VC winner Alfred Drake killed in battle is commemorated by Tower Hamlets Council
PUBLISHED: 16:23 01 December 2015 | UPDATED: 08:33 02 December 2015
A memorial has been unveiled to an unsung hero from London’s East End who received the Victoria Cross the day he was killed saving an officer under fire on the Western Front 100 years ago.
Army corporal Alfred Drake, who grew up in Stepney at the turn of the 20th century, was posthumously awarded the VC for bravery in the First World War.
But no memorial was ever erected—until Tower Hamlets Council set about to remember its war dead.
Younger generations of Alfred’s family were traced and invited to join members of his Rifles Regiment for the unveiling at Stepney’s Ropewalk Gardens, off the Commercial Road.
Children attended from nearby Ben Jonson primary school, where Alfred was a pupil from 1898 to 1903.
“The legacy Alfred Drake left in 1915 is timeless,” their head teacher Monica Forty said. “We have a lot to learn from the lesson he’s taught us about courage, love and service.”
Cpl Drake received Britain’s highest military honour for sacrificing his life to save the officer on the night of November 23, 1915, near La Brique in France.
His patrol came under heavy machine-gun fire, badly wounding the patrol commander Lt Henry Tryon.
Alfred stayed to tend his wounds and kept him alive—but it cost him his own life. He was buried at La Brique military cemetery, aged just 22.
Alfred is one of three VC winners from the First World War now commemorated by the council who include Issy Smith, also from Stepney, and Geoffrey Woolley from Bethnal Green.
Tower Hamlets cabinet member Asma Begum said: “It’s all too easy to forget so many human stories of courage and tragedy, even from our own area, with the millions of lives lost in the First World War.”
The family were later presented with a commemorative book of photographs and documents relating to Alfred’s life, produced by Ben Jonson pupils and teachers.
One of Alfred’s relatives at the unveiling, Jean Ratcliffe, said later: “It’s been lovely seeing the children so involved at the school and a real honour to be part of the ceremony.”
Members of the Rifles Regiment also paid their tribute. Brigadier Thomson said: “Cpl Drake would have been touched to know so many current serving soldiers came to show their respects to him.”
A bugler sounded The Last Post as Alfred Drake’s memorial was unveiled—at last remembered for his bravery and sacrifice under fire exactly 100 years ago.