The cockerel that helped the war effort

The cockerel auction; picture: Ken & Joyce Graham
The cockerel auction; picture: Ken & Joyce Graham

EVERY picture tells a story although in this age of digital manipulation whether it’s a truthful one is often open to debate.

But with postcards and snapshots of yesteryear what you see is what you get, albeit with the misfortune of often having no clue as to the event or specific location.

Therefore unless family members or elderly residents can assist, it’s left to the imagination to provide a no doubt over romanticised interpretation.

Yet there’s no doubt about the story regarding this scene and it’s all thanks to no less than the ‘V.C. Cockerel,’ ‘Mr Fyson’s famous bird.’ This wording is just discernible on the notice on the platform and identifies the event to be a Red Cross sale held on Market Hill, Newport Pagnell, on Wednesday, April 24, 1918.

The cockerel had been purchased by Frank Fyson for 2s at Warboys Red Cross Sale in October 1915, and being above military age, and with no sons, he determined to raise at least £1,000 for wounded soldiers.

A legend among its feathered friends, during 103 previous sales his ‘V.C. Cockerel’ had raised £8,212 for the Red Cross and the intention was for it to be auctioned and then repeatedly handed back for re-auction.

In the photo the cockerel’s cage is seen almost centre in front of the platform. As for the human element, for me this photo epitomises how in times of crisis the nation’s population swiftly unites, in whichever way they can. On parade to the left are the Royal Engineers stationed in the town. Opposite, sporting their distinctive armbands, are the Special Constables – local men not eligible for the Army but who, apart from their normal employment, have taken the place of those members of the regular police now in the Forces.

Behind them, in their distinctive floppy hats, are women of the Women’s Land Army, among whom are perhaps the daughters of the Reverend Easson, from Chicheley, who by touring the town attired in their WLA Uniforms collected £14 6s 6d with a barrel organ.

Within this vicinity are the wounded soldiers from the VAD Hospital at Tickford Abbey, and some of the nurses can be seen in the upper right. Having gained the necessary qualification many local girls would fulfil this role, including Daphne Trevor from Lathbury Park.

On the platform seated on the far right is Colonel Butler, the owner of Tickford Abbey, and alongside him is his wife.

The proceeds were to be divided between the British Farmers’ Red Cross Fund and the Bucks Branch of the Red Cross Society and even before the sale substantial donations had been received.

Mr P.C. Gambell acted as the honorary auctioneer and his office staff – Miss Geary, Miss Cox, Miss Inns and Mr. Hedge – all worked hard throughout the day.

Having been invited to open the sale, the Marquis of Lincolnshire after taking lunch at the Vicarage inspected the Guard of Honour of the Volunteers and Special Constables and, after a similar inspection of the WLA and wounded soldiers, was welcomed onto the platform from where, at 2pm, he expressed thanks for his kind invitation.

Addressing the numerous audience he recalled his boyhood memories of the district and then praised the Army, Volunteers, Special Constables, WLA and nurses, saying that although for three years he had acted as Lord Chamberlain to Queen Victoria, thus attending many Drawing Rooms, he had never seen a better group of young women than the representatives of the WLA.

Ending his address he then called for three cheers for the King, plus an extra cheer for the Prince of Wales. Bidding £5 he then put the ‘Cockerel’ up for sale, after which Mr Gambell took over and a sum of £60 6s was obtained.

Later in the afternoon at a meeting of the Farmers’ Union he again offered the bird and this time a further £69 10s 6d was secured, plus a further £23 7s 6d in the evening.

So had it not been for a famous chicken this postcard scene would have remained a complete mystery. In fact by the end of the war the bird had been sold 12,237 times and raised £14,517.

And so if any descendants of the VC Cockerel get to see this article, then they’ll certainly have something to crow about.