ROBERT HARDMAN reports on planned restoration of headstones and memorials to fallen heroes 

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One saved an officer’s life by fighting off the enemy, despite losing his horse during the Charge of the Light Brigade. Another swam to the rescue of his men, while severely wounded and under enemy fire.

The former was buried in a pauper’s grave. The latter, buried just yards away, was honoured with a grand memorial.

Both, though, belong to the most exalted club on earth: those awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). And both have long since faded from view, their graves overgrown and untended. Until now, that is.

For their headstones and memorials are the latest restoration targets for a new and gloriously unfashionable charity, backed by Daily Mail readers – and royalty too.

Yesterday, the Princess Royal, now the proud patron of The Remembrance Trust, came to Brompton Cemetery in west London to inspect its latest work – and, in the process, even stumbled across a distant cousin lying next to a VC recipient.

The Princess Royal, now the proud patron of The Remembrance Trust, came to Brompton Cemetery in west London to inspect its latest work

The Princess Royal, now the proud patron of The Remembrance Trust, came to Brompton Cemetery in west London to inspect its latest work

It is a year since this newspaper first highlighted the trust’s fine work in restoring the graves of all those who fell in the service of this nation – back in the days before the state had any responsibility for them. Since then, aided by the generosity of Mail readers, the charity has done justice to hundreds of bygone heroes.

Given that all the graves and memorials honour those who were in the service of the British Empire and its colonial masters, this is certainly a charity which flies in the face of the woke.

However, it has been established by an old soldier who feels a simple debt of honour to those, like himself, who were just serving King or Queen and country.

‘It’s a slow process and doing any work outside Europe seems exorbitantly expensive,’ said Algy Cluff, author, entrepreneur and former Grenadier Guards officer.

‘But we are doing what we can and we are making progress. The whole point is to help future generations understand the past.’

Having worked on everything from vandalised graves of British troops killed in France during the Napoleonic wars to the overgrown headstones of Royal Navy sailors who died fighting the slave trade in Africa, the trust is now focusing on those closer to home.

Dozens of faded headstones in Hove Cemetery in East Sussex, for example, have just been restored to their former glory, including that of George Westphal who was shot and wounded serving alongside Horatio Nelson on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Unlike Nelson, Westphal miraculously sailed on for another seventy years.

Having worked on everything from vandalised graves of British troops killed in France during the Napoleonic wars to the overgrown headstones of Royal Navy sailors who died fighting the slave trade in Africa, the trust is now focusing on those closer to home

Having worked on everything from vandalised graves of British troops killed in France during the Napoleonic wars to the overgrown headstones of Royal Navy sailors who died fighting the slave trade in Africa, the trust is now focusing on those closer to home

Dozens of faded headstones in Hove Cemetery in East Sussex, for example, have just been restored to their former glory

Dozens of faded headstones in Hove Cemetery in East Sussex, for example, have just been restored to their former glory

The trust’s latest project is to restore the graves of a dozen VC holders who lie in Brompton Cemetery. As the Princess observed during yesterday’s visit: ‘What a very interesting range.’ For they include very senior officers with lavish memorials and also heroes who died in penury. All are now to receive equal treatment. She had to bend down to view the faded grey slab marking the resting place of Private Samuel Parkes, that hero of the Charge of the Light Brigade, who was given a pauper’s funeral. The Royal Parks, which looks after the cemetery – a final resting place of more than 200,000, has now spruced up the areas around the VC holders’ graves. However, the stonework technically belongs to the family or individual who erected it, making approvals a very laborious process. ‘Let’s just say there’s a lot of red tape,’ said volunteer grave restorer, Steve Davies, 64, who served in the Royal Green Jackets. The Princess gave him a knowing smile.

As she inspected the grave of Colonel Richard Wadeson VC – a thoroughly unwoke hero who killed two Indian mutineers who were about to kill two of his men – the Princess’s eye was diverted. ‘Ah, Royal Navy,’ she remarked, spotting the adjacent grave of Captain the Hon John Carnegie, brother of the Earl of Southesk. Whereupon someone pointed out the royal connection – Carnegie’s great nephew married Edward VII’s granddaughter.

The Princess remarked with a smile: ‘I think we were quite a long way out.’

She was more concerned by the practicalities of cemetery maintenance. Noting the knee-high grass, she had a suggestion. ‘What you need is sheep,’ she said, before adding: ‘Though that might not be such a good idea round here.’

If you wish to donate to the charity, visit www.theremembrancetrust.com/donate or send a cheque to The Remembrance Trust, 1-3 Waterloo Crescent, Dover, Kent, CT16 1LA

Dev

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