When community correspondent Melanie Wright spotted a public notice in the Medway Messenger about plans by the Victoria Cross Trust to take over care of the headstone of a Medway VC winner at Chatham Cemetery, she decided to investigate. Who was the hero behind the memorial?
Joseph Kellaway, who was presented with the VC by Queen Victoria in Hyde Park
Not expecting to be ambushed by 50 terrifying Russians, Joseph Kellaway – with four other men – became fearful.
They had been caught trying to set fire to fishing boats, fishing stations and haystacks.
Kellaway – a 30-year-old Royal Naval Boatswain on HMS Wrangler – the mate and three seamen were under orders to carry out these deeds on behalf of Queen Victoria. The ship was in the Sea of Azov, to the south of Russia and Ukraine. It was August 31, 1855, and the Crimean War.
Having been put ashore on the Ukrainian coast near Mariupol, and about to set the fires in an attempt to disrupt Russian supplies to Crimea, Kellaway and the others were shot at by the band of Russians who had been lying in wait.
Sensing that they would be overpowered, the small British crew tactically retreated. One seaman fell into enemy hands. Kellaway and the two other seamen carried on running, but then the mate, Mr Odevaine, fell.
Without hesitation, Kellaway ran back to assist his commanding officer, but as he lifted him off the ground, they too were captured.
He recalled: “Five men sprang upon me, four laying hold of my hands and feet, while the fifth held on to my beard.
“I succeeded at last in throwing off four of my captors, but the remaining one managed to retain his hold upon my beard until the rest, recovering themselves, came to his assistance. Taking me by the heels, they pulled me along in that position for a long distance.
“Eventually, Mr Odevaine, a seaman, and myself were tied to trees, a good space apart, expecting every moment to be shot. Our anticipations on that score were fortunately not realised, and we were shortly afterwards taken up into the interior as far as Taganrog.”
On a scorching hot day in June, 1857, at a ceremony in London’s Hyde Park, Boatswain
Kellaway was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s newest and highest medal for gallantry and courage, by Queen Victoria.
By the end of his naval career at Chatham Dockyard in 1878, he had been decorated 10 times, including France’s Légion d’honneur. Joseph Kellaway VC died in 1880. His simple stone lies in the cemetery in Maidstone Road, Chatham.
Medway Council intends to hand over the responsibility and maintenance of his grave to The Victoria Cross Trust.
The memorial to Joseph Kellaway in Chatham Cemetery
Tucked away in plot 579 section N, it is sinking and partially covered in grass at the edges. But the trust now hopes to give it the protection and attention it deserves, initially by underpinning it so that it stops sinking.
Victoria Cross Trust chairman Gary Stapleton said: “It’s been a long time coming. After a certain length of time councils can resell the graves, so we wanted to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“Only a small number of VCs were killed in action so the rest are not being looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.”