The Blackpool VC’s

The Blackpool VC’s

 

There are two commemorated Victoria Cross recipients on the Cenotaph at Princess Parade, Blackpool, Stanley Boughey and Alfred Victor Smith. Neither were born in Blackpool but both were working in the town at the outbreak of war. Alfred was a police inspector and Stanley, while working in a solicitor’s office, was also an active member of the St John’s Ambulance.

It is difficult to determine what inspired both men to their deeds, but both it seemed, albeit experiencing entirely different upbringings, nevertheless held, and expressed, a deep sense of duty and loyalty. It was not the prerogative of the public school system to create such character, as the head of Rossall School liked to believe at the opening of his own school’s memorial. Stanley Boughey and Alfred Smith were a product respectively of the grammar school and the secondary school system. All bravery has to be equal, and originates from the depth of character and personal experience of the individual, wherever it is learned, and however it is expressed.

Stanley Henry Parry Boughey

Daily Record February 15 1918

There has been quite a bit of confusion over Stanley Boughey, which has created a little conflict between assumption and fact. But what is true is that, in an adrenalin rush of instinctive duty and responsibility, Stanley’s actions in the military during WW1 which resulted in his death, were witnessed and recorded, and for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Stanley was living and working in Blackpool when he joined up and went to the Front in France. At that time he was Stanley Boughey but, when he wasn’t at Blackpool, and living at Acton, Cheshire, it appears he was Stanley Cornes, his birth name.

His assumed name of Boughey was naturally acquired when his mother, Lucy Cornes married James Boughey when Stanley was four, going on five years old.

These facts are available with reference to the official records.

Records also show that Stanley’s birth was recorded in Toxteth Park Liverpool, and the date given is 9th April 1896. He was thus born Stanley Henry Parry Cornes (an address is given as 3 Danube Street, which can no doubt be proved with a view of the birth certificate itself). His mother is Lucy Cornes. There is no father’s name given. At the time of his baptism in Liverpool (6th February 1898), his birth place is stated as Nantwich. Any discrepancies can no doubt be excused by the difficulties of his mother, Lucy, being a single mum at the time….

…..In 1898 in Blackpool, the year of Stanley’s baptism, Emma Jane North was tried both for the murder of her new born child and her own attempted suicide. Alone, frightened, friendless, in service a long way from her family in Hampshire, she had given birth to a daughter in her servant’s attic room. In some kind of desperation and panic, she had subsequently killed her baby and concealed it up the chimney in a brown, paper parcel, and then cut her own throat. She was found, survived, charged and sentenced. Thrown to the mercy of the court by the jury, the death sentence on a pale, frail, evidently ill and pathetically weak and desperate young woman of 28yrs was commuted to three months imprisonment, one report even claims hard labour….

…in which case, Stanley’s mother, Lucy Cornes, with family backing, was able to avoid the desperation suffered by Emma Jane and, only tweaked a record or two, and sympathies would belong to the females in both, and a myriad of other similar cases.

Military records at the time of Stanley’s death reveal that his parents lived at Yew Tree Farm, Nantwich, Cheshire. The census returns and newspaper reports show that this was the family home of James Boughey, Stanley’s stepfather. However, while living at Nantwich, Stanley was actually at the home of his uncle Thomas Cornes, whom the school records show as the parent/guardian. In 1901 the census return shows Stanley B Cornes, 5yrs old living at Reaseheath, the home of Thomas Cornes and family. He is described as a son to the head of the household. Earlier, the 1891 census return shows 19yr old Lucy, living with her brother Thomas, 33yrs old, and sister, Elizabeth 35 yrs. There are no parents (who would be John and… Alice?), on this census return.

In the Guardian of Feb 1922, Stanley is described as ‘the son of Mr and Mrs Boughey now of Blackpool and formerly of Hurleston Nantwich. He was a grandson of the late Mr John Cornes, formerly of the New Farm Hurleston, and of Mr Boughey of the Yew Tree farm, Hurleston, and a nephew of Mr Cornes of Reaseheath, Nantwich and Mr Cornes, farmer of Malpas.’

His mother Lucy married James Boughey, at Acton Parish Church on Feb 19 1901. James Boughey, lived on the next farm to her. It can be assumed that Stanley’s name changed, technically at least, at that time from Cornes to Boughey, and he is the Stanley B of the census return taken later in the same year, despite his name being registered as Cornes. Sometime after marrying, Lucy and James moved to Blackpool, and Lucy was pregnant with her second child.

During his time at school, Stanley alternated between Acton and Blackpool, that is, between his uncle’s address in Nantwich and his mother’s address in Blackpool.

