Victoria Cross of “The Hero with the Shovel” Comes Home to Reading
Reading Borough Council Press Release
READING Museum is pleased to announce that Trooper Fred Potts’ Victoria Cross medal will be on display as part of its forthcoming “Reading at War” exhibition.
The medal has been on loan to Lord Ashcroft VC’s collection at the Imperial War Museum. Its owner – a descendant of Trooper Potts – has now agreed to relocate it to Reading in time for the exhibition’s opening in April. All thanks to arrangements made between Reading Museum and Imperial War Museum to support a temporary loan.
Trooper Potts Family: The Potts’ family is delighted and proud that the opportunity has arisen to display the VC in Fred’s Home Town of Reading. The medal represents not only the personal act of bravery but the recognition of the selfless contribution of men from modest backgrounds who voluntarily served their country and, more particularly, The Berkshire Yeomanry during the First World War. It is hoped that this raises awareness of these men who served then and since so that they are remembered and valued within their local community.
Michael Naxton, Curator of Lord Ashcroft’s VC Collection and Patron of the Trooper Potts VC Trust, has commented that whilst many VCs are the result of “daring do”, on the spur of the moment when men are faced with the need to take a specific objective, this VC was unusual in being awarded to a man who stayed by a severely wounded colleague – over a period of 48 hours – and took action to ensure he was rescued at considerable risk to himself.
Richard Bennett, Chairman of the Trooper Potts VC Trust said:
“We are delighted that Reading Museum has been able to negotiate the loan of Fred Potts VC Medal strip. The VC will be 'coming home,' if just for the period of the exhibition. The Museum plans to make the medal a key feature of their exhibition 'Reading at War'.
“We have found that the story of Fred’s personal support to a wounded comrade reaches out to people, in particular to children and students. We do hope parents will bring their children to see the exhibition and these medals. If people feel inspired to contribute to the Tust’s plan to erect a memorial to Fred Potts VC and Arthur Andrews that will be a bonus.”
Cllr Paul Gittings, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Culture, added:
“Of over nine million British and Commonwealth soldiers who fought in the Great War, only 627 received the highest award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. Only 14 Victoria Cross medals have been awarded since the end of the Second World War. This tells us what an extremely rare item this medal is. Museum objects tell stories and we are very proud that Reading Museum has been given the privilege of displaying this precious artefact.”
Reading at War Exhibition 5 April – 14 September 2014
Marking the centenary of the First World War’s outbreak, ‘Reading at War’ will be a focal point for our town to explore how war throughout history has shaped Reading’s character.
One of the items featured will be the story of Fred Potts VC and Trooper Arthur Andrews, both of whom hailed from Reading and lived in Reading for most their lives. They were both shot in Gallipoli, Turkey, when advancing on Turkish lines, Scimitar Hill – Hill 70, at 18:15hrs on August 21st 1915.
This advance was the largest single-day attack ever mounted by the Allies at Gallipoli, involving three divisions. Over a period of 48 hours a severely injured Arthur was tended to by Fred, who was also wounded. Eventually Fred found a shovel, tied Arthur to it and dragged him back to the British lines – just 600 yards – reaching the lines of the 6th Regiment Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 31st Infantry Brigade at 21:30hrs on August 23rd.
Fred was awarded the VC for his deed. It was the first VC awarded to a man from the Yeomanry in the war.
The exhibition draws extensively from the Museum’s collections of artefacts and images to explore the impact of war though the ages. Earlier conflicts represented include the 9th century Viking raids and the English Civil War siege of 1643. The more recent account of the Second World War will focus on the devastating air raid on Reading town centre in 1943, in which 41 people lost their lives.
Displays will highlight the impact of the First World War when thousands of local men and boys joined the armed forces, leaving behind their loved ones. Reading’s workforce – particularly women – were mobilised to support the war effort and to care for wounded soldiers in the town’s hastily-organised war hospitals.
By setting our First World War collections within a wider history of how conflicts in our own time have impacted on Reading people, ‘Reading at War’ will also provoke thought and ask visitors to consider questions of why we remember and how war affects our lives today.
The exhibition will be complemented with a program of events for all ages. Look out for full details on Reading Museum’s website http://www.readingmuseum.org.uk
Notes for Editors:
Brendan Carr, Community Engagement Curator 0118 937 3548 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The medal is on loan to the IWM from the family of Fred Potts (Mr Robert Binham). The full medal strip of Fred Potts will be on display at Reading Museum. This includes;
The Victoria Cross, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-1920, Victory Medal 1914-1919, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937.
Fred Potts’ VC was Gazetted on 1st October in the London Gazette (page 9641):-
War Office, 1st October, 1915. His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the under mentioned Man:
No. 1300 Private Frederick Owen Potts, I/1st Berkshire Yeomanry, Territorial Force. For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to a wounded comrade in the Gallipoli Peninsula Although himself severely wounded in the thigh in the attack on “Hill 70 ” on 21st August, 1915, he remained out over 48 hours under the Turkish trenches with a private of his Regiment who was severely wounded and unable to move, although he could himself have returned to safety. Finally he fixed a shovel to the equipment of his wounded comrade, and, using this as a sledge, he dragged him back over 600 yards to our lines, though fired at by the Turks on the way. He reached our trenches at about 9.30 p.m. on 23rd August.
Presentation by The King.
Lance-Corpl Potts was decorated by the King with the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace 9th December 1915. A report from The Berkshire Chronicle Friday December 17th 1915 says:
Fred was stationed at Windsor, on the Wednesday 8th December he received a wire summoning him to appear before his Majesty the next morning. He left Windsor on the 7.27 am train accompanying three of his chums who were wounded at the same time as himself at Hill 70. These included Corporal Bob Wells and Trooper Frederick Bennett.
