Abraham Acton VC

Abraham Acton VC (17 December 1893 – 16 May 1915) was a recipient of the Victoria Cross during World War I. The award is the highest and most prestigious, for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

He was born at 2 Tyson’s Court, behind Roper Street, Whitehaven. His father was Robert Acton, a fisherman and mariner, who served with the Royal Engineers (Inland Waterways and Docks) from February 1917 until March 1918 reaching the rank of Company Sergeant Major. Abraham’s mother was Elizabeth Eleanor nee Armstrong. His parents were married at Holy Trinity Church, Whitehaven on 23rd July 1890. Abraham had five brothers, six sisters and a half-sister. His paternal grandparents came from Ireland.

Abraham was educated at Crosthwaite Memorial School from 1899 to 1906 and also attended West Strand Mission Sunday School. He was then employed as a general labourer by United Steel at No 10 Colliery, Lowca, Whitehaven. Abraham was a member of the Juvenile Orange Lodge of England and became the first Orangeman to be awarded the VC in the Great War.

He enlisted in 5th Border (Territorial Force), transferred to Regular service with the 2nd Battalion on 17th January 1914 and went to France with his unit on 25th November 1914. Less than a month later, he would be awarded the Victoria Cross.

He was 22 years old, and a private in the 2nd Battalion, The Border Regiment, British Army during the First World War. He and James Alexander Smith, were both awarded their Victoria Cross for their actions on 21 December 1914 at Rouges Bancs, France. His award was:
For conspicuous bravery on the 21st December, at Rouges-Bancs, in voluntarily going from his trench and rescuing a wounded man who had been lying exposed against the enemy's trenches for 75 hours; and on the same day again leaving his trench voluntarily, under heavy fire to bring into cover another wounded man. He was under fire for 60 minutes whilst conveying the wounded men into safety.
He was also mentioned in despatches twice. Sir John French presented the VC ribbon to him in France, but the date of this not known. Before his VC could be presented formally, Abraham was killed in action at Festubert, France on 16th May 1915 and is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, France, as his body sadly was not recovered.

In June 1915, the following appeared in the Whitehaven News:
KILLED IN ACTION PRIVATE ABRAHAM ACTON - On Thursday morning, Mrs Acton, of 14a Peter Street, Whitehaven, received an official intimation from No. 3, District Record Office, Preston, dated June 1st, 1915, conveying the sad news that her son, Private Abraham Acton, V.C. of the 2nd Battalion the Border Regiment, had been killed in action in France on the 16th of May. 
Private Action, V.C. was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Acton of 14a Peter Street, Whitehaven and was formerly a member of "A" Company, 5th Battalion Border Regiment and on the recommendation of Captain R. R. Blair he joined the 2nd Border Regiment in January, 1914. Deceased was about 22 years if age, and spent his last birthday (December 17th) in the trenches, where some four days later he gained the V.C. 
Private Acton was educated at the Crosthwaite Memorial School, under Mr. D. Lindow, and he had always been popular amongst his comrades in the army and companions in civil life. He was an old scholar of the Hogarth Mission Sunday School, and his name is on the Mission "R011 of Honour". 
Private Acton wrote on January 2nd to his mother, - "We are expecting the Victoria Cross, two of us, for bringing in two wounded men under fire from the Germans. The General has recommended us for it. So you will see I have not been idle out here." 
Later the Mayor of Whitehaven forwarded Private Acton a telegram conveying hearty congratulations on the distinction conferred upon him, and stating that his valour reflected great credit on himself, and brought honour to his native town. They were all proud of him and wished him a safe return. The sad news of his death has been keenly felt by the townspeople and much sympathy has been expressed to his mother and family in the great loss they have sustained. 
Abraham never married, but is understood to have been engaged to a girl called Kitty at the time of his death. The VC was presented to his parents by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 25th November 1916. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The medals were donated by his brother Charles to the town of Whitehaven in October 1951 and are held at The Beacon Museum.

As part of a government scheme to commemorate all UK born VC recipients from World War 1, in the town of their birth, a memorial in his honour was unveiled on Sunday 21 December 2014, the 100th anniversary of the battle in which he fought.

The memorial is an inscribed stone set in a frame and located on Lowther Street, Whitehaven, at the entrance to St Nicholas Gardens. Descendants of the Acton family attended the unveiling, together with civic leaders and representatives from the military. The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Cumbria, Mrs Deborah Keighley conducted the ceremony.

Abraham Acton VC
Abraham Acton VC

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ABOUT WHITEHAVEN
Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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