Ipswich VCs’ memory recorded for all time

Victoria Cross Commemoration of A.F. Saunders VC and S. Harvey VC.

Victoria Cross Commemoration of A.F. Saunders VC and S. Harvey VC. - Credit: Archant

The actions of two Ipswich World War One heroes have been recorded for all time with the unveiling of plaques to their memory at the entrance to Christchurch Park.

Sgt Arthur Saunders and Pte Sam Harvey were both awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions in different parts of the Battle of Loos in northern France in September 1915.

Now their names have been recorded for all time at the Soane Street entrance to the park.

Both survived the war and lived for many years after they were honoured in their home town – but their lives could not have been much more contrasting.

But on Saturday relatives of both men attended as their youngest descendents unveiled the plaques.

Sgt Saunders was the first to be awarded the VC after he continued to man a machine gun position in the heat of the battle after his comrades had been killed or withdrawn – he carried on fighting despite sustaining an appalling injury to his leg.

After he was relieved, treated and invalided out of the army he returned to Ipswich where a fund had been set up and raised more than £300 – enough to buy him a house in the town.

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He returned to work at Ransomes, Sims, and Jeffries and became a pillar of the town – he was a magistrate for many years – and served as Quartermaster of the Ransomes’ Home Guard unit in the Second World War. He died at the age of 68 in 1947.

Pte Harvey was also wounded in winning the VC – it was awarded for his action in bringing supplies to front-line forces under heavy enemy fire.

But his story was very different to Sgt Saunders.

He had been a soldier in the Boer War, but after disciplinary problems he had been discharged from the army on his return to Britain.

At the outbreak of the war he wanted to enlist again, but did not want to rejoin the Suffolks – so he travelled north to join the York and Lancashire Regiment.

After leaving the army he returned to Ipswich, but as the town’s second VC winner he did not have a fund raised for him and struggled for the rest of his life.

He often lived rough, and did have scrapes with the law – although he did live a long life. After his death at the age of 79 in 1960 he was buried in a pauper’s grave in Ipswich Cemetery. A campaign resulted in the purchase of a headstone for this grave in 2000.

Family members were at the heart of Saturday’s commemorations.

Three of Sgt Saunders grandchildren: Nina Frazer, Ian Saunders, and Barry Saunders were at the ceremony along with younger members of their family.

They remember their grandfather as a very “Victorian” figure at the head of the family but someone who was very modest about his achievements.

Mrs Frazer said: “He never talked about the war. He was quite a stern figure.”

His two sons both went into the services – Thomas went into the Royal Navy and Eddie went into the RAF.

At one stage Sgt Saunders felt they were getting too easy an introduction to service life and wrote to ask their officers to toughen them up.

Helping to unveil the plaque was Sgt Saunders’ great, great grandson Daniel Saunders who had come with his family from his home in Northamptonshire.

He said: “I think he was a hero because he kept on battling even after he was very heavily wounded. He was very brave.”

Pte Harvey’s great nephew William Harvey, from Belstead Avenue, is too young to have met the war hero – but heard stories about him from his father who had known him.

His medals disappeared many years ago but Mr Harvey had traced the VC to a collector in Canada. After the death of the collector his medals had been sold by an auction house in London but they had not been able to give any details of the new owner.

Mr Harvey said: “We’re still trying to research the family, but at least we know the medal is out there somewhere – each one is unique with the name of the recipient on it.”