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Stanley News, 19 July 1917

Great welcome for Private Heaviside on 12 July

Unprecedented Scenes Mark the Homecoming of Craghead’s VC hero

… Right royal, in very truth, was the reception accorded on Thursday last to the gallant winner of that most coveted of all British military distinctions. Alike worthy the man and worthy the deed – one of sublime heroism in the face of almost certain death.

For it will be recalled how, scorning machine-gun fire and snipers alike, Heaviside, who is a stretcher-bearer in the DLI, approached to within 40 yards of the enemy’s line to succour a stricken comrade who, badly wounded and nearly demented with thirst, had lain out for four days and three nights; and, subsequently, with the help of two others, brought the wounded man into safety.

Served in the Boer War

A native of Durham City, and now aged 36, our hero formerly lived at Sacriston, where his father is still head keeker at the colliery. He served in the RAMC through the Boer War, and returned as a reservist to the pits at Burnhope, where he met his future wife, the mother of his eight children, one born, bye the bye, but a few weeks since.

After having been employed as a hewer in Oswald Pit at Craghead for four or five years, Heaviside was recalled to the colours shortly after the outbreak of hostilities in September 1914. Twenty-one months elapsed before he went to France, but, once there, he was quickly in the thick of it, for at Ypres he sustained a shrapnel wound, which has left his right eye affected; and on returning to the front, he was in the battles of Loos and the Somme.

For some weeks past a committee at Craghead, of which Mr Wm Ord was chairman, Mr Alex Johnson treasurer, and Mr Henry Greener hon secretary, had been working unostentatiously with a view to Pte Heaviside’s homecoming; and when it became known that he had been granted 10 days’ leave it was a matter of course that he should be given a public welcome, even though other plans were left uncompleted for the nonce.

Stanley and South Moor, through which Heaviside had to pass on his way back to Craghead, rose to the occasion, and with no uncertain voice manifested their desire to participate in the joyful proceedings. On Thursday last, then, the three townships were all agog with excitement and expectation, every street and well-nigh each house being gaily dressed with bunting in honour of the day. A huge crowd mustered at Shield Row station to meet the 6.13 train from Newcastle on which Heaviside, who had crossed from France on Tuesday, had arranged to travel, accompanied by Mr Solomon Jones and Mr Jackson, two personal friends. It is only natural that at Pelton and Beamish there were friends anxious to extend a hearty hand-shake.

Home Again

Steaming in promptly on time, Pte Heaviside was met on the platform by his father, Mr Jno Heaviside, and his father-in-law, Mr Matthew Draper, also by three of his children, two boys and a girl, as well as Messrs W Ord, H Greener and A Johnson and other representatives of the reception committee and of Craghead Parish Council.

What a cheer went up when the gallant hero emerged into the station-yard! Equipped with full service kit, rifle, steel helmet, etc, and wearing the ribbons of the VC and South African medals, he looked the very embodiment of fitness, not even belied by the gold stripe on his left arm. Short, sturdy and well knit, his bronzed face was wreathed with smiles as he realised to some degree at least the extent of the preparations made to do him honour – for the ordeal he had to face was assuredly one of the pleasantest that can befal any man, and that probably but once in a lifetime.

Quite a number of motor-cars were drawn up outside the station – first and foremost being one lent by Mr John Smith JP (South Moor), and driven by Mr Edward Smith, his son; besides others belonging to Messrs H Miller, W Brown, J G Clark, Jn R Watson, and A J Jeffery; also Messrs Pomeroy’s brake. The Craghead Lodge, DMA, had sent its banner with the singularly appropriate motto, “He that would be free must strike the blow,” and the South Moor Colliery Band was there, under Mr W L Turnbull, as well as contingents of the Stanley corps 1st Durham Volunteers (under Lieutenant J A Hodgson) and of the South Moor CLB [Church Lads Brigade]. A cinematograph photographer was well in evidence, too, accompanied by Mr Robt Reay (Elite and Albert Halls), and several other knights of the camera made most of their opportunities both here and elsewhere en route.

The Volunteers’ Tribute

Pte Heaviside lost no time in boarding Mr Smith’s car, from which floated two Union-Jacks, taking his little girl on his knee; while Messrs H Greener, Jones and Jackson also found seats therein. Others present included Mr Jos Smith, JP, and Insp F Catterick, who, with Sergt Jackson, had charge of the police arrangements and Capt Saunders, Adjutant of the 1st Durham Volunteer Regt, who journeyed specially from Gateshead.

