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By Brian Best


Three men can claim to be the first VC in that elite list of recipients of the world’s highest award for outstanding gallantry. The name of Lieutenant Cecil Buckley RN was the first to be published in the London Gazette of 24 February, 1857 for his part in two exploits in the Sea of Azoff on 28 May, 1855. Due to his superior rank, Commander Henry Raby RN was the first man to physically receive the Cross at the inaugural investiture on 26 June, 1857. This was awarded for his part in bringing in a wounded soldier under fire during the abortive attack on the Redan , 18 June, 1855. (see cover of 4th edition of  The Journal)

     The man who could genuinely be said to be the very first VC, however, was a young Irish midshipman named Charles Lucas, whose gallant act was performed on 20 June 1854, in what was virtually the first action of the war against Russia. He was born into a wealthy landowning family on 19 February 1834 at Drumargole, County Armagh. At the age of fourteen, he joined the Navy in 1848, the year of the Irish Potato Famine. He first served aboard HMS Vanguard, but it was in his second ship, the 40 gun Fox, that he saw his first action in the Second Burmese War of 1852.

     Under the command of Commadore G.Lambert, Fox was part of the small squadron that attacked the heavily fortified enemy town of Martaban to great effect. Led by Commander Tarleton of the Fox, a landing party attacked and captured the enemy stockades, spiking their guns and destroying their ammunition. Further action followed against Rangoon and Pegu. The end of the war resulted in the annexation of most of Burma to the East India Company.

     With the outbreak of war with Russia in 1854, the greatest naval danger was seen as the Baltic Sea, where Russia’s main fleet and her principle arsenals were situated. It followed that the main Anglo-French fleet was sent to the Baltic, but any hope that the Russians would oblige with a set piece naval battle was thwarted by the enemy’s refusal to leave Kronstadt, their heavily-defended home port. The monotonous task of operating a blockade was alleviated by the occasional raid against land targets.

     Before war had been declared, the Admiralty had the foresight to reconnoitre the Baltic area and despatched the new steam sloop, Hecla.  Midshipman, or Mate, Charles Lucas had recently transferred to the Hecla, which left Hull on 19 February 1854. In a voyage of some 3000 miles, she carried a team of surveyors, who drew charts and sought suitable anchorages for the large Anglo-French fleet. Several times Hecla used her superior speed to outrun Russian frigates, for she was better suited to speed than fighting, something later her captain seemed to forget.

     The Hecla’s captain was the energetic and resourceful William Hutcheson Hall, a man who would play a prominent role in Lucas’s life. As a young lieutenant, Hall had commanded the East India Company iron steam ship Nemesis during the First China War of 1840. With its shallow draught and armed with rockets, the Chinese called it the “devil ship”, as it created havoc amongst the enemy junks in Anson Bay. Hall further came to the Lordship’s attention when he, and two other like-minded officers, proposed the establishment of a sailor’s home in Portsmouth. When sailors were paid off, they were often far from home and fell easy prey to all sorts of persons who were skilled in parting the unsuspecting victim from his money. The idea of a sailor’s hostel gained approval and both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert added their endorsement and financial support. From this, there grew the highly successful establishment, which gave sailor’s a refuge while waiting for another posting.

     When the Hecla returned from her Baltic mission, she joined the main fleet at Dover. The surveyors distributed their charts and briefed the commander, Sir Charles Napier, and his captains. The fleet, including Hecla, then set course for the Baltic.

     After the disappointment of the Russian fleet’s refusal to fight, lesser targets were sought. It was Hecla, together with the Arrogant that first engaged the enemy amongst the Aland Islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Bothnia. Capturing the crew of a fishing boat, they compelled them to guide them through the shoals and scattered islets to look for enemy merchant ships, which they suspected were at anchor. The Aland Islands were described by a naval officer as, “This granite archipelago encloses a perfect labyrinth of straits and bays studded with minor islands, and so fringed with reefs and banks as to make the navigation often impossible- always hazardous.”

     As they were negotiating a narrow waterway, a Russian battery opened fire, but was quickly silenced by the 46 gun Arrogant. The following morning, the shallow draught, but lightly armed, Hecla found herself in range of the guns of a Russian fort and, although she returned fire, she was no match for it. Fortunately, Arrogant arrived in time and, despite running aground, was able to silence the enemy guns. Finally, they found the three merchant ships, two of which had run aground. The third was taken by Hecla who, under fire from shore batteries and Russian infantry, took her in tow and  steamed away with her prize. In the process, one man was killed and Hall was wounded in the leg by a spent musket ball.

     This minor success received the thanks of the admiral-in-chief as well as the British Government and no doubt spurred Captain Hall to undertake a foolhardy attack against the formidable fortress of Bomarsund on the east coast of the main island in the Aland chain. In what should have been a reconnaissance led by Captain Hall, developed into a bombardment by three lightly armed ships against the solid walls of the three granite-built fortress towers and heavily fortified casements. The Russians had considerable superiority in firepower with over 100 guns against just 38 (Hecla 8, Odin 16 and Valourous 16) 

     Early in the fight, a live shell landed on Hecla’s upper deck. A cry went up for all hands to fling themselves on the deck. One man ignored this advice. 20 year old Charles Lucas ran forward, picked up the round shell with its fizzing fuse, carried it to the rail and dropped it overboard. It exploded with a tremendous roar before it hit the water and two men were slightly hurt. The consequences would have been far more serious but for Lucas’s prompt action.

