BRAVE servicemen who were awarded Britain’s highest military honour will be remembered as the nation prepares to mark the centenary of the First World War.
The Government has announced plans to commemorate those who earned the Victoria Cross (VC).
As part of the four-year programme, a national competition will take place to design special paving stones, which will be presented to councils where VC recipients from the First World War were born.
It is hoped the stones will provide a lasting legacy in communities of their heroes.
Eighteen soldiers were honoured in the North East, including in Sunderland and Durham.
Murton-born pitman Billy McNally won a VC after he proved his bravery time and time again during the conflict.
Billy enlisted with the Green Howards just a month after the outbreak of war, travelling to France with the 69 Brigade – 23rd Division in August 1915.
Less than a year later, he was awarded his first Military Medal after dragging a wounded officer to safety during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.
Billy went on to win a bar for his Military Medal on November 3, 1917, after rescuing men who had been wounded. In October 1918, while based near the River Piave in Italy, Billy won the Victoria Cross – the highest military award – for three acts of gallantry: rushing a machine-gun post single-handed, killing the enemy and capturing the gun; creeping up behind the enemy, single-handedly killing members of a German garrison; and using “coolness and skill”, while his colleagues were under fire, to out-manoeuvre attackers, killing several and leading his group to safety.
The VC citation read: “Throughout the whole of the operations, his innumerable acts of gallantry set a high example to his men, and his leading was beyond all praise.”
Billy returned to his job at Murton Colliery in 1919, despite suffering from a bullet wound in the leg, and got married the same year. He died in 1976.
Sunderland-born doctor George Allen Maling won a VC in the First World War after showing courage beyond expectation at the Battle of Loos.
The battle formed part of a wider French-English offensive, known as the Second Battle of Artois, to capture the Western Front in 1915 – but brought huge casualties. It was against this backdrop of carnage that Lieutenant Maling used his body as a shield to tend to the sick and dying, despite being shot and shelled by enemy troops. Sadly, although he survived the war, the GP was just 40 when he died in London in 1929. His medals are held by the Museum of Army Medical Services at Aldershot.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who announced the commemorative programme, said: “It is our duty to remember the British and Commonwealth troops who lost their lives fighting in the Great War, and we are determined to make sure their bravery for King and Country is not forgotten.
“Laying paving stones to mark these Victoria Cross heroes will ensure that there is a permanent memorial to all the fallen who fought for our country, and the competition is a great way for people from all corners of the United Kingdom to get involved.”
With one year to go until commemorations begin on August 4, 2014, a new website is to be created, to help people get funding and support, so that all First World War memorials are in good condition for November 2018.