Diminutive Sheffield military hero being remembered - at last

Lord mayor of Sheffield Cllr Peter Rippon meets the family of war hero Arnold Loosemore who was award a VC for bravery.'Cllr Rippon takes tea in the Mayors Parlour with Audrey and Kevin Loosemore'. Pic: Dean Atkins

Lord mayor of Sheffield Cllr Peter Rippon meets the family of war hero Arnold Loosemore who was award a VC for bravery.'Cllr Rippon takes tea in the Mayors Parlour with Audrey and Kevin Loosemore'. Pic: Dean Atkins

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He was a diminutive Sheffield lad who became one of a select band of Britain’s finest military heroes, losing a leg but surviving the First World War while saving the lives of countless comrades.

Just 5ft 4ins tall, what Sergeant Arnold Loosemore lacked in height, he more than made up for in courage on the battlefield – being awarded both the Victoria Cross and a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Arnold Loosemore

Arnold Loosemore

But Sgt Loosemore had to be buried in a shared grave after dying of tuberculosis in 1924 after his widow was left almost penniless by the Government.

Now, more than a century after the First World War began, fresh efforts are being made in Sheffield to ensure his memory and incredible sacrifice live on.

New plaques have been installed close to his grave at All Saints Parish Church, Ecclesall, and at Loosemore Drive on Gleadless Common, the road named after him.

And in 2017, to mark the centenary of him being awarded the Victoria Cross, a commemorative paving stone is to be laid in the centre of Sheffield as part of a national scheme to honour the heroes of World War I in their home towns. It is provisionally planned the paving stone will be laid in Barker’s Pool, close to the city’s main war memorial.

Lord Mayor of Sheffield Cllr Peter Rippon meets the family of war hero Arnold Loosemore who was award a VC for bravery.

Lord Mayor of Sheffield Cllr Peter Rippon meets the family of war hero Arnold Loosemore who was award a VC for bravery.

Arnold was born on June 7, 1896, in Ecclesall, the seventh of eight children.

He attended Clifford Church of England School on Psalter Lane and was working as a labourer when he enlisted in the army in January 1915 at the age of 19.

Part of the York and Lancaster Regiment, Arnold was sent to fight in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, in Turkey, which resulted in more than 100,000 deaths of soldiers on both sides.

After surviving this campaign, in July 1916 he was sent to the Somme.

Lord Lieutenant and Lord Mayor unveil a plaque in memory of Arnold Loosemore, on Loosemore Drive, Norton. Picture: Andrew Roe

Lord Lieutenant and Lord Mayor unveil a plaque in memory of Arnold Loosemore, on Loosemore Drive, Norton. Picture: Andrew Roe

On August 11, 1917, in Langemarck in Belgium, 21-year-old Arnold performed several acts of extraordinary bravery for which he was to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

During an attack on an enemy position while under machine gun fire, he crawled through partially-cut wire and killed around 20 German soldiers on his own, thus saving the rest of his platoon from potential death.

His Lewis gun was then blown up and he had to use his revolver to kill a further three men. He then shot several enemy snipers while under heavy fire.

As he returned to the platoon’s original position, he stopped to rescue a wounded comrade at the risk of his own life while still under heavy fire.

Lord mayor of Sheffield Cllr Peter Rippon meets the family of war hero Arnold Loosemore who was award a VC for bravery.'Cllr Rippon takes tea in the Mayors Parlour with Audrey and Kevin Loosemore' Pix : Dean Atkins

Lord mayor of Sheffield Cllr Peter Rippon meets the family of war hero Arnold Loosemore who was award a VC for bravery.'Cllr Rippon takes tea in the Mayors Parlour with Audrey and Kevin Loosemore' Pix : Dean Atkins

His Victoria Cross commendation said: “He displayed throughout an utter disregard of danger.”

He was presented with his Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration awarded for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’, by King George V at Buckingham Palace on January 2, 1918, and the following day was welcomed back to Sheffield by 2,000 cheering citizens outside the Town Hall.

At the time, Victoria Cross holders were often allowed not to return to the front-line, but Arnold chose to go back and in May 1918 was promoted to the rank of sergeant.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his actions on June 19, 1918, in Zillebeke, Belgium, when his commanding officer was wounded and his platoon had been scattered under bombing. He rallied the men and managed to bring them back, along with the wounded, to British lines.

