Stonyhurst battle to honour First World War VC hero

Victoria Cross clasp
Victoria Cross clasp
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A war hero, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in the First World War, could be left out of government commemoration activities centred around the centenary of the Great War in 2014, according to concerned campaigners.

Andrew Johnson, headmaster of Stonyhurst College near Clitheroe, is disappointed by the potential exclusion from the commemorative scheme of former pupil Maurice Dease, the first Victoria Cross winner to be killed in action in the First World War, who is one of seven Victoria Cross winners to attend the school.

The Department of Communities and Local Government recently announced its plan to commemorate First World War Victoria Cross winners with special paving stones, as part of the 2014 centenary. However, the commemorative stones will only be for those VC winners born in the UK. This means that the bravery of some VCs – like Lieutenant Dease – will not be recognised.

Lt Dease was born in Ireland, but came to England aged eight to attend school, first in Hampstead and then at Stonyhurst.

On August 23rd, 1914, at the Battle of Mons, Dease’s battalion was in charge of two guns defending the bridge at Nimy. He was wounded three times while covering the withdrawal, before being killed in action.

Andrew Johnson, headmaster of Stonyhurst College, said: “It’s a source of great pride at Stonyhurst that seven of our former pupils have been awarded the Victoria Cross. Every one of them is a hero and an inspiration to our students. That one of them should not be commemorated next year, on the anniversary of his death, simply because he was born in Ireland, is totally unacceptable.

“Young people need to know this country’s history and commemorating the bravery of Lt Dease, who once sat in the same classrooms as they did, would be a wonderful way to make the first world war relevant to them. I hope the government will change their mind and help us to inspire the Lt Deases of tomorrow.”

Thinktank British Future has written to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles urging him to revise the terms of the scheme so that servicemen with a significant local connection, like Lt Dease, are suitably commemorated in their community.

British Future Director Sunder Katwala said: “Commemorating Victoria Cross winners should be a question of their bravery, not their birthplace.

“This loophole in the First World War centenary commemorations is clearly causing upset to communities who want to honour their local war heroes. The government should close it as soon as possible.

“The ‘paving stones’ scheme was clearly inspired by the success of the ‘golden postboxes’ in the hometowns of British athletes who won gold at the Olympics last year. The public would have been rightly concerned if Bradley Wiggins or Mo Farah – born in Belgium and Somalia respectively – had been excluded from this commemoration.

“We should ensure that all VC winners with a substantial local connection are honoured in the most suitable place.

“The same principle applies to Commonwealth VC winners who did not live in Britain. Shipping paving stones to Australia, India and Canada probably isn’t the answer, but these men still fought and died for Britain in the first world war and deserve to be suitably commemorated in 2014.”