George Mitchell was one of two former pupils of a Leyton school to be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. As today’s pupils find out about the man who their school is named after, ZOIE O’BRIEN hears from his nephew on how he believes his uncle would have liked to inspire new generations.
In January 1944, Private George Mitchell and his colleagues in the London Scottish Batalion were in immediate danger.
It was the day after the allied landings in Italy and British forces were attempting to get a foothold in hills around the harbour town of Anzio, in the Lazio region.
But Private Mitchell’s two commanding officers were injured and his platoon were outnumbered and outgunned on Damiano Ridge.
The 31-year-old single-handedly stormed three enemy positions. He then stormed the fourth having run out ammunition.
Having secured the platoon’s position, he was then shot by a German soldier who had earlier surrendered.
An article published on August 10, 1944 in the London Gazette described the remarkable feat of heroism.
It said: "His complete disregard of the enemy fire, the fearless way in which he continually exposed himself, and his refusal to accept defeat, so inspired his comrades that together they succeeded in overcoming and defeating an enemy superior in numbers."
The Victoria Cross was presented to Private Mitchell’s father, Edward, by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on July 17 1945.
And Private Mitchell’s actions surprised his family, according his nephew, also George Mitchell, describing him as a “quiet and reserved” man.
Speaking during a visit to the school in Farmer Road on Friday, Mr Mitchell also believes his uncle would not want his achievement to inspire young people to join up for the Armed Forces.
The 68-year-old said: "I do not think my uncle would want working class children like him to go to war again - that is not the message he or I would want.
"What I believe can be taken from his example is that capacity to dig deep within yourself and to call upon that reserve of strength.”
The secondary aspect of the school was named after Private Mitchell in 1957. In recent years it has become an all-through school, including a primary school.
The Victoria Cross was held by the school until 2007 when it was sold to the London Scottish regiment for £150,000.
The money was donated to the school and spent on computer equipment.
Head teacher Saeed Hussain described the former pupil as a ‘huge inspiration’ to teachers and pupils at the school.
He said: "I am very proud to say that the spirit of George Mitchell lives on in this school.
"His remarkable act of bravery remains a huge inspiration to both pupils and teachers and truly epitomises our school motto 'More in Me'.”