I am always fascinated by war memorials. The long list of names which bear testimony to the devastation and sacrifice our communities suffered.
In several places, the local schools, the Royal British Legion and historians work together to link information to the names. They turn from names engraved in stones to photographs, family links, histories and stories.
By their very nature the war memorials commemorate those who died. They don’t have on their names the families left behind, the women, including those who lost their lives in their wartime service. They also don’t have the names of those who returned, often like my Grandfather from the First World war with a shattered shoulder, lungs poisoned by gas and attitudes changed by all he had experienced.
On October 6 2018 I had the privilege of being part of a celebration of one such returned soldier whose name hadn’t featured on a memorial until then.
It was a farmer’s son who had grown up leaping fences, dealing with drainage ditches etc. This proved to be invaluable 100 years to the day of our ceremony.
Private James Towers volunteered to take a message to a stranded company who needed to return from their position. He did this knowing five others had been killed trying to do this, one of whom had been a close friend. He went into no mans’ land under heavy fire, ducking down into craters, one of which contained his friend’s body.
He found himself under heavy fire and had to use all his childhood skills and the cover of mists to arrive at the stranded company. He spent the night with them and then led them back through the desolation to the lines, collected fallen comrades along the way.
James’s example and bravery led to him being awarded the Victoria Cross. One hundred years later a plaque was unveiled at the Preston War Memorial.
I am fascinated by how this son of a Lancashire farm used his locally honed skills, that despite knowing the potential cost he still volunteered. He acted as a committed messenger to deliver a crucial order to those stranded. He then stayed with them and led them back to safety. A
s I have written before Angel means Messenger. James Tower’s mission was truly angelic even in the violence and risk of the battlefield.
When I look at the war memorials I am aware of countless more similar accounts, connected both to the names recorded and the many more unnamed. “Seeing we are surrounded by so great a crowd of witnesses.”