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War heroes deserve honour in death, says MP

An MP has called on the government to look at the way recipients of the UK’s highest military medal are honoured after their deaths.

Jonathan Reynolds, MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, raised the issue in the House of Commons, after learning that around 1,400 recipients of the Victoria Cross have unmarked graves or graves that have fallen into disrepair.

Mr Reynolds, who is Secretary of the Armed Forces All Party Parliamentary Group, said: “The Victoria Cross is the UK’s highest military decoration – and it is awarded only to those service men and women who have demonstrated extraordinary valour in the face of the enemy.

“These exceptional recipients deserve our respect in death as well as in life – so I was surprised to discover recently that there are so many recipients whose graves are unmarked or which have fallen into disrepair. It is astonishing to think that someone who was willing to sacrifice his own life for his country should not have the honour of a marked grave.”

There are an estimated 78 recipients of the Victoria Cross who lie in unmarked graves in the UK. Meanwhile many of the UK graves belonging to more than 1,300 recipients of the medal are deemed to be in a state of disrepair. Among them is John Buckley, who was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1857 for extraordinary valour while serving in India, but who lies in an unmarked grave in Tower Hamlets in London (pictured above right).

The Victoria Cross Trust is seeking to ensure the graves of these former service men and women are properly marked and maintained. It estimates that the cost of erecting a headstone at Buckley’s resting place and maintaining it would be £2,000.

According to the trust, Buckley was awarded the medal during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. He and eight other soldiers were defending an ammunition store in Delhi when they became outnumbered. Rather than surrender the ammunition, they chose to blow up the building and themselves.

Buckley – one of four soldiers to survive – was taken captive, but escaped and rejoined the British army. Later made lieutenant, he spent his final years in London and was buried in an unmarked grave in Tower Hamlets.

For some years the exact location of his grave was unknown but the plot has now been found and Victoria Cross Trust is keen to mark his final resting place.

The trust says: “It is a general misconception that graves of men awarded the Victoria Cross are looked after and protected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Only those VCs killed on the battlefields during the First and Second World Wars are commemorated either with a grave or a memorial.

“The CWGC also looks after the graves of seven other VC recipients including Lieutenant Colonel Herbert 'H' Jones and Sergeant Ian McKay, both killed in the Falklands and Corporal Bryan Budd, who lost his life in Afghanistan.

“The responsibility for the upkeep of graves belonging to VC recipients, who died in other conflicts or of old age, lies with their relatives.

“Many of these burial plots have fallen into disrepair and suffer from neglect. Families and relatives have dwindled or died out and sometimes the descendants are unaware that they exist, or they simply cannot afford to maintain them.

“In some cases the burial rights have expired completely meaning families do not have a legal right to replace headstones.”

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