The Volunteers presented arms to the hero of the occasion, and the procession was drawn up in the following order:- The South Moor Band, the Stanley Volunteers, South Moor CLB and Craghead Lodge banner, then the motor cars (with, of course, Pte Heaviside’s in the van), and a number of Craghead young women in costumes representing the Allies etc. while members of the committee collected for the gift fund.

Starting to the inspiring notes of “See the Conquering Hero Comes”, the procession at last emerged from the precincts of the station and commenced its way slowly up “the bank”, thronged as it was with a cheering, hand-waving throng, one and all anxious to prove the public appreciation of the gallant deed which won Pte Heaviside his VC. Despite all the efforts of the committee, and the police, his car was literally besieged at times, and he had to shake hands with many scores of admirers, not to speak of signing autograph albums, and so on. One burly khaki-clad comrade kissed his hero’s hand, and many more saluted him in true military fashion as he went by. Other friends pressed little gifts on him, both then and later, some being pleasingly substantial tributes that would doubtless be most welcome.

The Nobblers Were There

The banner of the Stanley Nobblers, who were piloted by Mr J Cumming (secretary), was adroitly wedged in just ahead of the hero’s car at Brewery square, from whence the crowd seemed to become thicker; and many turned out to admire the motto above the Theatre Royal – the words: “Welcome, Our Hero” between two realistically-painted VC’s.

The throng in Front St almost defies description, excitement and enthusiasm reigning supreme. The children of St Joseph’s School lined the playground walls on one side of the roadway, waving handkerchiefs and flags, and making the prettiest of pictures.

A halt was made outside the Stanley Council Chamber, where Pte Heaviside alighted and took his place on the balcony above the entrance, where was the motto:- “Stanley’s Welcome to the VC Hero.” Here one saw Couns Duffy (chairman of the Stanley Urban Council), D Dodd (vice-chairman), W McClenning, T Welch, CC [County Council]; and JC Brown; Mr JG Ridley (clerk), Mr Jas Harris (inspector and acting surveyor), Mr EG Chatt (clerk to the Stanley Education Committee) etc.

Coun Duffy, addressing the sea of faces before him, said that it gave him great pleasure, as chairman of the Council, to welcome their gallant hero. While he did not exactly belong to Stanley, yet Craghead was a sort of suburb, and they were thankful to the Reception Committee for the opportunity to give the VC, of whom they were so proud, the heartiest of welcomes.

A Great Day Coming

He was sure there were many sore hearts in Stanley through the war; but the day would come for the proud return of those others they had sent to France and other parts to defend right against might. The day was not distant, he felt sure, when not only their VC, but all those lads would return, and that would be a great day for Stanley. He would now ask their vice-chairman to supplement his welcome to their gallant hero. (Applause)

Coun Dodd said he was proud to do so, and that for two reasons. First, because Heaviside belonged to his own class; and, secondly, because he has represented those brave Durhams in the fields of France and Flanders who had brought to Craghead, and the County, such great honour. He hoped that he would long be spared to enjoy that honour. He endorsed Mr Duffy’s remarks, and hoped the time would be hastened for the speedy return of all their lads.

Pte Heaviside, called upon to respond, scratched his head in some embarrassment amid good-humoured laughter, and then said he thanked them all very much, but he had not expected it. He wished all the lads were back again; but when they had got through with the job they would come back. (Cheers)

The procession then proceeded, amid more scenes of enthusiastic appreciation, till the entrance to South Moor was reached, when another halt was called near the railway arch, and, on the invitation of Mr Greener, three lusty cheers were given for Pte Heaviside.

The crowd here, a very dense one, was controlled by Police-Sergt Sutheran and the Annfield Plain Constabulary. The South Moor Band played “Cheerful Chums” at this juncture.

Then on again to near Pine St[reet], where another halt was called, and the Volunteers and CLB formed up.

The Most Noble Deed of All

Mr H Greener again called for three cheers for the VC, saying he wanted to thank the people for giving him that most fitting reception. He was sure the noble deed he had performed was worthy of all the recognition they could give him. He was glad they had turned out in such numbers to honour the most noble deed that could be performed on the battlefield. They were all glad to see him (Heaviside), and hoped that he would live many years to enjoy the special distinction that had come to him.

