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
The graves of Lieutenant Colonel S J Somerville, the Commanding Officer, and Captain R D Miles, C Company, Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No. 3
Few of the 154 officers and men of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers who were killed immediatley prior to or during the attack on 16 August 1917 lie in marked graves—three-quarters are commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, a substantially higher proportion that those killed on 1 July 1916 who are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. There are four primary reasons for this: firstly, very few bodies could be recovered immediately after the action from the area over which the Battalion had attacked; secondly, the area was subjected to continued severe shelling and was not captured until over a month later, by which time many of the bodies were destroyed; thirdly, in early 1918 a narrow gauge railway was built over the area from which the attack was launched, and, fourthly—in consequence—few of the bodies were identified by name in the post-war battlefield clearance.
When the heavy rain began on 31 July 1917, the men of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers were at Watou, seven miles west of Ypres preparing for the forthcoming offensive. On 2 August, the Battalion was ordered forward with 13th Royal Irish Rifles and two battalions from 109th Brigade to take over a reserve position in the trenches from which 55th (West Lancashire) Division had attacked on the first day of the battle. This period in the line was short but exhausting, spent in muddy, partially destroyed and crowded trenches and, in the last few hours as the men began the move back west of Ypres, under gas attack. Miraculously, casualties were few but two men, James Greer from Rathfriland and Isaac Hague from Nottingham, would die of their injuries some days later.
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
The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private Lawrence Manning
Three new biographies have been added to the Sacrifice project website:
Private Chester Covell Buck served briefly in England with 202nd (Sportsman’s) Battalion before being sent back to Canada unfit for further duty. He died in Ponoka Asylum Hospital, Alberta, on 7 December 1917 and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Plymouth, Indiana.
Private Lawrence Eugene Manning served in France with 72nd Canadian Infantry Battalion (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada). Greatly affected by his experiences, he took his own life on 9 November 1919 and is buried in Salt Lake City Cemetery, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Second Lieutenant George Albert Ruffridge and Cadet Hugh Barker O’Leary of No. 80 Canadian Training Squadron were killed in a flying accident at Camp Bordon in Canada on 6 May 1918. Ruffridge was buried in Rosedale Cemetery, Montclair, New Jersey.
Private Chester Buck
Second Lieutenant Albert Ruffridge
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.
When the last commanding officer of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers signed off the final page of the Battalion’s war diary on 9 June 1919 he did so with a Gallic flourish – ‘Finis’. That is the word that most readily comes to mind as I write this.
After 444 letters recording the thoughts and comments of Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Blacker, the identification of nearly 300 men and women to whom he referred, and many footnotes to explain events, the Blacker’s Letters project has ended. The project was made freely available to read via the project’s website and on social media.
Blacker’s Letters also contributed to the BBC project Voices 16, and I am very pleased that it has been web-archived by the National Library of Ireland and will be added to the web archive of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.
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