Richard Bennett, Chairman of the Trooper Potts VC Memorial Trust, has advised us that formal planning approval was received on 11 February 2015 for the Trooper Potts VC statue to go ahead. The unveiling of the statue, which commemorates Reading’s only Victoria Cross winner, is planned for Sunday, 4 October 2015.
Richard has kindly provided us with a background story which explains the dedication and hard work carried out by the Trooper Potts VC Memorial Trust to ensure this important project finally reaches the light of day. Read Richard’s full account of the Trooper Potts VC story here:
THE STORY OF BEHIND THE TROOPER POTTS VC MEMORIAL TRUST
Trooper Potts VC was born in Reading and lived all his life in the town, he is the only man of Reading to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
On 21 August 1915 at 3pm the Brigade, including the Berkshire Yeomanry, took part in a general attack on the Turks entrenched in Hill 70 (Scimitar Hill). They advanced in the open by regiments in the order of; Berks, Dorsets and Bucks with each regiment in line of troop columns. During the advance the brigade came under heavy fire and suffered casualties.
At 4:45pm they assembled under cover Chocolate Hill (Hill 53), at 5pm they were ordered to attack Scimitar Hill. The Berks started the attack, Dorsets and Bucks followed in support. At 6:15pm the Berks, with a portion of the Dorsets, captured the enemy’s front trench, they were unable to retain it retiring by 8.00pm. Of the 1005 officers and men who advanced only 540 returned.
In the advance Trooper Fred Potts was wounded in the thigh, buttocks and ear. As he lay on the ground he became aware of someone else lying nearby and found it was his fellow Reading townsman Trooper Arthur Andrews who was severely wounded in the groin and unable to move. For two days the men hid out below the Turkish trenches in scorching heat during the day and freezing temperatures at night. Fred then started to drag Arthur the 600 yards to the British Lines all the time being fired on by Turks.
Eventually Fred found a shovel nearby and, using it as a sledge, he dragged Arthur to safety eventually he was met a sentry from the 6th Regiment Inniskillin Fusiliers who helped them both back to the British Lines where they arrived at 9:30pm on 23rd August. Fred had remained with his comrade during 48 hours though he could at any time have reached the trenches himself.
His VC was Gazetted on 1 October 1915 and presented by The King on 8th December 1915.
Potts was feted as a hero on his return to the UK and showered with gifts. The papers called him “The Hero with the Shovel”. He was one of the VC holders who formed the guard of honour at the burial of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920. Potts died aged 50 in 1943; Andrews survived until he was 89. In time the story disappeared from view.
The story of Fred Potts VC was uncovered a new in 2009 by Graham McKecknie from Radio Berkshire and Jon Cooksey (a leading military historian) when Jon stumbled across the story while giving a talk at Katesgrove Primary School about rationing in the Second World War. There was a small plaque on the wall commemorating the heroics of one of their old boys. Inspired by the story, they had just found their next project.
As Graham says “The only element missing was the relatives of Potts and Andrews. The former were relatively easy to trace, as Potts’ Victoria Cross was on display at the Imperial War Museum, loaned by the family. Finding the Andrews family proved to be considerably more troublesome and relied on an enormous stroke of good fortune.
I spoke to Colonel Robertson from the Berkshire Yeomanry who had a vague recollection of meeting a relative of Arthur Andrews in the past and had an idea his name may have been Chris and he possibly lived in the Reading area. This was not much to go on, but a start. This is where luck played its part. The first person I speculatively called turned out to be the right one. We had our relatives and they were brought together for the first time at the Imperial War Museum for the documentary.
The radio documentaries were broadcast on Remembrance Day in 2009. They can still be heard:
DEVELOPING THE IDEA
Following the broadcast the proposal to raise a memorial to Fred’s deeds was raised and endorsed by Reading Borough Council in 2010. A committee was established in 2010, chaired by The Mayor of Reading, Cllr Fred Pugh, to plan the memorial and raise the necessary funds, which were estimated by MP, Martin Salter, as being around £50-60,000, which, he envisaged cheerfully, “could be raised in a year”.
The Lord-Lieutenant for Berkshire, The Hon Mrs Bayliss JP, became its Patron and the grandchildren of Fred Potts and Arthur Andrews were, and continue to be, a key part of that committee. The Prime Ministers’ support was gained (Gordon Brown and David Cameron). It was planned the memorial would recognise the 134 men of the Berkshire Yeomanry who had lost their lives in WW1.
It was decided that an appropriate memorial would be of a sculpture depicting the rescue. Taking advice from the Royal British Society of Sculptors an “artistic competition” was advertised in their newsletter in 2010. We received 21 expressions of interest, in making the “short list” of four sculptors the committee particular attention was given to previous work on military subjects.
Liverpool sculptor, Tom Murphy, was chosen as the committee was, in particular, impressed with his sculpture of Captain Noel Chavasse VC & Bar MC. Tom then met the committee and developed a maquette for the committee to consider.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
From the start a sculpture in bronze, slightly larger than life size, sited in a public space in central Reading was envisaged.