Then another move forward, ever nearer homewards – a fact which was easily noticeable by the increase in the purely personal welcomes showered on the hero of the occasion, old friends clustering round the car for a few words of greeting or shouting their glad recognition as he went by.

Passing through Bloemfontein, more and more of the “Welcome Home” flags could be seen, and there was renewed cheering ever and anon. Truly a triumphal procession, impressive to a degree in its wonderful spontaneity and whole-hearted enthusiasm!

The roads were very dusty, and those who had followed the procession from Shield Row to Craghead, as many did, were by this time covered white and almost smothered. “As bad as being gassed,” said one reservist, as he smartly saluted the hero, and he was not far wrong.

With another halt near Kimberley Ter[race] – perhaps involuntary, for progress under such conditions was necessarily slow – Craghead itself was reached at 7.45, and here again the beflagged, crowded streets spoke their own unmistakable words of welcome.

After a tour through the village, which was something to live long in memory, the football field was at last reached for the final stage in the reception demonstration, the magnitude and success of which could surely have scarcely been equalled, not to say excelled anywhere.

School Children

The grandstand had been reserved for a few of the local inhabitants, and P S Murdoch was here in charge of the police arrangements. In part of it was a little army of school children, those of the Craghead Senior Council School being under Mr Gornall, with Mr Duncan McInnes (principal assistant), Mrs Musgrove and Miss Tweddell; while the Bloemfontein Senior School children were under Mr Davison and the infants in charge of Miss Smith.

The Chairman of the Reception Committee (Mr Ord) said that they had met to welcome their pitman-soldier who had been out yonder. He was proud to see so many in khaki, and so many holding a high position, and liked to see how they all appreciated the action of Craghead’s gallant hero. (Applause.)

Mr Henry Greener said that he had been asked at the Committee meeting if, on behalf of the Committee, and of Craghead, he would say a few words of welcome to their gallant hero, Pte Heaviside. He need not tell them that it was with the greatest pleasure he did so, when he thought of all he and his comrades had been doing for them out yonder, digging a trench between Germans and them, and so far successfully that the thin line of the British Army and the Allies had stayed the enemy’s progress. The German time-table had been upset, in fact, and that by the action of such men as Pte Michael Heaviside.

He was sure that they appreciated to the fullest extent the distinction that had come to him, and as citizens of the village on the hill at Craghead they wanted to welcome him. He did so in their name and that of the committee, and would include the places round about, all of which had shown their appreciation of the honour that had come to their hero. He trusted that the 10 days’ leave granted him would be a joyous, healthful and merry time, and that the day would soon come for him to go to his Majesty the King to receive the VC he had so richly merited. Might he have years of health to enjoy his honour.

Laughter and Tears

He (the speaker) stood before them with not unmixed feelings, as they might guess; but one had got to weep with those who wept, and rejoice with those who rejoiced. His had been a time of weeping, and had he yielded to his own personal feelings he might not have been there; but he had set those feelings aside, and was glad of the privilege afforded him, in their name, of extending the most hearty and most cordial of welcomes to a man who had brought such honour to their village (Cheers).

Capt Saunders said he was not addicted with the fault of being a good speaker, but he thought one of the greatest honours that had fallen to him was to take part in such a function and to welcome Pte Heaviside. He had done something to be proud of, and the very least they could do was to help Lieut Hodgson to bring up his company of Volunteers to full strength. He urged them to back him up in that respect.

Pte Heaviside, next called upon, said that he thanked them all very much. It was more than he expected. He would like to say that he had only just done his duty, the same as everyone else out there; and he expected that he was not the last one to get the VC. “There’s plenty more left for them that wants to gan in for them,” he added, lapsing in to the homely vernacular. But then there are some wooden crosses too, went on Pte Heaviside, striking a note of sympathetic sadness. He concluded his brief speech with renewed thanks for his reception – the band playing “For he’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” followed by the ever-appealing strains of “Home, Sweet Home”.

The children having sung “Rule Britannia,” Mr A Kuhlman moved a vote of thanks to all who had lent motor cars and assisted in other ways. There were many proud faces round him, and he could say that was the proudest day he had had in Craghead. He was quite sure that the efforts of the Committee to give their hero a hearty welcome had been thoroughly seconded by the people. That was not his first experience of how they did honour to men who deserved it; but he was now doubly convinced that when the occasion required it they would rise as one man.

