Town hall ceremony to honour three brave VC winners

Published: Thursday 20th April 17

Three brave soldiers who were each awarded Britain’s highest award for gallantry – the Victoria Cross – will be honoured at a special town hall ceremony on Saturday.

Special memorial stones are to be laid in the town hall’s garden of remembrance in honour of Cpl Edward Foster, 2nd Lt Reginald Haine and A/Capt Arthur Lascelles, who all won VCs in the First World War. Members of the public are warmly invited to attend the ceremony.

All three men hailed from Wandsworth and are being honoured as part of the national centenary commemorations of the 1914-18 conflict. Two of the VCs were won almost 100 years to the day of this weekend’s ceremony

Three Wandsworth heroes - Arthur Lascelles, Reginald Haine and Edward Foster

Family descendants of two of the three men plus representatives from their regiments will be joined by local dignitaries, including the Mayor of Wandsworth and the Leader of the Council Ravi Govindia in paying tribute.

Edward Foster’s great, great grandson Harry Foster will be in attendance as will John Stephens, Reginald Haine’s great grandson.

And among these special guests is expected to be Lance Sgt Johnson Beharry VC who was awarded his Victoria Cross during operations near Basra, Iraq in 2004.

The council’s armed forces champion Cllr Leslie McDonnell said: “We owe these three men a great debt for their bravery, courage and dedication.

“The First World War was a truly awful conflict in which so many people from so many countries were killed. Throughout the war combatants from both sides were required to show almost unimaginable bravery each and every day.

“To have won a Victoria Cross under such circumstances shows just how brave and courageous there three men were and they truly fully deserve to be honoured and remembered in this way.”

Cpl Edward Foster lived in Tooting and was a council dustman before joining 13th Battalion The East Surrey Regiment, a so-called ‘Pals battalion’ that was raised by the then Mayor of Wandsworth in 1915.

On April 24, 1917, the 31-year-old was engaged in fighting near the French village of Villers-Plouich during the Battle of Cambrai. The battalion’s advance was being held up by a well-defended German trench position strengthened with barbed wire and covered by a machine gun nest.

Armed with a Lewis gun Cpl Foster stormed the trench. During the hand to hand fighting that followed he temporarily lost his gun but used grenades to dislodge the enemy, succeeded in recovering it and then used it to knock out the enemy machine gun position. Not only did he win the Victoria Cross for this engagement, he was also awarded the Médaille Militaire, France’s third highest decoration for bravery. Cpl Foster survived the war and continued living in Tooting until his death in January 1946, aged 60.

2nd Lt Reginald Haine was 20-years-old and serving in the Honourable Artillery Company near Gavrelle in northern France on the night of April 28 and 29 1917, when his position came under repeated attack by a larger German force.

The young officer led six counter attacks that seized key German strongpoints along with 50 prisoners and two machine guns. Faced with a series of ferocious enemy attacks 2nd Lt Haine defended his position until the following morning when he again took the initiative and recaptured lost ground. He had led his men with exceptional courage for 30 hours of continuous fighting.

He too survived the war and went on to attain the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Indian Army, having also won a Military Cross for action on the North West Frontier in 1919. In the Second World War he commanded a Home Guard battalion. He died in June 1982. 

Arthur Lascelles was 37-years-old and an acting captain in 3rd Battalion Durham Light Infantry when his position at Masnieres in France came under heavy German bombardment on December 3, 1917.

Despite being wounded by shrapnel Capt Lascelles continued to encourage his men and organize his unit’s defence until the German attack was repulsed.

But continued heavy German attacks eventually overran his position, prompting Capt Lascelles to organise a desperate counter-attack which, against all odds and under heavy machine gun fire, managed to dislodge and drive back the enemy.    

He was killed in action less than a year later, and just days before the Armistice was signed, at Fontaine-au–Bois on November 7, 1918.

His VC is on permanent display at the Durham Light Infantry Museum & Durham Art Gallery. Cpl Foster’s VC and that belonging to 2nd Lt Haine are both on display at the Imperial War Museum.

L/Sgt Johnson Beharry VC will be joined by senior officers from The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment which is the modern day successor unit to the East Surreys. Similarly, the Durham Light Infantry is now a constituent unit of The Rifles which will also have senior officers in attendance to honour A/Capt Lascelles. Representatives of the Honourable Artillery Company will be paying homage to 2nd Lt Haine.

Johnson Beharry won his VC for two acts of great heroism during the Iraq war. On both occasions he saved his fellow troops from death and serious injury after being ambushed. On the second occasion he rescued his comrades, many of whom were wounded, despite having suffered very serious injuries himself.

Member of the public who wish to attend are advised the ceremony will begin at 10.45am and conclude at 11.30am in the gardens at the front of Wandsworth town hall.

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