Hoylake grave of First World War VC hero included in restoration scheme

Wirral Globe: Sgt John O’Neill Sgt John O’Neill

The Hoylake grave of a First World War hero has been included in a project to restore the final resting places of Victoria Cross recipients to their former glory.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today announced £100,000 towards the restoration of the UK graves in need of repair.

Headstones will be cleaned or replaced so that the graves of those who received the highest military award for valour is a truly fitting tribute to their sacrifice.

Nine people from Merseyside received the Victoria Cross between 1914 and 1918.

Among those given the highest military honour was Sgt John O’Neill, who is buried in Holy Trinity Churchyard, Hoylake; and Cpl John Davies from Tranmere, whose final resting place is in St Helens Borough Cemetery.

The new funding will give a significant boost to money already being raised by the Victoria Cross Trust – a charitable organisation that works to ensure the graves of every VC recipient are maintained.

While some graves only require minor work, others have fallen into disrepair - headstones have become illegible; stones have crumbled away leaving them unstable; and some are in danger of collapse.

Mr O'Neill's grave already has been recommemorated by his regimental association.

The Leinster Regiment Association was instrumental in restoring the grave ten years ago, and its chairman laid a commemorative wreath there on October 31, 2004.

Mr Pickles said: “An entire generation of men fought for Britain’s freedom in the First World War and all fought valiantly.

"But for hundreds of those men their bravery was of such an exceptional nature they were bestowed with the highest military award, the Victoria Cross.

“As these men were honoured then for their extreme bravery on the battlefields, they should be honoured still.

"That is why I am privileged to offer more than £100,000 towards this project to ensure that their final resting places are venerated memorials where communities can pay their respects and learn about their local heroes."

He continued: “This will make sure the graves of our Victoria Cross heroes become places to reflect on their selfless service to the nation.

"Alongside the creation of commemorative paving stones, we will create a fitting tribute to honour these heroes.”

Last year the Communities Secretary announced a national campaign of commemorative paving stones to be laid in the place of birth of First World War Victoria Cross winners across the country as  a permanent memorial to local heroes.

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John O'Neill VC:

On October 14, 1918, the 2nd Battalion, Prince of Wales' Leinster Regiment, moved out of Ypres towards the heavily contested ground around the strongly held town of Courtrai.

They advanced slowly to a point between the villages of Ledegem and Moorsele, some six miles from Courtrai, where the attack ground to a halt, checked by two enemy machine guns and an artillery battery firing over open sights.

Sergeant O'Neill, leading a small group of 11 men, decided to charge the German battery.

The small party successfully overcame the enemy positions and some of the captured guns were turned towards the German lines.

Six days later O'Neill was once again involved in an action which was part of his VC citation, when he charged a machine gun position single-handed, with only one man to cover him.

Mr O'Neill died of a heart attack on October 16, 1942.

In 1962, his medal was stolen from the safe of a firm of coin collectors, where it had been stored prior to auction.

Despite a reward offered for its return, to date no sighting of Mr O'Neill's Victoria Cross has been made.

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Joseph John Davies VC:

Tranmere-born Davies was 27 years old and a corporal in the 10th Battalion, The Royal Welch Fusiliers when, on July 20, 1916, at Delville Wood, France, prior to an attack on the enemy, he and eight men became separated from the rest of the company.

When the enemy delivered their second counterattack, the party was completely surrounded, but Corporal Davies got his men into a shell hole and by throwing bombs and opening rapid fire he succeeded in routing the attackers, and even followed and bayoneted them in their retreat.

He later achieved the rank of staff-sergeant.

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum in Caernarfon Castle, Gwynedd, Wales.

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