Albert Ball, VC, DSO and 2 Bars, MC – Britain’s Ace Fighter Pilot

Albert Ball VC, DSO and 2 Bars, MC
Albert Ball VC, DSO and 2 Bars, MC

Born in Nottingham on the 14th August 1896, Albert Ball was one of three children, two sons and a daughter, of plumber Albert Sr and his wife Harriet (nee Page). Albert Sr was later to elevate his status to that of Lord Mayor of Nottingham and received a knighthood. Young Albert was educated at a variety of schools, Lenton Church school, Grantham Grammar and Nottingham High School before going to Trent College, at the age of 14. Deeply religious, Albert was also fond of all things mechanical and electrical, spending a lot of time in his private retreat in the garden shed, fiddling about with engines and such like. He had a marvelous lack of fear, spending time steeple-jacking on tall buildings and structures, completely unconcerned about height. He was also a keen gun enthusiast, and a crack shot.

Although only an average student academically, Albert shone in all things practical. He excelled at crafts, photography and playing the violin. During his teen years at Trent, Albert was an active participant in the school’s Officer Training Corps. At the age of 17, Albert left school and with assistance from his father, was able to secure employment at Universal Engineering near his home. The following year as war broke out, Albert enlisted in the Robin Hood Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters. Rising quickly through the ranks to Sergeant, by October Ball was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, but was assigned duty training recruits. Frustrated and hoping to see some action, Ball transferred to the North Midlands Cyclist Company of Divisional Mounted, but remained in England. By February 1915, his despair was evident as he wrote to his mother that he was sending lads out to the front and remaining stuck in England himself. Desperate to find an outlet, Ball signed up for flying lessons privately with the Ruffy-Baumann School at Hendon Aerodrome, where although described only as an average pilot, his contemporaries described him as having a ruthless detachment to the frequent accidents suffered by his fellow trainee Pilots. This is all too evident in one surviving letter, “Yesterday a ripping boy had a smash, and when we got up to him he was nearly dead, he had a two-inch piece of wood right through his head and died this morning. If you would like a flight, I should be pleased to take you any time you wish”.

Ball qualified as a Pilot on 15th October 1915, and promptly requested a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps, a week later joining No. 9 Reserve Squadron at Mousehold Heath, before transferring to Upavon, where he completed his training and earned his wings on 22 January 1916. He was officially transferred to the RFC a few days later and sent to join 13 Squadron RFC at Marieux in France, where initially he flew in a two-seater B.E.2 with observer Lieutenant Villiers. He demonstrated an aggressive streak in his flying from the outset and just a few weeks later, following several engagements, earned a single seater Bristol Scout fighter. It has been suggested that due to Ball’s introverted nature, almost reclusive, coupled with his flair for the dramatic in the sky, that he was not a popular choice of companion for observers who were a little wary of his penchant for spirited flight. In short, their survival instinct ran slightly deeper than their desire to get in an aircraft with the shy but ruthless pilot. Ball however, was not as reckless as suggested, he wrote his father advising him to discourage his younger brother from following him into the RFC.

Ball’s interest in all things flight was not restricted to the actual piloting of aircraft and his early skills in engineering were still a large part of his focus. In May 1916, Ball was reassigned to 11 squadron, but was disappointed with the standard of cleanliness of his new quarters and so opted to stay near the flight-line, living in a tent until he had built a hut, complete with garden which became his billet. In quiet moments he would tend his garden, play his violin or tinker with machine and engine parts. Ball also maintained his own aircraft, resulting in his often disheveled appearance. His hair was too long and he refused to wear helmet and goggles. By July 1916, Albert had earned the title ace and his kill score was 7. He was gazetted for a Military Cross. A month later, on his 20th birthday he was promoted to temporary Captain and returned to 11 Squadron which were subsequently attached to 60 Squadron where Ball was given free rein of solos, with his own choice of aircraft and personal ground crew. By now his kills were up to 17. In one sortie he took on 6 enemy aircraft and chased them 15 miles behind their lines, before getting low on fuel, forcing him to disengage and limp back to base with extensive damage to his plane. The following month Ball went home to Nottingham on leave, and was astonished to find he was recognised in the street and was a household name.

By the end of September 1916, after returning to 60 Squadron, Ball was simultaneously awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, as well as receiving the Russian Order of St George. He had improvised both the gun and added Le Prieur Rocket capabilities to two Nieuport aircraft which he flew in tandem to enable both day and evening flights without having to stop to allow refueling and maintenance with his new extended flying time enabling to score triple victories on several occasions. Later he replaced these with a specially weighted and improvised Nieuport 17, which flew heavy on the tail to allow him easier changeover of the ammunition drum. By now his kills sat at 31 making him officially Britain’s leading Ace. A few days later, after speaking to his commanding officer regarding his nerves and exhaustion, Ball was sent home on leave, and attached to Home Establishment RFC, where responsibilities included training of recruits, dispatching both pilots and aircraft to France, and home defence. He received his MC, DSO and Bar from King George on 18th November at Buckingham Palace, and a week later he received a second Bar, making him the first person ever to have received the award three times. Two weeks later he received the substantive rank of Lieutenant.

Albert Ball's original gravemarker, erected by the Germans, which is now in Nottingham Castle Museum
Albert Ball’s original gravemarker, erected by the Germans, which is now in Nottingham Castle Museum

Whilst attached to 34 (Reserve) squadron as an instructor, Ball received the honor of Freeman of Nottingham, and was asked to test the prototype of the new S.E. 5 Scout, which he declared sluggish on maneuverability, and inferior to his Nieuports. He was the only test-pilot to give negative feedback. By April, Ball had embarked on a lightning engagement with Flora Young whom he had met only days previously. He was also itching to rejoin the fight in France. Ball managed to secure a posting as flight commander with 56 Squadron back to France on April 7th 1917. Later documents would show the position was only meant to last one month. Ball was apprehensive about the move to equip the squadron with the S.E. 5 Scouts that he had recently slated. An agreement was reached whereby he would be allowed to recommence his solo missions with his Nieuport, but when flying sorties he would be in a Scout. Further compromise was given by allowing Ball to remove the Vickers gun, from his Scout and replace it with a second Lewis gun facing down through the cockpit. A larger fuel tank was also fitted.
Ball’s flight was clear to start combat, and under strict orders to stay over British lines, they flew out on 23rd April 1917. Over the course of the next few weeks Albert scored a further 12 kills, and mortally wounded a crew member of another enemy aircraft. His earlier misgivings about the Scout were proven in part with the persistent jamming of the guns. He suffered damage to his first scout to the extent where it had to be dismantled and sent away for repair. His replacement came without the modifications he had fitted to the original.

