A UNION Flag draped over a freshly sited memorial plaque marked the grave of an unlikely war hero.
Rev James Williams Adams, the only clergyman to be awarded the Victoria Cross, is buried at Ashwell where he was rector from 1901 until his death in 1903. On Sunday worshippers gathered in the sunshine at St Mary's church to celebrate his life and commemorate the restoration of his memorial.
In 1879 the Cork-born cleric singlehandedly saved the lives of three soldiers while on attachment to the 9th Lancers in Afghanistan. Despite being under heavy fire, he not only managed to free the troopers from their fallen horses but to wade a flooded ditch to safety.
The remarkable rector was 64 when he died, having suffered badly from rheumatism in later years. Only five civilians have received the bravery award which was instituted in 1857.
Mr Adams was aide to military hero Field-Marshal Lord Roberts, who travelled to Ashwell to attend his funeral. He was also honorary chaplain to both Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.
Sunday's ceremony included a church service conducted by the Rev Geoffrey Angell. It was attended by Mr Adams' only living relative, his great-granddaughter Judy Doulton of Kensington, London. Also present were Ashwell's parish patron, the Viscountess Downe, who had travelled from her home near Scarborough; and Lady Rose Hare - churchwarden at Stow Bardolph, Norfolk, where the rector ministered before moving to Ashwell.
Lady Rose brought Mr Adams' personal Credence table which accompanied him throughout India and Afghanistan.
The grave in Ashwell churchyard remained largely untouched for over a century until David and Liz Pettifer - who live in Mr Adams' former home, Ashwell House - launched a campaign to restore it. Contributors included Prince Charles, in his capacity as patron of the Victoria Cross Association, and the Duchess of Cornwall, who joined members of the association and many other donors in contributing to an appeal which eventually raised 4,000. The grave's stone cross was then righted and a raised plaque installed in front of the original headstone on which the lettering had become indistinct.
"This is a very proud day for me and I am honoured to be here," said Mrs Doulton, who was accompanied by her husband Antony, a member of the distinguished Doulton pottery family.
"The family rarely talked about James but I believe he was a rather stern fellow, yet loving in a very Victorian way," she said. "He was certainly a keen horseman and rode to hounds at every opportunity. He married his wife Alice quite late in life and they had just the one daughter. The mystery is that no evidence exists of his will and we have no idea where his Victoria Cross is."
The church service included patriotic hymns and contributions from the Hon Nicholas Crossley, formerly of the 9th/12th Lancers and Major David Chappell, regimental secretary of the Lancers. The Rev Brian Nichols, chaplain to the Rutland section of the Royal British Legion, also spoke and Mrs Doulton read extracts from an account of Mr Adams’ life as written in 1936 by his daughter Lady Edith Northcote for her family. Representatives of the Royal British Legion and RAF Cottesmore, whose Harrier crews are currently engaged in Afghanistan, also attended.
Former Lancer Harry Whitwell, 78, travelled from Lincoln to play the Last Post and Reveille, and the card on the memorial plaque said it all. “To the memory of a very gallant clergyman,” it read. “From the PCC. The Lord WAS his shepherd.”