Suffolk: Campaign to honour First World War Victoria Cross winner who fell on hard times

Private Samuel Harvey (Left) at Buckingham Palace Garden Party 1919. Pictured with George V and Quee

Private Samuel Harvey (Left) at Buckingham Palace Garden Party 1919. Pictured with George V and Queen Mary

He was the Ipswich First World War hero who risked his own life for his country and whose gallant actions were recognised with the highest military honour. But when armistice day came and the guns fell silent, Private Samuel Harvey’s life descended into a grim world of drink and rough sleeping.

He took on odd jobs just to get by and had few possessions – and when he died in Stowmarket in 1960 he was given only a pauper’s funeral at Ipswich Old Cemetery.

It was all a far cry from the pomp and ceremony of his visit to Buckingham Palace after he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

But now a campaign has been launched to honour Pte Harvey after his story of bravery and tragedy struck a chord with the residents of an Ipswich care home.

The group from Park View Care Home want to properly highlight and do justice to the courage of Pte Harvey.

Although a headstone was added to his grave in 2000, they have set about remembering the war hero by raising money which they hope will go towards either a memorial bench or an urn which will be placed at the burial site.

Mandy Dennington, activities co-ordinator at Park View Care Home, said: “It just seemed so sad for him and we wanted to do something for him.”

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Pte Harvey, who was born in Nottingham, suffered a gunshot wound to the head during the Battle of Loos on September 29, 1915, when he was running back and forth across open land to fetch grenades for his comrades in the first battalion, the York and Lancaster Regiment.

It was these actions which earnt him the Victoria Cross.

After receiving his medal from King George V at Buckingham Palace in 1917 it was reported that he said “mine’s a pint”.

But the statement would become a self-fulfilling prophecy for Pte Harvey, whose life was affected by alcohol.

One of only two soldiers from Ipswich to receive the Victoria Cross in the First World War, Pte Harvey was often seen sleeping rough on the town hall steps in Ipswich.

He also parted company with his Victoria Cross medal – with rumours abound he either lost it during a night out or traded it for a drink.

Whatever the reason, members of the fundraising group are determined that the hard times he faced after the war should not detract from his heroic actions on the battlefield.

Vicky Hobden, 61, a resident at the care home who initially thought of the idea to raise the funds, said: “The story really hit home and I felt that I wanted to do something about it – I felt sorry for him.

“To sleep on the steps of the town hall and everyone was feeding him alcohol... he did all that fighting for us to come back to nothing.”

Taff Gillingham, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the Western Front Association, said: “He is an interesting character and I fully support them.”

Do you support the campaign? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email starnews@archant.co.uk

Private Harvey’s citation:

Loos, France, September 29, 1915, 8273 Private Samuel Harvey, 1st Bn, York & Lancaster Regiment.

For conspicuous bravery in “Big Willie” trench on 29 September 1915. During a heavy bombing attack by the enemy, and when more bombs were urgently required for our front, Private Harvey volunteered to fetch them. The communication trench was blocked with wounded and reinforcements, and he went backwards and forwards across the open under intense fire and succeeded in bringing up no less than 30 boxes of bombs before he was wounded. It was mainly due to Private Harvey’s cool bravery in supplying bombs that the enemy was eventually driven back.

Fundraising

A host of events will take place throughout October to raise funds for the memorial.

A quiz, coffee morning and a ‘how many songs can you sing in an hour’ competition will be among the events held to raise funds.

Once the end of October is reached, the money raised will then be used for the memorial.

If you would like to sponsor the group, call the care home on 01473 228890