On 6th May 1917, Ball proposed to up and coming Canadian Billy Bishop, during a visit to his squadron, that they mount an attack on Baron Manfred von Richthofen’s airfield early in the morning, catching them by surprise and grounding them. They agreed to carry out the attack at the end of the month. The following evening, Ball’s flight, over Douai engaged a squadron from Jasta 11, von Richthofen’s flight. The famous Red Baron was not present however his younger brother Lothar was part of the ensuing dogfight. Visibility was poor and deteriorating fast. The aircraft scattered, each engaged in its own battle, each out of touch with the others. Von Richthofen sustained a hit to his fuel tank causing him to ground, but not before he had claimed what he later stated was a tri-plane. As the team continued to engage the enemy, Cecil Arthur Lewis later recalled last seeing Ball chasing Von Richthofen – obviously prior to the fuel tank damage. Cyril Crowe meanwhile saw Ball fly into a dark cloud. Four German observers including brothers Pilot Officer Franz Hailer and his brother Carl, from the ground noted that Ball’s S.E. 5 suddenly dropped out of the bottom of the cloud, leaving a large trail of black smoke, which could only be caused by oil leaking into the cylinders which would cause the engine to stall or seize due to flooding caused by fuel in the inlet manifold. And the only way this could happen was if the aircraft was upside-down.

Memorial at the Crash site
Memorial at the Crash site

The aircraft never recovered and Ball went down with his Scout. The observers rushed to the scene but he was already dead. They removed his body and took him to a nearby German field hospital where a Doctor described multiple limb fractures, a crushed chest and a broken back. It is likely death was instant. There were no gunshot wounds on his body; Nor any damage caused by bullets to his aircraft. German Propagandists attributed the death of Ball, to Lothar von Richthofen however his statement of shooting down a Sopwith Triplane casts doubt on this, as does his grounding with the fuel tank damage. A more likely cause was vertigo caused by temporary disorientation when Ball was upside down, causing him to lose control of his aircraft and fall from the cloud. A fairly common occurrence which claimed the lives of several airmen. Ball was reported as missing, and this listing became official on 18th May. At the end of the month, German pilots dropped messages behind Allied lines informing them that Ball was dead and they had buried him in Annoeullin with full military honours on the 9th May. It was later found that they had erected a cross with the inscription “In Luftkampf gefallen für sein Vaterland Engl. Flieger Hauptmann Albert Ball, Royal Flying Corps (“Fallen in air combat for his fatherland English pilot Captain Albert Ball”)

On June 7th it was announced that Ball had been awarded the Legion d’Honneur, Criox de Chevalier. A day later he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his most conspicuous and consistent bravery in actions between 25th April and 6th May. Manfred von Richthofen paid tribute to the young “English Red Baron” calling him “by far the best English flying man”. Tributes were also paid by Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, and Major General Sir Hugh Trenchard in a biography released the following year, made up in part of Albert’s letters. After the war, when the British located Ball’s grave along with 23 others, his original marker was removed. Plans were made to consolidate all British and allied graves into purpose built cemeteries, however whilst the 23 other servicemen’s remains were removed for reburial, Albert Ball Sr requested that his son be allowed to remain where he lay. He later added a new marker. The original now resides in Nottingham Castle Museum, along with one of his aircraft propellers and his medals. Outside is a memorial statue; One of several dedications in the city which also include housing for families of airmen killed in action, and buildings and scholarships at his previous schools and college. Albert Sr also bought the field in which his son had crashed and died, and a memorial is also placed there.

The night before he died, Albert wrote to his father, “”I do get tired of always living to kill, and am really beginning to feel like a murderer. Shall be so pleased when I have finished”.

Phoebe

Phoebe’s Favourite Badass – Lt-Gen Adrian Carton de Wiart VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO

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I read ERs article on her favourite badass with interest. Theodore Roosevelt does seem to have been a leading man in the world of Politics and indeed his moves to re-vitalise the United States were ambitious and ground-breaking. He was definitely a man of the people, and perhaps worthy of the title. But, for me, having a military background, it only seems natural for me to turn my attention to an area that I feel I am close to, whilst choosing my favourite badass. War. But who to choose? So many worthy men to choose from. Doge Enrico Dandolo? Marcus Cassius Scaeva? Xiahou Dun? What did all these men have in common? They were all blind, at least in one eye, Dandolo completely, yet didn’t let that stop them in battle. So I’m going to stick with that theme, and tell you about someone who has to be one of the greatest warriors and leaders of an army in history. Lt-Gen Adrian Carton de Wiart.

Born in Brussels in 1880, to a Belgian aristocrat father and an Irish mother, Adrian Carton de Wiart moved to Cairo where his father practiced International Law and was a magistrate, following the death of his mother where he learned to speak Arabic. He was sent to a Catholic boarding school in England at age eleven by his English step-mother. From there, he went up to Balliol College, Oxford where he was studying law, when war broke out between Britain and the Boers in 1899. Carton de Wiart abandoned his studies without graduating and adopting a pseudonym, and false age (claiming to be 25) he joined the British Army as ‘Trooper Carton’. At the time, Adrian was 19 years old, and being Belgian by nationality prevented him joining under his own merit. He would also have been required to have his father’s permission. He later proclaimed that he was determined to join the war, and if the British wouldn’t have him, he would have joined the Boers instead.

His active service however wasn’t to last long on this first attempt, early in the second Boer War, he was injured in the stomach and groin, and sent home to recover. During his convalescence he resumed his studies briefly, however when his father found out what he had done, he was furious. He did however allow Adrian to remain in the Army. By 1901, and with a commission under his belt, de Wiart was back in South Africa as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th Dragoon Guards. In 1902 he was transferred to India, before returning to Africa in 1904 by which time he had been promoted.

In 1907, despite being a British Army soldier for 8 years, Carton de Wiart was still a Belgian national. On September 13th, he took his oath of allegiance to Edward VII and became a British Subject. Between 1904 and 1914, Lt Carton de Wiart was aide-de-camp to Commander in Chief Sir Henry Hildyard, which allowed him time to pursue his favourite pastimes such as polo, jogging and other sports. His injuries had impressed upon him the need to keep fit. De Wiart, being from an aristocratic family was well connected in Europe. Two of his cousins, Count Henri and Baron Edmond would be Prime Minister of Belgium and Political secretary to the King of Belgium respectively. By 1910, he had been promoted to the rank of Captain. In 1908 Adrian had married, to Countess Friederike Maria Karoline Henriette Rosa Sabina Franziska Fugger von Babenhausen, with whom he had two daughters.

As the Great War broke out in 1914, de Wiart was given second in command of the Somaliland Camel Corps; He took part in a small-scale conflict with the “mad Mullah” Mohammed bin Abdullah during which he was wounded again, this time being shot twice in the face, losing an eye, and part of his ear in an attack on an enemy fort at Shimber Berris. Lord Ismay, later military advisor to Winston Churchill, who was a staff officer in the unit at the time recalled many years later, that “He didn’t check his stride but I think the bullet stung him up as his language was awful. The doctor could do nothing for his eye, but we had to keep him with us. He must have been in agony… I honestly believe that he regarded the loss of an eye as a blessing as it allowed him to get out of Somaliland to Europe where he thought the real action was.” Following his recuperation, in the same nursing home in England as his previous visit, the Sir Douglas Shields Nursing home, on Park Lane, he was given a glass eye, which legend has it, he found so uncomfortable that he threw it out of a Taxi window and instead chose to wear his now famous black eye-patch.