But on October 13, 1918 – less than a month before the end of the war – Arnold was badly wounded by machine gun fire in France. His extensive injuries resulted in the amputation of his left leg and his right leg was also badly damaged.

He met King George once again on May 20, 1919, when the King visited Sheffield to present him with his Distinguished Conduct Medal.

David Garnham, Peter Earl and Alan Watson with the plaque of the grave of Arnold Loosemore VC last year

David Garnham, Peter Earl and Alan Watson with the plaque of the grave of Arnold Loosemore VC last year

Arnold met the King for a third time in June 1920 when he attended a garden party for all Victoria Cross holders at Buckingham Palace. With the aid of crutches, he marched more than a mile from Wellington Barracks to the Palace with more than 300 other men to attend the event.

Following his discharge from the army, Arnold married childhood sweetheart Amy Morton, also originally from Ecclesall, on August 24, 1920, at St Andrew’s Church in Sharrow. The pair lived on Stannington Road and had a son, called Arnold after his father, the following year. But life after the war with his disability became extremely tough for Arnold and his young family.

He attempted to work in poultry farming but this was too exhausting and even climbing the stairs of his home became an impossible task. In 1923, the Rotary Club of Sheffield provided him with a large wooden hut built on the back of the house for him to sleep in without the need to go upstairs.

But with his health badly affected by his war wounds, Arnold died at home after contracting tuberculosis on April 10, 1924. He was 27 years old.

Thousands of people lined the funeral route as the military cortege travelled from Stannington to Ecclesall, with his coffin mounted on a gun carriage being drawn by six horses to All Saints Parish Church, Ecclesall, for burial.

Despite the grandeur of the occasion, his wife was left essentially destitute by his death.

The Government refused Amy a war widow’s pension on the grounds the marriage took place after her husband’s discharge from the army and that she knew of her husband’s disability before she married him.

Even more cruelly, shortly after his funeral Amy was sent a bill from Sheffield Council requiring her to pay for it all.

The situation meant the military hero had to be buried in a shared grave to save money.

The people of Sheffield donated £1,000 to give Amy £25 per year to help bring up her son, but according to Arnold’s grandson Kevin the majority of this money ‘disappeared’ and was never paid to the family.

He said his father, Arnold Jr, was very reluctant to speak about the experiences of the family until much later in life because of their tough experiences.

Arnold Jr went on to fight in World War II, serving in North Africa.

Amy died in 1956, aged 58. She had lived in the same house in Stannington that her and Arnold began their brief married life together 32 years before.

Despite great financial hardship, Amy always proudly kept her late husband’s war medals, which were passed on to their son after she died. She was buried in the same shared grave as her late husband.

Friends Graham White and David Garnham led a campaign to make improvements to Arnold and Amy’s shared grave and sponsored the restoration of a plaque to him on Loosemore Drive after the original was vandalised and stolen in the 1980s to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.

They also arranged for oak trees to be planted for Arnold and other World war I veterans buried at the same church on Remembrance Day.

As a thank you for their efforts, they were invited to the Town Hall along with members of Arnold’s family to meet with Lord Mayor Peter Rippon this week.

Arnold’s grandson Kevin, 60, who lives in Millhouses, said he was thrilled more is being done to remember the life of his grandfather.

“It is fantastic. It is just so sad the city didn’t remember him for the deeds he had done for so long,” he said.

“My dad was Arnold Jr and he was bitter about what had happened without really telling me what had happened until he got older.

“When my grandfather won the Victoria Cross he was only 21 and winners normally went home and they didn’t have to go back to fight.

“My granddad wouldn’t do that. He had got six brothers who were out there fighting and his friends. He went back to fight and got wounded.

“Because when my gran married him she knew he was wounded there was no pension for her when he died.

“They had the big funeral for him and they sent the bill to my grandmother. She had no pension and it was with great difficulty she fed the family.

“When he came back everybody was so proud of him that the high and mighty of Sheffield had a whip round to raise money for him as a thank you and the money was invested for the family. But that suddenly disappeared and the payments to the family stopped. That was never talked about.”

He said he was grateful to people like Mr White and Mr Garnham for their efforts in raising awareness of what his grandfather and grandmother went through.

Mr White said: “It is an amazing story of an amazing man. He was an extraordinary person.”