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Remembered Today:

Forgotten VC Winner - Urgent Action Needed


Chris Best

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Good evening Pals

The 96 year old Mother of the Landlady at my local attended Buckingham Palace when her uncle was awarded the VC.

He was Lt William Davidson Bissett Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who survived the Great War and WWII and who died in Wrexham in 1971 and was, I believe, cremated there. However, he has a memorial stone in Aldershot Military Cemetery. I searched for stone last time I was in Aldershot a couple of years ago. I didn't find it (I got badly distracted by the number of graves of old mates and acquaintances from my own Aldershot days.

Now, here's the rub. I recalled that the action occurred sometime close to the anniversay of Agincourt and Balaclava - that is - this week.

I just Googled and went to a Wikipedia entry. Sure enough, it confirmed that tomorrow, Saturday 25th October, is the 90th anniversary of William's action at Maing. Also, deep joy, there was a photograph of the Memorial Stone. Not so deep joy - it shows evidence of lack of care and attention over recent years. Have a look.

Any chance of anyone from the 'Shot getting there tomorrow, perhaps with a small bunch of flowers or a Poppy Cross, and taking a date-stamped digital photo? I'll be happy to cover cost of flowers and a gallon or 2 of petrol. It'd be worth it to see the old lady's face - she's a keen genealogist, Mensa member and was a competent artist and ballet dancer in her young day.

Please post back here if you can undertake this mission. First one on gets the task (I can't afford to cover the costs of loads o' volunteers!!! :o ) and subsequent volunteers should wait for the order to advance before proceeding! ;)

A lot to ask, I know.

Cheers, Pals

Chris

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Chris,

I agree that these graves and headstones should be properly maintained by the country they risked their lives for.

The Americans treat their CMH winners as gods! All Congretional Medal of Honor headstones are maintained by the state. Here in the UK our government treats it's past history as though it's an embarassment. The difference between the USA and UK is palpable...

There are many VC men who don't have grave markers or their headstones are falling apart. If you look at my website you will see the photos of some VC winners in Kent. Many are literally rotting away.

I replaced Capt R.N Stuart's headstone in 2004. I have cleaned up quite a few headstones in Kent over the years including - Borton VC, Traynor VC etc....

In my experience the local authorities don't give a toss!

It's a disgrace. My advise is to try do something yourself. Don't bother asking anyone, they have no right to refuse taking into account that they have allowed the thing to deteriorate like this.

Good Luck

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I could probably get in there in the nearish future with a scrubbing brush and cleaner but would hope that someone really local could get in quicker.

Also, I presume this is a large cemetery so finding the grave might be a problem unless there is an on-site listing with map references. Does anyone know about Aldershot. What a pity we didn't know a few weeks back.

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Hi Chris

Didn't think i'd be able to fit it in today but... providing I can I find the grave and the weather/ light holds, I'll give it my best shot. Unfortunately time won't permit cleaning, that will have to wait for another day

Wish me luck

NigelS

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The Americans treat their CMH winners as gods! All Congretional Medal of Honor headstones are maintained by the state. Here in the UK our government treats it's past history as though it's an embarassment. The difference between the USA and UK is palpable...

There are many VC men who don't have grave markers or their headstones are falling apart.

It's a disgrace. My advise is to try do something yourself. Don't bother asking anyone, they have no right to refuse taking into account that they have allowed the thing to deteriorate like this.

Neil

Thank you for your comments and for the work you have put into your own web site - very professional, very informative but, in some instances, depressing. One would hope that local authorities did ". . . give a toss!" but I suspect that such reaction would lead to complaints from ginger groups within the populus that local government funds should not be spent on the maintenance of 'heroic celebrity' graves unless it included police and firemen, ambulance staff and other [extraordinary] ordinary citizens who stepped to the mark and lost their life protecting/helping others. Is it not the general expectation that families/descendants have a [moral] responsibility to maintain graves, from the humblest to the greatest of citizens?

