ELHAS Meeting Report - January 2016

Meeting Report January 2016

Our first meeting of 2016, which was attended by an audience of over sixty people, was an illustrated talk by Jacki and Bob Lawrence entitled "The Victoria Cross Holders of Leeds". This talk was the follow on to an article written by Bob a few years ago for the Leeds History Journal. Whilst researching for the article Bob became so impressed by the stories behind these men who achieved this highest of honours, that he felt it would make an interesting subject for an illustrated talk. The talk was designed to honour all the men who were either born or died in Leeds and who were awarded the Victoria Cross.

Jacki began the talk by detailing the history of the Victoria Cross, instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856, and explaining that some VCs were awarded retrospectively to honour deeds which occurred during the Crimean War. Before the introduction of the VC there was no award for valour available to the rank and file soldier. She then went on to show an image of the VC memorial in Leeds and explain that Bob's research had uncovered two VC holders whose name does not appear on it. She indicated that due to the fact that there were 19 VC holders in Leeds, it would only be possible to speak briefly about each man, although she said that she would read the citations for each one of them so the audience would know exactly what they had done to deserve the medal.

Dealing with the awards in chronological order, the lecture began with John Pearson, a Seacroft man who gained his VC during the Indian Mutiny in 1858, and ended with Arthur Louis Aaron, the only Leeds man to be awarded the VC during World War Two. Each story was illustrated with a photograph of the winner and other images associated with their story. In most cases Jacki talked about their lives before the event and afterwards when they returned to civilian life. Members of the audience were told that they may well have met some of these VC winners, since one was manager of the Leeds Grand Theatre until the early fifties, and another the landlord of the Miners Arms at Garforth until the late sixties. In all cases, what was inspirational about the stories was that these were very ordinary men, mostly working class, who when faced with extraordinary circumstances rose to the occasion and risked their own lives in order to save others. Who in the audience could not fail to be moved by the story of William Boynton Butler who picked up a live shell and threw it out of the dugout, thus saving many lives, or Arthur Poulter who carried ten men to safety before being severely wounded himself. No one story was greater than any other and the audience came to appreciate the bravery and actions of all these men, many of whom had not been known to them. Jacki ended the talk by paying tribute to all of them.

Our next meeting on Monday 29th February 2016 will be a talk by Alun Pugh entitled "Dai Goes to War." , detailing his father's exploits during World War Two.