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Memorial that is fit for Bilston hero

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 01, 2014

  • The restored grave this week and INSET: a close-up of memorial's tribute to George Onions

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WITHIN days of The Bugle highlighting the story of the grave scandal of a forgotten Bilston Victoria Cross soldier the memorial was restored as a fitting tribute to the 1918 hero.

Two weeks ago the location of the very important grave in Quinton Cemetery, Halesowen, was virtually unknown and it lay broken, neglected and in a terrible state of disrepair, and those laid to rest within sadly forgotten.

But interest was soon drawn to this small patch of ground after it was discovered to be the last resting place of George Onions, one of only 1,357 recipients of the Victoria Cross since it was launched just after the Crimean War in the mid 19th century, and one of 627 World War One soldiers decorated with the highest award for gallantry that a British and Commonwealth serviceman can achieve.

An amazing series of events began when Bugle reader John Selway first brought the story of George Onions to our attention. This was followed by additional research on our behalf that enabled us to locate the grave, and after our conversation with Gary Stapleton, the Chairman of the Victoria Cross Trust, Lance Corporal George Onions VC is once again remembered with a memorial fit for a hero.

After being informed by the VC Trust that the restoration of George Onions' grave was in hand, we returned to the cemetery on St George's Day to see if the work had been carried out. From quite a distance away the pure white stone of the grave stood out from the rest. The VC Trust had done L/Cpl George Onions proud and the last resting place of a true Black Country hero, and that of his wife Florence and son Zac, had been transformed.

At the same time The Bugle was putting together last week's page one story about George Onions, The Sun newspaper brought to its readers' attention the scandal of 209 World War One VC heroes, whose graves up and down the country have become neglected and forgotten, including that of the Bilston-born soldier.

In a campaign called Honour the Heroes, which seems to have caught the nation's imagination, it has joined forces with the Victoria Cross Trust to honour all those who have shown the ultimate valour for their country.

Then, in a press release from the Department for Communities and Local Government dated April 24, 2014, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced that £100,000 would be made available towards the restoration of the UK graves of First World War Victoria Cross heroes, which includes men from Birmingham, the Black Country and the rest of the Midlands. In a list provided by the Department, George Onions was the first name mentioned, and his story has come full circle.

George Onions was presented with the bravery award after helping take 200 of the enemy prisoners on Thursday, August 22, 1918, at Achiet-le-Petit in France, while he was with the 1st Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment.

The citation printed in the London Gazette, December 14, 1918, reads: "He observed the enemy advancing ... Realising his opportunity, he boldly placed himself with his comrade on the flank of the advancing enemy and opened fire. When the enemy were about 100 yards from him, some hands were seen to be thrown up. Lance Corporal Onions rushed forward and, with the help of his comrade, took about 200 of the enemy prisoners and marched them back to his company commander."

The Bugle's World War One tribute book is now published at £4.95 - See Page 3 and Page 10 about how to buy a copy.

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