On our letters page this week (30 July 2015), we carry a letter from Normandy veteran Dr Ken Tout OBE, a former tank commander, who is writing a book about VC winners and what kind of people they were in ordinary life.
He wants information about Congleton’s Sgt George Harold Eardley, and I was able to send him an editorial from 2014 that outlined how Sgt Eardley was an out-and-out rogue, whose bad behaviour forced him to leave town. (Dr Tout was delighted — some VC winners were noble men, others were not and it takes all sorts).
Sgt Eardley won his VC by storming three machine gun posts in Holland in 1944, but I knew of a dark rumour — which no-one has written about before — that Sgt Eardley did not actually do the deed himself, but shot the chap who did and claimed all the credit.
When I posted Dr Tout’s appeal on Facebook, two separate people contacted me with this same rumour, one having been told it by his father, a contemporary of Sgt Eardley’s.
It seems the rumour must have been a common in Congleton after the war, and a widely held belief among Congletonians. Maybe that was why Sgt Eardley left town.
In the sergeant’s defence, I have to say that former Chronicle editor Lionel Head, who lamented Sgt Eardley’s behaviour in the paper at the time, cast no aspersions on Sgt Eardley’s bravery in action. Lionel’s successor John Condliffe, who knew Sgt Eardley well, also did not believe the tale.
And logically it makes no sense, either. When the machine gun nests were stormed Sgt Eardley would not know that this action would win a VC, so would have no reason to shoot anyone, if that is what happened.
Far more likely is that it was a rumour started by friends and neighbours who could not square Sgt Eardley’s terrible behaviour at home with the bravery he showed in winning the VC.
If anyone has more information, I’d be delighted to hear of it, as would Dr Tout.
A flawed hero is much more interesting than a noble one!
See here for the original blog and Lionel Head’s comments: https://wordpress.com/post/44949309/6/