A Wonderful Day

That day to him, coming through Stanley, South Moor, and there, had been wonderful. He had never seen a day like it; it was an eye-opener that he never expected. It just required someone to set the ball rolling, and it would gather moss galore and take huge proportions. He never saw such a crowd. The committee were thoroughly and highly satisfied with the response to the efforts they had made. They had done a little good, but their efforts, if not seconded, would have fallen flat. It was just because there was such a crowd that made work a pleasure. He wanted to express thanks to everyone who had helped. There was no one among them rich enough to own motor cars yet they had been offered by the dozen that day. They owed best thanks to those who had so willingly helped to make the occasion such a success. Then, they had only to say to the South Moor Band that they wanted their help, and they went to Shield Row and back cheerfully. Everyone had pulled together, so making work a pleasure. They could not expect to have many days like that, which was one of work and pleasure. He was glad to move a hearty vote of thanks to all who had lent motor-cars, and to the South Moor Band and to the Stanley Nobblers, who had turned out and filled a vacant space in the procession. All had come for nothing; and he would also like to mention the police, who had shown splendid temper, and exercised the most extreme patience. No one had got a toe hurt in the act.

The Rev J B Eddon (vicar of Craghead), seconding, said it was a great pleasure to try to thank all those who had so wonderfully well organised that “welcome home” which had been talked about so many times in the past weeks. Everyone had been delighted to do what they could to make things go pleasantly and happily; and he was sure all had been pleased to help, especially the children of the schools who had found it a real pleasure. He hoped they would include them in the vote of thanks and those in their charge.

Duty First

They did well to come together on such an occasion to honour their hero, and not only him and his noble deed, but the spirit of the lads who, right away from the beginning, had put duty first and thought there was no place like their homes and that they were worth doing everything for. It was because Heaviside had done that that they honoured his presence, and were gratified that he was able to taste once more the pleasures of home and stand side by side with his little ones, as he did that afternoon. It had been a joy to all of them to take part in those proceedings, and he had pleasure in seconding the vote of thanks. He wanted to add his personal appreciation of the definite, deliberate bravery of the act Pte Heaviside had performed, which had won him that high distinction. Sometimes men did brave things in the heat of the moment, but to go into “No Man’s Land,” where death was awaiting him, needed some courage indeed. He was proud the Army had such men, and that Craghead had sent so many who desired to keep their homes clean and safe from all invasion.

“God Save the King” was then sung with rare gusto, Pte Heaviside joining heartily.

It was then 8.50, and a memorable day closed with cheers for Mr and Mrs Heaviside and family called for by the Rev Eddon, in response to which the hero of the day saluted in true military fashion.

At School

Pte Heaviside, VC, visited Craghead Council School on Friday morning, and a right royal reception he got from the children. For sheer spontaneous enthusiasm the younger folks could not be beaten. They sang to him, they cheered him, as only children can, and, best of all, he seemed to like it.

Mr Gornall, head teacher, introduced the hero, and Mr McInnes, in the name of the children and the staff, handed the VC winner a wallet with “something” inside, and wished him a safe return after the titanic struggle was over and that he would live long to wear the honour which he had so nobly earned.

The honoured visitor spoke very nicely to the children, expressing his joy at being asked to visit the school where two of his boys attend. He valued his VC, he said, but the children’s reception was, at the moment, nearly as precious.

The teacher who presented the gift had pointed out that his award was for saving life. The VC’s comment on that was that it was good to save our own men, but equally as important to lay low as many Germans as possible. He would treasure the present from the school as long as he lived.

An old boy of the school, Pte Joe Jackson, who is over with the Australian contingent, and who has seen two years’ service, also spoke to the children. He was glad, he said, to revisit the school with his friend Heaviside under such happy circumstances. He thought that the time was not far distant when the children would welcome home their fathers, brothers and other relations. One thing he was very certain of, that the Allies were going to be “top dog” when all was cleared up.

Date: 1917-Jul-19

Reference: D/WP 4/40 (M61/41): Stanley News, Thursday 19 July 1917, page 1

Where to find this: Durham County Record Office

Contributed by Durham County Record Office

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