Family pilgrimage to see memorial to South Shields VC hero
Relatives from as far as Canada and Cyprus came together for the first time to see the memorial statue to Captain Richard Wallace Annand, which stands on the grand staircase within South Shields Town Hall.
South Shields-born 2nd Lt Annand, known as Dick or Jake, was awarded the first Army VC of the Second World War for conspicuous gallantry while he was serving as a Platoon Commander with the 2nd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, in Belgium, on 15 May 1940.
It was during fierce attacks on the River Dyle, east of Brussels, that, as small arms ammo had run out, Annand went forward on foot over open ground three times against mortar and machine gun fire to launch hand grenades from a ruined bridge against the Wehrmacht bridging parties.
Following an order to withdraw his platoon, Annand learned that his wounded batman, Private Joseph Hunter, from Sunderland, had been left behind.
He returned at once and brought Pte Hunter back in a wheelbarrow whilst under fire before losing conscious as a result of his own wounds.
Mayor of South Tyneside Coun Ken Stephenson, who welcomed the 11 visitors to the town hall said: “It was a great honour to join the Annand family in commemorating the life of Richard Annand VC.
"The people of South Tyneside are extremely proud of him and his incredible bravery and the strength that he displayed in the face of the enemy early in the Second World War.
"This was a wonderful opportunity to bring his relatives together to pay tribute to such a courageous soldier, family member and colleague. He was a local hero and very deserving recipient of the VC, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry given to British and Commonwealth forces."
During their visit, relatives were shown the original entry of Capt. Annand’s signature in the town hall Visitors' Book, from September 6, 1940, when he met Mayor, Alderman W. L Pearson, and was made a Freeman of South Shields.
They also heard from his colleagues Lieutenant Colonel John Davis, current President of the South Shields branch of the DLI Association, as well as the Deputy Mayor of South Tyneside, former serviceman and active Association member, Coun Norman Dick, who described Capt. Annand as ‘a pure gentlemen’ and reminisced about times during DLI branch get-togethers.
Lt Col. Davis said Capt Annand was a ‘really lovely man’, who had a ‘wicked’ sense of humour.
Capt Annand’s fifth cousin Alex Annand, who had travelled from Berkshire, rallied the family together after discovering there was a tribute to his ancestor in the form of a statue in South Shields: “I discovered there was a statue while reading an article about Dick around four years ago," he said.
"The included photo was very distorted, I just couldn’t make it out. At first I thought it was a little tin soldier, then eventually found out it was a statue in South Shields Town Hall.”
When Sue Pott (nee Annand) told Alex in May she was travelling from Canada to the UK for a bike ride along the east coast of Scotland, Alex contacted other relatives in the Home Counties and Europe about the possibility of meeting up with the Canadians for the first time and to see the statue.
Sue’s brother and sister, Bob Annand, of British Columbia, and Jane Luck (nee Annand), of Toronto, flew to the UK to join the party.
Their dad, Major James Bruce Annand was Capt. Annand’s first cousin. Sue said: "It has been truly amazing for the family to come here."
Alexander Martin Annand, from London, added: "It has been an emotional experience for the family. We are sure Dick would have been touched at the attention he has had."
Alex added: “The VC is the ultimate world-wide recognition of bravery. For us to have a Victoria Cross in our family, there is no greater honour."
2nd Lt. Annand received his Victoria Cross from King George VI at Buckingham Palace on 3 September 3, 1940. He later said: “Every man who was with me deserves a medal.”
The son of a Naval Lieutenant Commander, who was killed at Gallipoli when Dick was only six months old, Capt. Annand was born in South Shields, in November 1914. He later went on to train young soldiers, members of the Home Guard and Commandos.
After WWII, he was promoted to Captain and became Personnel Officer at Finchale Abbey Training Centre for the Disabled, near Durham, until retirement in 1979.
He was founder member, later President, of the British Association for the Hard of Hearing, which still exists as Hearing Concern. He also helped to set up the Durham County Association for the Disabled.
On February 17, 1956, Dick was gazetted a Deputy Lieutenant for the County for Durham.
He married Shirley Osbourne in November 1940; they had no children. As he was dying on Christmas Eve in 2004, aged 90, he said to Shirley: “Darling, God has been so good to me. I have a wonderful wife and had a full life. I am ready to go.”