Ah, ha. Doesn't the Army strongly promote regimental ethos? Doesn't it inculcate the sense of family that derives from such spirit? Didn't we all, as recruits, listen, spellbound, to the tales of our brave forebears? Don't regiments and corps spend considerable sums promoting and maintaining the memory of heros? Shouldn't they take an interest in graves and memorials outwith the CWGC's responsibility?

Hmm. I feel a bolshiegram coming on! :glare:

Chris

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I could probably get in there in the nearish future with a scrubbing brush and cleaner but would hope that someone really local could get in quicker.

Also, I presume this is a large cemetery so finding the grave might be a problem unless there is an on-site listing with map references. Does anyone know about Aldershot. What a pity we didn't know a few weeks back.

It is a big cemetery, Ian. As I said in Post 1, I'd searched for the grave without luck. I now know why, of course. First, it's a memorial stone and, second, it wasn't the CWGC shape I'd anticipated.

Perhaps, Nigel might find it. I'll certainly look for it next time I'm down in Surrey/Hampshire and will have a brush and cleaning material with me.

Chris

PS: Can anyone suggest a commercial product that will clean without damaging the stone? :huh: :huh:

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Hi Chris

Didn't think i'd be able to fit it in today but... providing I can I find the grave and the weather/ light holds, I'll give it my best shot. Unfortunately time won't permit cleaning, that will have to wait for another day

Wish me luck

Nigel

Thank you so much. I presume, given the time of your posting, that you must live pretty near to Aldershot?

Anyway, I'm very grateful and have my fingers crossed (which is causing me some difficulty typing).

I'll wait out.

Chris

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Hi Chris

Mission accomplished - well almost, not quite 100%.

post-5512-1224971173.jpg

Sorry about the last minute thing: I first saw your posting last night and was going to volunteer first thing this morning, but a minor domestic crisis overnight threw that plan out of the window. Fortunately, that got resolved allowing time for me to get some flowers and head over to Aldershot (I live in Woking) by mid afternoon.

From the hedge visible in the Wiki image I'd convinced myself that the memorial's location was at the bottom end of the cemetery alongside the road - Wrong! It's actually in plot Z which is alongside the chapel and just yards from where I'd parked up, so I'd actually managed to walk past it! (The inscriptions were facing away from me - least that's my excuse). Fortunately, looking for other suitable hedges, I backtracked and, remembering where I was, bit my tongue when I did eventually spot it. Still the exercise must have done me some good!

What I haven't been able to do without cheating and adding it in by hand, is to datestamp the image; hope the cheat is acceptable. The data must be included in the jpg file format but I've been unable to determine how to display it when the file is just viewed (It's not a function I've ever used, and my camera's manual implies that it's only added when the picture is actually printed). If you'd like a larger, uncompressed version PM me your email address and I'll get it across to you.

The stonework is in sound condition but has become discoloured because of lichen, sap & age etc (staggering that this memorial, although only dating back to '71, is now 37 years old). As you can see from the fallen leaves it's under trees which can't help; I did have time to brush the moss of the base, but would imagine that either a good scrubbing with soap and water or a suitable stone cleaner will be necessary to improve the appearance any further (sadly, because of the location, I'm not sure that it would be very long before it reverted back to the way it is now). I should have thought to take a jar to replace the one that's missing, but the hollow in the stone seems to hold water anyway, so hopefully the flowers will last for a few days.

For others thinking of visiting Aldershot: for CWGC graves - not applicable to Major Bissett - there is a plan of the plots on the CWGC website which can be used in conjunction with the grave references to track down the approximate locations; however, although some are numbered, with the larger plots the way they run is not always clear at a first glance, so allow time for hunting. (there are also some graves tucked away amongst shrubbery which doesn't help). For non CWGC commemorations I'm not sure what the record position is; on the times I've visited the cemetery it has usually been unattended, but the superintendent can, according to signs, be contacted on 01252 348214.

