Plans to honour Plymouth veteran who is the only British WW1 serviceman buried in Spain

-Credit: (Image: The Image Bank RF/Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: The Image Bank RF/Getty Images)

Plans are being made to commemorate the life of the only British serviceman killed in enemy action during the First World War to be buried in Spain. Victor Egbert Earl, from Plymouth, died fighting for his country, aged just 27, after his boat was torpedoed off the coast of Italy.

But his remains later washed up nearly 500 miles away in Spain where he became the only one of the one million men from Britain and its former Empire killed during the conflict to be buried here. There is one more soldier buried at Bilbao, who died of disease.

Efforts are now being made to raise awareness of Vic's extraordinary story and to reunite him with his medals and artefacts that are currently being held by the James Garnett Foundation.

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Chas Sandbach, of the foundation, said Vic's story was completely unique and they wanted to plan a full scale commemoration of him. He said: "In one of the most extraordinary burials of British servicemen of the First World War he was eventually interred in an over-ground mausoleum, the Tarragona British Cemetery (Cementiri del Jans).

"Within the run-down building some British sailors, including a number from the Victorian period are also entombed. Vic's widow received his British War Medal (his sole medal entitlement), a WW1 Memorial Plaque and the King's Scroll.

"Essentially, we can never forget that Vic answered the call of his country for which he made the ultimate sacrifice. Victor's artefacts, his full entitlements of the WW1 British War Medal, the Memorial Plaque and King's Scroll and currently held in the custodianship of the James Garnett Foundation.

"The foundation wishes to repatriate these artefacts where they can be seen upon display, preferably in Spain, where Victor lies at rest as the only British serviceman to be killed in WW1 by an enemy action who is interred in the entire nation of Spain.

"The foundation is actually making efforts in Spain for this to eventually happen as well as hopefully one-day organise a special dedicated memorial service for him.

"Taking into consideration that around a million men of the British, former Empire and Dominion forces were actually killed by enemy action during WW1, here we have Victor and the circumstances surrounding his tragic end literally making him a one-in-a-million statistic.

"The macabre drama of him floating 500-miles across the Mediterranean Sea from the coast of Italy to be washed-up on a Spanish beach is literally a story within a story and so very sad."

The foundation has even uncovered a picture of Vic, who was born on Christmas Day 1889 at Old Brompton, Chatham, Kent. He was the youngest son of a Royal Navy Officer.

Still as a tiny infant he moved with his family to Plymouth, Devon, where he would eventually become well-known and respected in the city.

For a short period of time at the turn of the twentieth century Vic lived in British Columbia, Canada, where his father was posted on service.

The family returned to Plymouth before his father's retirement from the Royal Navy.

In 1909, Vic started his career at the Post Office as a Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist, where he was highly thought of as a model employee. Vic was outgoing and popular with his friends and colleagues.

His talents were to hold audiences, he was a well-respected tenor and member of the Western Amateur Operatic Society, Vic appeared regularly in local newspapers.

He was also a part of St. Simon's Choir and later St. Andrew's Choir in Plymouth. Vic married at the age of 24 in 1914 at St. Columb, Cornwall, to Ada [Louise] Conway.

Tragically, the couple never had the opportunity to raise their daughter Victoria together, as she was born four-months after Victor's death.

As the Great War (1914-18) raged, Vic joined the Royal Engineers, his talents as a telegraphist would see him dispatched to the Base Signals Depot.

In 1917 he was to be deployed to Egypt, where masses of British and (former) Empire troops were staged to move on to war-zones in Palestine and Mesopotamia.

On May 3 1917, Vic embarked upon the troopship 'Transylvania' to set sail from Marseille for Egypt with a couple of pre-detailed prior stop-off's planned on-route. A day later disaster struck. In the Bay of Genoa, north-west Italy, the German submarine SMU-63 twice torpedoed the Transylvania.

Two escort ships managed to rescue most of those on board, but Vic along with 411 other souls perished, 275 of the victims were never found. Vic's body was driven by the forces of nature 500-miles westwards where eventually he was washed-up on a Spanish beach near Tarragona.

Mr Sandbach said the work of the foundation was to give a proper home to the artefacts belonging to Victor. He said: "The James Garnett Foundation relies entirely upon funding, through membership and donations to administer honourable work in challenging times.

"Henceforth, the custodianship and possession of these artefacts will have to be sold on to an appropriate person or authority to help to continue to raise funds."

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