more information about the person whose memory it preserves.

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