Discovering the North-West Passage: The Four-Year Arctic Odyssey of H.M.S. Investigator and the McClure Expedition by Glenn M. Stein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is an outstanding piece of work. Ignoring for one moment the incredible story of the crew of HMS Investigator, this 19th Century tale of exploration is superbly researched and documented; as a reference work for the serious student of the history of exploration in the Arctic and Antarctic it is a ‘must read’. The bibliography is extensive, the notes on the primary sources lend much weight to the author’s conclusions and the tale itself is well told, without hyperbole or flights of imagination. I ordered this from a library in order to study Stein’s history of the Polar Medal. Before beginning the book I read the notes on the sources and I’m glad that I did so first.
Although there is room for a lighter telling of this tale (which I think would please some of the reviewers of this book elsewhere) some events in history require a serious and scholarly study to be worthy of the efforts of those whom it describes and to sit as the definitive historical record. This is such a work and I highly recommend it.
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As I work on my book about Royal Signals gallantry awards, the news is dominated by accounts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Katia and the massive earthquake in Mexico. By coincidence, the section that I am writing is about the East Coast Floods of 1953.
Canvey Island, 1953
On 31 January 1953, an extremely heavy storm coupled with a high spring tide led to a devastating natural disaster in the low-lying areas around the North Sea. Sea defences were breached, coastal areas were flooded and ships were lost. Over 2,500 people were killed—1,836 in the Netherlands, 307 in England, 19 in Scotland and 28 in Belgium; 361 people were killed at sea, including 133 on the Larne-Stranraer ferry m.v. Princess Victoria. This was one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region; the rescue work took many days and recovery took many months.
There were numerous acts of gallantry recorded over the period and British awards were made to civilians and military personal, including honorary awards to men of the United States Air Force stationed in East Anglia. These and the meritorious service awards that followed the rescue effort were spread over several editions of the London Gazette, including the Coronation Honours list; the honorary awards were not published. There were more British awards made in the aftermath of this disaster than for any other single, non-warlike event in British history. Continue reading
Dedicated to the women with whom I have had the privilege to serve, particularly those who have demonstrated their courage and endurance on operations in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Sierra Leone, and Iraq. This is my contribution to #ArmyWomen100.
In January 1917, Lieutenant General Henry Lawson submitted a report that recommended the recruitment of women to fill administrative jobs in France, releasing men for employment farther forward. The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps was formally instituted by Army Council Instruction No. 1069 on 7 July 1917. The WAAC became Queen Mary’s Auxiliary Army Corps on 9 April 1918. At the end of the war its personnel were demobilised and the Corps was finally disbanded on 30 April 1920, although a small detachment remained attached to the Graves Registrations Commission in France until September 1921.
On 25 March 1916, the Military Medal had been instituted for non-commissioned officers and men of the Army for ‘acts of bravery’. Three months later, in a supplementary Royal Warrant of 21 June, the award was extended to women (British and foreign) for ‘bravery and devotion under fire’. The first awards soon followed—to Lady Dorothie Feilding for her gallantry as an ambulance driver in Belgium (she had previously been awarded the French Croix de Guerre and would later be awarded the Belgian Ordre de Léopold II for her services) and to five nurses for their gallantry during the bombing of 33rd Casualty Clearing Station at Bethune, France on 7 August 1916. Continue reading
Why has there been so little reaction to the recent award of the George Cross to Dominic Troulan?
The George Cross (Photo Dix Noonan Web)
Given the circumstances, it is not surprising that news coverage of the recent gallantry awards list has been dominated largely by those of the George Medal to Bernard Kenny and PC Keith Palmer for their gallantry and sacrifice in incidents at home in the United Kingdom. It is somewhat disappointing, however, that so little has been made of the astonishing and prolonged courage that earned Dominic Troulan the nation’s highest award for gallantry; particularly given the rarity of this prestigious decoration for ‘acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.’
Additionally, both the emphasis on the George Cross being a ‘civilian award’ and commentary about Troulan’s award being the first civilian award for 41 years ignore the reality behind the awards of the George Cross, George Medal and Queen’s Gallantry Medal. Continue reading
I have always been interested in the gallantry certificates of the three divisions raised in Ireland, about which there is very little information in a single source. I would be very grateful for contributions that support or contradict my comments.
In addition to the array of British and foreign decorations and medals awarded for gallantry during the First World War, many British Army divisions awarded certificates that recognised brave conduct brought to the notice of the divisional commander.
