Postman's Park in London, England, has a small memorial garden featuring 54 plaques that honor common men and women who were never famous, but died during a heroic act of saving someone else.
The Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice was the brainchild of George Frederic Watts, a painter who, while eminent in the Victorian age, harbored a hatred of pomp and circumstance. Twice refusing Queen Victoria’s offer of a baronetcy, Watts always identified strongly with the straitened circumstances of his youth; he was the son of an impoverished piano-maker whose mother died while he was young. For years, in adulthood, Watts habitually clipped newspaper stories of great heroism, mostly by members of the working classes. At the time of Victoria’s jubilee, in 1887, he proposed the construction of a monument to the men, women and children whose deeds had so moved him—people like Fred Croft, a railway inspector who in 1878 attempted to “save a lunatic woman from suicide at Woolwich Arsenal Station but was himself run over by the train,” or David Selves, who drowned, aged 12, in the Thames with the boy whom he had tried to save still clinging to him.
Watts had to scale down his plans for the memorial due to fundraising problems, and kicked in a good chunk of his own money.
Link to story.
Link to an index of the memorials and the stories behind them.
(Image credit: Flickr user David Fisher)