NigelS

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Nigel,

I have just stumbled on your post. It seems a very happy outcome thanks to your determination and perseverance and I am sure that that the mother of the hostess of George's 'local' will be most appreciative. Although not of immediate interest to me, other than the Highland Brigade aspect, I am posting to ensure that your efforts are marked at the first possible opportunity. It is efforts such as yours that make this forum such a worthwhile place.

Ian

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Well done Nigel.

Does anyone know if that shape/design of headstone, which is similar to the CWGC normal stone is widely used for servicemen who are non CWGC burials? I ask this because there is a similar one in a local cemetery.

Alan

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Hi Chris

Mission accomplished - well almost, not quite 100%.

post-5512-1224971173.jpg

Nigel

Outstanding. Thank you so much. It looks so much fresher. I'll PM you.

I'm now going to write to the Regimental Colonel, with before and after pictures of Major Bissett's Memorial stone. I will ask whether or not the Regiment was aware of the state of this Memorial and if there is (or should be) some formal husbandry of such graves and memorials.

If the answer's negative, and if action is beyond the means/remit of the Regimental family, then I'm minded to start another thread on GWF to scope the problem of this and other graves/memorials, nationally, with a view to raising it to a political level.

But thanks again. As Ian says, it's efforts like yours that make the Forum such a wonderful place. Outstanding.

Chris

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A great effort from Nigel - and we also now know where the grave is.

I am sure this cemetery is an interesting one and would be happy to meet up there some time with any other members complete with scrubbing brush - many hands would make light work of cleaning this grave up.

That said, I hope the regiment might be interested in looking after its own.

I found an Australian in Sidcup cemetery recently and even with a form of register it was really quite difficult. I also tried to find Hubert Goughs 60's grave at Camberley but failed. This sort of problem is one of the reasons they become neglected.

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Chris, I have no idea what you are "harping on about" here! If you don't like the work then don't look at it (although in 18 months nearly 75,000 visitors have found it very useful). You really shouldn't be "bad mouthing" the work of other people like this. You are not likely to make friends on this forum by doing this. I can see your own website has nothing to do with military history and is just an ad for your (very nice looking) B&B. Don't throw stones at people you don't know.

Your reaction is very odd, I was merely trying to be helpful with my reply...

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Chris, I have no idea what you are "harping on about" here! If you don't like the work then don't look at it (although in 18 months nearly 75,000 visitors have found it very useful). You really shouldn't be "bad mouthing" the work of other people like this. You are not likely to make friends on this forum by doing this. I can see your own website has nothing to do with military history and is just an ad for your (very nice looking) B&B. Don't throw stones at people you don't know.

Your reaction is very odd, I was merely trying to be helpful with my reply...

Neil

Plainly, I need to attend the school of Plain English. I was not bad-mouthing your work. What I'd intended to say was:

1. You're doing great work - and I liked your site.

2. It's depressing, though, that there are graves and memorials which have deteriorated until people like you, Nigel and others identify them and take action.

3. That I doubted whether local authorities would feel comfortable (or be allowed to get away) with maintenance of private/publicly erected graves and memorials.

4. And, therefore, I felt that regiments and corps, ships and wings, should pick up responsibility for supervision and work - probably through regimental associations etc.

5. Your reply was helpful, I complimented your site, and I hurled no stone.

I still like your site. I am particularly pleased to learn about the link between Edward Mannock VC MC DSO RFC and his early days in the RAMC (V). Thanks.

You can come and stay at our B&B anytime (but book early, we're often full) ;)

Chris

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Chris - thanks for amplifying what your posting was about that Neil reacted so badly to. I can only conclude that Neil read something into your posting that I for one didn't see there at all.

These things do happen on internet Forums. The very odd reaction was all Neil's as far as I can see.

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Okay guys, no harm done :D

In fact Mannock lived in Ashford for a very short while during his days at Ashford's RAMC Territorial Force Drill Hall (2HCFA). He returned from captivity in Turkey to Ashford after finding his HQ had moved from Canterbury to Ashford a year or so earlier. Not many people know that....

