Rex Needle: Spring ceremony for Bourne Great War hero’s memorial stone

The commemorative paving stone to mark the award of the Victoria''Cross to local hero Charles Sharpe during the Great War 100 years ''ago is to be laid in Bourne during the spring. EMN-150601-112529001
The commemorative paving stone to mark the award of the Victoria''Cross to local hero Charles Sharpe during the Great War 100 years ''ago is to be laid in Bourne during the spring. EMN-150601-112529001

The commemorative paving stone to mark the award of the Victoria Cross to local hero Charles Sharpe during the Great War 100 years ago is to be laid in Bourne during the spring.

The date Saturday, May 9 has been given to South Kesteven District Council by the Department for Communities and Local Government to coincide with the centenary of his action in 1915 while serving with the Lincolnshire Regiment during the Battle of Aubers Ridge in France at the age of 26.

Memorial stones are being presented to the home towns of all recipients of the Victoria Cross during the war as part of a government scheme to mark the centenary of the outbreak in 2014. The medal is Britain’s highest military decoration for gallantry in the field and he was among the 633 members of the armed services who were so honoured.

Sharpe’s bravery was recognised by the army after an action near Rouges Bancs, north-east of Neuve Chapelle, when two companies of his battalion reached the German lines after crossing No Man’s Land. He was the sole survivor of the initial part of the assault, his commander having been killed and he, as the next senior rank, was in charge with some 30 hand grenade bombs in pouches strapped to his uniform, leading colleagues similarly armed across a muddy, misty battlefield. His men were being shot down one by one as they approached the German trench until he was left standing alone but the bombs he was using were having a deadly effect with the enemy running in all directions trying to escape. He took the fifty-yard trench and was then joined by four other soldiers from another regiment who then attacked the enemy again, tossing their bombs so accurately that they captured another trench, this time measuring some 250 yards.

He came to England on leave for two months and on 24th July 1915, received his Victoria Cross from King George V at Windsor Castle and then took part in a recruiting drive to urge young, single men to volunteer for military service, visiting many places in Lincolnshire including Spalding and Bourne.

Sharpe returned to Bourne after discharge and served for a spell in the Second World War of 1939-45 but died following a fall in 1963, aged 73. The funeral was held at St Nicholas’ Church, Lincoln, with full military honours and he was later buried at the city’s Newport Cemetery. After his death, his medals and decorations passed to his children who decided to sell them and in 1989 they were sent to Christie’s auction rooms in London. In addition to the Victoria Cross, there were eight campaign and commemorative medals.

The sale attracted a great deal of attention and press coverage and they went to a surprise bidder for £17,000 who later turned out to be Chris Farmer, treasurer and later chief executive, of South Kesteven District Council, who had bought them on behalf of the community to commemorate the centenary year of Sharpe’s birth. The medals were cleaned, polished and mounted and are now on permanent display at the council’s headquarters at Grantham while copies may be seen at the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment’s museum in Lincoln. The name of Charles Sharpe has also been remembered in Bourne’s street names and a small cul-de-sac off Beech Avenue is known today as Sharpe’s Close.

There were fears that his memorial stone would go to Sleaford which was named in the list published by the government last August but after representations by the council, the leader, Councillor Linda Neal (Bourne West), subsequently received a personal assurance from the minister, Eric Pickles, that the data base would be changed to reflect his home town as Bourne and arrangements are now being made for its installation.

One factor has yet to be decided – where the stone should be laid. Two locations have been suggested, the first close to the War Memorial in South Street and the other outside the newly designed Corn Exchange which is now home to the town’s Community Access Point or CAP. Those interested in the project are being contacted by the council and a meeting is expected to be held within the next few weeks when both sites will be visited to determine which is best.This should not be a problem because the original intention by government was to lay the paving stones in the various town centres and in past times this would have been outside the Town Hall but this situation has changed. The building has now been closed after almost 200 years as the centre of civic life and all local authority services transferred to the CAP and the paved market area immediately outside therefore appears to be the perfect and most convenient place for the paving stone to be laid where it would be accessible to everyone at all times with a far greater footfall than any other place in town.

The War Memorial gardens, however, are well away from the town centre and administered by Bourne United Charities whose trustees have been known to close the gardens to the public in the past which would not be in keeping with the spirit of the present commemoration.

More importantly, the site is more associated with the fallen of past wars whereas Charles Sharpe returned to Bourne and lived a useful life in the town where he had various jobs until a few months before he died.

The other factor which weighs in favour of the new market place site is care and maintenance and as the stone is being entrusted to SKDC in the first instance, then it would seem appropriate that they should be responsible for it in the future, as they have been with his medals.