The Cheshire CPG was invited to perform the unveiling of a plaque in The Municipal Buildings in Crewe to honour the memory of four Crewe Division members of the St John Ambulance Brigade.
The men lost their lives when HMS Formidable was sunk by a torpedo from a German submarine in the English Channel on 1st January 1915.
Twins John and Henri Villiers-Russell, Albert Edward Kinlay and James Burnell are commemorated on a new plaque kindly donated by Bentley Motors and crafted by apprentices in their woodwork shop. The plaque was unveiled by Barbara Smith DStJ and Yvonne Albon DStJ on 7th January exactly one hundred and two years after the twins were buried in Coppenhall Cemetery, Crewe. The bodies of Albert and James were never recovered.
Also attending the ceremony were The Mayor of Cheshire East Cllr Olivia Hunter, members of the Crewe Branch of the Royal Naval Association and Crewe Historical Society. The twins were employed in the Joiners shop of the Locomotive Works in Crewe. Both were prominent in Primitive Methodist circles and together they ran the Sunday School at Henry Street chapel. In addition John and Henri were members of the St John Ambulance Brigade and the Royal Navy Sick Berth Reserve. At that time the Division was based in Chetwode Street, Crewe where the men were “drilled and trained in First Aid.”
During the works annual holiday in 1914 the twins together with Albert and James joined HMS Formidable as sick berth attendants for training purposes but a few days later war was declared and none of the four ever returned home again.
The new plaque replaces one from 1994 which caused a considerable debate within the Historical Society culminating in a new book “The Villiers-Russell Twins” written by Mark Potts and Tony Marks and published by Mpire Books. The profits from the sales of the book will be used to install a Defib in Crewe Town Centre dedicated to the men and St John Ambulance.
Mark and Tony are continuing to research the project, including help from the St John Museum, and are keen to locate any St John records about the men and the early years of the Division.
The new Defib will mean that these four St John Ambulance Brigade men are, even over a hundred years later, still involved in potentially saving lives in furtherance of the aims of The Order of St John.
Photos courtesy John Royal, Crewe Camera Club