In May 1915, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. But by this time, Carton de Wiart was already in France. Adrian commanded three infantry divisions and a brigade during his time on the Western Front, participating in the Battles of the Somme, Passchendaele, Arras and Cambrai. He was also wounded SEVEN further times, over this period, being shot in the back of the head, stomach, ankle, leg and hip and having part of his hand blown off in an enemy shell explosion. A doctor refused to remove his damaged fingers, so de Wiart bit and tore two of them off himself. His hand was amputated a short while later. For his actions particularly those on the Somme, he received the Victoria Cross, in 1916. De Wiart maintained that the medal did not belong to him, but to his entire unit as they all performed their actions with equal commitment and bravery, with not one man more deserving than another.

His men would later recall how, despite his one eye and missing hand, their commanding officer was an inspiration to them, giving them the urge to follow him into battle. He was often to be found standing on a parapet, pulling grenade pins with his teeth and throwing them at the enemy with his one good hand, urging his men forward. Between March 1916, and July 1917, de Wiart was promoted several times, eventually earning the rank of Major, and was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre, Belgian Officer of the Order of the Crown and from Britain, Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in the King’s birthday honours list in 1918. He ended the war with a Brigade command and the temporary rank of Brigadier-General. His verdict on the whole event was “Frankly, I enjoyed the war.”

Following the Armistice, Adrian was sent to Poland on peace-keeping duties between the Poles and the Ukranians, Soviets Lithuanians and Czechs. He was acting in a military advisory capacity for several key figures during this time, and again saw action particularly when his train was attacked by Red Army cavalry, which he defended by standing on the footplate and firing his revolver until they retreated. At one point during the skirmish he fell off, but quickly re-took his position and continued. Following the Polish victory in these wars, Adrian Carton de Wiart officially retired from the British Army with the honorary rank of Major-General in December 1923. But it doesn’t end there……12923231_252285088446914_499378380784902957_n

Following his retirement, Carton de Wiart made his home on an island three miles from the Polish-Soviet border on land reserved for him by his friend Prince Karol Mikolaj Radziwill, his final Polish aide-de-camp who had inherited 500,000 acres following the murder of his uncle by Communists. Adrian spent the next 15 years hunting and fishing, only returning to England during three months of winter each year, whilst the lakes and hunting grounds were frozen over. In 1939, he was present in Poland when they were invaded by Germany on one border and Russia on the other. He was recalled to Britain and re-appointed in his previous position as Head of the British Military Mission to Poland. He met the Polish commander in chief Edward Rydz-Smigly and was unimpressed by the man’s military prowess. He advised him to pull his forces back from the Vistula river but was ignored. He was however successful in persuading Rydz-Smigly to withdraw his fleet from the Baltic. This fleet later played a significant role in Allied maritime war efforts.

As it became apparent that the Polish were weakening, De Wiart was forced to evacuate along with Rydz-Smigly and the rest of the Mission towards the Romanian border being chased all the while by both Soviet and German forces. Whilst on the road, their convoy was attacked by the Luftwaffe and one of the mission wives killed. Using a false passport, de Wiart managed to make his escape by airplane on 21st September 1939 in the nick of time. Pro-Allied Prime Minister of Romania Armand Calinescu was assassinated that day. De Wiart meanwhile lost all his belongings which were seized by the Soviets, and taken for storage in Minsk. They were later destroyed by German shellfire.

Adrian carton de Wiart was restored to his rank of Major-General and given the task of leading the Allied mission into Norway to take Trondheim in 1940, working with the French. Landing with several vital pieces of equipment missing, and his aide being wounded by enemy fire, his team and that of the French were immediately in a precarious position, having no means of defence against heavy enemy fire. The French force maintained their position in Namsos, whilst de Wiart led his own down the mountains with no transport, skis, air support or artillery cover to Trndheimsfjord where he was advised to hold his position despite overwhelming odds and enemy fire as a political strategy. It was apparent that the Norwegian campaign was fast failing and eventually after many orders and counter-orders, London decided to evacuate de Wiart and his men. Their ships failed to arrive on the appointed night, but turned up the following night. The German fleet successfully destroyed two vessels, one French, One British, but de Wiart and his men were able to get away. 12,000 men were evacuated that night, with very small losses, occurring when first the Bison and then the Afridi capsized. 35 of the 69 survivors from the Bison who had been picked up by the Afridi, 53 of the Afridi’s crew and 13 soldiers. Adrian carton de Wiart arrived in Scapa Flow Naval Base on his 60th birthday, 5th May 1940.

From there, De Wiart was given once again command of the 61st Division, at that time defending Northern Ireland. However new Commander in Chief of Northern Ireland Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Royds Pownall subsequently told him he was too old to command an active division and relinquished him of command. From here in 1941, and once again acting Major-General, he was sent in a Wellington bomber to Yugoslavia (Serbia) on the Military Mission there as Hitler prepared to invade. After refueling in Malta, the plane took off but due to complete engine failure over the Libyan coast, the Wellington crash landed into the sea a mile from land. De Wiart was knocked unconscious by the impact but soon regained consciousness when he hit the cold sea. All aboard survived the crash but were forced to swim ashore, where they were captured by the occupying Italian forces and taken to a Prisoner of War camp at Sulmona.

Due to Rommel’s successes in North Africa earlier that year, several high profile Allied Prisoners had been captured. It was deemed necessary to establish a Prisoner of War camp for these men, which was located at Castello di Vincigliata. It was to here de Wiart was transferred four months after his capture, joining amongst others General Sir Richard Thomas, Lieutenant-General Philip Neame VC and Thomas Daniel Knox, 6th Earl of Ranfurly who wrote to his wife that de Wiart was a “delightful character… superbly outspoken… most hold the record for bad language”.

11244479_252285125113577_3669789674838757805_nThe four men soon became committed to escape, which they attempted several times. On one occasion, after tunneling for some months, de Wiart managed to evade capture for eight days in Northern Italy, disguised as a peasant, despite being of a definitely distinguishable appearance, with one arm missing, several scars and a black eye patch. He also couldn’t speak a word of Italian. Whilst on the run, an order was given for his repatriation due to disability, a condition of which was his retirement from further service. It is likely he would have refused. However, following his re-capture, in 1943 he was taken from the camp, and after being fitted out with a good suit in Rome, was accompanied by an Italian negotiator, General Giacomo Zanussi and taken to Lisbon to meet with Allied contacts, where he was to be tasked with assisting secret negotiations for Italian withdrawal from the war. De Wiart was released when they arrived in Lisbon. Two other similar delegates had the same task, following the fall of Benito Mussolini. The overall mission was a success and Italy’s surrender was confirmed in September of that year.

De Wiart arrived back in England in August 1943, and just a few short weeks later was tasked to be Churchill’s personal representative in China. He flew via India where he was briefed by key trade and political figures on the Chinese situation, and subsequently attended a conference in Cairo, along with other notable figures such as Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and General Chiang Kai Shek. For the next three years he worked in a diplomatic and administrative capacity, between the Chinese government and the British, liaising regularly in India. Adrian’s despising of Communism was well known. During a dinner he attended, where he was forced to sit through a propaganda speech given by Mao Tse-Tung, de Wiart famously interrupted him to criticize China’s lack of self-defence against Japan citing domestic political reasons, to which Chairman Mao was speechless for a moment before laughing.

