Remembering Captain Wilfrid Edwards VC in Upper and Lower Wortley Cemetery

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Photo: Ivor Hughes

Here in Upper and Lower Wortley Cemetery is the headstone for Captain Wilfrid Edwards VC, died 1972 (Wilfrid spelled incorrectly). The graphics include the Victoria Cross medal. But official war graves and headstones are confined to casualties during or immediately following either World War. So what happened here? Ivor Hughes offers an explanation.

CWGC headstones are a standard size and shape. Captain Noel Chavasse, VC and Bar, was killed in Belgium during the Battle of Passchendaele and is buried in a CWGC cemetery nearby. His is the only CWGC headstone with two Victoria Crosses. Photo: Ivor Hughes

For the record

Wilfrid Claude Edwards was born near Norwich in 1893. By 1901 he was living in Leeds.

Wilfrid was educated at Park Lane School. He worked as a tailor and then, in 1914, as a miner at Waterloo Main Colliery. He enlisted in the army on 4 September 1914, shortly after the outbreak of WWI.

Private Edwards was deployed to France in August 1915. He was wounded in the October and again in July 1916. He returned to King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1917.

On 16 August 1917 Private Edwards saw action in Langemarck, Belgium, as part of the three months long Battle of Passchendaele. There, and with all officers lost, he charged an enemy fort and took 33 prisoners. For which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Leeds received him as a returning hero on 10 October 1917.

Subsequently commissioned, 2nd Lieutenant Edwards was discharged wounded in 1919. He re-enlisted during WWII.

One of the thirty official CWGC headstones in Upper and Lower Wortley Cemetery. Major Thomas Leighton lived in Wortley and left his widow Gertrude. Photo: Ivor Hughes

After WWII

Wilfrid Edwards’ subsequent workplaces include a Ford factory in Germany and David Brown’s factory in Farsley. In 1972 aged 78 he died in St James’ Hospital. He had maintained ex-servicemen contacts between and after the wars and was given Freedom of the City in 1950. Those responsible for his burial at the time evidently wished to commemorate his achievements in both his honour and that of the City of Leeds. Hence the choice of military style headstone.

Before and after. VCT, a charity in Doncaster, restores non-CWGC war graves and memorials of Victoria Cross recipients. Here a family grave in Frimley including the name of Major Kenneth Muir VC. Muir was killed in 1950, outside the scope of CWGC graves. His body is buried in Korea. Photos: VCT

Nearly but not quite

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for the maintenance of all official war graves, memorials and monuments for 1.7 million war casualties. WWI and WWII only. Worldwide and meticulously.

Although the graphics on CWGC war grave headstones can vary by regiment, religion and family chosen motto, the size and shape are uniform. A standard tablet with rounded top (see Chavasse and Leighton pics). No exceptions. Edwards’ headstone differs from that norm, albeit slightly. The top of such variants are described as “clipped” or “with shoulders”. Another difference here is that CWGC headstones include all initials but not the actual first name. This one was purchased and maintained privately.

Leeds (Upper and Lower Wortley) Cemetery is one of 1041 designated CWGC War Cemeteries in Yorkshire. Thirty war casualties are listed there. Wilfrid Edwards is not one of them.

The Victoria Cross Trust, Doncaster

Thank you VCT for confirming my observations about the headstone. VCT is a charity which, among other activities, undertakes the restoration and maintenance of dilapidated Victoria Cross graves not being maintained by CWGC. These can include family plots where the VC recipient is named among other family members. Edwards’ is one of theirs.

VCT’s website gives comprehensive information, with images, about their restorative and educational work. There is also a list of volunteer opportunities for veterans or their families.

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