 His time at school; from the records;-

4/9/06 Stanley Boughey was admitted to Acton school, parent/guardian Thomas Cornes, residing at Reaseheath. His previous school was Blackpool C (Council).  He left the school 30/1/07, reason given, change of address.

The National School Admission records of 1906 show that Thomas Cornes is the parent of Stanley Boughey.

2/9/07 He was re-admitted to Acton school. The name of his parent or guardian is Thomas Cornes, who is also the parent/guardian of Doreen Cornes admitted 9/7/07. Thomas is Stanley’s mother’s elder brother by 14yrs. The home address is given as Reaseheath. He had previously been at Claremont Council School, Blackpool. The date of his last attendance at this school is given as 25/10/07 and the reason given as change of residence.

25/1/09. He was readmitted to the school, his guardian still Thomas Cornes, and his address Reaseheath. His last attendance at this school was 19/2/09 due to a change of residence. His name was slotted in between the lines as an afterthought, as if it might have been an impromptu decision to send him back to Nantwich.

21/8/09 he was once more readmitted to Acton school and back living at his uncle’s at Reaseheath. There is no leaving date, but he had reached the exemption age. He would be 13yrs old now. His name had been slotted in between the lines once more.

His attendance at Acton school is recorded under the headmaster Mr Poole. A newspaper article has him finishing his education at Clifton College, Blackpool (situated on Knowle Ave, N Shore, a building now no longer a school). He was a keen athlete and won competitions at local level and was reportedly a member of the North Shore Cricket Club. On leaving school, he was engaged as a solicitor’s clerk in the office of Richard Banks on Abingdon Street, Blackpool. He joined the St John’s Ambulance and was a member of the first Blackpool Scout group. His knowledge of first aid would have been influential in his decision to join the Red Cross with which he went to France in October. At this time, the Medical Corps was under great stress, and the RAMC was about to be reorganised, and a focus created in Blackpool.

His family

On the 1891 census, Lucy Cornes is living on Reaseheath Rd with her sister Elizabeth and brother Thomas who is a farmer and head of household. Lucy is 19, Thomas 31 and Elizabeth 35.

On the 1901 census, 5yr old Stanley B Cornes is described as the son of Thomas Cornes, who is now married to Mary. Thomas is a farmer at Mile House Farm Worleston, Cheshire.

The marriage record shows that Lucy Cornes married James Boughey, after banns, at the parish church of Acton on 19th Feb 1901. He is 21, a bachelor farmer living at Yew Tree farm, Hurleston and she is a spinster, 29, living at New Farm. The two farms are next door to each other. Fathers Joseph Boughey and John Cornes are, respectively, farmers. Witnesses are Frank Boffey (as spelled) and Annie Boughey.

The 1911 census shows Stanley, classed as a stepson, living at 37 Queens Gate, Blackpool. His mother is Lucy and his father is James. Stanley has a stepbrother, Geoffrey Heaton Boughey, born in 1902 in Acton. All the family apart from Stanley are born in Acton. James is a bowling green attendant (there were good cash prizes for prestigious bowling tournaments in Blackpool, at the Talbot and Waterloo Hotels for instance), and his mother is a company house keeper (boarding house keeper). The address of 37 Queens Gate, Claremont Park would now be Queens Promenade, N Shore Blackpool.

His brother Geoffrey Heaton Boughey was admitted to Acton school 6/1/13 after being at ‘Blackpool C’ (Council; Claremont) and after which he returned home 7/3/13. Geoffrey was born 9/2/1902 while parents Lucy and James were living at Verona, Stoke, Cheshire. Geoffrey married Olive Mabel Thomasson 12/4/1939 in Crewe.

At the funeral of James Boughey’s elder brother John on November 2nd 1917, just a month before Stanley’s death, his parents are recorded as from Blackpool. A 1918 newspaper tribute to Stanley has his parents residing at Verona Farm, Stoke, near Nantwich, and his grandfather (in reality, his ‘step’ grandfather), is Joseph Boughey, and described as ‘the oldest man on the Dorfold estate’. His father (ie stepfather, James Boughey) is acting as bailiff there. James’ sister also died young and the local community of tenant farmers and families were again present at the funeral.

 

Military Service

At the outbreak of war, Stanley volunteered for duty with the Red Cross, and his rank is recorded as postal clerk, from which he progressed to Orderly. He was later attached to Motor Transport and served in various parts of the Front (France/Belgium). At the end of 1915 he was invalided home with appendicitis, and it would seem he spent some time in Blackpool Victoria Hospital as a patient and then forwarded to the Kings Lancashire Military Convalescent Hospital at Squires Gate Blackpool to regain fighting fitness. While here, he attended the Claremont Congregational Church, of which he was a member. There was usually a six to eight week turnaround in convalescence and, by April 1916, he was a fully fit man again.

