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Islington soldiers honoured for brave First World War actions that brought two Victoria Crosses

A memorial stone for Lance Corporal John Sayer is laid at Islington Memorial Green

A memorial stone for Lance Corporal John Sayer is laid at Islington Memorial Green

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Two soldiers from Islington who were both awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War have both been remembered, 100 years after their brave actions.

John Sayer and Frank Roberts, both born in Islington, were awarded the Victoria Cross for “conspicuous bravery” in spring 1918. Today (Wednesday, March 21) both were commemorated with memorial stones laid at Islington Memorial Green.

John William Sayer was born at 50 Wellington Road on 12 April 1879. His family shortly afterwards moved to Ilford, in Essex. He married Edith Maynard in 1904 and the couple, who had four daughters and two sons, moved to Cricklewood in North London.

At the age of 37, on 25 July 1916, Sayer enlisted in the army as a Machine Gunner in the 8th Battalion of The Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment. He went to France a little over four months later, and in 1917 was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal.

On the morning of 21 March 1918, as the long-anticipated German spring offensive began, Lance Corporal Sayer single-handedly seized and defended an isolated outpost near Le Verguier in northern France, under machine gun and rifle fire. His actions have been cited as having had an immense effect on holding back the German offensive, which stalled as they were held up by the Queen’s Regiment. Lance Corporal Sayer was wounded in the action, and died four weeks later, aged 39.

Frank Roberts was born at 3 Hamilton Road, Highbury on 2 June 1891. He graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1911 and was commissioned into the Worcestershire Regiment. His battalion was sent to the Western Front in 1914 and landed in France in early November.

Over 12 days between 22 March-2 April 1918, as an acting Lieutenant Colonel in the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, 26-year-old Lt Col.Roberts showed “conspicuous bravery” in a series of military operations at Pargny, in northern France. On one occasion Lt.Col. Roberts led a counter-attack which temporarily drove the enemy out of a village, giving cover to withdrawing British troops. The success of this action was entirely due to his personal valour and skill, and for this he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Lt Col. Roberts was wounded on 27 March but returned to lead his battalion until the end of the war on 11 November 1918. He was wounded three times during the war, and mentioned six times in despatches. He remained in the Army after the war, attaining the rank of Major General, and retiring in December 1939. He died in January 1982.

In today's ceremony at Islington Memorial Green, attended by family members, Islington Veterans Association, the Mayor of Islington and local councillors, memorial stones were laid to both men.

Cllr Gary Poole, Islington Council’s Armed Forces Champion, said: “We are honoured to remember the bravery of Lance Corporal John Sayer and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Roberts. Both men showed great courage under fire and risked their own lives. Very sadly, Lance Corporal Sayer’s bravery ultimately cost him his life.

“Today we also remember the brave servicemen and women who serve their country today, and who still put their personal safety and lives on the line.”

The two stones were the final two of five memorial stones laid by Islington Council as part of the national Victoria Cross Paving Stones project, supported by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which honours those were awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War.

Previous stones have been laid for Mercantile Master Frederick Parslow, who was posthumously awarded the VC for heroism when his unarmed ship was attacked by a U-boat in 1915; Frederick Booth, for his role in an attack on an enemy position in German East Africa in 1917; and Charles Train, who was awarded the VC for his attack on enemy machine guns in Ottoman-controlled Palestine in 1918.

For more information on Islington’s Victoria Cross Memorial Stones see Islington Life.

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John Sayer - credit Islington Local History Centre

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Frank Roberts - credit Islington Local History Centre

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Family of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Roberts at Islington Memorial Green

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Memorial ceremony for John Sayer and Frank Roberts at Islington Green

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