Commemorative stone to be unveiled to honour East Ham World War I Hero

27 March 2017 in Events and Mayor
The courageous actions that earned an East Ham man a Victoria Cross (VC) in World War I are to be marked by Newham Council next month with the unveiling of a commemorative stone.
​Lance-Corporal Harold Sanford Mugford received a VC – the highest award for gallantry a member of the British and Commonwealth military services can achieve – for his actions during the battle for Arras in northern France in April 1917.

The Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, will lead a ceremony to unveil the special stone in his honour at the Cenotaph in Central Park on Tuesday 11 April. Sir Robin will unveil the stone with the Honorary Secretary of the Machine Gun Corps Old Comrades Association, Judith Lappin.

The service, starting at 2.30pm will also be attended by Colonel Vic Matthews OBE, of Colonel Reserves London District and Reg Pinney, Chairman of the Greater London District of the Royal British Legion. The blessing of the memorial stone will be carried out by the Chaplin to East Ham and District Branch of the Royal British Legion, Reverend Fred Ashford –Oaki.

Five people from Newham received the VC during World War I, and Newham Council is honouring all of them with a special commemorative stone at the Cenotaph. All of the stones are being unveiled around the 100th anniversary of the act of bravery they received the award for.

The stone for Lance-Corporal Mugford will be the fourth of the five stones unveiled since 2015.

Harold Sanford Mugford was born on 31 August 1894, the middle son of Richard Mugford, a solicitor’s clerk, and his wife Rose. When he was a child, the family moved to Wyndham Road, East Ham, and later to Gillett Avenue. He went to Shrewsbury Road School and after leaving became a clerk with a shipping company called Furness Withy.

In 1912 he joined the volunteer cavalry unit the Essex Yeomanry which was mobilised at the start of the war. After training in Suffolk, Harold was posted to France in November 1914. 

In March 1916 he was transferred from the Essex Yeomanry to the Machine Gun Corps. On 11 April 1917, during the battle for Arras in northern France, his unit was ordered to capture the high ground on the east and north east of Monchy-le-Preux, a village about five miles east of Arras.

Harold and another soldier were in an exposed area of the battlefield. They both came under fire, and his comrade was killed. Harold was wounded, and an incoming shell left him with two broken legs. Despite his injuries Harold remained at his post, providing covering fire for his unit and inflicting damage on the enemy.

He was taken to a dressing station to have his wounds dealt with, but was again wounded in the arm whilst there. Harold was not expected to survive but lived and was brought back to England where he needed six operations. Both his legs were amputated above the knee. The wound in his arm was treated and shrapnel embedded in his hip, tongue and jaw was removed. 

After the war he married Amy Key in 1919 at All Saints’ Church, Forest Gate. Later they moved to Chelmsford. He died on 16 June 1958 and had a military funeral in Chelmsford Cathedral. His VC medal is currently on long-term loan to the Imperial War Museum.

Sir Robin said: “The heroic actions of Lance-Corporal Mugford and the sacrifices made by all those who have served, or who are currently serving this country, should never be forgotten.

“Lance-Corporal Mugford was one of five people from Newham whose valour and total dedication to their fellow soldiers during World War I saw them awarded the highest honour for bravery a soldier can receive.

“What they went through must have been terrifying but they put this fear aside to help their fellow soldiers. They are inspirational stories that all of us can learn from and these memorial stones will be a permanent tribute to their actions.”