De Wiart also watched bombardments of Japanese aircraft by British carriers in the late stages of the war at Sabang, whilst seated on the bridge of HMS Queen Elizabeth during a tour of Burma and the Eastern Front. Following the surrender of Japan, and the formal acceptance during which he took part in Singapore, Adrian visited Peking, Nanking and finally Tokyo where he met General Douglas McArthur as the final meeting in a career spanning over 48 years and three significant wars. Although offered a position with Chiang, which he declined, Adrian Carton de Wiart formally retired in October 1947, at the age of 66 with the honorary rank of Lieutenant-General. He had been decorated many times.

Returning home via French-Indochina, he stayed as a guest at the home of his army commander friend in Rangoon where he slipped down the stairs, knocking himself out and fracturing several vertebrae. During following surgery, his doctor managed to remove a large amount of shrapnel which de Wiart had been carrying around for several years. He made a full recovery and settled in Ireland after spending time visiting relatives in Belgium. His wife died in 1949, and two years later he remarried aged 71. Adrian Carton de Wiart died peacefully at his home in County Cork in 1963 aged 83 years old following a slightly less energetic retirement spent mostly fishing.

One of the most interesting things I have learned about Adrian Carton de Wiart is how much of his life he remained quiet about. He wrote his autobiography, Happy Odyssey, covering the majority of his life in the Army and his different exploits, including the fishing in Poland prior to the outbreak of World War Two and the famous suit from his release from the Prisoner of war camp which he was concerned due to his mistrust of Italian tailors would make him look like a gigolo, but later granted it was as good as anything he could obtain on Saville Row, but never once did he mention his Victoria Cross, nor his wife and daughters.

But he was still the biggest badass.

Phoebe.

Victoria Cross Recipients – Keeping it in the Family Part 2

William Cubitt VC (Print Courtesy of National Army Museum)
William Cubitt VC
(Print Courtesy of National Army Museum)

Part Two – Brothers in arms

So we discussed in part one, father and son awards of the Victoria Cross. Now I’m going to turn your attention to brothers who both received the Cross for their acts of valour. To begin with, I would ask that you cast your mind back to Charles Gough, and his son John, who were both awarded the Victoria Cross. Charles received his in part for an action which saved the life of his brother Sir Hugh Gough during the India Mutiny of 1857/8. But the story doesn’t end there.

Just a few months after Charles saved Hugh’s life in the action for which he received his Cross, on 12th November 1857 Hugh was part of a charge of Hodson’s Horse on enemy guns at Alum Bagh. He led his party through a swamp to capture two guns, having his turban sliced and being wounded twice during the attack. Three months later, on 25th February 1858, following several single combats, he repeated his charge on enemy guns, again being wounded in the leg whilst taking on two Sepoys with bayonets fixed, he again captured guns. He was awarded his own Victoria Cross, making three members of one family to be recipients. Aside from a similar fete by a family more distantly related through marriage, whom we will discuss later, the Goughs are the only family to have received as many awards. Hugh later went on to become Keeper of the Crown Jewels between 1898 -1909 at the Tower of London. Charles is not the only Recipient to receive his cross for saving the life of his brother, it happened on one other occasion, however in that event, the recipient in question was the sole winner in his family and so they are not featured in this particular article.

George Nicholson Bradford was born on 23rd April 1887, followed five years later by brother Roland Boys Bradford on 23rd February 1892. On 1st October 1916, at Eaucourt l’Abbaye, Roland as Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1/9 Battalion, Durham Light Infantry led not only his own command but a lead command of the battalion who had suffered heavy casualties including their commander, in a push for their objective, after their flank had become open to the enemy. Despite heavy losses to both parties, Bradford was able to muster the men, close the exposed flank and lead on with the push, achieving their objective and for his efforts he was awarded the Victoria Cross. His brother George, a Lieutenant-Commander in the Royal Navy, demonstrated his own act of bravery in April 1918, when leading his ship HMS Iris II into the canal at Zeebrugge which the Navy had successfully blockaded against German Submarines which were causing chaos by attacking Allied shipping. Under heavy fire, George guided the ship in and taking a prominent open position leapt off a derrick onto a fortified mole in order to weigh anchor. His action placed him in direct fire and moments later, he fell riddled with bullets, fatally wounded into the sea on what was his 31st Birthday. His Cross was awarded posthumously. Sadly, Roland pre-deceased his brother when he also succumbed to wounds in action in Graincourt, on 30th November 1917. Both are buried in France.

In 1872, the British took control of the coastal region of Elmina, Ashanti in present-day Ghana. As this was the last trade sea-port for the native Ashanti, King Karikari was anxious to protect their interests, and so responded by raising an army of 12,000 and after crossing the Pra River, invaded in January 1873. They were driven back and defeated by the British forces garrisoned in the Port area at the end of January. For the following 11 months the British kept up their defence, and held the Ashanti back, being reinforced in December. In January 1874 they offered Karikari a peace treaty in return for the removal of his forces from the coastal region, which he refused. At Amaoful on 31st January 1874 a short sharp battle took place resulting in the loss of 150 natives to four British, who were victorious. Governor and commander in chief of the Port area, Major-General Sir Garnet Wolsley led a successful campaign to sack further towns, forcing an eventual treaty of peace, in March 1874 which included complete withdrawal of the native forces, leaving safe trade routes open, and the cessation of human sacrificial practices which had been confirmed with the discovery of many piles of skulls during the period of conflict which was to become known as the First Expedition (or Battle) of Ashanti.

Reginald William Sartorius was born probably in Portugal on 4th May 1841, followed by his brother Euston Henry on 6th June 1844, again in Portugal. In 1874, on January 17th, Reginald, a Major with the 6th Bengal Cavalry was involved in an attack on Abogu when he saw a severely injured non-commissioned Houssa officer laying in the open under fire. The Houssa were a native Muslim “tribe” from inland who were renowned as the best fighters. They were as a result accepted to fight alongside the British Forces. Major Sartorius, under extreme personal danger from enemy fire, ran out in the open to bring the wounded man in to safety. Sadly the man was later to die of his wounds. For his action, Reginald was awarded the Victoria Cross. Five years later, during the second/third Afghan wars, on the 24th October 1879, Euston, a Captain with the 59th was to see his own action at Shahjui. Leading a party of five men in silence to the top of a virtually inaccessible hill, they mounted a surprise attack on the enemy picket in a strongly held position at the top, losing only one man in the melee. Sartorius was wounded by sword slashes in both hands, probably either as a result of a defensive gesture or more likely in an attempt to disarm one of the enemy, during the assault, and was later awarded the Victoria Cross.

Alexander Buller Turner was born in May 1893 in Reading, to Major Charles Turner of the Royal Berkshire Regiment and his second wife Jane Elizabeth Buller, and his brother Victor Buller Turner followed some seven years later in January 1900. Following their education, first at Parkside, then Wellington College, Alexander was commissioned into the Special Reserve of Officers of the 3rd Battalion (Reserve) Royal Berkshire Regiment, later transferred to the 1st Battalion in or around September 1914, shortly after outbreak of the Great War. Victor meanwhile, was too young to enlist and after his formal education entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.