When Lance Corporal Potts arrived at the Palace he was ushered into an ante-room which was filled by several officers who were waiting to be received by his Majesty for the purpose of being decorated with various honours. Lance Corporal Potts was the only one of non-commissioned rank present.
Ultimately he was conducted into the King's presence, his Majesty shaking him heartily by the hand.
The record of Lance Corporal Potts' heroic action was read out then the King conversed with him for between five and ten minutes and said how pleased he was to convey the honour on him. His Majesty inquired how Trooper Andrews, whom Lance Corporal Potts rescued, was progressing and spoke in terms of high appreciation of the great gallantry the VC displayed.
Trooper Andrews, we are pleased to state, is making capital progress towards recovery. He is now in hospital in England.
Fred Potts was born and raised on Edgehill Street in the Katesgrove area of Reading. He trained as an engineer and before the war worked for The Pulsometer Engineering Company Ltd, now SPP Pumps Ltd whose World Head office is based in Theale. After the war he kept a tailor's shop on Alpine Street, which is parallel to Edgehill Street.
He was appointed Lance Corporal by the King immediately prior to his investiture at the palace on 9th December 1915 and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Home Guard at the start of the Second World War.
Fred was also sometime Master of the Aldermaston Masonic Lodge.
When the Unknown Warrior was buried at Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920, Potts, along with 96 other Victoria Cross holders, formed the Honour Guard.
He died on 2 November 1943 at the age of 50. His grave is at Reading Crematorium.
History of the Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is a military decoration which is awarded “For Valour” in the face of the enemy. It is awarded via a submitted citation which usually commences “For outstanding bravery ….”. Members of armed forces of some Commonwealth countries and previous British Empire territories continue to be eligible. It takes precedence over all other orders, decorations and medals, and may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service and to civilians under military command.
The George Cross is the highest gallantry award for civilians, as well as for members of the armed forces. It is awarded for service of the greatest heroism, or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger, which is NOT in the face of the enemy. It is equal in precedence to the Victoria Cross but is second in the order of wear.
The VC came into existence by Queen Victoria signing the Royal Warrant instigating the award on the 29th January 1856, and then approving a specimen Victoria Cross on 3rd March of the same year.
It consists of a Maltese Cross of Bronze with the Royal Crest in the centre and underneath which an Escroll bearing the inscription “For Valour”. The date of the act of bravery is the only thing which goes in the centre of the reverse of the Maltese cross itself. The man’s name, rank and unit are the only details engraved on the suspension bar.
For a medal that is awarded for supreme gallantry, it is a singularly plain, a variable dark brown in colour and relatively unadorned object. It is also quite small, only 1.4 inches by 1.4 inches, weighs less than an ounce overall (about 25 grammes). All this simplicity and gravitas only adds to its eye-catching appearance and mystique.
The bronze for the Victoria Cross came from a captured Chinese-made cannon used by the Russians at Sebastopol during the Crimean War. What is left of the metal is kept at an army base in Telford, Shropshire. It is reputed that today, there is only enough metal left for 80 more medals. All the VC medals made to date were cast and hand chased by the London Jeweller Messrs. Hancocks (now Hancocks and Company).
The most recent VC award was made posthumously to Lance Corporal James Thomas Duane Ashworth VC who was killed in Afghanistan on 13 June 2012 as he led his fire team in an attack on an enemy-held compound. He was only the 14th recipient since the end of the Second World War.
The Great War
The Great War began for Great Britain on the 5th August 1914. The end of hostilities commenced at 11:00 on 11th November 1918
The Gallipoli Campaign
The Allies tried to break the stalemate on the Western Front by attacking Turkey, who were part of the axis powers, in order to open up the sea route from Europe to Russia. The campaign started on 19 February 1915 with a failed naval attack on the Dardanelles Straits. This was followed by a major land invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula, which commenced on April 25, involving British and French troops as well as divisions of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). By mid October heavy casualties had been suffered and little headway made. Evacuation, completed on 9th January 1916 with few casualties, was the only successful part of the whole campaign. Overall there were 250,000 casualties on both sides, including 110,000 killed.
In April 1915 the Berkshire Yeomanry was sent with their horses to Egypt where they remained until ordered to the Dardanelles in August. They fought dismounted.
154 of the 323 Berkshires who advanced on 21st August 1915 did not return. Lieutenant W.E.G Niven (father of the actor David Niven) was amongst the Berkshires killed that day and Major E.S Gooch died in September of wounds received.
The Trooper Potts VC Trust Registered Charity 1147047
The Trust has been established to raise funds to raise a memorial in central Reading to Trooper Potts VC and Trooper Andrews and the men and women of The Berkshire Yeomanry, past present and future. Some 371 men have been killed in the service of the Yeomanry in conflicts including; The Boer War 38, The Great War 301, World War Two 32 and it is aimed to list names of these men on the memorial.
The major sponsor is Haslams Estate Agents.
The estimated cost of the memorial is £165,000. Following the Charity Ball, in November 2013, 37% of the necessary funds have been raised.
Students from Reading College will be holding a fundraising walk in March 2014 from Reading College to Buckingham Palace aiming to raise £1,000. Their lecturer is running the Mizuno Reading Half Marathon to raise funds. Details can be found on; http://twitter.com/TrooperPottsVC
It is aimed to unveil the memorial on 1 October 2015, the centenary of the VC award by HM The King being reported in the London Gazette.
in August 2015, the centenary of the rescue.
Contact: Richard Bennett 01189 598350, 07802 763289
Reading Borough Council Press Releases can be found online at http://www.reading.gov.uk/news/pressreleases/
Media Contact: Brendan Carr
Tel: 0118 937 3548
Tel: 0118 937 2301