Veteran wins battle to replace damaged grave of Kirkby war hero

An Army veteran has won a battle to replace the dilapidated grave of a First World War hero who hailed from Kirkby.
Veteran Chris Butler by the damaged war grave in Kirkby.Veteran Chris Butler by the damaged war grave in Kirkby.
Veteran Chris Butler by the damaged war grave in Kirkby.

Chris Butler was walking his dog one day on a visit to see his girlfriend, Katie, in Kirkby when he noticed how shoddy the grave was looking in the old cemetery behind the war memorial on Kingsway.

It honours William Verity Hart, who lived in Kirkby but died at the age of 21 in December 1918 from injuries sustained in the war while serving in the Army with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

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"The grave was in a terrible state of disrepair,” said 49-year-old Chris, who served in Iraq for six months as a reservist for the Royal Engineers.

"I contacted the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who confirmed that it was damaged beyond repair and agreed to replace it.”

Chris, who is retired and lives in Chesterfield, added: "It is so important that these graves are maintained and kept in perfect condition.

"I don’t know Private Hart’s story, but the fact is that he went out to fight and died while protecting the rest of us.

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"This was more than 100 years ago, but it is still massively important because it provides a link between today and the sacrifice these brave, young men gave.”

The commission says it will take about six months for a new headstone to be manufactured and engraved at its production unit in France.

But once it is shipped to the UK, Chris is keen to hold a ceremony “for the laying of the new stone and to pay Private Hart full honour and respect”.

The ceremony will be hosted by the Kirkby Armed Forces and Veterans Breakfast Club, of which he is a member.

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Mark Leek, who set up the club, said: “All praise should go to Chris for what he has done.

"It can be upsetting and distressing for veterans to see war graves in disarray and ignored.

"It’s fantastic that the commission have acknowledged him and stepped up to the plate.”

Private Hart, the son of Joseph and Helen Hart, was born in Church Gresley, Derbyshire but grew up in Kirkby with his three sisters, Ursula, Agnes and Helen.

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Records show that, in 1911, the family were living at 24 Park Street and that he was employed as a pony driver at a local pit.

Both Chris and Mark are now keen to trace any living relatives of Private Hart who might still be living locally. They will be invited to the ceremony and should call Mark on 07456 096782.

Meanwhile, the veterans’ breakfast club continues to flourish, doing sterling work for more than 380 members.

Normally it meets every month at the Duke Of Wellington pub in Kirkby but, because of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, it has had to adapt its services.

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"We have held online meetings and quizzes and stayed in contact through our Facebook page,” said Mark.

"”We have set up a food parcel service, pharmacy runs and a phone-buddy system.

"We are also starting a horticulture-therapy allotment project in Kirkby, which encourages veterans to get outside for a bit of fresh air, rather than isolate themselves at home.

"We are here to support each other, have a laugh, make new friends and find old contacts.”