Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Bermondsey values in a Bermondsey hero

Courage, respect for others and selfless commitment: values of the armed forces shared by their men and women throughout history.  But, do such values belong to an altogether different place and time from modern day South London? 
This afternoon at 2 o’clock, a busy corner of Bermondsey was transported back one hundred years to the day to commemorate the time when twenty-three year old Frederick William Holmes risked his own life to save that of a fellow soldier.  Politicians, representatives from the armed forces and ordinary Bermondsey residents united in pride and solemnity to reflect on his spine-tingling heroism.

After a morning and afternoon fighting on French soil in the Battle of Le Cateau, the order to retire was given by General Smith-Dorien­­­.  As he ran across the battlefield, while under close enemy fire, Frederick Holmes noticed Bugler Woodcock lying on the ground with both of his legs broken.  Courageously, Holmes gave him a fireman’s lift and carried him two miles to safety – outstanding bravery by anyone’s standards.
Lance Corporal Frederick Holmes, mounting the lead horse of the
abandoned gun team, before riding the team back (image and text from www.britishbattles.com)

As if that wasn’t enough, Holmes careered back under German shell fire and rescued a wounded young Trumpeter, placing him on a horse and leading it, five other horses and a British 18-pounder gun over a three mile journey back to a safe-haven.  Having endangered his life twice, Holmes was to become one of the earliest recipients of the Victoria Cross in the First World War.  
Victoria Cross medal (image from paulfrasercollectibles.com)
But, could this happen today and just how enduring are the values that the memory of Frederick Holmes VC stands for?  A century on, he is the member of an exclusive club of 85 London based VC recipients being commemorated this year, three of whom were remembered today across the capital.  Honoured in Bermondsey with his family present, the spirit of Corporal Holmes was alive in each of the soldiers gathered in the square – and perhaps no more so than in present day hero Sergeant Johnson Berharry VC, who fought bravely in Iraq.
Sergeant Johnson Beharry VC in Bermondsey Square
Standing proudly in Bermondsey Square, Beharry proves that the values are timeless.  In fact, Corporal Holmes’s family could well recognise the embodiment of their ancestor in this modern day lionheart...

Sergeant Johnson Beharry VC with his medal (image from www.metro.co.uk)
So, there is really only one question left to answer: where exactly did Frederick Holmes VC learn his values all those years ago?  Growing up on the streets and living amongst the people of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, of course.  

A table at the Bermondsey Square Hotel
Dignity, humility, fortitude, devotion to each other and love of country: Bermondsey values embodied in a Bermondsey superhero.  If we pause and reflect at the commemorative paving stone on the corner of Bermondsey Square, we too can learn much from this very special of Bermondsey boys…

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