At the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, Alexander was sent to France with his battalion, and during 1915 saw action in Vermelles. On 28th September, during an attack on enemy trenches, the regimental bombers were unable to advance due to spirited defence from the enemy. Alexander volunteered to make an attempt to gain headway. Armed with grenades, he advanced down the communication trench practically alone, and keeping up a bombardment on the German opposition. His actions enabled the regiment to continue their advance and drove the Germans back around 150 yards. His continued assistance allowed the flank to be covered, following consolidation of their gains, and facilitated their retirement, with little losses following reinforcement. Sadly 2nd Lieutenant Turner was shot in the abdomen during the onslaught although refused to stand down until the gains were consolidated. After the battle, he removed to Casualty Clearing Station number 1 at Froques, where he died of wounds three days later. His Victoria Cross was awarded posthumously and is now displayed at the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment (Salisbury) Museum in Salisbury.

Following his brother’s gallantry in the Great War, Victor Buller Turner was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade in 1918, although it would appear he was not to see action during the Great War. Instead he took part in the Iraq campaign between 1919 and 1920. It was during the Middle-East arena of World War 2 in 1942, that Victor, by now a Lieutenant-Colonel was to achieve his own recognition for gallantry. On 27th October at El Aqqaqir, during the night Victor led his battalion in the dark through difficult terrain for 4000 yards to capture their objective. During this mission, they were able to take 40 German prisoners. At dawn broke between 5.30 and 7am, the battalion were pinned down and isolated, unable to be reinforced by men or ammunition, and under constant heavy fire. Lt-Col organised the battalion force to maximise their position on all sides and as a result they were able to repel no less than 90 German tanks advancing in waves, disabling or burning 55 of them, and forcing the others to retreat. During this onslaught, Turner continuously placed himself at the lead of the heaviest fire, at one point when realising the crew of all but one of the heavy guns was disabled as a result of casualties, save for one officer and one man, he joined their efforts and acted as loader for the weapon, whereby they managed to destroy 5 enemy tanks. During this action he was wounded in the head, but refused to seek aid and continued his efforts. For his actions, Lt-Col Turner was to be awarded his own Victoria Cross.

Victor retired from his active career in 1949, and spent the rest of his working life as a member of the Queen’s household staff, until he retired in the late 1960’s following his appointment as a member of the Queen’s bodyguard. He passed away peacefully in 1972 and his Victoria Cross is now displayed in the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester. Through their mother, Victor and Alexander Buller Turner are related to General Sir Redvers Buller VC, more about him in a later post!

Of course, our examination of familial awards of the Victoria Cross would not be complete without including those who were related by marriage. Although we can acknowledge the “bravery gene” would not factor in these instances, as I stated, it could be theorised that such gallantry is not necessarily a feature to be bred, but could be a result of supportive association. In short, bravery compels inspiration to more bravery. These final examples are in the category of relatives by marriage. Brothers-in-Law to be specific.

Flying Officer Leslie Thomas Manser was a volunteer reserve attached to 50 squadron RAF in World War 2. Flying a Manchester, he was part of a mass bombing raid on Cologne on the night of 30th/31st May 1942. The raid was to be the first 1000 aircraft bombing run of the war, using a variety of available aircraft, including Wellingtons, Hampdens, Halifaxes, Stirlings, Lancasters and Whitleys. A number of the crews were still in training, effort was made to provide at least one experienced pilot for each of these crews. The aircraft came from bomber squadrons, training flights and operational Conversion Units across the country. Each group was appointed a rally point near to the East coast of England, in an effort to decrease take off time, and instructions to rendezvous over the Channel. Many of the lead aircraft were fitted with Gee to minimise collision and the bombing raid was allotted 90 minutes. Cologne was the second choice of target, selected eventually because of adverse weather over the first; the raid took place on a good moon.

On his approach to the target, the group of aircraft, numbering eventually close to 900, came under heavy anti-aircraft fire from the ground. Despite being caught in a searchlight cone and suffering a number of flak hits, severely damaging his aircraft, F/O Manser was able to hold the Manchester steady and achieve his target successfully at a height of 7000 feet. The group after achieving their objective, turned and headed for home. Manser continued to take hits from flak, and dropped to 1000 feet in an attempt to avoid further damage, but had suffered a hit on the port engine, and the cabin began to fill with smoke. His rear gunner was wounded and the aircraft was badly damaged. Knowing that abandoning the aircraft and parachuting would lead to almost certain capture, Manser continued to nurse the injured Manchester, rising to 2000 feet, which caused the overheating engine to burst into flames. A short-lived fire that soon extinguished but rendered the engine inoperable.

With one wing burned and one engine out of action, the air speed dropping dangerously low and the aircraft steadily losing height, Manser realised that he would not make it home. Instead he directed his crippled aircraft towards the nearest air base, and hoped for a miracle. When it became apparent that hope was lost, he instructed his crew to grab a parachute and jump to safety. All crew were able to leave safely. His remaining sergeant, the last man to leave, brought Manser a parachute and begged him to bale out too, but Manser waved him away telling him to leave quickly as he couldn’t control it for much longer. The sergeant jumped, and on the ground the crew watched as seconds later the Manchester ploughed into the ground, and exploded, with Manser still on board. His body was subsequently recovered and he was buried in Heverlee War Cemetery, Belgium.
43 Aircraft out of a starting line-up of 1047 bombers were lost that night. Manser was the only airman to receive a Victoria Cross for his sacrifice, in saving the lives of his crew.

Two years later, Flying Officer Manser’s sister was also to lose her husband, Captain John Randle. Leading a company of the Norfolk Regiment, against Japanese enemy entrenched on a ridge at Kohima, India, following the severe wounding of their commander, Randle demonstrated amazing leadership, rallying his men under heavy fire and enabling them to achieve their objective despite being wounded in the knees by splinters from a grenade, they drove the enemy back so far, and were keen to push on. Randle refused to seek medical attention, and instead performed reconnaissance under fire to assess the next move, and brought in several wounded men, under fire in a well-lit prominent position.

Seeing another company suffering casualties from a Japanese machine gun post, now behind them, Randle quickly realised that not only would this hinder reinforcements reaching them, thereby placing their efforts to gain their next objective and consolidate further positions difficult, it also would prevent lines of communication between his command and those to the rear. The machine gun, in a bunker, would have to be put out of action. Despite being in a tremendous amount of pain, and with complete disregard for his own life, Randle single-handedly charged the machine gun post, armed only with a rifle and bayonet, and a small number of grenades. He was further wounded a number of times, including to the face. Knowing his injuries were fatal he launched a grenade through the slit in the bunker and threw himself over the gap to seal it, preventing shrapnel blowing out and wounding his men as the grenade exploded, killing him alongside the enemy within.

