Thursday, 8 September 2016

Brave Bootle man awarded #VC commemorated-- with added photos

photo by Keiran Hodgson

We gathered in the rain at the newly refurbished Bootle War Memorial to rededicate it and to unveil a separate memorial to a brave Bootle man who won the VC in WW1

Arthur Herbert Proctor was born in Bootle in 1890. He was the first man to be decorated with the VC on the battlefield. Private Proctor was given his medal for outstanding bravery. The citation reads:

photo by Keiran Hodgson

photo by Keiran Hodgson
I was pleased to meet members of his family including his granddaughter who spoke movingly at the ceremony. She had travelled from Yorkshire to attend the unveiling and spent this week in Southport on holiday. Arthur Proctor lived a full life. He died in 1973. After WW1 he took holy orders and served in various parishes including at Prescot and Cheshire and Shropshire. In retirement he settled in Sheffield and his ashes were buried in the Cathedral.

The family had a fund of stories about him. Three stories stood out. Two generations told of his love of getting them around the piano to sing the chorus; I'm H.A.P.P.Y.

In WW2 he served as a chaplain to the RAF, three of his relations told me the same story. He was travelling by train in his clerical uniform when he struck up a conversation with a young women in his carriage, He asked what she did. She replied that she was a singer. Keen to help the young women he said he would do what he could to get her a concert at his camp. They exchanged contact details she giving him the address of her agent. On leaving the train he was met by his wife who had to explain to him that the singer he was travelling with was Vera Lynn.

The third episode they all recalled related to a photograph of him in Africa sometime in the 1960's holding an African shield. We learned during the morning that along with other holders of the VC he was invited to be on board a VC10 on its inaugural flight to East Africa. Against medical advice he took up the offer and that is where he met President Jomo Kenyatta and the photograph was taken. 
photo by Keiran Hodgson
Private Proctor had a heroes welcome when he returned to Bootle. There are newspaper reports of him being carried shoulder high through the streets and of him get a cheque for £600 from the Mayor. I was told that it was unusual for Privates to get the VC. Proctor returned home and went on to live a full life. Others were not so fortunate. Many men returning from the trenches were haunted for the rest of their lives by their experience. Mental Health services and charities expanded of WW1 and 'shell shock' and other effects of the war were treated rather than being seen as examples of a lack of  'moral fibre'. Around the time of the unveiling of the Bootle War Memorial another exceptional Private was being treated in Lord Derby's hospital that served the town. He was Ivor Gurney. Unlike most of the celebrated war poets he was not an officer. Before the was he was seen as one of the brightest musical composer in the UK and was described as the English Schubert because of his highly acclaimed song writing. Listening to the story of Private Proctor I think he would have concurred with Gurney's sentiment in his poem Requiem

Pour out your light, O stars, and do not hold
Your loveliest shining from earth’s outworn shell
Pure and cold your radiance – pure and cold
My dead friends face as well.


Pour out your bounty moon of radiant shining
On all this shattered flesh, on all these quiet forms;
For these were slain, so quiet still reclining
In the noblest cause was ever waged with arms. 

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