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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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The hero round the corner – the story of Reading's only Victoria Cross

L-R: The grandchildren of VC recipient Frederick Potts (Bob Binham and Anne Ames) and Arthur Andrews (Chris Andrews and Penny Pountney)  together with Arthur's daughter-in-law Norah (fourth from left) meet for the first time at London's Imperial War Museum

Two Reading families united by one man's bravery have met for the first time thanks to BBC Radio Berkshire. The grandchildren of Trooper Frederick Potts, Reading's only recipient of the Victoria Cross, and of the man he saved, Trooper Arthur Andrews, came face to face for a special Remembrance Sunday (8 November) documentary and learned they live just streets away from each other.

Frederick's grand-daughter Anne Ames and Arthur's grandson Chris Andrews both live in Earley. And although they both knew the story from the 1915 Gallipoli campaign of the First World War, they had never met.

Anne and Chris were brought together at the Imperial War Museum by Berkshire reporter and historian Graham McKechnie for the documentary called Fred Potts: The Hero With The Shovel, which commemorates Frederick's heroics – a story almost entirely forgotten today.

Together with Frederick's grandson Bob Binham and Arthur's daughter in law Norah and granddaughter Penny Pountney, Chris and Anne were able to see the medal first-hand and learn about the two Reading men united by an act of bravery.

Trooper Frederick Potts, of the Berkshire Yeomanry, received Britain's highest award for gallantry for helping the badly wounded Arthur to safety despite heavy enemy fire and having been shot in the thigh. He was Reading's only recipient of the medal.

Both Frederick and Arthur were injured while advancing on the Turkish line in August 1915. For two days the men hid below the Turkish trenches – scorching heat during the day and freezing temperatures at night.

They then attempted to return to the British line but Arthur was too badly wounded to move. Frederick found a shovel nearby and using it as a sledge he dragged Arthur to safety.

Commenting on meeting the descendents of the man who saved his grandfather's life, Chris Andrews said: "Thanks to their grandfather, ours was able to live to nearly 90."

Reading out his grandfather's own words: "…my people will be forever grateful, Freddie… a great debt which I can never hope to repay" from a letter of congratulation Arthur sent to Frederick and written from his hospital bed on 12 October 1915, Chris added: "And yes, we do owe him so much. None of us would be here if it wasn't for their courage. And he [Frederick] had a choice, he could have left Arthur but he stayed behind."

His sister Penny added: "It's lovely to meet them and to hear their side of the story and about their grandfather. It is very moving."

Revealing that Frederick's wife kept his medal next to the gas meter, his granddaughter Anne said: "It's quite amazing to come 94 years since the event and meet people who had a connection to it in the beginning. Fred never spoke about it. Although he did say there was quite a bit of interest from the Borough of Reading and at the Pulsometer Works on Oxford Road when he came home."

Her cousin Bob and Frederick's grandson added: "It is lovely to unite the two families and amazing that people can live in a community and not know that we were that close all the time."

Marvelling at how two families can be brought together by a single act Chris said: "It is really interesting. If it wasn't for Frederick Potts then my father nor I would be here. It is these chance occurrences that mean you're either here or not."

Arthur's daughter in law Norah Andrews summed up everyone's feelings: "It's lovely to see them and it is amazing that they lived so close and we never knew anything about them."

Frederick and Arthur were members of the Berkshire Yeomanry. Frederick was born and raised on Edge Hill Street in the Katesgrove area of Reading and his tailor shop after the war was on the parallel Alpine Street. He died in 1943. Arthur was born and raised on West Street in central Reading and died in 1980.

Speaking about the BBC Berkshire documentary and Frederick's act of heroism, reporter and historian Graham McKechnie said: "It's a story about one ordinary man who did something extraordinarily brave. He was the most unlikely of heroes – a modest man, a factory worker, who found himself in a completely alien world.

"When he found Trooper Andrews lying wounded like him, he never had a thought of leaving him to save himself. Dragging him to safety on a shovel, despite being badly wounded himself, is a powerful and poignant image of the selflessness of so many soldiers in that war.

"Although the Gallipoli campaign was 94 years ago, what happened there still resonates because we can relate to the men involved – the Berkshire Yeomanry were a collection of part-time soldiers – factory workers, farm labourers, postmen, plumbers, amateur footballers.

"For Australians, New Zealanders and Turks, the Gallipoli campaign is remembered with reverence. Not so in Britain and nor is Reading a town which is always good at remembering its history.

"Potts was feted as a hero in 1915 and there is every reason why he should still be – as should the Berkshire Yeomanry, who still exist and are still sending their part-time soldiers to war-zones around the world."

The BBC Radio Berkshire documentary Frederick Potts: The Hero With The Shovel will be broadcast on Remembrance Sunday (8 November) after the minute's silence at 11.00am on 104.1FM, 104.4FM, 95.4FM, 94.6FM or listen again at


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