Little is known about this brave man but his bones lay at Ryde Cemetery on the Isle Of Wight. I’d visited the cemetery to locate the grave of another soldier who was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery but the friendly sexton said, “Oh there’s another VC man in here…..I’ll take you to him.” So here I am at the stone of William Rickard (and his wife.)
William was born in Stoke Damerel near Plymouth and I’ve only been able to find out that he joined the Royal Navy and fought in the Crimean War.
He was helping the bombardment of Sebastopol (now in the Ukraine) and on 11th October 1855 in the Sea of Azov the 27-year-old seaman volunteered with two others to head off for a dangerous mission: to destroy a 400 tons of food provisions to feed enemy soldiers.
In blackness they left their ship and used a small boat to get ashore. They walked for two miles using a small hand compass. They rested then waited for the dawn light. The 400 tons of provisions were inside a large red building however there was a Cossack guard station nearby in the village.
The seamen waded through two canals up to their necks to reach the food store. Grain and forage was stacked ready to be transported away. Thankfully the straw was dry and soon set ablaze. Soon 400 tons of dry foods was on fire – what sight! Pity digital camera weren’t around then. A stream of Cossacks came running out of their guard post and the seamen made a run for their lives.
The Cossacks had the advantage of horses and musket fire and were soon gaining on the seamen. They started firing back but were outnumbered and kept running. However they were forced to run across thick mud. They saved them as the Cossacks would not take their horses into the treacherous sludge. The Russians continued to fire from about forty yards away.
One of the men fell utterly exhausted into the mud shouted to the others to leave him behind. William took off his boots and swam back across water to help his fellow seaman. This was done under heavy fire so it was only a miracle he was not killed. They boarded a small boat and rowed back to their ship exhausted and caked in mud. The ship’s lookouts said they had watch hundreds of tons of food were burned to nothing in about half an hour.
William was awarded the Victoria Cross and a special pension. He spent the rest of his years in the navy or working for the coast guard.
He was married to Rebecca who is buried with him. They had four sons and two daughters to keep them busy. After retiring at about age 50 William became boatman to the Ryde Rowing Club. He lived nearby at Arethusa Cottage, Smallbrook, and died at 77 in the Royal Infirmary, Ryde.
Nearby his headstone I spotted one of another soldier. Back at home I discovered this was Peter Grundy who had been posted to serve in Northern Ireland. He was killed by a booby-trap bomb at a remote farmhouse in Tullydonnel, Forkhill. At 21 he was only just getting going in life. Poor kid. As I was walking away I found the head of a flower and am sure it was meant to be on the grave.
Touching the “VC”…
The graves of two soldiers….William Thomas Rickard and Peter Grunder
Looking at the grave of Peter Grundy, blow up at just 21.
I found this rogue flower and put it on the grave…