Children at Ben Jonson Primary discover First World War VC hero Alfred Drake was a pupil at their school
- Credit: Mike Brooke
Children have spent four years researching the life of a pupil at their school more than 100 years ago who was later awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously after being killed in the First World War.
The youngsters at Stepney’s Ben Jonson Primary have pieced together what happened to Corporal Alfred Drake.
But the school knew nothing of Alfred’s bravery when he was killed on the Western Front in 1916 until Tower Hamlets Council told them he was one of their pupils when memorials were being erected to the East End’s forgotten VC holders.
“It came out of the blue,” teaching assistant Brenda Daley revealed. “We thought that if we never heard of him, then what did he die for?”
Alfred Drake is now the central figure in the school’s annual Remembrance assembly.
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He was born December 10, 1893, to a family in Sidmore Street with three sisters, the schoolchildren have since discovered. He finally left school at 14 when he joined his father in 1907 to work in the London Docks.
Alfie was 20 when war broke out and he signed up to serve in the 8th Battalion Riffle Brigade, not married but had a fiancée.
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He was on patrol on November 23, 1916, in ‘No Man’s Land’ right up to the wire of the enemy lines when he came under close fire.
His commanding officer was badly injured. Alfie dressed his wounds—then lay across him to protect him from more gunfire.
A rescue patrol found Alfie’s body the next morning riddled with bullets.
“He died shielding his commanding officer who survived,” Brenda added. “His bravery cost him his life at just 22.”
Alfred’s story is now told as part of the school’s annual Remembrance. But his loss of life is a connection with the youngsters who attend the school today, exactly 102 years on.
Deputy head Charlie Gorman said: “Alfred was just like them growing up in Stepney, a normal boy.
“His story links the children with an extraordinary person from the past, someone from their community. It’s a powerful signal that they can do extraordinary things in their lives.”
The school commissioned a memorial installation by Bow Arts—a circle of vertical mirrors with a plaque that reads: “In memory of Alfred George Drake, VC, for Valour.” Another memorial was created in Shandy Park nearby, unveiled by Tower Hamlets mayor in 2016.