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Friday, May 13, 2016

Boer War hero honoured with new plaque at special ceremony

Relatives of an Ormskirk solider who was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery met for the first time at a special ceremony in his honour.

William Heaton was given the highest military award for gallantry for helping save the lives of many of his fellow soldiers during the 2nd Boer War.

West Lancashire Borough Council received a request from local historians Chris Bentley and Dot Hawkes to consider commemorating Private Heaton’s bravery.

Following research into the life of William Heaton and consideration of the different ways to acknowledge his achievement, the Council decided to install a carved stone plaque bearing his name and achievement on a path leading up to the existing Boer War Memorial in Victoria Park, St Helens Road, Ormskirk.

The plaque was officially unveiled by the Mayor of West Lancashire Councillor Nikki Hennessy and relatives of William Heaton, who had never met before, were invited to the ceremony.

Mr Bentley and Dot Hawkes also attended the ceremony along with representatives from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, the former Kings (Liverpool) Regiment and the British Legion. Angela Silsby, Mr Heaton’s great niece, came to the ceremony with her mum Catherine Heaton, whose husband was William’s nephew.

Mrs Silsby said: “This was a very proud day and I wish that my father could have lived to have seen this day. It was lovely to meet members from another part of William’s family we had never met before.”

Kevin Robinson and Eileen Foster, great nephew and niece, said: “We are very proud to have someone who served their country so bravely in our family. The ceremony was a very nice occasion and we were very pleased to meet our relatives for the first time.”

In the 2nd Boer War Private Heaton served with the 1st Battalion Kings Liverpool Regiment. His battalion took part in operations leading to the relief of Ladysmith, and in the advance north through eastern Transvaal.

On 23 August 1900 his company was in danger of being overrun near Geluk Farm when Private Heaton volunteered to take a message explaining their desperate situation at considerable risk to his own life.

Had it not been for Private Heaton’s courage, the remainder of his company would most likely have been killed. Private Heaton was later promoted to Corporal and received his Victoria Cross Medal from the Duke of York (who was later crowned King George V) at Pietermaritzburg in South Africa on 14 August 1901.

On returning home he was met by a reception at Ormskirk Train Station, and a service was held at the Drill Hall (now Ormskirk Civic Hall), on Southport Road.

When he left the army Mr Heaton worked as a caretaker in a bank. By this time he was married with a daughter. But when World War One began Mr Heaton enlisted with the Kings Liverpool Regiment, 7th Battalion, and saw action on the Western front near Ypres. When his wife passed away Mr Heaton moved to Southport.

He died on 5 June 1941 and was buried with full military honours. His medals, including the Victoria Cross, are on display at the Liverpool Museum.

Councillor Hennessy, Mayor of West Lancashire, said: “I am really proud that the Council has installed this plaque in tribute to the remarkable bravery of William Heaton. I served in the Royal Logistics Corps of the Territorial Army for more than 30 years and it was a great honour for me to unveil the plaque and meet members of Mr Heaton’s family.”

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