PUPILS have been learning of the heroic feats behind a grand painting which was hung in their dinner hall this week.
The portrait of war hero Lt Cdr Percy Thompson Dean, who attended Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in the late 1880s, has been brought out of storage and restored after ex-physics teacher John Read discovered the story behind his Victoria Cross award.
Mr Read, now the archivist at QEGS, was researching the First World War when he came across Lt Cdr Dean, who rescued about 100 men during the famous Zeebrugge Raid, in Belgium, in 1918.
The raid aimed to block German U-boats from leaving Zeebrugge harbour by sinking three old cruise ships. It was planned for four years, and 156 men died after the British came under heavy fire.
Lt Cdr Dean steered a motor launch into the harbour and rescued dozens of men, even turning back to rescue a commander when nearly out of the canal.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery and returned to Blackburn after the war, when he became the town’s MP with a huge majority. He died in 1939, aged 62.
With the help of Joanna Lavelle, foundation director at QEGS, Mr Read discovered that Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery had a portrait of Lt Cdr Dean in storage, and launched a fundraising campaign to have it restored. The restoration was achieved after ex-pupils donated more than £1,200, while they also bought a replica Victoria Cross, which was yesterday presented to the school by the Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire, Admiral Sir John Kerr. The painting was unveiled during a special assembly about the raid.
Mr Read said: “When you’re an archivist you tend to pick up on one thing and can end up finding something else.
“It was fascinating to discover this story about an ex-pupil and really nice the see the painting restored.”
Much was made of the Zeebrugge Raid, with the British commander knighted, and 11 Victoria Crosses awarded.
The Germans, however, made a new channel round the sunken ships and, within two days, their submarines were able to transit Zeebrugge.