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
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.
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
In memory of:
Naval Airman 1st Class Kenneth Admiral Brown, Royal Navy
Died, 22 April 1940
Acting Sub-Lieutenant (Air Branch) Arthur Stephen Griffith, Royal Navy
Killed in action, 18 January 1941
Leading Airman Alfred Samuel Rush, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Sub-Lieutenant (Air Branch) Philip Donald Julian Sparke DSC**, Royal Navy
Killed in action, 11 May 1941
Twice a year I specifically write a story about Remembrance—for Memorial Day here in the United States and for Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. A few days ago, I saw seemingly unconnected lines of research come together that led me to a story of wartime gallantry and sacrifice 75 years ago. I was researching a group of Royal Signals soldiers awarded a King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct when I noticed an award to a Maltese Sapper, who had rescued an airman from the sea. Curious (I grew up in Malta), I searched for his story and, in doing so, identified the man that he rescued, his link with three other airmen who died in 1940 and 1941, and discovered a related painting by the renowned Maltese artist Edwin Galea, the father of one of my childhood friends. The story that pulls together these threads is worth telling on this Remembrance Day.
The tiny island of Malta in the central Mediterranean had a strategic importance out of all proportion to its size during the early years of the Second World War. Bombing of the island began immediately after Mussolini’s declaration of war on 10 June 1940 and, besieged by Axis forces in Sicily, the island suffered a gruelling fight for survival that lasted until November 1942. Continue reading
The Corps of Signals was established by Royal Warrant on 28 June 1920.
Six weeks later, the title ‘Royal Corps of Signals’ was conferred by King George V.
From its earliest days soldiers of the Royal Corps of Signals were engaged in operations across the Empire, most notably in Mesopotamia and on the North West Frontier, and they were duly recognised for their gallantry and valuable service. The majority of awards were made during the course of the Second World War but since then the officers and soldiers of the Corps have been decorated for their gallantry in most of the conflicts in which the British Army has been engaged. Continue reading
English Heritage ‘champions historic places and advises the Government and others on how to help today’s generation get the best out of our heritage and ensure it is protected for the future‘.
In the blog post above the photograph, English Heritage describes five sites added to the ‘at Risk Register’. One of those sites is Geevor Tin Mine at Pendeen in Cornwall. This was the site of an underground accident on 15 January 1980, when two miners were buried alive at the bottom of a narrow cavity. For their gallantry in the subsequent rescue attempt, Mr Stephen Ainsworth, a shift boss, and Mr Alan Brewer, a mine captain, were awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. Continue reading
In For Exemplary Bravery, the history of the Queen’s Gallantry Medal, I wrote:
In a book such as this it is relatively easy to outline the events that prompt gallant and selfless action.
It is much harder to convey the horror or terror or sense of danger inspired by a raging fire, a furious storm at sea, the actions of an armed and violent person or war at its most personal and bloody.
It is impossible to convey adequately the long-term mental and physical consequences to many of those who have acted so gallantly.
Following the successful introduction of the Colonial Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1934, an award to reward members of the Colonial Police Service for their meritorious service and gallantry was suggested, first in March 1935 and then again in November 1936, by Inspector General R G B Spicer CMG, MC of the Palestine Police Force. The Colonial Police Medal was instituted in 1938. Continue reading