'Forgotten' war hero's grave in Sheffield given clean up after decades of neglect

The grave of a ‘forgotten’ war hero in Sheffield has been given a long-overdue clean-up as part of efforts to finally give him the recognition he deserves.

By Robert Cumber
Friday, 22nd November 2019, 4:12 pm

George Lambert was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest British military award for bravery, for his actions during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

He was recognised for not one but three acts of valour during the conflict, but his final resting place at Wardsend Cemetery had fallen into dilapidation following years of neglect.

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The Victoria Cross Trust cleaning up the grave of Sheffield VC hero George Lambert at Wardsend Cemetery (pic: Chris Etchells)

His headstone at the Victorian burial ground, in Owlerton, where he is one of many military heroes interred, had toppled over and become hidden by grime and vegetation.

Ahead of commemorations to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth, on December 16 this year, the Victorian Cross Trust visited the cemetery to clean up the grave and surrounding headstones as a mark of respect.

The charity plans to return next year to restore the fallen headstone to a standing position so his deeds and his place in the city’s history can be properly appreciated by visitors.

Howard Bayley, chairman of the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery group, said: “George Lambert is one of the cemetery’s most famous residents, having won the Victoria Cross for three separate acts of bravery.

Howard Bayley, of the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery, and Guy Aston, trustee of the Victoria Cross Society, inspect the grave of Victoria Cross holder George Lambert at Wardsend Cemetery after it was cleaned up by the charity (pic: Chris Etchells)

“But he’s a forgotten hero whose grave had been neglected for decades, and it was high time something was done about that so we’re grateful to the Victoria Cross Trust.

“It’s particularly poignant because next month is the 200th anniversary of his birth, which we’ll be marking with a small event, and early next year it will be 160 years since his death at Hillsborough Barracks.”

Mr Lambert was born in Ireland and joined the British Army aged 19 as a private in the 84th Regiment of Foot, later rising to the rank of lieutenant.

During the Indian Rebellion, an ultimately unsuccessful uprising against British rule in India, he was mentioned for acts of bravery during battles at Bithnoor, Lucknow and Oonoa, where he helped drive rebels from the town and capture 15 guns.

Victoria Cross hero George Lambert's grave at Wardsend Cemetery before the clean-up (pic: Chris Etchells)

Having returned to the UK, he collapsed whilst on the parade ground at Hillsborough Barracks on February 10, 1860, and died instantly before getting the chance to be presented with his Victoria Cross.

The fact his military exploits hark back to one of many troubling episodes in Britain’s colonial past might explain why he is not as well remembered as one might expect such a highly decorated soldier to be.

But Guy Aston, a trustee at the Victoria Cross Trust, believes that should not diminish the bravery he displayed while serving his country.

“He’s a forgotten hero whose actions deserve proper recognition. It’s stupid to look back on the world of 150 years ago and make judgements, because in 150 years' time people will probably look back at us and think we were monsters,” said Mr Aston.

“He was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery and it had nothing to do with politics. He did some amazing stuff and put himself at risk, and for that he deserves to be remembered.”

The Friends of Wardsend Cemetery group is dedicated to restoring the cemetery, beside the River Don.

It wants to build a memorial garden honouring Mr Lambert and other soldiers, including those from the first and second world wars, plus victims of the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864, who are buried there and it plans to launch a fundraising appeal early next year.