Report of Service held at BVGS on Friday 16th March 2018
JERRARD 100 – Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Award
of the Victoria Cross to Flight Lieutenant Alan Jerrard - Old Veseyan.
A service of commemoration was held at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School on Friday 16th March 2018.
The Victoria Cross was instigated by Queen Victoria in 1856 “...with a view to place all persons on a perfectly even footing in relation to eligibility for the Decoration, that neither rank, nor long service, nor wounds, nor any other circumstance or condition whatsoever, save the merit of conspicuous bravery shall be held to establish a sufficient acclaim to the honour.”
It was back dated to 1854 in order to recognise the acts of bravery of service personnel in the Crimean War. The medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients.
Alan Jerrard’s story has previously been covered in the Old Veseyan News at the time the Blue Plaques were erected on the outside walls of Old Big School facing the Lichfield Road. However, for non-members of the Old Veseyan Association and new comers to the Veseyan Community it is worthy of restating.
Alan Jerrard attended BVGS from 1906 – 1909, where his father was Headmaster, prior to continuing his education at Oundle School until 1914 before entering Birmingham University. Whilst a student Jerrard volunteered to join the Army in 1915 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the South Staffordshire Regiment on 2nd January 1916. In August of the same year he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and learnt about flying and aircraft at the Military Aeronautics School at Oxford. After initial flying training at Thetford and a posting to No 9 (Reserve) Squadron at Norwich he was posted in December to No 59 Squadron awaiting deployment to France. Illness prevented him following that course and once fit he qualified as a RFC Pilot in June 1917 . He was sent to No2 (Training) Squadron at Grantham for instructions in flying RE8 two seater aircraft where it was recommended he should train as a single-seat fighter pilot at London Colney and was promoted to Lieutenant.
Following deployment to No19 Squadron at Liettres in France and some early unfortunate experiences, Jerrard sustained serious facial injuries after crashing in poor visibility and was repatriated for treatment and recuperation. Jerrard joined the Sopwith Camel equipped No 66 Squadron in Italy in February 1918. By the middle of March Jerrard had accounted for four enemy aircraft and one observation balloon during defensive operations. New orders were received on 30th March for No.66 Squadron to detail three pilots for an offensive patrol. Jerrard was selected as one of these pilots alongside Captain Peter Carpenter and Lieutenant H R Eycott-Martin. Jerrard was hurriedly awakened having slept in following a party the previous evening and put on his flying gear over his pyjamas in order to join his fellow pilots. Within a few minutes of reaching 13,000 feet and heading towards enemy lines they observed four Austrian Albatros D111 aircraft escorting a two seat Rumplar aircraft crossing over from the Allied line and heading towards Mansue aerodrome. The attack began and Carpenter and Jerrard each shot down a D111.Having lost height to 6,000 feet Carpenter and Eycott-Martin saw Jerrard attack another D111 and then descend to about 50 feet over the aerodrome shooting up aircraft on the ground and those trying to take off. Of the nineteen aircraft estimated to have got airborne Jerrard was believed to be attacking six of them. Eycott-Martin shot down a further D111 and Jerrard another which was attacking Eycott-Martin. Jerrard continued his single handed battle when his companions had broken off their attack leaving him behind. Carpenter and Eycott-Martin observed that Jerrard had a problem either with his aircraft or was wounded as he was being pursued by an Albatros D111. They observed Jerrard crashing to the west of Mansue aerodrome trying to evade his opponent.
Alan Jerrard was helped from his aircraft by Austrian troops and one of his flying opponents, Von Fernbrugg, drove over to the crash site and took a minor injured but shocked Jerrard to an Army base at Oderzo. Jerrard was entertained by his captors to dinner and when news reached them that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross he was furnished with a copy of The Times newspaper containing the printed citation. Jerrard’s main concern was his clothing given he had taken off in his pyjamas. The Austrians sympathised with his dilemma and arranged for a note to dropped over the Allied lines requesting various items of clothing be air-dropped for him. This was duly carried out over an Austrian airfield and addressed to Alan Jerrard. Following his routine interrogation Jerrard was transferred to a regular P.o.W. Camp at Salzburg where he remained until the end of the war.
The foregoing provides the background to the Service of Commemoration held at the School on Friday 16th March 2018. The Service was attended by many distinguished guests and graced by the presence of members of the RAF Volunteer Reserve and the University of Birmingham Air Squadron.
On approaching the School Main Entrance having been efficiently marshalled into parking spaces behind the new STEM Block guests were greeted by a ‘guard of honour’ on the main school steps who stood to attention as one climbed the steps. A delightful if unexpected experience! We were then guided by senior students along top corridor to assemble in Old Big School from 1.00 p.m. where a fine buffet lunch was laid out. Soft drinks, tea and coffee were graciously served by senior students.
Distinguished guests attending included Mr Tom Jerrard Canadian Third Cousin twice removed of Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, Andrew Mitchell MP for Sutton Coldfield, Sqn. Ldr. Ged Sheppeck MBE AFC RAF University of Birmingham Air Squadron, The Reverend Canon Dr Mark Pryce Chaplain to Her Majesty The Queen, Deputy Lieutenant John Craggs Chair of Governors, The Lord Mayor of Birmingham Cllr Anne Underwood, The Mayor of Sutton Coldfield David Pears OV, Mr Paul Wallis Chairman of the Old Veseyan Association.