We’re going to travel back in time now for our last few men. Back to the India Mutiny of 1857. Lieutenant William George Cubitt of the 13th Bengal Infantry was one of the unlucky men holed up in the residency at Lucknow. On 30th June, he was sent with a party of men to hold up the advancing rebels, in anticipation of the retreat of the English. His story is a short one, despite heavily stacked odds against them, he demonstrated great courage, including rescuing three men pinned down under enemy advancement, for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Just nine days later, his brother in law, 2nd Lieutenant James Hills of the Bengal Horse Artillery was in a similar siege position at Delhi. With just two guns, on picket duty on a hill, the point was suddenly without warning attacked by a large group of enemy cavalry.

Without thought for his own safety, Hills grabbed a horse and rode out in a one-man charge towards the enemy in an effort to distract them for long enough for his men to load the guns. He cut down two of them before being brought off his horse, yet continued to fight, taking down a further two one with his pistol, and grabbing the lance of the other, slashed him with his sword, before being over-run. A third rebel grabbed Hills’ sword and was about to kill him but he was saved when his superior officer, Major Tombs arrived and was able to shoot the rebel in the nick of time. Tombs and Hills then went to the assistance of the wounded, but before they had gone far, another rebel appeared armed with a sword and Hills’ gun. He slashed Hills in the head, and then went for Tombs who stabbed him, receiving his own wound also to the head, in the process. Both men were subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross.

Four months later, when relief arrived in the form of reinforcements under Sir Colin Campbell, on 16th November 1857, Lieutenant Thomas James Young of the Royal Navy (Naval Brigade) was tasked with taking Shah Nujeff Mosque at Lucknow and capturing enemy within. Guns had been trained on the mosque from 350 yards but had been unsuccessful in breaching the walls. He ordered each of the two crews to bring their guns up as close to the walls of the Mosque as they could, legend has it that the muzzles practically touched the brickwork, and knowing the crews faced certain death, asked for volunteers. They then began firing. Lieutenant Young went up and down between the two guns, shouting encouragement, offering assistance where necessary. Most of the crews were severely wounded by the enemy as they repeatedly fired on the mosque.

Upon seeing his own gun had suffered almost complete casualties and remained manned single-handedly by Seaman Hall, who volunteered to man the gun knowing that he was likely to be killed; all enemy fire was concentrated on the two positions. Hall was dragging the cannon backwards and forwards alone, to reload and fire. Young stood with him and assisted by loading the gun for him. The mosque was taken, and Young received a Victoria Cross. William Hall also won a Victoria Cross, becoming the first black man to do so. Hall had been born in Canada following either the escape or release of his slave parents during the war of 1812, in which his father possibly subsequently fought, depending on which version is the accurate one.

The last mention today is a small sad tale, with its roots in a little known conflict of the nineteenth Century – the Shimonoseki Expedition of 1864. Caused by a growing resentment by the Japanese Daimyo (Feudal Landowner) of the Choshu Clan around the Shimonoseki Straits, towards Europeans trading in the area or passing through, they began to force the Europeans to leave. They turned their forces to the shipping passing through attempting a blockade of the straits. European forces responded with hastily assembled units to wipe out the clan’s ships and forts along the coast. During these hostilities, on the 6th September 1864, three seamen of the Royal Navy from HMS Euryalus, were ordered as part of a larger party, to attack an enemy stockade. Midshipman Duncan Gordon Boyes, young brother in law of Lieutenant Thomas Young was part of the advance, carrying the colours of his unit.

Despite being under extreme fire, which included six musket balls piercing his standard, and unable to defend himself or take cover, Boyes refused to drop the flag, and continued to hold it aloft. The party suffered heavy casualties but never wavered, only stopping their advance when ordered to do so by a superior officer. Three men were to receive the Victoria Cross that day, Boyes being one of them. One of the others, William Henry Harrison Seeley was the first American citizen to receive the Cross, and the only one to receive it outside of the Great War, in a time when it was forbidden for foreign citizens to enlist in the British Forces, nonetheless Seeley managed to serve with the Navy AND receive the Cross.

Midshipman Boyes’ tale however doesn’t end there. Despite his tremendous bravery, and receiving the highest award for valour, three years later, whilst stationed at Bermuda, Boyes and another seaman were refused entry to the naval yard as they didn’t have a pass. After 11pm they attempted to break in and were caught, and court-martialled and discharged dishonourably for disobedience. It is felt by sources that there may have been more to the story, in view of the seemingly harsh punishment, however no further facts have ever been presented. Boyes took the court-martial and dismissal very hard. He turned to drink and suffered bouts of depression. In an attempt to leave the scandal behind, he emigrated to New Zealand where he lived with his brother on his sheep-station. However he was unable to escape his shame and in January 1869 and the age of 22, he jumped from an upper floor window of the house, killing himself. He was just 22 years old. His VC is now in the Ashcroft collection having been bought at auction, from Cheltenham College, as they wanted the funds to set up a scholarship in Boyes’ name.

I hope you enjoyed this second part of the story of the family Victoria Winners. Part three will be along soon, so keep your eyes open.

Phoebe.

The Sidney Family

"Sir Philip Sidney from NPG" by Unknown - Photo Credit- National Portrait Gallery
“Sir Philip Sidney from NPG” by Unknown – Photo Credit- National Portrait Gallery

As mentioned in the “Victoria Cross Recipients – Keeping it in the Family” article previously, the Sidney family was one of the premier courtiers in the Tudor dynasty. The Victoria Cross recipients in the family came by their bravery honestly as they were descended from a long line of courageous men and women.

William Sidney was the eldest son of Nicholas Sidney and Anne Brandon. Anne’s father, Sir William Brandon, was Henry VII’s standard bearer at the Battle of Bosworth. On Richard III’s final charge, he attacked Brandon mercilessly while he defended the Tudor standard and was killed. The ballad The Battle of Bosworth describes it as thus:

amongst all other Knights, remember
which were hardy, & therto wight;
Sir william Brandon was one of those,
King Heneryes Standard he kept on height,

& vanted itt with manhood & might
vntill with dints hee was dr(i)uen downe,
& dyed like an ancyent Knight,
with HENERY of England that ware the crowne.

William Brandon’s son, Charles Brandon, was favored by Henry VII, and Charles went on to become the boon companion of Henry VIII and marry his sister, however, that is a story for another time. Since William Sidney was Charles Brandon’s cousin, he was well connected at the Tudor courts. In fact, it was William that Henry VIII trusted to break the awkward news that his sister Mary, the widowed Queen of France, had married Charles Brandon in unseemly haste.

William went on to marry Anne Parkenham and have four daughters and a son, Henry Sidney. Henry was chosen by King Henry VIII as one of fourteen high born boys to be educated in the palace school with Prince Edward, the future Edward VI. Together the boys were taught the fundamentals of a humanist education. This included geography, history as well as many languages, including French, German, Greek and Latin. They were also given lessons in etiquette, fencing, horsemanship, music and other pursuits befitting gentlemen. This education served Henry well, and he was knighted in 1550 and made an excellent match in Lady Mary Dudley. Her father was John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and the Lord Protector of England. Her brother was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who became a great favorite of Elizabeth I.