Various sites were explored and rejected for a variety of reasons, depending on site, including; foundations requiring archaeological investigation, the difficulty of establishing a reflective space in very busy positions in the town centre and the constant demolition, and rebuilding, around the new Reading Station.
The site outside Forbury Gardens, on an open paved area was agreed early in 2014. It was seen to be a site “crying out for a good piece of sculpture”.
The tricky bit.
So how much would it really cost?
The Fundraising Committee quickly identified that the initial estimate of £70,000 was far too optimistic. After obtaining cost estimates a target of £250,000 was set, we had been given guidance that it was better to undershoot the target than continually revise it upwards.
Our fundraising strategy was aimed at the public and grant bodies.
Reading Council provided a “pump priming grant” which enabled us to design our campaign leaflet, build the website and undertake initial work, without this we would not have been able to start. The Englefield Trust, The Earley Charity, The Stevenson Trust and The Gallipoli Association were early grant providers.
The Greenham Common Trust offered matched funding, initially at £5,000 and in 2014 a further £5,000. The Berkshire Masonic Charity also provided support, Fred Potts had been sometime master of Aldermaston Lodge.
To raise funds and engage with the public we undertook public collections; Sir John Madejski supported us with a collection on a match day at Reading Football Club, Reading Council enabled us to fundraise around two concerts, we took part in Armed Forces Days.
By February 2013 we had raised just over £20,000 and the projected cost had been refined to around £180,000 including VAT. The centenary loomed very much in our minds as the aim was to have the memorial in place during 2015, ideally in time for the centenary of the rescue.
In early 2013 our Hon Treasurer, Brenda Tait, put us into contact with Steve Woodford, MD of Haslams Estate Agents, one of the longest established Estate Agents in Reading. He agreed to meet us with his Operations Manager, Tim Harding, and an events organiser he had worked with on other projects, Sue Roberts Associates.
Fortunately after we had briefed them they could see we had something they could relate to and that they could help us with fundraising advice and local contacts. Steve was to prove to be very keen on History and is active in engaging his company in the local community though his support for the arts.
With Haslams we worked though aspects of financial strategy. Using their media contacts they engaged Hillary Scott, from The Reading Post. Chris Tarrant OBE had hosted “The Pride of Reading” for The Reading Post and Hilary felt our project would be of interest to Chris. We were delighted when he agreed to become a Patron, he has helped us enormously. Michael Naxton, Curator of Lord Ashcroft’s VC Collection, agreed to be our third Patron.
Planning started for a Charity Ball in November to raise funds. Haslams Estate Agents became our Major Sponsors and made a significant donation, which we matched with Greenham Common Trust funding.
The 2013 Ball sold steadily, albeit with the hard work of Haslams and Sue Roberts, 260 guests attended. The promised Lance Guard and representation from the 94 (Berkshire Yeomanry) Signal Squadron was a strong draw in the lead up to the Centenary of the First World War. Guests were able to meet the sculptor. The major draw of course was Chris Tarrant who worked exceptionally hard and helped us to raise a net of £40,000 on the night.
This event and the support from Chris Tarrant, Steve, Tim and Sue was undoubtedly transformational. It made the financial and date targets look possible. There was still a long way to go.
An architect, Robert Rigby Associates of Reading, came on board to help us with the detailed design on a pro-bono basis.
On 1st May Reading at War exhibition was opened in Reading Museum. The Potts and Andrews story was covered well and the IWM agreed, exceptionally, to lend the original VC medal strip for the exhibition.
On the day of the opening a road around the new Reading Station, and the site of the new bus interchange, was named “Trooper Potts Way” at the suggestion of a member of the public.
A month later the Lord-Lieutenant welcomed 120 guests to a Potts VC event held jointly with the Friends of Reading Museum. At this event the architect’s drawings of the completed memorial were shared for the first time, Reading Borough Council announced the location and their agreement to adopt the memorial on completion.
A £10,000 donation was announced from a Reading based Engineering recruitment company, Workmates & Daniel Owen, which is run by the nephews and niece of Trooper Arthur Andrews, the rescued man.
Our events gathered pace during 2014; Reading College students and lecturers fundraising walk to Buckingham Palace, the Royal Berkshire Show, Heroes at Highclere, Heritage Open Day, Madejski Stadium, Newbury WW1 event, Wantage Europeana event, Englefield Ploughing Match, Armed Forces Day.
Presentations were given to Rotary Clubs and local business forums. We took advice from the Berkshire Community Foundation and also joined “Local Giving” which has aided our fundraising.
The next Charity Ball, in November 2014, proved to be even more successful with over 270 guests, including representatives from the Andrews and Potts families and some 40 representatives, and guests, from the 94 (Berkshire Yeomanry) Signal Squadron.
