MORE than 200 people paid tribute to a village’s Victoria Cross winner when a ‘centenary stone’ was unveiled beside the cemetery where he is buried.

Some 30 members of the family of Private Francis Miles from Clearwell were at the ceremony, which took place last week (Tuesday, October 23) exactly 100 years to the day after the heroic Freeminer won the award ‘for conspicuous bravery and initiative’ at the Battle of the Selle in France.

They joined representatives of the Gloucestershire Regiment, The Rifles, and the Royal British Legion, Newland Parish Council members, Clearwell Primary pupils and staff and villagers at the plaque unveiling in the wall of Clearwell Cemetery, right next to the house where Private Miles lived.

Grandson Bill Russell from Milkwall and step grandsons Chris Taylor from Lydney, Michael Brown from Bream and Brian Martin from Sling were among family members who had travelled from as far away as Spain and Ireland to see youngsters Ava and Callum Martin unveil the plaque to their great-great-grandfather.

Mr Taylor, 69, said: “It was a very proud moment for our family and the village and it was great to see so many people, including many youngsters, attend the ceremony, and hear the pupils sing It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.

“What my grandfather did was truly incredible. He stormed two machine gun posts on his own and waved his comrades through to capture more. And that was after he had been the only survivor out of 50 men from an undergound explosion.

“I lived with him as a child, and he was so quiet and unassuming, and never spoke about it – you’d never imagine he had shown such bravery and risked his life like that.”

Major General Robin Grist (retired) of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, told the ceremony: “The village of Clearwell is reputed to have sent more men to the war as a percentage of its size than any other village in Britain.”

Reading from the citation for the VC, he said: “On October 23, 1918, Private Miles alone, and on his own inititaive, went forward under exceptionally heavy fire, located a machine gun, shot the gunner, and put the gun out of action.

“Observing another gun nearby, he again advanced alone, shot the gunner, rushed the gun and captured the team of eight.

“Finally he stood up and beckoned to his company, who acting on his signals were able to work round the rear of the line and to capture 16 machine guns, one officer and 50 other ranks.

“It was due to the courage, initiative and entire disregard for personal safety shown by this very gallant soldier that the company was enabled to advance at a time when any delay would have jeopardised sersiously the whole operation.”

Parish council vice-chairman Cllr Bill Evans said: “What Private Miles did is a source of great pride to our community. His actions were remarkable.”

Born on July 19, 1896, the VC winner attended Clearwell village school before working in the local colliery, and enlisted on December 28, 1914, in the Gloucesters.

Because of his experience as a miner, he was attached to the Royal Engineers as a tunneller, but was wounded in a mine explosion only to return to the front after recovering.

After the war, he returned to colliery work and married the widow of his friend Tonmy Taylor who died in a mining accident, inheriting eight step children, only to join up again in World War Two, serving with the Pioneer Corps.

Private Miles died on November 8, 1961, aged 65. His VC and his other medals are held by the Lord Ashcroft VC collection at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The centenary stone was donated by the Department of Community And Local Government as part of a project to mark the First World War.