Even though there’s no headstone to see I drove to Pleasington Cemetery in Blackburn to look for a Plot G in the Memorial Gardens where the ashes of William Grimbaldeston were sprinkled. The cemetery lies in an odd place and I thought the Sat-Nav was joking when it led me onto a narrow semi-rural road with three football fields on each side. I remember passing over the River Darwen and thinking, “This is heading nowhere.” I stopped and look at my position on the internet. The Sat-Nav was correct as an bird’s eye view showed I was heading to concentric circles made from thousands of graves.
At the cemetery I got out of the car and found Plot G. As usual it’s a small patch of land and many urns of ashes must have been scattered here since 1959 when William was cremated. It’s odd seeing ashes on grass - someone’s whole life from cot to coffin and all its pleasures, treasures, bumps and bashes reduced to something comparable with washing powder. Mmmmff....oh well.
William was born not far from here but he got his VC fighting in the First World War five hundred miles away in Belgium. As a lad he left school at 13 and worked in a cotton mill and an iron foundry. He was a noted amateur boxer and appeared at the Palace Theatre. He also won several prizes as a weightlifter and athlete. Aged 25 he enlisted in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in September 1914. He was soon rising up the ranks and fighting in France. He was hit by a bullet in Loos and a finger had to be cut off. Aged 26 he got married to Sarah Woodcock at the local Congregational Church in Blackburn. Soon he was posted to the Western Front to join 1st Battalion (after…er…a spell in hospital with a mild case of herpes.)
On Thursday 16th August 1917 he was the Quartermaster Sergeant of a battalion fighting in Wijdendrift in Belgium. As the battalion advanced he saw his lads were blocked by six machine-guns firing from a blockhouse. He got a rifle and hand grenade and crawled towards it with another soldier. When he was about 100 yards the other soldier came forward, discharging bullets to give cover. By this time William had been wounded but ran at the blockhouse. He got close enough to threaten the machine-gun teams with this rifle and grenade. There were 36 soldiers in the blockhouse - most would have died or been seriously injured had William tossed in the grenade. They were all taken prisoner and the battalion was able to advance. The following day William was gassed and evacuated to hospital in England.
He was presented with the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace in October 1917. William and Sarah nearly didn’t make it. The night before his big day they were staying in London when there was a widespread Zeppelin raid. Thankfully they were not injured. They returned to Blackburn and William was given a civic reception, a big do at the town hall and a whopping £200 cheque.
After the war he worked as a clerk at Blackburn Employment Exchange. By 48 he was a porter of a bank but his body never recovered from being gassed in Belgium. He retired aged 60 due to poor health. Aged 69 he collapsed at home having taken a glass of water to his semi-invalid wife. He was cremated at Pleasington Crematorium where I am in these photographs and his ashes were scattered probably within 10 metres of my feet.
I had a stroll up to the crematorium itself where William was turned to ashes and then back to Plot G to do a hearty salute or two. In his day cameras were rare so there’re only a couple of photos of him on the internet. Oddly he was at school with another soldier called James Pitts who was awarded a Victoria Cross. I’ve been to this grave and the link is here...
About to look for Plot G which, oddly, was right in front of me…
I found plot G here…