We were very appreciative that Chris Tarrant again agreed to play an enthusiastic and crucial role in encouraging people to part with their money. The event raised a net of just over £70,000. That night we were also able to announce an anonymous donation of £25,000, from a major corporate sponsor, and that the previous day the fundraising team had been presented with The Pride of Reading 2014 Special Award by Chris Tarrant who at the same time raised £1,000 for the project.
We had raised the funds required to complete the project and the sculptor was commissioned on the night.
Our website has gradually developed. Students from Reading College set up our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TrooperPottsMemorialTrust
& Twitter: https://twitter.com/trooperpottsvc
Radio Berkshire have consistently supported the project at major points. BBC South Today have followed our progress since the start in 2009 and BBC South On Line include progress reports; BBC On Line. ITV Meridian pick up on key points in our progress.
The Reading Post/ Get Reading set up a special area of their website to hold information about the project; Get Reading Potts site. The Reading Chronicle has been consistently supportive, Berkshire Life has reported the results of our Charity Balls.
We briefed the Gallipoli Association’s Conference in 2014 about the project. John Crowe and Simon Kleinig of the G&DI have been consistently enthusiastic about the project from the start and have attended events at Reading College and our Charity Balls. Members of the GA and G&DI have been invited to our events and we have been delighted that members of the G&DI have been able to attend. We continue to engage with both groups.
We are a partner of the IWM’s First World War Project and update our website there for key events.
In 2011 we joined up with Reading College lecturer, Richard Duckett, who was living in Fred Potts house when Graham McKechnie knocked on the door in 2009. We have been very fortunate to work with Richard and his students who have taken part in committee work, helped us with fundraising at the Madejski Stadium and Armed Forces Days. We established the Trooper Potts VC Prize in History in 2013 which will continue until at least 2016.
Richard knew the Head Teacher of Southcote Primary School, Reading, and was able to arrange for us to run a Potts VC morning in June 2012. This event engaged 40 children (Year 6) with an explanation, by students from Reading College, of the First World War and Gallipoli followed by the Fred Potts and Arthur Andrews story (told by their grandchildren).
The Curators of the Berkshire Yeomanry Museum explained the history of the Yeo and the advance on Scimitar Hill, a presentation which included lots of noise, and then the children were able to touch and try on kit of the period.
Then to some serious work. The children were given the option of drawing the rescue, as Fred or Arthur write a letter home to mum from the field hospital, as a journalist write a report of the event for the local paper, write a poem about the events, write a diary entry about receiving the VC from the King.
The students completing the best work in each category were presented with a “VC certificate” by Brig Verey. The school has a field and was able to arrange “shovels”, a shovel relay race was organised, the children quickly understood how difficult the rescue would have been.
To date we have delivered such events seven times to Primary schools (approx 600 children) and shortened versions to the 6th form at Reading School (boys) and Kendrick School (girls). More are planned for 2015.
An article from The Victor in 1967 was discovered which, with variable accuracy, covered the story of Fred Potts VC, this has proved very popular with Primary Schools.
Secretary of State Approval to the proposal, through a Scheduled Monument Consent, was achieved in just over a month. At the time or writing planning permission is still awaited.
Sculptor was commissioned at the Potts Charity Ball in November 2014, we are working with him to ensure historical accuracy of the uniforms. The committee will sign off the sculpture at the end of March.
Morris Singer Foundry based in Lasham, Hampshire, will cast the sculpture. It will take 4 months, until early August, to cast the statue in bronze, weld all the parts together, and finish it with a traditional brown patina.
In addition to the sculpture an additional plinth will hold a Roll of Honour to the now 420 men of the Berkshire Yeomanry who lost their lives in the wars of the 20th Century. It will be cast in bronze by Photocast Products of Liverpool, our design follows their 2012 Belfast Titanic memorial.
We have invited people to sponsor a name on the Roll of Honour for a minimum of £35, details can be seen: http://1drv.ms/1pwbd9f.
Donors receive a certificate of thanks and details of the man as provided by the Curators of the Berkshire Yeomanry Museum. The family of the actor, David Niven, in the USA have made a contribution as their grandfather, Lieutenant W.E.G. Niven, will be named on the memorial, he lost his life in the same advance when Fred and Arthur were wounded.
Information boards will explain; the history of The Berkshire Yeomanry, the context of Gallipoli in World War 1, the names on the Roll of Honour, this VC story, the history and meaning of the Victoria Cross and list other VCs from the immediate Reading area from all wars.
This is planned for Sunday 4 October 2015 close to the centenary of the gazetting of the award of the Victoria Cross. The sculpture will be installed a day or so before. Brigadier Tony Verey QVRM TD DL, Hon Col of the 94 (Berkshire Yeomanry) Signal Squadron, is leading the event planning.
THE PROJECTED COST
We have negotiated a way to recover VAT, detailed costings suggest we will be able to complete the memorial for just under £150,000, ex VAT. The funds have been raised in full but we are still seeking donations to establish a maintenance fund to cover the annual cleaning and re-waxing. All support will be welcome and donations may be made though; CAF Bank — Charity reference No. 1147047 or Local Giving; http://localgiving.com/charity/trooperpottsvc