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War veteran honoured for heroic bravery

London Borough of Tower Hamlets

London Borough of Tower Hamlets

A new memorial stone has been unveiled in tribute to Corporal Alfred Drake, a Stepney resident, who received the Victoria Cross for bravery following his death in the line of duty during the First World War. 

Organised by Tower Hamlets Council, staff were  joined by members of Cpl Drake’s family and representatives of his regiment, the Rifles on November 23.

Children from the Ben Jonson School, which Cpl Drake attended, accompanied the unveiling of the stone.

Cpl Drake received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest and most prestigious award for bravery in the armed forces, for sacrificing his own life to save an officer’s during WW1.

On the night of November 23, 1915, near La Brique in France, Cpl Drake’s patrol came under heavy machine-gun fire, wounding a fellow soldier and the patrol’s commander. Cpl Drake was last seen attending to the officer’s wounds – the officer, Lieutenant Henry Tryon, was later recovered unconscious but alive.

Cpl Drake was awarded his VC that same day and interred in La Brique military cemetery. He was 22 years old, and grew up on Copley Road in Stepney.

Drake joins Cpl Issy Smith and Lt Geoffrey Woolley as two other WW1 Victoria Cross recipients from Tower Hamlets, whose commemorative stones were laid in Ropewalk Gardens and Bethnal Green Gardens.

Around 15 to 20 soldiers and officers from the Rifles attended the ceremony, which was addressed by their Brigadier-General, Rob Thomson, the Speaker of Tower Hamlets Council, Abdul Chunu Mukit (MBE).

Following a few words from the family and children from Ben Jonson School, a bugler sounded the Last Post and the stone was unveiled.

The family were later presented with an illustrated commemorative book of photographs and historic documents relating to Cpl Drake’s life, produced by Ben Jonson pupils and teachers. 

Cllr Asma Begum, Cabinet Member for Culture said: “With all the millions of lives lost in the First World War, it’s all too easy to forget so many of the human stories of courage and tragedy – even those from our own local area. The new memorial stones help us to remember specific stories from our local community.”

Brigadier Thomson said: “It’s a great privilege for us to be here to commemorate the heroic service and sacrifice of Cpl Drake all those years ago, and I think Cpl Drake would have been really touched to know so many current serving soldiers  came to show their respects to him.”

Jean Ratcliffe, a member of Cpl Drake’s family, said: “The afternoon has been really fantastic. It’s been a real honour to come and be part of the ceremony and see the stone unveiled.

“It’s been lovely to see the children so involved at Ben Jonson School and we really want to thank everyone that’s contributed to making this afternoon.”

Monica Forty, the head teacher of Ben Jonson School added: “Alfred Drake died 100 years ago but the legacy he left is timeless and we have a lot to learn from the lesson he’s taught us about courage, love and service.”

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