The UK Government has chosen to honour Victoria Cross (VC) recipients from the First World War, by laying commemorative paving stones in the birthplace of VC recipients to honour their bravery, provide a lasting legacy of local heroes within communities, and to enable residents to gain a greater understanding of how their area fitted into the First World War story.
A total of 628 Victoria Crosses were awarded during the First World War, and the first VC awarded to Royal Naval personnel during the First World War was awarded to Commander Henry Peel Ritchie. Commander Ritchie was one of 125 Watsonians to serve in the Royal Navy, and the first of three Watsonians to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Henry left Watson’s to join the Royal Navy at the age of 13 in 1890.
As chance would have it, he was born at 1 Melville Crescent, Edinburgh, now The Scotland Office, and the office of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
The unveiling of the paving stone took place on Friday 28 November 2014, exactly 100 years after Henry’s act of bravery that led to him being presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V in April 1915.
The event was hosted by The Right Honourable The Lord Wallace of Tankerness PC QC, Advocate General for Scotland, deputising for the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the School was delighted to be able to play a part in the commemoration.
Our Principal, Melvyn Roffe, was invited to speak to the guests within The Scotland Office. Piper, Alastair Hutcheon (S5), played as the guests assembled for the unveiling, and Head Boy, Andrew Cockburn and Head Girl, Susanna Hawes (both S6) spoke of Henry Ritchie’s life, including his school days at George Watson's Boys' College, following the unveiling.
Although ironically in this case the injuries Ritchie received on 28 November 1914 probably saved his life. He was too ill to return to his ship and was therefore spared when it was sunk with the loss of most of its crew during the Gallipoli Campaign.
Melvyn Roffe, explained during his speech why the day was so important to the School. “At Watson’s, as in so many other communities across Scotland and around the world, we consider it our privilege as well as our duty to remember all those who served with such courage and fortitude through those long years – and especially those for whom the interval between their school days and their deaths was so cruelly short.”