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Salute to VC hero with new Bilston memorial - PICTURES

By Luke Bartlett | Bilston | News | Published: | Last Updated:

He is the soldier who stood his ground in the face of 250 Germans during the First World War – despite only having one man at his side.

George Onions, inset, was honoured during the service

Now 100 years on Bilston has chosen to honour its own First World War hero Lance Corporal George Onions with a permanent memorial stone.

Crowds gathered at Oxford Street War Memorial to pay their respects to L/Cpl Onions during a special ceremony.

WATCH: Soldier honoured at ceremony

The Mayor of Wolverhampton councillor Phil Page, who led the service for the Black Country soldier, said: “It is a privilege to be part of this service and to be part of the unveiling of the commemorative paving stone which we hope will have a lasting legacy in Bilston, in Lance Corporal George Onions’ place of birth.”

L/Cpl Onions’ act of bravery whilst serving for the 1st Devon’s on August 22 1918, who were at the time serving with the 5th division, secured him the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy – the Victoria Cross.

L/Cpl Onions and fellow soldier Private Henry Eades were sent out as scouts to their company to contact the flanking battalion.

Mayor and Mayoress of Wolverhampton Phil Page and Elaine Hadley Howell, centre, with guests

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Those gathered for the service

The pair hit trouble when they found themselves heavily outnumbered and out-gunned in Achiet-le-Petit, northern France.

After finding an unoccupied old trench both L/Cpl Onions and Pte Eades were planning their next move when hundreds of Germans, straying lost from a counter-attack on a New Zealand Division, appeared from nowhere.

A 250-strong crowd of Germans approached the trench but instead of retreating, L/Cpl Onions and Pte Eades stood them down and opened fire.

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George Onions

The Germans offered their hands in surrender and L/Cpl Onions then ordered the whole group into fours and marched them back to the Commanding Officer.

It is a story that has resonated with many – including Captain Bob Roberts, county secretary to The Rifles, in Yorkshire, who was one of many to attend the commemorative ceremony on Wednesday.

Capt Roberts said: “We need to remember that these guys in some cases gave their lives, certainly risked their lives, for other people.

People gathered at the event

“George was quite an interesting character. In those days it was very unusual for a Lance Corporal to be on his own, and even more unusual to have the confidence to use the initiative that he did.

“For him to see an opportunity, gauge what the action should be, carry it out and then capture over 200 prisoners is absolutely unbelievable.

“He went on to end up as a Major, which shows his competence, but also it shows people can develop.”

Mayor of Wolverhampton Phil Page

Wreaths were laid at the foot of the new stone, which reads ‘Lance Corporal George Onions, Devonshire Regiment, 22nd August 1918’.

Also present at the ceremony, Wolverhampton cycling legend Hugh Porter, said: “When I read what the recipient had done, Mr Onions from Bilston, I just had to come out of respect.

“It is just absolutely staggering that him and his colleague were so brave that they were in a trench and 250 Germans went into the trench as well and then he started firing at them and they all surrendered and he marched them into captivity.

“It is just an astonishing achievement of bravery. You have got to show respect to these people, they must not be forgotten.”

Flags lowered in commemoration

Wolverhampton Lance Corporal Roland Elcock, who also later became a Major, is another of the city’s VC hero’s.

He was also awarded the Victoria Cross following his heroics in October 1918.

L/Cpl Elcock rushed to enemy lines whilst in the south-east of Capelle-St. Catherine, put two guns out of action and captured five prisoners.

Luke Bartlett

By Luke Bartlett
Trainee Reporter - @lbartlett_star

Trainee Express & Star reporter covering Dudley and Sandwell. Get in touch on 01902 319445 or via luke.bartlett@expressandstar.co.uk.

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