TWO pitmen heroes who won the Victoria Cross have been honoured in their home village.
Youngsters from High Spen Primary School in Gateshead worked with the village’s community association and sculptor Felicity Watts to celebrate VC winners Thomas Young and William Dobson, as well as raising awareness of their forgotten stories.
Soldiers who died in the First World War are commemorated on the war memorial in the local churchyard at St Patrick’s Church.
But the new sculpture has been sited in the grounds of the school in the centre of the village, and will cast a shadow of a soldier on to stone at 11am on November 11 every year.
Villagers were joined by soldiers from the Coldstream Guards and the Rifles, along with contingents from the Royal British Legion, Army Cadets and veterans from the Durham Light Infantry and other forces organisations, for a dedication parade and service. Private Thomas Young, of the DLI, and Lance Corporal William Dobson, of the Coldstream Guards, both won the VC for saving lives rather than taking them.
“A memorial celebrating local heritage ensures that future generations will not forget the remarkable achievement these two men made, and the spirit they represent,” said Lynne Caffrey, secretary of High Spen Community Association, which won Heritage Lottery Fund backing to carry out the project.
Thomas Young was born in Boldon Colliery in South Tyneside but spent most of his life in High Spen and worked at Garesfield Colliery.
Aged 22, he was one of the youngest men to be awarded the Victoria Cross when, as a stretcher bearer, he went out in front of the British lines nine consecutive times in broad daylight and under heavy fire to rescue wounded men during the German offensive of 1918. At a ceremony in Saltwell Park, Gateshead, he was presented with an inscribed watch and silver cigarette case by the Earl of Durham.
After the war he returned to his work as a miner and died in an old people’s home in Whickham in 1966, aged 71.
A cast of bronze hands on the memorial came from Thomas’s son Jack, who travelled with his sister Bella from their home in Stoke for the ceremony.
William Dobson moved to High Spen to work in Garesfield Pit after three years in the Coldstream Guards. At the outbreak of the war he was called for active service.
At the age of 27, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for volunteering to rescue a fallen comrade. When he discovered that this soldier had died, he went back out to rescue another man and brought him to safety.
He was seriously wounded in the Battle of Ypres and eventually died as a result of his injuries in 1935.
School headteacher Jean Fisher said: “The children understand the significance of the memorial, which is not about fighting but a commemoration of the human qualities of courage and bravery.”