If you are looking for heroes with chiselled jaws, cool unflinching eyes and nerves of steel you had better start flicking through the pages of your old comic books – because you won’t find them in real life. Most heroes are ordinary men and women who just happen to do extraordinary things. There could be a hero or two standing behind you in the queue for the H37. There could be a hero or two living in your street… there certainly was in ours!
Local lad Harry Hampton was 29 years old and a sergeant in the King’s Liverpool Regiment. On 21st August 1900, in the second year of the Boer War, he rescued a small party of men who were under fire and heavily outnumbered by Boers at Van Wyk’s Vlei. During the course of the action Harry Hampton was twice wounded, once in the head. For his courage he was awarded Britain’s highest award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross.
After the 1st World War, during which he served as a musketry instructor, Harry and his wife Gertrude came to live in Haliburton Road in St Margarets. In 1922 Harry collapsed on the platform at St. Margarets Station and fell in front of a passing train. Although persistent gossip suggested that he had committed suicide the verdict of the coroner at the inquest was clear. Harry’s leg had given way because of an old injury. He was buried in the old Burial Ground in Richmond leaving behind his wife and two children: a daughter, Elsie and a son, also known as Harry who worked in a pub in Richmond.
Four years later Gertrude Hampton moved to Bath and the house in Haliburton Road was sold. Then, not long after, two military men called wanting to speak to Harry’s widow. They explained that as Harry was the holder of the VC he was entitled to a full military funeral – and that is what they gave him. Harry’s coffin was exhumed and then reburied in a style more fitting his heroic status. A replacement headstone was erected and even his regimental band turned up to play a programme of hymns.
And so the story ends apart from a mysterious occurrence a few years later. One evening the woman then living in the house sensed a mysterious ‘presence’ in the living room, a figure of a man sitting in a chair quietly smoking a pipe, a man who looked very much like our Harry.
Perhaps the saying that ‘old soldiers never die, they just fade away” is true. Maybe our own local hero is doing just that – but taking his time about it! Next time you’re queuing for the H37 may you should check out who is standing behind you!
– from Martyn Day