The name of Trooper Fred Potts – Reading’s only holder of the Victoria Cross – will now be seen by thousands of people every day as a road at Reading Railway Station was named after him today.
The official unveiling of ‘Trooper Potts Way’ came on the same day Reading Museum opened its ‘Reading at War’ exhibition, marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Running until September 14, the focal point of the exhibition will be Trooper Potts’ own Victoria Cross which will be on display.
Trooper Fred Potts VC
Trooper Potts was awarded the Victoria Cross in August 1915 in the disastrous Gallipolli Campaign for his outstanding bravery. He was shot in the thigh while advancing upon the Turkish line along with another Reading man, Trooper Arthur Andrews, who was also badly injured.
The pair hid for two days below the Turkish trenches in appalling conditions but when they eventually decided to try and return to the British lines, Trooper Andrews was too badly wounded to move.
Trooper Potts, who was just 22 at the time, found a shovel and used it as a sledge to drag Trooper Andrews over 600 yards to safety under heavy fire. As well as the only Reading recipient of the medal, he was also the first man from a Yeomanry Regiment, in effect a ‘part time’ soldier, to receive the highest and most prestigious award. When the Unknown Warrior was buried at Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920, Fred Potts, along with 96 other Victoria Cross holders, formed the guard of honour.
Trooper Potts survived the First World War and returned to Reading to become a master tailor. He died in 1943 having suffered throughout his life from his wounds.
Family members of Trooper Potts, Councillors and representatives of the Trooper Potts Committee gathered at the Northern Interchange at Reading Station to unveil ‘Trooper Potts Way’ today. Also invited were Mr Ken Walker, the Reading resident who last year came up with the idea of naming a road after Reading’s own ‘hero with the shovel’ after a public appeal for road name suggestions by the Council’s Planning Applications Committee.
Anne Ames, Trooper Potts’ Granddaughter, who attended the unveiling along with her daughter and Trooper Potts’ Great Granddaughter, Sarah Jeffery, said: “The Potts family are delighted that Fred is to be remembered by his home town in a way that is visible to all. It is particularly appropriate that a man from a modest background should have been selected by a member of the public to be commemorated in this way and we hope that this road sign will encourage others to investigate not only the exploits of The Berkshire Yeomanry but those of their own family members whose selfless service has remained unknown and untold.”
Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said: “The name of Trooper Potts will be seen by the many thousands of people everyday who use Reading Station and it is therefore fitting location in which to name a road after Reading’s own war hero.
Identifying a suitable location for Trooper Potts Way was no easy task but, with the full support of the Trooper Potts Committee, we agreed the new northern interchange at the station was the right place.”
Councillor Pete Ruhemann, Chair of Reading Borough Council’s Planning Committee, issued a public appeal in November 2012 for people to come forward street names relating to key people and events in Reading’s history.
Councillor Ruhemann said: “Street names relating to key people and events in Reading’s history can help give the town’s residents a sense of place and we received a good response from members of the public to this appeal. I’d like to personally thank Mr Walker for his suggestion. There can be no more fitting recipient of a street name than Trooper Fred Potts and I am delighted that we are now in a position to officially unveil Trooper Potts Way as a street name today.”
Richard Bennett, Chairman of the Trooper Potts VC Trust, said: “It was a really good initiative by Reading Borough Council to ask members of the public for road name suggestions. We are delighted that Mr Ken Walker proposed Trooper Fred Potts VC be one of those to be considered, and that this was adopted by Reading Borough Council. The timing of the unveiling fits well with the opening of the “Reading at War” exhibition where Trooper Potts VC is featured and his medal strip, including his VC, will be on loan from the IWM. This naming will, we believe, encourage people to discover more about Trooper Potts VC and visit the memorial to him, and the Berkshire Yeomanry, which we plan to unveil on 4 October 2015.”
Following the unveiling of Trooper Potts Way today, representatives then moved on to the nearby Reading Museum where the Reading at War exhibition was officially opened at 12 noon.
‘Reading at War’ will be a focal point for the town to explore how war throughout history has shaped Reading’s character. Displays highlight the impact of the First World War, when thousands of local men and boys join the armed forces, leaving behind their loved ones to keep the home fire burning. Reading’s workforce, particularly women, were mobilised to support the war effort and to care for wounded soldiers in the town’s hastily organised war hospitals.
The exhibition draws extensively from the Museum’s collections of artefacts and images to explore the impact of war though the ages. Earlier conflicts represented including the 9th century Viking raids and the English Civil War siege of 1643. The more recent account of the Second World War focuses on the devastating air raid on Reading town centre in 1943 that killed 41 people.
By setting First World War collections within a wider history of how conflicts in our own time have impacted on Reading people, ‘Reading at War’ will also provoke thought and ask visitors to consider questions of why we remember and how war affects our lives today.
Paul Gittings, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Culture, said: “All of us have some connection to the Great War, either through family history, the heritage of our local communities or because of its long-term impact on society and the world we live in today. One hundred years
on it is important that we connect current generations with the lives, stories and impact of the First World War. I would encourage everyone to visit to this exhibition which brings home to us the heroism as well as the tragedy of armed conflict.”
The Reading at War exhibition has been supported with funding from Arts Council England through a partnership with the Museum of English Rural Life and the University of Reading.
Pictured Above left (l to r) Chris Andrews (grandson of Trooper Arthur Andrews whom Trooper Potts VC saved), The Right Worshipful Councillor Marian Livingston Mayor of Reading, Anne Ames (Trooper Potts’ granddaughter), The Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire Mrs Mary Bayliss, and Councillor Tony Page.
Pictures: Lynda Bowyer