As the world’s politicians, institutions and public bodies queue up to attend ceremony after solemn ceremony to remember the Great War dead, Company Sergeant Major Alfred Broughton’s grave is a neglected jumble of broken stone, weeds and empty beer cans.
Alfred Broughton of the Rifle Brigade was a hero.
Not someone who just survived the war, heroic though many of their efforts were, but a real-life, beyond-the-call-of-duty, hero who went over the top at Loos, Ypres and the Battle of the Somme.
A man who stood shoulder to shoulder with his commanding officer at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, and fought German soldiers with a pistol and his bare hands. There he was shot in the back, left for dead and taken prisoner. At one point his injuries were so severe he was placed in a German mortuary and laid next to a coffin so they could bury him next morning.
But he survived. He somehow made his way back to Sheffield in early 1918, but was judged not fit enough to go back to the front.
After the war Alfred took a job in Vickers Engineers’ River Don works in Sheffield. And almost unbelievably tragically, he was walking through a stamp shop on an errand one day when a wedge flew from a machine and killed him.
Yet now, 96 years after his death, no-one wants to help restore Alfred Broughton’s grave – because he died on a Sheffield factory floor and not on the battlefield where he so distinguished himself. Apparently no-one can do anything about it, no-one is responsible, and no-one is willing to put right such injustice. The grave is in Darnall Cemetery, a Sheffield Council graveyard, but the council says Alfred’s family is responsible.
Alfred’s 69-year-old grandson Jeff Herbert lives in Crawley, Sussex, and is believed to be on holiday not yet aware of the full extent of the dilapidation of his grandfather’s resting place.
He had already asked for help to keep up the grave before it was discovered in such a state, and was unable to get any.
The War Graves Commission can’t help – it only maintains graves sanctioned by the Ministry Of Defence – and the Ministry Of Defence is not responsible for the graves of anyone not killed in action or as a result of their injuries. A spokesman said: “We are very sorry to hear of Mr Broughton’s grave being neglected but the Ministry Of Defence tells us which graves to maintain.”
MP for the area Clive Betts can’t help, though he did write on the family’s behalf appealing for help from Sheffield Council.
The Lord Mayor of Sheffield can’t help.
Jeff Herbert and Mr Betts wrote to Sheffield Lord Mayor’s office, but were told that ‘regrettably, it will not be possible for the council to carry out any work on the grave on behalf of the family as it would set a precedent’.
The Ministry Of Defence can’t help. An MoD spokeswoman said it was the family’s responsibility or that of a local charity to help with the grave. “There may be a ‘friends of’ the graveyard association that may be able to pick up the slack,” she said.
One highly-decorated veteran involved in the care of ex-servicepeople told The Star: “His best bet would be for his family to ask for a review of his case by the War Graves Commission on the grounds that, had he not been injured in action, he might have been fitter and better able to avoid the accident that killed him.”
Councillor Isobel Bowler, cabinet member for culture, sport and leisure said: “The maintenance of privately bought memorials is always the responsibility of the family or purchaser.
“Mr Broughton’s grave is a private memorial that was purchased by his family, therefore the family are responsible for its upkeep,” she added.
“We have explained to Mr Herbert that we are happy for him to instruct a stone mason to restore the grave and have no objections to any repairs or maintenance being carried out.”
Who will help restore Alfred Broughton’s ruined grave?
It is estimated that to restore or replace the stone work on his grave would cost between £1,000 and £2,000. There must be a businessman or woman, charity, public or private body who could help give peace to his family and respect for the memory of a man who gave almost everything for his country in wartime.
If anyone can help, contact Martin Smith via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or The Star editor James Mitchinson at email@example.com