Reading WW1 VC recipient amongst 63 to be honoured

Reading World War One Victoria Cross recipient amongst 63 ‘Brothers in Arms’ to be honoured with new memorial

  • All 63 were Freemasons and members of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE)
  • Their medals represent one in 10 of all VCs awarded during World War One
  • The memorial at Freemasons’ Hall in London was unveiled by HRH The Duke of Kent as part of UGLE’s Tercentenary celebrations on Tuesday 25th April 2017
  • Frederick William Owen ‘Trooper’ Potts is among those being recognised. He was a Freemason and member of the Aldermaston Lodge that now meets at Sindlesham
Photo credit Chris Allerton

The 63 Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) during The Great War (WW1) will be honoured with special commemorative stones bearing their names to be laid outside the iconic Freemasons’ Hall building in Covent Garden, London. The building is one of the largest peace memorials of our time and was built in honour of every Freemason who fell in WW1. The new memorial was unveiled on Tuesday 25th April 2017. Highlights of the ceremony can be viewed here.

The ceremony is not only part of the celebrations to mark this year’s 300th anniversary of The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), but also looks ahead to the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 in 2018.

The Victoria Cross is the highest award within the UK honours system that recognises ‘conspicuous bravery in the presence of the enemy’. It can be awarded to anyone serving with the Armed Forces with no distinction of rank or class, a value shared by Freemasons who come from all backgrounds and walks of life. The 63 being recognised include:

Frederick William Owen Potts, born Reading 1892 (died Reading 1943)

Potts was born on 18 December 1892, and first came to public notice in 1913, when he saved a five-year-old boy named Charles Rex from drowning in the River Thames. By 1915, he was 22 years old, and a private in the 1/1st Berkshire Yeomanry of the British Army. During the Gallipoli Campaign of the First World War the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

On 21 August 1915 in the attack on Hill 70, Potts (although wounded in the thigh) remained for over 48 hours under the Turkish trenches with another private from his regiment who was severely wounded, and unable to move. He finally fixed a shovel to the equipment of his wounded comrade and using this as a sledge, dragged the man back over 600 yards to safety, being under fire all the way. He became known as The Hero with the Shovel. He was feted on his return from Gallipoli, the press articles of the time can be seen on the Potts Trust website. In 1967 The Victor children’s magazine told the story very graphically on the front and back covers, it used to feature a story of bravery every week. This article has been used by the Memorial Trust to explain the story at local schools as the graphical presentation, being very much “of its time” appealed to children. The Berkshire Yeomanry Museum website explains the story.

Potts was born and raised on Edgehill Street in the Katesgrove area of Reading. After the war, during which he eventually achieved the rank of lance-corporal, he kept a tailor’s shop on the parallel Alpine Street. He was a Mason and in 1934 was Master of the Aldermaston Lodge. Potts died on 2 November 1943 at the age of 50. His grave is at Reading Crematorium, whilst his medals are held by the Imperial War Museum.

The man he saved at Gallipoli was a fellow Trooper of the Berkshire Yeomanry called Arthur Andrews who also came from Reading. Andrews lived until 1980, when he died at the age of 89. Charles Rex also survived until he was 87. In 2009, as the result of the production of a BBC Radio Berkshire documentary on Potts, a reunion occurred between the relatives of the two men at the Imperial War Museum.

During Prime Minister’s Questions on 20 January 2010, Martin Salter, Member of Parliament for Reading West, indicated that there were plans to provide a permanent memorial to Trooper Potts. It was announced in May 2014 that the memorial would be sited just outside Forbury Gardens, on the open paved area opposite the Crown Court / The Forbury Hotel.

The memorials were unveiled on 4 October 2015 by Chris Tarrant and the Lord-Lieutenant of Berkshire, Mr J Puxley. The Trust commissioned “Third Lens Films” to produce a film of the unveiling ceremony. The unveiling was attended by the Provincial Grand Master for Berkshire, Martin Peters, and members of the Aldermaston Lodge.

The Government’s Commemorative VC Paving Stone was set in the eastern corner of the 1920s War Memorial. It was unveiled in a small ceremony by Trooper Potts’ Granddaughter – Anne Ames – at 17:00 on 21 August 2015, the exact centenary of the Berkshire Yeomanry’s attack on Scimitar Hill.

On 21 March 2016 Greene King opened a new Pub/ Restaurant along the Basingstoke Road, to the south of Reading, called The Trooper Potts. It features two very large displays which tell the story of the rescue and Fred and Arthur’s lives and several smaller ones, including a snakes and ladders board of the cartoon characters “Pip,Squeak and Wilfred”.

During the Tercentenary year, the memorial will act as a further reminder of the founding principles of Freemasonry: Brotherly Love, Truth and Relief – UGLE is one of the largest contributors to charitable causes in the UK after the National Lottery. These principles were demonstrated in great abundance by the 63 ‘Brothers in Arms’, Freemasons from all four corners of the globe.

The Freemasons being recognised represent an astonishing 1 in 10 of all VCs awarded during The Great War, and that figure becomes 1 in 6 when including those awarded to Freemasons who were members of other Grand Lodges globally. Remarkably, these include three of the famous ‘Six VCs Before Breakfast’ awarded to members of the 1st Battalion, The Lancashire Fusiliers during their capture of ‘W’ Beach at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.

HRH The Duke of Kent, Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, will be officially unveiling the commemorative stones as part of its Tercentenary celebrations, marking the 300-year anniversary of four London lodges coming together to form the first Grand Lodge in 1717.

HRH The Duke of Kent attended RMA Sandhurst, was commissioned into The Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons) and subsequently served in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Hong Kong. He retired from the Army in 1976 and was promoted to Field Marshall in 1993. He has been a Freemason for 53 years and in June will celebrate his 50th anniversary as Grand Master of UGLE.

The laying of the memorial stones is part of the Victoria Cross commemorative paving stones programme – a nationwide initiative led by the Department of Communities and Local Government in which every one of the VC recipients of the First World War is commemorated. The initiative aims to honour their bravery, provide a lasting legacy of local heroes within communities and to enable residents and visitors to understand how a community contributed to The Great War effort.

Brigadier Willie Shackell, Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, said:
“To be awarded the Victoria Cross is the highest honour for bravery and we are immensely proud and inspired to remember our 63 brethren who exemplify the best in men.
“It is also appropriate that this event is taking place during our Tercentenary year when much of the activity is about highlighting the values of Freemasonry that we all hold dear – fraternity, charity and integrity. Camaraderie, new friendships and support are some of the main reasons people join Freemasonry, and numerous servicemen have been Masons since our founding 300 years ago.”

Peter Norton GC, Chairman of The VC and GC Association, said:
“That so many recipients of the Victoria Cross from the First World War are being honoured today is a remarkable achievement. These men, from all walks of life, were part of an extraordinary group of people recognised for their outstanding bravery. I am proud to represent them.”

Photo credit Chris Allerton

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