Victoria Cross war hero to be immortalised in stone
A war hero who sacrificed his own life to save those of his fellow soldiers is set to be immortalised in stone.
Ahead of next years centenary celebrations to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War, a competition has been launched to design a paving stone which will be laid in the home town of all those awarded the Victoria Cross.
The VC is the highest military honour that can be bestowed upon members of the armed forces, and only 1,357 have been awarded since it was introduced by Queen Victoria in January 1856.
Each paving stone will be laid exactly 100 years after it was awarded.
Merton has connections to 16 soldiers with the VC, but one in particular stands out.
Second Lieutenant George Cates, a former King's College pupil and Hartfield Road resident, was leading his second battalion on March 8 1917 in Bouchavesnes, which had been a key battle ground during the Battle of the Somme the previous year.
His brigade had already successfully occupied trenches in neighbouring Peronne and were deepening a captured trench in the French village of Bouchavesnes, when Cates struck a buried bomb with his spade.
The bomb immediately began to burn, but rather than allow the bomb to fully explode, and knowing full well he would be killed, he stood on the explosive which immediately exploded.
Major Ken Grey from the Royal Green Jackets Museum, which has the hero's VC on display, said: "After joining the rifles in 1915, 2nd Lt Gates went on to be a valiant soldier. The act, on March 8 1917 will go down as a piece of heroism and was an incredible and conspicuous act of bravery and self-sacrifice."
Two VC holders are already commemorated in St Mary's church, but it is hoped the competition, which was launched this week by communities secretary Eric Pickles, will remind Wimbledonians about resident's selfless acts of bravery.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "These paving stones will ensure that there is a permanent memorial to all the fallen soldiers across the country and will enable local communities to connect with this important piece of their shared history. For the winner, it means that their design will be admired in communities for years to come."
Merton’s armed forces champion, Councillor Maxi Martin said: "We have registered our interest and will be planning when and where these are situated over the coming months."
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