Twinning visit between towns linked by VC hero to mark Diamond Jubilee

Picture shows comic book hero Cpl John William Harper who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Picture shows comic book hero Cpl John William Harper who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
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HISTORICAL ties between Hatfield and a town in Belgium continue to blossom with school children coming to the UK to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Commemorative Royal mugs and fish and chips will be just a few of the treats in line for pupils from the town of Merksplas when they visit in June.

It is the heroic actions of John Harper – the only Doncaster-born recipient of the Victoria Cross – which inspired the links between the two towns, which have been officially twinned since 2009.

The 33-year-old corporal, a member of the York and Lancaster Regiment, died on September 29, 1944, when a platoon under his command battled to seize the Depot de Mendicitie, near Antwerp, from enemy hands.

He charged through a hail of grenades and gunfire shooting several German soldiers and taking others prisoner as he seized their dugouts but was killed as he returned to his platoon.

Twinning committee member Gordon Harper, whose father was John’s cousin, can’t wait to welcome his Flemish counterparts and help develop further cultural relations.

He said: “It was very emotional to go and stand on the spot where he was killed and see where he did what he did. It was quite a tearful experience.

“When I have been on visits there, I’ve had young children running up to me who know all about John Harper and what he did. They take it very seriously and it’s really important to them.”

The Hatfield committee is in the process of applying for EU funding to help cover the costs of activities planned between June 29 and July 1.

Mr Harper added: “While they’re here, they’ll visit schools in the area, take part in outdoor activities and also a Party in the Park at Ash Hill Academy on the Saturday night.

“We’re calling the event a Celebration of Youth. John Harper is the catalyst but now it’s about a wider cultural exchange.”

A group of pupils from the Ash Hill Academy will also be heading out to Merksplas for a visit in March, taking in a visit to John Harper’s grave and memorial.