The certificates were produced in various formats and were of varying quality—some were of simple design and printed locally, others were more ornate and printed in the United Kingdom. The numbers awarded are impossible to determine. Many were instituted before the Military Medal came into being in March 1916 and, as the Military Medal became widely and more frequently awarded, these certificates became less common. Nonetheless, they continued to be awarded, in some divisions, and in various formats, throughout the war and they often preceded the award of a gallantry medal or decoration for the same act. Details of awards may be found in unit and formation war diaries and in local newspapers but these records are inconsistent.
All three of the divisions raised in Ireland produced such certificates (see the photo gallery for examples and dimensions). Continue reading
Geoffrey Cather’s Victoria Cross
One hundred years ago today at Buckingham Palace, King George V presented the Victoria Cross to the families of five recipients who had either died in the act or been killed since. Amongst them was Margaret Cather, the widowed mother of Lieutenant Geoffrey St. George Shillington Cather VC, the Adjutant of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, who had so gallantly died on 2 July 1916 while out rescuing men who had fallen in the attack at Hamel the previous day. When she died in 1939 her effects were left to her other son, Dermot, who later presented the Victoria Cross to the Royal Irish Fusiliers museum, where it resides today.
Following the Civilian Gallantry Awards List published in the London Gazette in January 2017, I have updated the Addendum to For Exemplary Bravery—it now contains all of the new awards since December 2013 and new information about a number of previous recipients. The Addendum is a pdf in the same format as the book and it can be downloaded (free) from the book’s website.
Many thanks, again, to those who have contributed to the project.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the tragedy at Zeebrugge when the MV Herald of Free Enterprise, a roll-on roll-off ferry owned by Townsend Thoresen, capsized in shallow water as it left the harbour. On board was a crew of 80 and 459 passengers. In all, 193 passengers and crew perished in the incident.
Inevitably, as seems to be the case in every such tragedy, others responded swiftly and with much courage to rescue the survivors and, over the coming days and months, to help treat the injured and traumatised passengers and crew. The selfless gallantry of crew-members, passengers and rescuers was rewarded with two George Medals, ten Queen’s Gallantry Medals, and two Queen’s Commendations for Brave Conduct. Less well known were awards in the Order of the British Empire to those who had assisted in the rescue and in helping the injured and bereaved; these included a number of honorary awards to Belgian citizens. Continue reading
The Burma Gallantry Medal, 1939-1945 Star, Burma Star and War Medal 1939-1945 awarded to Sepoy Nand Singh, 1st Battalion, The Burma Regiment. His award was for his gallantry during the attack on Aradura Spur on 29 May 1944 during the Battle of Kohima when he brought into action an abandoned machine gun and held off a heavy enemy counter-attack, during which he was wounded. (Photo © Dix Noonan Webb.)
Following the partition of British Burma from British India in 1937, two new awards were introduced on 10 May 1940 the Order of Burma and the Burma Gallantry Medal.
The Burma Gallantry Medal was to be awarded to Governor’s Commissioned Officers, non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Burma Army, Burma Frontier Force, Burma Military Police, Burma Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Force and Burma Volunteer Air Force for ‘…an act of conspicuous gallantry’. This remained the case until 1945, when the Royal Warrant was revised to elevate to the award to the status of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Continue reading
Seventy-six years ago, on the evening of 29 December 1940, a German bombing raid caused what become known as the ‘Second Great Fire of London’. Taken in the aftermath of this raid, the iconic photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral in the blitz came to symbolise London’s defiance. The attack on 29 December targeted the City of London where the high explosive and incendiary bombs started a firestorm that swept all before it. The area destroyed was more than that devastated by the Great Fire of 1666. It cost the lives of over 160 civilians and 14 firemen.
St Paul’s Cathedral, 29 December 1940
The attack and the response to it by the emergency services and the people of London is explored in detail by Margaret Gaskin in her excellent book Blitz: The Story of 29th December 1940—a most thorough description of the night’s events told largely through the memories of those who were there. Although Gaskin describes in some detail the bravery of those responding to the fires, she only alludes to the gallantry awards that were made in consequence of those acts. In all, the fierce bombing raid and firestorm of 29 December resulted in 44 gallantry awards—one MBE, eight George Medals, 22 British Empire Medals and 13 Commendations for Brave Conduct—more than for any other single event during the blitz. Continue reading