In 1553, Edward VI succumbed to his lingering illness and died in Henry Sidney’s arms. His father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland, had convinced the weakened Edward to change the succession outlined in Henry VIII’s will and pass over his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, and install Lady Jane Grey on the throne. Lady Jane’s ascension would keep Catholic Mary from undoing the work of Edward VI and the other protestant reformers. Also, Lady Jane was conveniently married to one of the Duke’s sons, which left the Duke free to remain the power behind the throne. Henry Sidney signed this will as a witness, and his wife was the one who broke the news of Edward’s death to Lady Jane. However, Queen Jane only reigned for nine days, and Mary Tudor took the throne and sent John Dudley, his son Guilford and Jane herself to the headsman.

Sir Henry Sidney. Photo Credit- National Gallery of Ireland
Sir Henry Sidney. Photo Credit- National Gallery of Ireland

Henry Sidney was able to sidestep what could have been a disastrous association with the once powerful Dudleys. Although Henry had witnessed Edward’s will changing the succession, he was one of the first to ask for Mary’s pardon. He quickly conformed to Catholicism and even named his firstborn son in honor of the Queen’s Spanish consort, Philip. This allowed him to flourish until Elizabeth I came to power. His wife, Mary, quickly became one of Elizabeth’s favorite Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber, and frequently was Elizabeth’s mouthpiece to diplomats. When Elizabeth contracted smallpox in 1562, Mary nursed her until she came down with the deadly disease herself. Mary lived, but was disfigured as the diseased scarred her face. The Sidney’s fortunes rose under Elizabeth I as Henry became Lord Deputy of Ireland and other honors, however, the couple did complain about about the lack of financial rewards under the notoriously frugal Elizabeth. Despite their complaints, their son Philip followed them into the Queen’s service.

Philip Sidney was a noted courtier and poet at the court of Elizabeth I. He was well educated with notable family connections and rose quickly at court. He was considered by many to be the “flower of chivalry”. His most notable works of poetry were Astrophel and Stella, thought to be written for Penelope Devereux, and the Defense of Poesy. He completed a draft of The Arcadia and dedicated it to his younger sister, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, who was one of the first women in England to achieve literary acclaim. He expanded this draft, but was unable to finish it before his death. His sister Mary finished this second edition and had it published. It is referred to as The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia.

Tomb of Sir William Sydney - Photo Credit Richard Croft.
Tomb of Sir William Sydney – Photo Credit Richard Croft.

An ardent protestant, he fit in with many of the reformers at court and happily offered his services against England’s Catholic foes. He attempted to sneak onto Francis Drake’s expedition to Cadiz, but was foiled. Instead he was appointed the Governor of Flushing in the Netherlands. This was probably due to the influence of his uncle, the Earl of Leicester, but it suited Philip well to be fighting for the Protestant cause against the Spanish. He sustained an injury at the battle of Zutphen, which developed gangrene and he died after 26 days. Famously, he gave his share of water to a dying man saying “Your need is greater than mine.” He is also said to have composed a ballad to be sung at his deathbed. When his funeral wound through the streets of London, spectators are said to have cried, “Farewell, the worthiest knight that lived.”

Victoria Cross Recipients – Keeping it in the Family

Part One – Like Father, Like Son

A startling fact about the Victoria Cross is that around 75% of the recipients were the eldest child of a large family of siblings or the child of a young widow. This interesting little statistic could show a pre-disposition of extraordinary bravery that would seem to be bred into those who were cast into the role of responsibility from an early age, and that their resulting gallantry was the product of an extension of their duty to “look out for” those they were responsible for, above and beyond the standard in much the same way as they looked out for younger siblings or Mother, as a young “man of the house”.

Below are examples which would appear to bear this out, those families who had not one, but two, and on two occasions three members who were all recipients showing that in some instances, valour would seem to be genetic or relative. In its history, the Victoria Cross has been awarded to four pairs of brothers. In one of those instances, there was a son of one of the brothers who also received a Victoria Cross, making a total of three pairs of father and son awards. In two of these cases of brotherly love, the awards were made for the recipients’ actions in saving their brother…..

Also there are several cases of cousins, brothers-in-law, uncles and nephews and so on, which I will cover in later posts, demonstrating that bravery could easily be thought of as something that is bred or taught in certain people, and absent in others. This of course is not to demean those who were sole recipients, or indeed those who fall outside of the above parameters. Each and every one of the recipients of this honour demonstrated his own valour in placing his own life at the feet of his brothers in arms. Each and every man who enlisted and ‘did his bit’, demonstrated an act of courage.

Walter Norris Congreve was born in Staffordshire in November 1862. Educated at Harrow and Pembroke College, Oxford, he later married Cecilia Henrietta Delores Blount La Touche in May, 1890. Their first son, William La Touche Congreve was born the following March, followed by younger brother Geoffrey Cecil, later Baron Congreve (2nd creation), in 1897. In 1899, during the Second Boer War, in action at Colenso, during the siege of Ladysmith the gunners of the 14th and 66th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, were either casualties or had been driven away from their guns under attack; a 500 yard gap lay between the guns and their horses and limber.

Captain Congreve of The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consorts Own) risked his life under heavy enemy fire across the intermediate space, to bring in two of the guns along with five other men, Lieutenant The Hon Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts, Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Norton Schofield, Captain Hamilton Lyster – more about him in a subsequent post -, Corporal George Nurse and Private George Ravenhill. During this action, Congreve was injured several times, receiving bullet wounds to his arm, shoulder, leg and foot. Despite this, realising Lt Roberts was badly wounded, he returned into the field, assisted by Major William Babtie, RAMC, to retrieve the fallen man. All seven men were to receive the Victoria Cross for these acts of valour, sadly Lt Roberts was to succumb to his injuries. Ravenhill, meanwhile, was to earn further notoriety in a later action – more about that also in a subsequent post. Captain Congreve was later to lose a hand following action in the Great War, both in the Battle of the Aisne and capturing and holding key positions during the battles for Longueval and Delville Wood in the Somme Offensive. Following his service and promotion, Lieutenant-General Walter Congreve VC moved to Malta where he served as the island Governor for 3 years until his death in 1927 where under his wishes, he was buried at sea.

Following his education at Eton, William Congreve followed his father into the Prince Consorts Own, rising to the rank of Major. On 1st June 1916 married Pamela Cynthia Maude. A month later he re-joined his regiment and was positioned close to his father at Longueval for the Somme offensive. During the two weeks between 6th and 20th July, Major Congreve repeatedly placed himself in forward positions to conduct reconnaissance on enemy trenches. When battalion headquarters suffered damage from direct heavy shelling, despite being under the effects of gas, Major Congreve personally assisted in the evacuation of the wounded to a place of safety, before once again taking his position on the front line where he was shortly afterwards shot by a sniper, dying instantly. For these acts of valour over a prolonged period, he was awarded the VC, which now rests in the Royal Green Jackets Museum in Winchester, alongside that of his father. In a sad twist, Pamela, his widow later gave birth to their baby girl, eight months after her father’s death; it is highly unlikely he ever knew he was to be a father. His younger brother, Lieutenant-Commander Baron Congreve, RN, was later awarded the DSO for his actions during a raid in Norway during World War II, followed shortly by his death in action on the coast of France 1941.

