HELENSBURGH Heritage Trust is claiming victory in a campaign to ensure that a World War One hero from Cardross was not left out of official commemorations.
The government is to create memorial paving stones to honour Victoria Cross winners as part of next year’s events to mark the centenary of the conflict.
But Eton-educated Lieutenant Reginald Noble Graham, who served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was going to be omitted as he was born in Calcutta in India.
The Trust believed that Lt Graham’s heroism should be celebrated, and lent its support to a campaign being run by the independent think tank British Future, which wants to increase public debate on identity and integration, migration and opportunity.
Lieutenant, later Major, Graham won the VC for bravery while serving in the 9th Battalion of the Argylls at Istabulat, Mesopotamia, on April 22 1917.
While in charge of a machine gun section, he came under heavy fire and was seriously wounded several times. He insisted, however, on carrying the ammunition and continuing to fire at the enemy, and was awarded the VC by King George V later that year.
The Department for Communities and Local Government recently announced plans to commemorate UK-born World War One VC winners with special commemorative paving stones, as part of the 2014 centenary, but planned to exclude Lt Graham and others on the grounds that they were not born in Britain.
“The Helensburgh area is proud of Reginald Noble Graham, and accounts of the hero’s welcome on his return to Cardross make quite clear how strong his local links were back in 1918,” Heritage Trust chairman Stewart Noble told the British Future campaign.
“That he might not be commemorated next year, simply because he was born in India, was totally unacceptable to the Trust.
“Young people need to know our history, and commemorating the bravery of Lt Graham would be a powerful way to make the Great War more relevant to them today.”
He called on the government to close the loophole, and added: “Because of Britain’s links with India at that time, a lot of British children were born there, and it would be ridiculous not to treat them in the same way as those born on British soil.
“For example, Cliff Richard was born in India when his parents were there, yet he is a British icon.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government did state that no VC winners would be forgotten, and that they would set out further plans.
The campaign attracted national publicity, and the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has now written to British Future to indicate that British VC winners who happened to be born abroad would be treated as if they had born at home.
He wrote: “It has always been our intention to commemorate all First World War recipients of Victoria Crosses, and to ensure this happens we are in discussion with our colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see whether overseas recipients can be remembered in their country of birth.
“However, we also acknowledge that there are a number of Victoria Cross recipients who may have been born in India, that have local ties in this country. In cases like this, we are happy to provide the appropriate local authorities with a commemorative paving stone.
“My announcement was very clear that we recognise the contribution the former British Empire made to the war effort. I also acknowledge that many Victoria Cross recipients were not British born.
“In order to honour all Victoria Cross recipients, we are in discussions with the National Memorial Arboritum, the UK’s year-round Centre of Remembrance, to ensure that all Victoria Cross recipients regardless of their place of birth are honoured and remembered.”
So now it will be up to Argyll and Bute Council to accept a paving stone and make arrangements for it to be installed — presumably at or near Darleith, where Lt Graham’s parents, Mr and Mrs Fred Graham, lived, or perhaps at or near the village war memorial. Mr and Mrs Graham earlier lived at Cameron House on Loch Lomondside and Ardencaple Castle.
Stewart said: “I was delighted to learn that the Government have decided that recipients of the Victoria Cross born outside Britain will be included in the plan to provide engraved paving stones as a commemoration of their heroism.
“Lt Graham was born in India, but when he returned home to visit his parents, a spontaneous gathering of Cardross villagers went to the railway station and, when he came off the train, he was carried shoulder high along the platform to his waiting car.
“He was obviously a man with strong local connections who thoroughly deserves to be remembered today.”