England,  Phoebe,  Western Europe

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.