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Okay guys, no harm done

In fact Mannock lived in Ashford for a very short while during his days at Ashford's RAMC Territorial Force Drill Hall (2HCFA). He returned from captivity in Turkey to Ashford after finding his HQ had moved from Canterbury to Ashford a year or so earlier. Not many people know that....

And none taken. But, perhaps, there is scope for a debate on the matter of care and maintenance of non-CWGC graves and memorials. There was a brief discussion on the matter on this a.m.'s Today programme.

Mannock is fascinating. I never heard mention of him and I visited the Ashford Drill Hall several times in my later Army years.

I'm sure Pete Starling at the AMS Museum, must know of him.

Chris

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Alas that historic Ashford Drill Hall is no more! Demolished in 1996 to make way for the ugly International Rail Terminal Car Park!

The local authority didn't think it was worth saving despite it's war history. During the Great War the following Territorial Force units used it extensively -

1. HQ 5th Buffs (East Kent Regiment) (1/5, 2/5, 3/5)

2. 2nd (Volunteer) Home Service Battalion, The Buffs (Home Guard type unit)

3. Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles (Yeomanry) Squadron

4. HQ Royal Army Medical Corps (2nd Home Counties Field Ambulance)

5. No 2 Works Company, Kent Fortress Royal Engineers (KFRE)

6. Kent Cyclist Battalion (Squadron)

7. National Reserve / Volunteer Training Force (VTC) (Kent Volunteer Fencibles)

8. The Buffs Army Cadet Force

9. Ashford Grammar School (AGS) Army Cadets (Machine Gun Section)!

It's a great shame that the so called "experts" decided to knock it down like this. I remember that in the 1980's it was used as Ashford's Royal Mail Sorting Office. It had lovely parky flooring thoroughout. That building could have told a few interesting tales I bet...

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What is really needed is an audit of military graves and other content in our churchyards. I presume that VC graves have already been investigated in some depth - but there must be so much additional work to do.

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I agree with Ian. The problem lies in the fact that so many different organisations and individuals are trying to act in such a dis-jointed manner. One organisation needs to take charge and co-ordinate. Don't hold your breath though, it aint going to happen is it, there is no political mileage in it for our clever expert "leaders"...

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Just found this thread. I was in the cemetery a couple of weeks ago as part of a local event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first British flight (Samuel Cody is buried not far from this grave). I was talking to another member of the group and he mentioned this grave had been cleaned up a few years ago by the relevant regiment. He had been doing a guided tour for a leading light in the British Army who wasn't happy with the state of the grave and mentioned he knew the relevant Commanding Officer. If it's not too late you might want to mention that when you write to them as it shows they have taken responsibility for the grave in the past.

As as an aside re the Superintendent. I had cause to phone them on a recent visit as I'd found a distressed young deer trapped in the cemetery railings but only got an answerphone so I'd take as much info on grave location with you as possible when visiting and not rely on them being available. (The story has a happy ending as there is another phone no. on the main gate which turned out to be a local army barracks, it ended up with a fair chunk of the British army trying to rescue an increasingly terrified deer. I left them to it but a subsequent visit revealed a hole in the railings suggesting they managed to free it.)

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Well done Nigel.

Does anyone know if that shape/design of headstone, which is similar to the CWGC normal stone is widely used for servicemen who are non CWGC burials? I ask this because there is a similar one in a local cemetery.

Alan

I came across a non military CWGC type stone recently and after enquiries was told that the design ect is out of copyright and that anyone can use the design.

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On the general subject of VC graves. I would have thought that the relevant Regiment or equivalent, would want to ensure that the grave was looked after. Several years ago my Regimental Association had a new stone erected on the grave of one of our VC and would do again if one came to light

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As a matter of interest there are a number of ex Para soldiers, one of whom is a friend of mine, who are trying to smarten up the graveyard. The authorities responsible for it's upkeep have of course privatised the job. There is a motion to get a full time carer for the place so hopefully it will be properly looked after in future. As with so many things it all takes time.

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