MP Jonathan Reynolds has called on the government to look at the way recipients of the UK’s highest military medal are honoured after their deaths.
He raised the issue in the House of Commons today (Thursday 6 December), after learning that there are around 1400 recipients of the Victoria Cross whose graves are unmarked or which have fallen into disrepair.
Among them is Stalybridge-born John Buckley, who was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1857 for extraordinary valour while serving in India, but who lies in an unmarked grave in Tower Hamlets.
The Stalybridge and Hyde MP – who is Secretary of the Armed Forces All Party Parliamentary Group – has now raised the issue in Parliament.
"The Victoria Cross is the UK’s highest military decoration – and it is awarded only to those service men and women who have demonstrated extraordinary valour in the face of the enemy," said Mr Reynolds later.
"These exceptional recipients deserve our respect in death as well as in life – so I was surprised to discover recently that there are so many recipients whose graves are unmarked or which have fallen into disrepair.
"John Buckley – born in Stalybridge in 1813 – was awarded the Victoria Cross for the courage he showed in India in 1857.
"It is astonishing to think that someone who was willing to sacrifice his own life for his country should not have the honour of a marked grave."
There are an estimated 78 recipients of the Victoria Cross who – like John Buckley – lie in unmarked graves in the UK. Meanwhile many of the UK graves belonging to more than 1300 recipients of the medal are deemed to be in a state of disrepair.
The Victoria Cross Trust is an organisation that is seeking to ensure the graves of these former service men and women are properly marked and maintained. And they estimate that the cost of erecting a headstone at John Buckley’s resting place and maintaining it would be £2000.
According to the Trust, John Buckley was awarded the medal during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. He and eight other soldiers were defending an ammunition store in Delhi when they became outnumbered. Rather than surrender the ammunition they were guarding, they chose to blow up the building and themselves.
John Buckley – one of four soldiers to survive - was taken captive, but he escaped and re-joined the British army. Later made Lieutenant, he spent the final years of his life in London and following his death was buried in an unmarked grave in Tower Hamlets.
For some years the exact location of his grave was unknown. But the plot has now been located and Victoria Cross Trust is keen to mark his final resting place. More information about the work of the Victoria Cross Trust can be found at www.victoriacrosstrust.org where there is a page dedicated to Mr Buckley.
Mr Reynold's exchange with the Leader of the House Rt Hon Andrew Lansley, during Business Questions on 6 December, can be found here
Picture of John Buckley reproduced courtesy of The Royal Logistic Corps Museum.
Published 6 December, 2012