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What the Potts story means to me
By Graham McKechnie
BBC Berkshire reporter

Graham McKechnie at Lala Baba
Graham McKechnie followed in Potts' footsteps at Gallipoli

It was the military historian Jon Cooksey who first mentioned the name Fred Potts to me.

We were on a ferry from Ypres where we had been making a documentary about the rugby player Ronald Poulton Palmer, who died in the First World War.

We were asking ourselves what our next project should be.

Jon mentioned there had only been one Victoria Cross winner from Reading - Fred Potts - who won the medal at Gallipoli in 1915.

He had stumbled across the story while giving a talk at Katesgrove Primary School about rationing in the Second World War.

There was a small plaque on the wall commemorating the heroics of one of their old boys.

It was immediately clear to me that the story of Fred Potts deserved to be told once more and that he should be better remembered in his home town.

Fred Potts
Fred Potts was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery

It is a remarkable tale by any standards - a man who lived a very ordinary life in every other way did something of breath-taking bravery, saving his townsman, Arthur Andrews, by dragging him on a shovel under heavy Turkish fire.

The story still resonates powerfully today. The men of Potts' regiment, the Berkshire Yeomanry, were part-time soldiers, doing jobs we can still relate to today: postmen, teachers, factory workers, farmers and plumbers.

The voices of these men can still be heard, through the remarkable archive of letters and photographs collected by the Berkshire Yeomanry museum in Windsor.

Thanks to Jon Cooksey and the Berkshire Yeomanry Museum, we had a story and the research could begin in earnest.

We also had the locations for the documentary - we knew where the Berkshire Yeomanry landed at Gallipoli, where the battle was fought and closer to home, Fred Potts' house still stood in Katesgrove in Reading.

The only element missing was the relatives of Potts and Andrews. The former were relatively easy to trace, as Potts' Victoria Cross was on display at the Imperial War Museum, loaned by the family.

Finding the Andrews family proved to be considerably more troublesome and relied on an enormous stroke of good fortune.

Jon Cooksey
Jon Cooksey travelled with Graham McKechnie to Gallipoli

I spoke to Colonel Robertson from the Berkshire Yeomanry who had a vague recollection of meeting a relative of Arthur Andrews in the past and had an idea his name may have been Chris and he possibly lived in the Reading area.

This was not much to go on, but a start.

This is where luck played its part. The first person I speculatively called turned out to be the right one. We had our relatives and they were brought together for the first time at the Imperial War Museum for the documentary.

Travelling to Turkey to visit the Gallipoli battlefields was central to making the documentary.

Although Australians and New Zealanders travel to Gallipoli in their thousands to pay homage to their compatriots who died in the battle, there are few British visitors.

Consequently the battlefields are almost as they were 94 years ago. Hundreds of discarded rum jars litter the hillside where the Berkshire Yeomanry camped; shell fragments are easily found on the slopes of Scimitar Hill, where they made their fateful charge.

Researching, organising, recording and editing the documentary has taken the best part of a year and I owe many people a large debt of gratitude.

There is Jon Cooksey of course, my partner-in-crime, who has put up with my idiosyncratic production techniques; Andrew French from the Berkshire Yeomanry Museum and everyone from the regiment could not have been more helpful; Charlie Baker provided the voice for Fred Potts.

There are others too, whose good nature I have exploited and to whom I am indebted.


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