They came to honour the bravest of the brave.
Politicians, soldiers and priests all stood in tribute to Cpl John McNamara, 100 years on from the courageous act which earned him South Ribble’s only Victoria Cross.
Three generations of the hero’s family were also there to see a plaque unveiled in the newly-named John McNamara Gardens in the centre of Bamber Bridge, less than half a mile from where he was born in 1887.
“What an incredibly proud day it is for all his relatives,” said an emotional Frank Wilson, grandson of the British ‘Tommy’ who was tragically killed by a sniper less than a month before the end of the First World War.
“To think that he was the only VC winner in the whole of South Ribble is pretty special. And for him to be honoured with a special plaque in his hometown is just brilliant. He deserved it.”
Frank laid a wreath with another of Cpl McNamara’s grandchildren, Stella Holmes, during the touching service attended by more than 100 guests and onlookers.
“Grandad McNamara remains a big hero to all the family, even though none of us are old enough to have known him,” said Stella. “It’s marvellous that he is being honoured in this way 100 years after he won the VC.”
A card attached to their wreath read: “For our Grandad McNamara. We’ll remember you always.”
It was on this day, September 3, a century ago that Cpl McNamara saved the lives of many of his comrades near Lens, France with an act which, according to his VC citation, showed “conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty.”
When he died aged 30 on October 16 - just 43 days later - he was unaware his heroics had earned him the highest medal for gallantry on the battlefield. It was presented to his widow by King George V at Buckingham Palace in February 1920.
The Mayor of South Ribble, Coun John Rainsbury, told the family at the memorial dedication ceremony: “We hope that today brings you pride, pride that lasts a lifetime.
“We are here to honour the most brave of men.”
Fr Mark Harold, priest at St Mary’s Church where Cpl McNamara worshipped, told the audience: “We are gathered here to give thanks for a great man of our town.
He was killed tragically close to the end of the war without knowing his exploits had been rewarded with the VC.
“It was a blinding act of bravery, an awesome act of bravery.”
The plaque, which was unveiled as a piper played a lament, is mounted on York stone and is one of 469 around the UK to honour VC winners.
Wreaths were also laid by Coun Mary Green, leader of South Ribble Council, MPs Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) and Seema Kennedy (South Ribble), an officer from the East Surrey Regiment, which Cpl McNamara was serving in when he won the VC, and also a representative of the Royal British Legion.