In January 1858, The Right Honourable Field Marshall Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts was awarded his VC at the rank of Lieutenant for actions in Khudaganj (Khodagunge) when he took after two Sepoys who had taken flight with a regimental standard. He fought both down, killing one of them before retrieving the colours. Later that day, he came to the rescue of a Sowar, killing the rebel who was bearing down on him. Working his way through previous and subsequent campaigns, including Lucknow, Afghanistan, and the second Boer War, Roberts, father of the above mentioned Hon Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts VC, eventually gained the rank of Field Marshall, and several subsequent awards and honours. He was the last Commander in Chief of the Forces before the title was disbanded. Following his success in the Second Boer War, he handed over the reins to Lord Kitchener on 12th December 1899, when the sieges seemed to be all but over, and returned to England. His son, as we have seen, was killed three days later.

One amazing example of keeping it in the family would be the Goughs. A family of strong military background, which eventually consisted of three Generals, a Brigadier-General and a Field Marshall, Major Sir Charles John Stanley Gough and his brother Lieutenant Sir Hugh Henry Gough were born in India, and both joined the 5th Bengal Cavalry at a young age. At the outbreak of the India Mutiny in 1857, the Goughs were aged 24 and 23 respectively. For two acts of gallantry three days apart in August 1857, one of which involved actually saving the life of his brother when Hugh was wounded and was being over-powered by the enemy, Charles killing two of them in the process, and two further acts at the beginning of 1858 whereby he killed several more in hand-to hand combat, although outnumbered, Charles Gough was to receive his VC. Both he and his brother eventually rose to the rank of General. More about Sir Hugh in a later post!

Following in his family tradition, Major Sir John Edmond Gough, son of Charles Gough VC, took part at the age of 25 in various campaigns around Africa including Sudan and the Second Boer War. An officer in The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consorts Own) as were the Congreves above, it was during his participation in the Third Somaliland Expedition of 1903 that Major John Gough was to distinguish himself with an act of gallantry by which he very nearly did not receive any recommendation. Whilst leading a column of march on April 22nd 1903, Gough’s unit came under heavy enemy attack. Gough led a spirited defence against far superior numbers, until forced to retreat, all the while still fighting off the enemy led by Mohammed Abdullah Hassan. After getting to a relatively safe distance, Gough looked back to see two Captains of the march struggling to assist a badly wounded fellow officer, and get him to safety. Gough at serious risk to his own life, rushed back to help them lift the officer onto a camel. Sadly he was wounded further, and died almost immediately.

For their actions in trying to rescue their comrade, Captains William George Walker and George Murray Rolland received the Victoria Cross. Later that year, in August, after months of playing down his own role in the rescue attempt, the true extent of his participation was revealed, and in the following January, Major John Gough was awarded his VC by the King. Major John eventually attained the rank of General, as did his brother Hubert, who went on to be famous for leading the Fifth army during the Great War. John was also to become an unofficial but well known sounding board for Sir Douglas Haig. During the Great War, John continued his military career, but more in a command role. Whilst visiting his old battalion, the 2nd rifles, near Neuve Chappelle, on 20th February 1915, John was inadvertently hit by a sniper’s stray bullet which had been fired from around 1000 yards away, which seemingly missed its target and ricocheted, hitting Gough in the stomach. He died of wounds the next day. Sir John’s VC now sits in the Royal Green Jacket’s Museum along with those of the Congreves. His father’s meanwhile is part of Lord Ashcroft’s display at the Imperial War Museum.

My final dabble into the brave world of father and son recipients, is actually one of in-laws. Just to show that the familial connection doesn’t have to be blood. Also this family lays claim as do the Goughs, to a strong military background, on both sides. However theirs goes back further. I will start with Field Marshall The Right Honourable John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort. Bit of a mouthful, but as a direct descendant of one Thomas Gage of American Revolutionary Wars fame, we can perhaps forgive him. Born in 1886, in London as a member of the illustrious Prendergast-Vereker line, he was educated at Harrow and succeeded his father’s title in 1902 at the age of 16. After his education, he entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1904 and progressed to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant of the Grenadier Guards the following year, two years later, making Lieutenant. After being a key player in the funeral procession in 1910 of King Edward VII, Sir John married in 1911 and had three children, two sons, one of whom died as a toddler, and the other being killed in 1941 also as a lieutenant in the Grenadiers, and a daughter, Jacqueline.
At the outbreak of the Great War, Sir John was promoted to Major and sent with the early BEF forces to France, where he took part in action in the retreat of Mons, the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Passchendaele over the following three years, earning himself further promotion and several decorations for bravery. As the war entered its closing stages, Sir John demonstrated extreme valour; earning him a Victoria Cross. His citation reads:

For most conspicuous bravery, skilful leading and devotion to duty during the attack of the Guards Division on 27th September 1918, across the Canal du Nord, near Flesquieres, when in command of the 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards, the leading battalion of the 3rd Guards Brigade. Under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire he led his battalion with great skill and determination to the “forming-up” ground, where very severe fire from artillery and machine guns was again encountered. Although wounded, he quickly grasped the situation, directed a platoon to proceed down a sunken road to make a flanking attack, and, under terrific fire, went across open ground to obtain the assistance of a Tank, which he personally led and directed to the best possible advantage. While thus fearlessly exposing himself, he was again severely wounded by a shell. Notwithstanding considerable loss of blood, after lying on a stretcher for awhile [sic], he insisted on getting up and personally directing the further attack. By his magnificent example of devotion to duty and utter disregard of personal safety all ranks were inspired to exert themselves to the utmost, and the attack resulted in the capture of over 200 prisoners, two batteries of field guns and numerous machine guns. Lt.-Col. Viscount Gort then proceeded to organise the defence of the captured position until he collapsed; even then he refused to leave the field until he had seen the “success signal” go up on the final objective. The successful advance of the battalion was mainly due to the valour, devotion and leadership of this very gallant officer.

As World War 2 broke out, Gort was given command of the BEF and the following year, his daughter married Sir William Sidney, only son of William Sidney, 5th Baron De L’Isle and Dudley, one of the oldest and most distinguished noble families in England with an illegitimate line of descendency to William IV and an obvious legitimate one to Sir Philip Sidney, courtiers to the Tudor dynasty. He succeeded his father as 6th Baron in 1945. Born in 1909, Sir William was educated at first Eton, and then later at Magdalene College, Cambridge before graduating into Chartered Accountancy and joining the Grenadier Guards Reserve of Officers. Sir William took part in action in both France and Italy, in 1944 he led two attacks on the enemy whilst defending the Anzio Beach-head and drove the Germans out of a Gully from where they had been positioned to fire upon his command, in the second instance, charging the enemy at point blank range firing his gun until they were either killed, wounded or fled. During this action, Sidney was wounded, but despite his injuries he refused to seek medical assistance, until the position had been consolidated and the enemy retreated.

For this action he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Later Sir William would be asked where he had been shot, and famously – not to mention coyly- replied “In Italy!” Both Sir William and his father in law are interred in the family vault, in the Sidney Chapel in the Church of St John the Baptist beside the family seat at Penshurst Place.

I hope you have all enjoyed part one of this mini-series. Look forward to part two where I discuss brothers who have been awarded the VC.

Phoebe