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Street named in honour of local First World War hero

Article date - 28 July 2017

A new street in Sutton has been named in honour of a local war hero, who received a Victoria Cross (VC) medal – the highest award available – for gallantry in the face of the enemy during the First World War.
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Dozens of Sergeant John ‘Jack’ Molyneux’s descendants and their families gathered at a special ribbon cutting ceremony earlier today (Friday 28 July) attended by St Helens’ Mayor and Mayoress Councillor Joe Pearson and wife Sylvia, as John Molyneux VC Close was officially unveiled.

John won the Victoria Cross for his brave actions on the front near Langemarck, Belgium on 9 October 1917 when the British attack was held up by machine gun fire from a German trench.

John, aged 26 at the time, organised a bombing party which captured the gun and killed the crew. He then jumped from the trench, calling for his comrades to follow him, running to a nearby house that was occupied by the enemy. Before any help could arrive, John became engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The enemy quickly surrendered and 20-30 prisoners were taken.

John was presented with the Victoria Cross on his return to Britain by King George V, and was given a hero’s welcome when he finally came home to St Helens. Here, he was invited by the Mayor of St Helens to speak on the town hall steps to a jubilant crowd. John said at the time:

“The Victoria Cross has not made me a proud man; not at all. I have seen thousands of men earn it but they have not got it. I got mine because it was rather a high position, and I was seen by four or five others and I got four recommendations. I know the boys who were with me are all worthy of the VC. I am sorry to say most of them got wounded… The position we rushed was where the bullets were coming from that wounded our men. I set my teeth, and you know what it is when a British bulldog sets its teeth; it goes red-hot into it.”

John’s signature was recorded in the Mayoral Parlour’s register on his visit in 1918, and was recently found in the Gamble building archives.

Mayor of St Helens, Councillor Joe Pearson, said: “It’s a privilege to announce the naming of John Molyneux VC Close. Sergeant Molyneux’s story is one of great bravery and loyalty to his brothers in arms in the face of peril, but as John himself humbly says, it’s a story shared by so many young men – around the world – who went to war, with many never to return. Let us celebrate his valour and remember all those who fought for their country.”

John Molyneux was born at number 3 Marshalls Cross Road on 22 November 1890, to mother Minnie and coal miner father Joseph, who worked as a hewer at Sherdley Colliery. The family moved to 8 Manor Street in 1891, and shortly afterwards moved to Ell Bess Lane, which in 1902 was renamed Sherdley Road.

John, known locally as Jack, was educated at Holy Trinity School but left at the age of 12 to work in the mines.

John died on 25 March 1972 at Ashtons Green Home in Parr, aged 81. He was cremated at St Helens Cemetery and his ashes were scattered in the Garden of Remembrance.

Among multiple generations of family members, guests at the ceremony included Colonel Mike Glover (Lancs. Area Secretary The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers) (the regiment in which John served) and Cllr Seve Gomez-Aspron, the council's Armed Forces Champion.

The street naming is part of a programme of work by St Helens Council and partners to honour the borough’s four VC recipients on the centenaries of their presentations, including John Molyneux.

Already it has seen an honorary paving stone laid by the Cenotaph war memorial on Victoria Square in recognition of Company Sergeant Major Frederick William Hall, who was killed in action in Belgium during the Second Battle of Ypres. Frederick had crawled out from his trench into no man’s land to rescue a wounded soldier, but was shot and killed in the act.

The Newton and Earlestown Community Group are also raising funds to erect a statue in 2018 to commemorate Newton-born Private Norman Harvey, who received his Victoria Cross for actions in battle at Ingoyhem, Belgium in October 1918. Norman’s battalion was stopped by machine gun fire and suffering casualties when he ran forward and engaged the enemy single-handed, killing two, wounding one and capturing 12 men and two guns. A Newton street has already been named in his honour.

The final VC recipient is Corporal John Thomas Davies, who, on 24 March 1918, leapt to defend his comrades as they retreated, firing his Lewis gun into the enemy and stalling their advance. Captured and later released, John spent the majority of his life in St Helens, and was buried in St Helens Cemetery upon his death in 1955. Plans to commemorate John will be revealed next year on the centenary of his VC presentation.