Published on October 1st, 2015 | by Alexander Evans1
Who was Trooper Potts?
This Sunday will see the formal unveiling of the Trooper Potts Memorial at The Forbury. The sculpture recognises the only person in Reading’s history to receive the Victoria Cross and yet few people in town know his story. From his humble beginnings in Katesgrove to his fateful moment of courage in the First World War – find out more about one of the bravest and most gallant figures in Reading’s past.
Before the War
If you visit Katesgrove School you can find a small plaque in memory of Frederick William Owen Potts who grew up at Edgehill Street in South Reading.
Potts was highly intelligent and upon leaving school he began work as a fitter at the local Pulsometer Engineering Works while in the evenings he studied mechanics, mathematics and machine construction and what was once University College Reading.
He soon joined the Berkshire Yeomanry and demonstrated his bravery and compassion in 1913 and he saved a young man drowning in the Thames. Fully clothed in his ‘Sunday best’, Fred Potts joined into the Thames, reached out to the boy, pulled him back onto land and resuscitated him.
This incident made Potts a minor celebrity in Reading but it was two years later during the fighting of the First World War when Trooper Potts was recognised as a true hero.
The Battle of Scimitar Hill
Potts and his unit were shipped out to Egypt in 1915 and soon found themselves involved in the Gallipoli Campaign directed against the Ottoman Empire. However, it was during the last British offensive in the campaign – ‘The Battle of Scimitar Hill’ – that Trooper Potts excelled himself.
Along with his fellow Yeomen, Potts charged towards the summit of the hill but soon was shot through the leg and fell to the ground. As he attempted to find cover from the Turkish machine guns he heard the sound of a fellow wounded trooper who was crawling towards him.
The man was a fellow Readingite: a bicyle repair man named Arthur Andrews who only lived a short distance from Potts.
The two men spent the afternoon trapped on the battlefield as the fighting continued around them. Some of their fellow Yeomen had reached the Turkish trenches but the regiment had suffered almost a 50% casualty rate.
The two men spent three days trapped on the battlefield together. Writhing in pain from their injuries, burning under the hot Turkish sun and sucking stalks off shrubs for moisture.
By the third day, they had only managed to crawl halfway towards safety and were in danger of dying from their injuries, hungry or thirst. However, when things seemed most hopeless, Trooper Potts suddenly had a moment of inspiration.
Realising Andrews was close to death he spotted a discarded shovel on the battlefield. Potts sat the injured trooper on the blade and dragged Andrews the rest of the way downhill to safety. Despite his injuries, the danger of fighting around them and Andrews’ calls to leave him behind, Potts managed to drag themselves both to safety as they were spotted by the 6th royal Iniskilling Fusiliers.
As the pair were being fed and nursed to health, the fusiliers heard of Potts’ bravery and were astonished by the story. Soon enough, Potts was recommended to receive the Victoria Cross – the highest award for valour in the British Army.
After the War
Potts was soon returned to England to recover from his wounds. He learned news of his award while in hospital and returned home as a hero.
The Berkshire Territorial Association gave him a desk and his employers presented him with a watch, a tea service and a clock. He even received £25 of war bands from Mr Keep in Newbury as recognised for being the first Berkshire Yeoman to receive the Victoria Cross.
Following the war, Potts soon married and set up a tailor business on Alpine Street and stood in local council elections. Sadly, Potts did not have a long life and died at the age of 50 on 2nd November 1943.
However, the impact of Potts’ bravery was felt for generations. Arthur Andrews managed to live a long old life and died at the age of 89 in 1980.
In 2009, BBC Radio Berkshire helped reunite the grandchildren of Potts and Andrews who had been living streets apart in Reading without knowing of each other’s existence.
Trooper Potts may not be the most famous or influential person in Reading’s history but his story is one worth telling. The new memorial which will be unveiled this weekend is a long overdue recognition from Reading of one of its bravest and most courageous figures.