"Buses?" you say. Yes buses.
When thinking of buses one of my first thoughts go back to a time when my generation spent 30 minutes weekly in front of the TV. We'd be sitting their with our candy bars and waiting for the British comedy show .."On the Buses" to start up. It aired bewteen 1969 and 1973 and brought us the weekly antics of the cantankerous Inspector Blake. He worked for the local bus company and spent most of his shift having to deal with the antics of bus driver Stan and conductor Jack who did their best to make life difficult for their boss. Episodes can still be seen on "You Tube" and are well worth a 30 minute kickback to the old days. (After you read this blog of course.)
But the buses I want to talk about today bring us a much more serious message. Their story is to remind us to remember the tragedy of war, and as importantly, the heroic deeds of our men and women who went off to war, and family back at the homefront doing their bit to support our causes. More specifically, the nine buses of today focus on the 12 generations of service that England, and the world has received, from the famous Gloucestershire Regiment (The Rifles) of today, but known in earlier days by a few other names.
This is a story has really evolved over the past several years. In 2013 and 2014 a very large bus company... Stagecoach West ... played a significant role in helping to raise awareness... and funds during the October Poppy Fund drives. The company allowed its members who were serving or past military, to wear their uniforms to work on certain days. They allowed non employee military and veterans to ride free, held events and even decorated trains and buses with large poppies to keep the message alive. Today I believe one of the company buses is still in operation wearing a poppy.
And one of the masses seeing this wonderful gesture was a woman by the name of Anny Reid. Anny was, and is currently, the county Chair of the Gloucestershire Royal British Legion. And Anny liked the military. She served as a nurse briefly in the US, and in a British Hospital and then with the Royal Air Force for a few years. Actually thirty years. In 1998 her services were rewarded with the awarding of the Royal Red Cross award and also membership in the Order of the British Empire for her lifetime work.
Anny was not only aware of the Poppy Fund activities over at Stagecoach West, but also recalled the numerous mailboxes painted gold in the neighbourhood to remind citizens of the Gold medals brought home to those communities from the recent Olympics.
This most accomplished woman put 2 and 2 together and came up with 9. That's nine buses mind you! Nine buses from Stagecoach West.
Anny wanted to see something done about the incredible history and length of service of the Gloucestershire Regiment. Being the midst of the 100th anniversary of the Great War Anny thought that this would be a great time to launch some sort of a program, and then she came up with the idea to focus of the eight hero's of the regiment that were awarded the Victoria Cross, going all the way back to 1857, and the hero of Korea War days who was awarded the George Cross.
The idea was tossed about with Nathan Griffith-Williams, Marketing Manager of Stagecoach West and Chris Chatterton, Director of the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum. No doubt many a meeting took place with these three and plenty of others, and on 16 March their program... "Saluting the Gloucesterchire Regiment" rolled (pardon the pun) along the roads. Those rolling were nine Stagecoach West buses, each telling the story of one of the VC or GC recipients, and telling where more could be learned on each soldier.
It is ironic that the day of the event about to be told was in March, the very month that is not, but was for a very few brief years, celebrated in England as Womens History Month. Perhaps it is fitting that a woman played such a key role in the saluting of the regiment and its service and can serve to again spark the flames to bring notice to Britain that the month of celebration needs to be revisisted.
In this image a reporter is talking to the three organizers of the event. At the left is Nathan Griffith-Williams from Stagecoach West, and at the right is Chris Chatterton from the regiment's museum. To the reporter's left stands Anny Reid.
The nine recipients were awarded their medals for actions in Delhi, as noted above and also in the Batttle of the Somme in 1916, at Passchendaele in 1917, Battle of St Quentin 1918, the Balkans 1918, the Battle of Selle 1918 and in Korea in 1951.
Inside the bus there is also a very large banner, as shown at right that gives a little more information on the hero. The above soldier was a doctor and was awarded the Victoria Cross for saving many lives during the Siege of Delhi way back in 1857. His VC was the first of all nine awards being honored on the buses.
On each of the buses pamphlets are distributed telling the story of all nine recipients in a little more detail. Each also contains a coupon for entry to the regiment's museum at half price. Hopefully the rider will take advantage of the offer to learn even more about the regiment's very long and historic service and possibly even see some of the artifacts associated with the recipients as well.
Shown here are the pamphlets....
A great many digitaries attended and participated in the event. Lt. General Tim Evans, CBE, DSO, is shown above at the ribbon cutting ceremony. The general serves as the Assistant Colonel Commodant of the Rifles. He is shown beside The Mayor of Gloucester. On the right is the museum's director Chris Chatterton and he is chatting with a fellow dignitary who's name, believe it or not... is "Liberty" She is one of the students from the Medowside Primary School who attended the ceremony. And as you see, had the piviledge of officially opening the events of the day.
Many veterans of the Korean War and other battles, serving military and officials from the Royal British Legion, the bus company and museum and other organzations also attended. Of note were nurse Margaret Purves and Major Peter Norton.
But not so for the male rescuer. King George VI invited Margaret to Buckingham Palace and presented her with the Albert Medal for risking her life to save the boys. The family of the boy who lost his life in the attempt was awarded the same medal posthumously. Many years Margaret's medal was upgraded to the George Cross. Today and for many years she has been the only woman alive to hold such an honour. She proudly wears her medals on her pink coat above.
Beside her is retired veteran Major Peter Norton. A few years back, near Bagdad Major Norton was the 2nd in command of a US team in search of improvised explosive devices. Norton was severely wounded when a victim operated devise was set off. Despite terrible wounds that cost him his left leg and much of his arm, he refused to be evacuated until the area was clear of other devices and continued to lead until the area was cleared. For this he was later awareded also with the George Cross. In addition, as some of his team members were members of the FBI, he was recomended for... and received the FBI's Star in 2009.
Today Norton has the incredible honour of serving as the Chairman of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association.
Above at the right are several dignitaries standing with the colours of the Royal British Legion. The bus behind appears to be the one dedicated to Herbert T. Reade who's image appears above.
And next Sunday I will tell you why you need to know more about Herbert.