By March 1916, when conscription was introduced, a fit man was a precious commodity, and it is no surprise that a man of Stanley’s capabilities and experience would be offered a commission. Cynically, the Military Convalescent Hospital at Squires Gate could be regarded as a recycling centre for soldiers who, as units of combat, were as expendable as pieces of ordnance.

It is stated that he trained at Kinmel Park N Wales for military duties. When his commission in the Royal Scots Fusiliers was granted, he entered the theatre of war 16/5/17 being drafted to Egypt in July and then proceeding eventually to Palestine.

On the 1st December 1917, 2nd Lt Stanley Boughey, Royal Scots Fusiliers, was injured in action at El Burff near Ramleh in Palestine. His company had been attacked and penned in by German Stormtroopers (newly arrived troops, fighting with the Ottoman army). Taken back to the nearest casualty clearing station, he nevertheless later died of his wounds on December 4th. He had single-handedly captured about 30 of the enemy but, in the moment of surrender, when the action was conceivably over, he had been shot in the head.

For his actions, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, which his mother received at Buckingham Palace on 2nd March 1918 and was present to lay a wreath at the Blackpool cenotaph memorial on its opening day, 10th November 1923, and upon which her son’s name was inscribed. She was wearing his VC during the ceremony.

Subsequently a hospital bed (‘Cot’) was donated to Blackpool Victoria Hospital in her son’s name via a subscription fund set up by Blackpool Council. It was to provide ‘extra comforts and appliances’ as deemed necessary. A bronze plaque was erected above the bed and was unveiled at the hospital on September 17th 1919.

The hospital, originally sited on Whitegate Drive moved to Whinney Heys in 1936. At some time, the plaque went missing to turn up unexpectedly at a car boot sale in Goosnargh, a few years afterwards. Having been retrieved and rescued from its possible demise, it is at present in private, and sympathetic, hands, and its story can be found online, and a picture of the plaque itself at https://www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/memorial/203473 .

Stanley is also mentioned on a memorial plaque on the wall of St Georges United reform Church on Plymouth Rd, Layton Blackpool. There is also a commemorative plaque in the Scout Museum at Waddecar.

During 1918 the soldiers in large numbers were becoming increasingly indignant at their duty to suffer and die for an unfair class system in the society back home. For Stanley, in the year following his death, his mother, along with all women over 30yrs, received the vote for the first time, to give a further boost to the development of democratisation and equality that proceeded painstakingly through most of the rest of the 20th century. If it could be said that the War had been influential to this end, and Stanley had died for equality back home, this vote was perhaps the most precious gift that he could have ever given his mother.

Stanley is buried at Gaza War cemetery.

Alfred Victor Smith VC.

‘D’ company 1/5th Battalion East Lancs RTF.

 The London Gazette March 18 1916

 Alfred Smith’s death and subsequent award of the Victoria Cross created an outpouring of sentiment inspired by the nature of his death.

If Stanley Boughey belonged to the regular, rural community of tenant farmers, then Alfred belonged to a regular middle class. His father was a Cambridge graduate, and, it would seem, the family lived a conventional and comfortably material life, as might be interpreted from the records. His father, William Henry Smith, originated from Hampshire, and Alfred himself, was born in Guildford. The family moved about, dictated by, it would seem, his father’s occupation in the police force. They had lived in St Alban’s for a while and Alfred was at school there and also a chorister at the cathedral. At the time of Alfred’s death his father was Chief Inspector of Burnley police and Alfred had attended the grammar school there. Alfred had followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the police and, at the outbreak of War, he was an inspector at Blackpool. Along with Stanley Boughey, he was one of the seven thousand or so who eventually went to the Town Hall to join up.

He had died at Gallipoli 22/12/1915. He had thrown himself upon a grenade that had slipped from his hand as he was about to throw it. At first he dived out of the way but, seeing that the other soldiers with him in the trench could not get out of the way, he threw himself back upon it. There were about 15 soldiers who would all have been killed or severely maimed had it not been for his actions. He died instantly. He was also awarded a posthumous Croix de Guerre in 1916.

Floral tributes and sympathies flooded into the Burnley police station at the news of Alfred’s award. A deeply grateful letter from the mother of a survivor was published in the newspaper, along with tributes from all levels of society. During his time at school in St Albans, he was a chorister and the Dean of St Albans had written his sympathy and requested a photo of Alfred that he would hang in the choir vestry. His name is inscribed on the St Albans War memorial. The Head of Burnley Grammar School, where Alfred would have finished his education before starting a working life, would hang an enlarged photograph of Alfred in the school hall. A bronze tribute was unveiled at St John’s Church Blackpool.