Following lunch, guests were guided down to Big School to take their places in their designated seats and join the assembled senior students.
Angus Carter played ‘The Chosen Few’ by Year 10 student Luke Barrios to commence proceedings.
Sophie Lloyd and Will Hennessy, Joint School Captains, addressed the assembly with welcoming remarks and referred to the comparative bravery of current students wrestling with university applications and the students of a similar age in 1914 deciding whether to volunteer to fight for their country. They referred to the superior equipment and training of the German forces, the use of chemical warfare and the creation of the RAF and the bravery to fly open cockpit aircraft before the eventual signing of the Treaty of Versaille in 1919.
Ibrahim Abdalla, Lucas Nix, Matthew Rusling and Harry Vlahakis, all Year 8 students, outlined the background to the Victoria Cross, details of Alan Jerrard’s early life and the build up to the Great War. The Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP for Sutton Coldfield then read the famous Rupert Brooke poem The Soldier.
A combination of Senior and Junior choirs sang ‘Prayer is my Blessing’ and were conducted by Mr Ashley Buxton, BVGS Director of Music.
Year 8 students Miles Kelly, Joshua Thompson, Noah Southgate and Harry Vlahakis then outlined Alan Jerard’s life as a war/fighter pilot as described above.
The poem ‘High Flight’ by Flying Officer John Magee was read by Sqn Ldr Ged Sheppeck MBE AFC RAF of the University of Birmingham Air Squadron.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughfter-silvered wings
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds-and odne a hundred things
You have not dreamed of;wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence, hovering there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air
Up, up the long delirious blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor eagle flew
And while, with silent liftinh mind I’ve trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand and touched the face of God
Louis Kill-Brown, Chair of the School Council read out the Citation for Alan Jerrard VC
CITATION for Alan Jerrard VC
‘Alan Jerrard, Lieutenant, Royal Air Force, formerly South Staffordshire Regiment, when on an offensive patrol with two other officers he attacked five enemy aeroplanes and shot down ne in flames, following it down to within one hundred feet of the ground. He then attacked an enemy aerodrome from a height of fifty feet from the ground and engaging single-handed some nineteen machines, which were either landing or attempting to take-off, he succeeded in destroying one of them which crashed on the aerodrome. A large number of machines then attacked hi, and whilst fully occupied, he observed that one of his patrol was in difficulties. He went immediately to his assistance, regardless of his own safety, and destroyed a third enemy machine. Fresh enemy machines continued to rise from the aerodrome, which he attacked one after another and only retreated .still engaged with five enemy machines, when ordered to do so by his patrol leader. Although apparently wounded, this very gallant officer turned repeatedly and attacked single-handed the pursuing machines until he was eventually overwhelmed by numbers and driven to the ground. Lieutenant Jerrard had greatly distinguished himself on four previous occasions, within a period of twenty three days in destroying enemy machines, displaying bravery and ability of the very highest order.’
Freddie Coleman of Year 10 read the piece In Memoriam.
The Reverend Canon Dr Mark Pryce, Chaplain to Her Majesty The Queen reminded the attendees of the work carried out by organisations such as the British Legion and Toc H in helping ex-servicemen after the war and brought up to date by activities such as the Invictus Games through Prince Harry.
Dr Pryce then read the poem ‘Indifference’ written by G A Studdert Kennedy and speculated that it was likely that Studdert Kennedy and Alan Jerrard knew each other.
The audience the stood for Ben Wall, a year 11 student read The Exhortation and the congregation, as is customary, responded “we shall remember them”.
Angus Carter played the Last Post prior to the Two Minute Silence and Reveille thereafter.
The audience re-took their seats.
Officer Cadet Ciara Buckely, of the University of Birmingham Air Squadron, then read a message sent to DL John Craggs by Air Chief marshal Sir Stephen Hillier KCB CBE DFC ADC MA RAF.
In that message Hillier sent his congratulations to Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School and surmised that Lieutenant Alan Jerrard would be extremely flattered to be remembered by is school some 109 years since he left and that a service such as was being witnessed should take place in his honour. He completed his message quoting the motto of the RAF; “Per Ardua Ad Astra.”
Guest of Honour Tom Jerrard reflected upon the circumstances that had brought him from his home in Canada to this service of commemoration in Sutton Coldfield. Tom stated that he is in fact a 3rd cousin twice removed of Alan Jerrard. He recalled that his great uncle Bert had talked of Alan Jerard and it was only during a visit to the RAF Museum at Hendon that he saw a picture of an airman who he thought was a spitting image of his Uncle Bert. Research took him some 15 -20 years to establish that he was in fact related to that airman who was Alan Jerrard. Tom concluded, in expressing his thanks for the invitation that it was a revelation to him to be standing in Big School as the relative of a courageous and persistent man some 40 years after the encounter in Hendon.
Closing words by Dr John Craggs DL included thanks to all those students, staff and members of the University of Birmingham Air Squadron who had contributed to the organisation of the day and drew attention to the memorials in both Big School and Old Big School remembering all those Old Veseyans who sacrificed their lives in the two World Wars. He stated that each of them had a story of courage and bravery which is important to bring to the attention of generations that follow. The congregation stood and sang the hymn Abide with Me to end the proceedings of a moving and thought provoking event superbly organised and choreographed by the School.