30 September 2015

In two weeks’ time Sheffield will remember one of its bravest sons who was awarded Britain’s highest award for gallantry in battle exactly 100 years ago.

A special plaque will be unveiled in the city centre in honour of Sergeant–Major John Crawshaw Raynes, who earned his Victoria Cross for bravery and devotion to duty in World War 1 on 11-12 October 1915.

The plaques have been provided by the Government to commemorate the VCs awarded during World War 1 and each will be installed to mark the 100th anniversary since they were awarded.

Sheffield’s Lord Mayor, Cllr Talib Hussain said: “It was incredibly moving to read about the heroism of this Sheffield man, who risked his life for others in circumstances that very few of us will ever have to endure. It is fitting that we honour the bravery and dedication of John Crawshaw Raynes and I hope that the people of Sheffield will also turn out to pay their respects on 12 October.”

The ceremony to lay the plaque in honour of Sgt Maj John Raynes will take place at the Cenotaph in Barkers Pool on Monday 12 October at 11am.

A wreath is being laid on John’s grave at Harehills Cemetery in Leeds at the same time as the ceremony in Sheffield on 12 October.

John Raynes was born the son of Mr and Mrs Stephen Raynes in Sheffield on 28 April 1887. It is believed John’s parents moved to the Heeley area soon after their marriage in 1886. Their address in the register is The Sheaf View Hotel in Heeley which still exists. He married Mabel Dawson at the Leeds Registry Office on 24 April 1907 and prior to enlisting in 1914 John was serving with the Leeds City Police.

After his discharge from the Army he returned to the Leeds City Police and was promoted to Sergeant. However John found it increasingly difficult to fulfil his duties due to the nature of the injuries he had sustained whilst fighting for his country.

He finally retired from the police in 1926 and, according to his obituary that appeared in The Times (14 November 1929), he was bed ridden with paralysis for the final three years of his life and had to rely on his wife for constant support and nursing.

The difficulties John had were spinal injuries, which deteriorated to the extent that he was paralyzed in his legs. Max Arthur in his recently published book on VC holders also mentions that John had periods of depression in the final years of his life.

John missed the Victoria Cross reunion dinner on 9 November 1929 in The Royal Gallery, House of Lords in London, but he received a telegram from his fellow Yorkshire VC holders on 11 November conveying their greetings and expressing their regret that he could not complete the party. He also had a visit from the new Lord Mayor of Leeds Mr N G Morrison on the same day.

John died the next day on 12 November 1929 at his home in Grange Crescent, Chapeltown, Leeds at the young age of 42 leaving a wife and family.

It is reported that between 25-30,000 people attended the funeral – lining the streets of Leeds for the funeral procession and the cemetery gates had to be closed due to the numbers wishing to pay their respects to this local hero.

The award citation for the Victoria Cross cites the following:
“No. 36380. Sergeant-Major J. C. Raynes, (Royal Field Artillery). For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. On 11 October, 1915, at Fosse 7 de Bethune, his Battery was being heavily bombarded by armour-piercing and gas shells. On ‘Cease Fire’ being ordered Sergeant-Major (then Acting Sergeant) Raynes, went out under an intense shell fire to assist Sergeant Ayres, who was lying wounded forty yards away. He bandaged him and returned to his gun, when it was again ordered into action.

A few minutes later ‘Cease Fire’ was again ordered owing to the intensity of the enemy fire, and Sergeant-Major Raynes, calling on two gunners to help him – both of whom were killed shortly afterwards – went out and carried Sergeant Ayres into a dug-out. A gas shell burst at the mouth of the dug-out, and Sergeant-Major Raynes, once more ran across the open, fetched his own smoke helmet, put it on Sergeant Ayres, and then, himself badly gassed, staggered back to serve his gun.

On 12 October, 1915, at Quality Street, a house was knocked down by a heavy shell, four men being buried in the house and four in the cellar. The first man rescued was Sergeant-Major Raynes, wounded in the head and leg, but he insisted on remaining under heavy shell fire to assist in the rescue of all the other men. Then, after having his wounds dressed, he reported himself immediately for duty with his Battery, which was again being heavily shelled.”

The citation appeared in a supplement to The London Gazette dated 18 November 1915 (11449). John was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 4 December 1915.


Notes for editors:
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration that can be awarded to members of the armed forces of Britain and its Commonwealth for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’. It may be awarded to a person of any rank in any of the armed services and to civilians under military command.

The VC was instituted during the Crimean War and on 29th January 1856 Queen Victoria signed a royal warrant at Buckingham Palace for the issuing of the medal. The Queen herself held the first investiture in Hyde Park on 26th June 1857, during which she presented medals to 62 of the 111 Crimean medal winners; the majority of those who were not present were on military service overseas. When it was first issued the physical appearance of the medal was a disappointment to many, as it was regarded as being too small and too plain, and the “The Times” described the decoration as ‘poor looking and mean in the extreme’.

The decoration is a bronze cross 41mm high and 36 mm wide, bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion, with the inscription ‘For Valour’. The wording was chosen by the Queen herself in preference to the original suggestion of “For the Brave”. On the reverse of the medal is a circular panel on which the date of the act for which it was awarded is engraved. The decoration with its suspension bar and link weighs a modest 27g.

The design of the medal is generally attributed to H H Armstead, a young employee of Hancocks, the London jewellers who have made the crosses since its inception. The metal from which the crosses are cast was cut from two Russian cannons which were captured at Sebastopol in the Crimea. In recent years careful analysis of the metal used in early VCs has led some experts to conclude that the cannons were of Chinese manufacture, but the explanation for this may be that captured Chinese artillery pieces were used by the Russians to augment Sebastopol’s defences.

Irrespective of whether the cannons are Chinese or Russian in origin, the bronze used to make VCs is taken from their cascabels, the spherical protrusions at the back of the guns that are used to secure the restraining ropes. The remaining portion of the single cascabel that is left, which has been reduced to a weight of approximately 10kg, is now kept in a vault at the stores of the Royal Logistic Corps at Donnington, near Telford. The bronze can only be removed under armed guard and it has been estimated that approximately 80 more VCs could be cast from the remaining metal.

The original 1856 specification for the VC stated that the medal ribbon should be red for army recipients and dark blue for navy recipients. However, the dark blue ribbon was abolished soon after the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918. On 22 May 1920 King George V signed a warrant that stated that henceforth all recipients would receive a red ribbon and that living recipients of the naval version were required to exchange their ribbons for the new colour.