Just over a hundred years ago, Sergeant John Raynes, from Heeley in Sheffield, was serving on the Western Front. On 11th October, 1915, his battery was bombarded by armour piercing and gas shells. Sergeant Raynes ran out from his own battery not once but three times – a distance of 40 yards – to assist and then bring back a wounded colleague, Sergeant Ayres.
The following day, John saw action again. The house he was in was knocked down by a heavy shell. Eight men were trapped inside. The first man rescued was Sergeant John Raynes. He was wounded in the head and leg but insisted on remaining under heavy shell fire to assist in the rescue of the other men. He then reported for duty with his Battery which was again being heavily shelled.
For his courage on those two days Sergeant Major Raynes (as he became) received Britain’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.
Last Monday, 12th October, 2015, exactly one hundred years after these actions, John Raynes was honoured in his home city of Sheffield. Civic leaders gathered with officers from his former regiment, members of the Royal British Legion, children from local schools and the general public. As Bishop of Sheffield, I dedicated a special memorial paving stone to his memory in Barker’s Pool. A piper played a lament. We kept silence. A bugler sounded the Last Post and Reveille. We remembered.
There will be similar ceremonies all over the country over the next few years. The paving stone for John Raynes was one of over four hundred to be dedicated to all those who received the Victoria Cross in the Great War in each person’s place of birth all over the United Kingdom. There will be two further ceremonies in Sheffield in 2016.
For me and for many present, the ceremony was very moving. It was a good to reflect and remember the sacrifice and bravery of so many at the beginning of this season of remembering when we will wear poppies and look back. It was good to pray for the safety of British forces stationed overseas, many from this Diocese. It was good to remember the courage of a remarkable man and many like him. It was good to pray for the peace of the world and for all caught up in the conflicts of nations.
This is the prayer I wrote for the dedication of the paving stone to Sergeant Major John Crawshaw Raynes, VC:
You are our light in the darkness,Our strength when shadows fallWe dedicate this stone todayIn memory of a brave son of this city,John Crawshaw Raynes.May it serve always as a reminder of his courageOf the sacrifice of the men of this cityAnd of the dangers faced daily byOur armed forces.Grant to our world we pray,Peace and freedom and justiceAnd grant to each of usThe courage to defend our fellow men and womenIn your holy name we prayAmen.