Local War Heroes

Since it was established in 2015, the Bristol Civic Society’s Blue Plaque scheme has recognised several people involved in global conflicts. Malcolm Ravenscroft, a member of the Society’s Blue Plaque panel, tells us more.

In September 2016, a Blue Plaque was placed on St Mary’s Church, Fishponds to honour a World War II codebreaker. Gordon Welchman worked on signals intelligence with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park, analysing German military messages.

His work formed the basis for what is known today as meta-data analysis. Under Gordon’s direction, code-breaking evolved from a linguistic base to one based on mathematics. His work was so secret that he received no recognition for many years. His traffic analysis technique has endured. It greatly helped the hunt for Bin Laden.

More than 60 attended the unveiling including Gordon’s daughter, Susanna Griffith; Chris Davis, Deputy Lord Mayor and GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan. GCHQ staff brought a German Enigma cipher machine to the ceremony and as part of its schools outreach programme they hosted a code-breaking workshop for students from nearby Fishponds Academy.

The plaque was supported and paid for by the Greater Fishponds Neighbourhood Partnership. They considered it would foster community interest in a worthy past resident of Fishponds.

Hardy Parsons was a Second Lieutenant in the 14th Gloucesters, commanding a front-line trench near Vendhuile, France. An enemy attack forced back the troops holding Hardy’s post, but he refused to retreat. In spite of being very badly burned, he single-handedly held the post until a British counterattack could be launched. He died of his wounds that day and posthumously received the Victoria Cross.

In November 1917, Hardy Parsons’ father was presented with his son’s posthumous Victoria Cross by King George V. Exactly 100 years later in November, 2017 a Blue Plaque was unveiled in Salisbury Road, Redland to honour this brave young hero. Around 100 people attended the commemorative event, including Cllr Lesley Alexander, Lord Mayor; Colonel Andrew Flint, Deputy Lord-Lieutenant for the County, and cadets of Bristol University Officer Training Corps.

The unveiling was a deeply moving occasion, encapsulated by the haunting rendition of the Last Post by buglers from the 1st Rifles in Chepstow and the Salamanca Band of the Rifles from Exeter.

A Blue Plaque honouring a Korean war hero was unveiled in June 2016 at the childhood home of Terry Waters in Westbury-on-Trym.

A young lieutenant in the West Yorkshire Regiment, Terry was captured after the Battle of the Imjin River in April 1951. He was seriously wounded in the head and arm. Terry and his men were imprisoned in the notorious POW caves near Pyongyang. They endured dreadful conditions with little food and no medical attention. The prisoners were forced to participate in propaganda against their own side. Terry ordered them to pretend to accede to try to save their lives. He refused to go himself.

The North Koreans tried to persuade him to save himself by joining his men. Terry steadfastly refused to do so, and he died in June 1951. He was 22 years old; his birthday had been just two months earlier, about the time of the battle.

Terry was awarded the George Cross, ranked equal to the Victoria Cross. His decoration was specifically awarded not for courage in the heat of battle but for his courageous stance in captivity. In awarding the decoration the deed is cited as ‘fortitude as a PoW’.

Terry had been a pupil at Bristol Grammar School and the school’s former pupils’ organisation, the Old Bristolians Society, funded the cost of the plaque.

On 17th April 1916 Walter Ayles, a city councillor, was arrested for distributing a leaflet criticising conscription for the First World War. He served 61 days in prison and was then conscripted. He applied for conscientious objector status, but this was refused. He was then court-martialled and served 112 days in prison with hard labour. In later life he went on to become a member of parliament.

Exactly 100 years later, in April 2016, a Blue Plaque was unveiled at his home in Ashley Down to honour his moral courage. The Bristol Radical History Group organised a programme for the event with poetry readings and a choir. Around 120 people attended the respectful and celebratory occasion.

For more information about the Bristol Civic Society and the Blue Plaque scheme, visit: bristolcivicsociety.org.uk