Joel Holmes VC  (1821 to 27th July 1872)


Joel was born before camera technology was advanced enough to capture just one image of his face. There are no photographs of him but his gravestone will last for a long time. I went to find him in an overgrown graveyard in near Halifax. The place was horribly overgrown and neglected. Clusters of headstones were defeated by brambles but just off one of the paths I noticed a line of grass which had been slanted by feet. I went to have a look and among a small cluster of old graves found Joel’s final resting place. He's been there for over 145 years but was still worth visiting.


Only his birth year is known (1821) so nobody truly knows his age. He was born nearby in Great Comershall but nothing is known of his years before he enlisted in the army. He joined the 84th Regiment of Foot (later York and Lancaster Regiment) and aged 36 found himself trying to quell the Indian Mutiny in Uttar Pradesh. On Friday 25th September 1857 his regiment formed part of the assault on the Char Bagh Bridge when it came under heavy attack. Mainly there were two enemy guns on the other side of the bridge that killed and wounded. Joel volunteered to take the gun of one of the men who’d been killed and go forward. Captain Frederick Willis who was there said, “Five men were knocked over in as many seconds. I am happy to say, however, that one of my old company Private Holmes was first to volunteer as a “number” at the gun in place of the poor fellow who had been killed; and he remained working at it until it limbered up, for which I recommended him for distinguished conduct.” I can only assume Joel and his chums stormed the bridge and advanced their position.


He had a Victoria Cross medal clamped onto his chest by Queen Victoria at Portsmouth on 2nd August 1858. Little is known of his life after the war but he returned to his native Yorkshire and settled in Halifax where he died in 1872, aged probably 51. His medal (now worth Ł100,000+) is kept by the York and Lancaster Regimental Museum in Rotherham. Captain Francis Cornwallis Maude who was on the bridge was also awarded a Victoria Cross (I’ve yet to visit him in Windsor - he’s on my list.)


There was little room in the plot to take decent photographs from a distance (it seemed to be his daughter's grave and he was added later.) There was another daughter in there who died aged 31. Above me and on the other side of the bushes some kids appeared and wondered what I was doing (especially when I did some salutes.) “I’ve come to visit an important man,” I said hoping it might tweak their interest. “Are you a pervert?” a streetwise tomcat asked, “Oyy you! You’re a pervert. Are you a pervert, Mister?” I ignored them but they beckoned some other kids over saying, “Come and look at this pervert.” I felt like going along with this, unzipping my fly, letting out the 2.8cm slug and lassoing it around but refrained. I took more photographs but couldn’t find the usual “VC” carved into the headstone.


I took a few more photographs as the boys kept asking if I was “one of these perverts.” I told the main one I’d cut off his willy and fry it in a pan if he didn’t go away. This worked and but I heard one saying like, “Go and get Jezza! Tell him he's taking pictures of us.” I took some footage of the headstone while they were out of the way. Jezza sounded like a total toss piece so I thought I'd better leave. I did a final salute and left with one little lad watching me with interest.