 

He is buried at Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery Turkey

http://www.burnleyinthegreatwar.info/burnleyrollofhonourmens/smithalfredvictorlietenant.htm

The Blackpool Watch Committee had decided in March 1917 to place a large framed photograph of Alfred Smith in both the parade room at the police headquarters and the recreation room of the fire station. A bronze plaque would be placed in St John’s Church. At the end of March 1917 a memorial service was held in St John’s church Blackpool when the memorial plaque was unveiled. Blackpool and Burnley dignitaries were there as well as representatives of both the towns’ police forces. The RAMC Band (stationed in the town) provided the music.

At the unveiling of the Blackpool cenotaph war memorial in 1923, both Mrs Smith and Mrs Boughey (mother of the other VC) were present, and each unveiled the brass plate with the inscriptions of all the fallen soldiers. Each was wearing her son’s VC. The music was provided by the Blackpool Lifeboat Band.

VC citation

For conspicuous bravery. He was in the act of throwing a grenade when it slipped from his hand and fell to the bottom of the trench close to several officers and men. He immediately shouted a warning and jumped clear to safety. He then saw that the officers and men were unable to find cover and, knowing that the grenade was due to explode at any moment, he returned and flung himself upon it. He was instantly killed by the explosion. His magnificent act of self-sacrifice undoubtedly saved the lives of many.

http://www.victoriacrossonline.co.uk/

 

 

After note

 

Perhaps in Stanley’s case, if it can be interpreted correctly, he was a man who needed to complete his activities, and always needed to be doing something fulfilling, finding a necessity from within himself to always accomplish. In the moments before his action, and with sufficient rank to expect a duty of care to those around him, he precipitated himself into the fray. Without this decisive action his company would have been overwhelmed, and injured, captured or killed in the process. Duty and adrenalin threw him over the top, hurling the bombs he had been trained to throw. He probably wasn’t expecting to die before accomplishing his objective, but it was a distinct possibility, and that was the risk, and it was secondary to the fulfilment of his duty. Indeed his initial actions proved decisive and his lone attack was successful. The enemy had capitulated and were surrendering and he withdrew in order to re-arm. But so often the brave are not allowed to taste their success. It was while in this act of withdrawal that an enemy bullet from somewhere caught him in the head and he fell.

It was less, ‘king and country’, for only a small amount of privileged people owned the vast majority of the land and wealth but more, 20th society that benefited from the soldiers’ sacrifices, and that of all those others involved as, post war, democratisation and equality were allowed to expand.

 

For Alfred, his upbringing followed the path of the public service and identity of his parents in a regular nuclear family. Intelligence doesn’t necessarily equate with education, but Alfred left with good social status from the grammar school and it was a natural progression into the police force. The police had a more involved social role than today, if you could clip an unruly lad around the ear for his mischievousness, you could also be expected to administer first aid as often first on the scene, and the police were often looked to first of all in a time of need as a kind of protector of society. They would also arrange funds and gather clothing for the poor.

John Baird of Watson Rd Blackpool, occasionally took his young daughter in rags and ill fitting shoes to the police station on Hawes Side Lane and had her fitted out in some good clothes (which had been donated into the Derham fund, begun many years earlier by the father of the current police chief of the same name). He then changed her back into the old clothes at the bus stop and continued over the road to sell them in the ‘Rag’ (the somewhat appropriate nickname for the Lane Ends Hotel.)  The War had produced villains as well as heroes because John Baird had ‘always been a good lad’ before the War so it is understood, and his military service in the War had changed him dramatically, like when he had collected for his wife’s funeral from his sympathetic workmates in Fleetwood. When his wife found out she threw him out.

 

So Alfred Victor was looked upon as a pillar of society and it would have inspired a sense of duty to others in the exercise of his life. Before he threw himself upon the grenade, knowing it was about to explode and most definitely would kill him, there must have been a moment where he was fully aware of the decision he had to make. He could have left the scene and taken care of himself to preserve his life, but this would have been a dereliction of duty and he would have to face the future with his whole life as a failure. He was in a no-win situation. He relied on his instinct, an instinct of his duty to others, and of doing the right thing, and he offered his life as a sacrifice to that duty.

 

Sources and acknowledgements

Census returns, school records and contemporary newspaper articles, and some military records from findmypast.co.uk and Ancestry.co.uk and cwgc.

Reed family history compiled by Mrs J F Scott and Colin Reed

Nick Moore for the location of Clifton School http://www.blackpoolhistory.co.uk/

http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=310063.0

Google books; VC’s of the First World War; the Sideshows

http://www.victoriacrossonline.co.uk/

https://www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/m

http://www.burnleyinthegreatwar.info/burnleyrollofhonourmens/smithalfredvictorlietenant.htm