     Captain Hall showed his gratitude for the saving of his ship by promoting Lucas on the spot to Acting Lieutenant. In his report. Hall was also fulsome in his praise for Lucas’s great presence of mind. In turn, Sir Charles Napier echoed this praise and recommended confirmation of Lucas’s promotion.

     Hall also exaggerated the damage inflicted upon the Russians and earned a stiff rebuke from the Admiralty for putting his ship in unnecessary danger and expending all his ammunition to little effect. None the less, the news was well received by a British public hungry for some offensive movement from their much-vaunted navy. For a while, the name Bomarsund was the topic of conversation and a new coal mining village near Newcastle was even named after this obscure Baltic fortress.

     For his bravery in saving the lives of his fellow crewmen, Charles Lucas was awarded a gold Royal Humane Society Medal. This large 51mm dia medal was not intended for wearing, but Lucas had a ring and blue ribbon fitted. In 1869, official permission was granted for the wearing of the medal and 38mm dia medal was produced with a scroll suspension and navy blue ribbon.

     Just three years later, on 26 June 1857, Lieutenant Charles Lucas stood fourth in the line of recipients at the first investiture of the Victoria Cross and received his award from Queen Victoria (see first edition of The Journal, Oct.2002).

     Lucas did not see any further action but steadily climbed the promotion ladder. He served on Calcutta, Powerful, Cressy, Edinburgh, Liffey and Indus. In 1862 his was promoted to Commander and then to Captain in 1867, before retiring on 1 October 1873. He went to live with his sister and brother-in -law in the Western Highlands until he received a summons to his death bed from his old captain, now Admiral Sir William Hall KCB, FRS, who made an extraordinary request. He begged Lucas to take care of his wife Hilare and to marry his only daughter, Frances. Lucas, an incurable romantic, agreed. The marriage was not a success for Frances was arrogant  and violent-tempered and far too aware of her position as a member of the Byng family. being the grand-daughter to the 6th Viscount Torrington. They married in 1879 and produced three daughters.

     They made their home at Great Culverden, on the Mount Ephraim area of  Tunbridge Wells. In 1885, Lucas was promoted to Rear-Admiral on the retired list. He occupied himself as a JP for both Kent and Argyllshire. After a train journey, Lucas found to his dismay that he had left all his medals in the carriage. They were never recovered. Instead, he was issued with a duplicate group. The IGS bar’Pegu’ is engraved with his details, as are both gold Royal Humane Medals. The Baltic Medal is blank, as is the reverse of the Victoria Cross.

     Charles Lucas died peacefully at his home on 7 August 1914, just as Europe plunged into the madness of the First World War. He was buried in St Lawrence’s Churchyard at the nearby village of Mereworth 

Lt. George Knowland
The Last Commando VC
By Robert J.Mewett

The above portrait * shows a fresh-faced young George Knowland, recently promoted and proudly displaying his lieutenant’s pips. He wears a jungle warfare cob hat and on his breast is the ribbon of the newly issued Defence Medal. Tragically, he would never live to wear the crimson ribbon of the Victoria Cross.
My late father, Bob Mewett, served with Lieutenant George Knowland during the epic battle fought on Hill 170 in 1945. It has always been a fascination to me as to what manner of man he was to perform such a prolonged act of bravery.
The awarding of the VC from an outsider's point of view seems to be a controversial affair for who is to say which act is braver than another or which danger is the greater. It is undoubtedly true that many deserved VCs have probably not been awarded and many brave acts have gone unnoticed and unwitnessed. But from the soldier's side things are more straightforward. Comrades who were there recommend VCs and appreciated the danger. The VC winner is a soldier’s 'Soldier', the one every raw recruit aspires to when they first enlist. He stands as their mentor and self image of a supreme fighting man.
The VC is earned in the soldier’s dream but won in his worst nightmare.
The VC recipient is proudly claimed by his regiment and held up as an example of what a soldier should be. But this, for those who are interested in such matters as 'what manner of man' wins a VC, is where confusion sets in. Many have won the ultimate award and have lived to tell the tale and on enquiry these recipients have proved to be on the whole ordinary and self effacing, disarming the questioner with such answers as, 'I only did what anybody would have done' or 'I don't see my self as brave'. This is the point, for bravery is seen from the perspective of those around the individual, and is very rarely, conceived by the individual themselves.
Those who do survive seem to spend their future time eroding the event to a more manageable size, rubbing the edges off and smoothing things over, in order for them to shoulder the burden of this the highest of battle field awards.
Strangely, living VC winners do not seem to be the place to look for the answer of 'What Manner of Man?'
The pressures of winning such an award do not burden those who are awarded the VC posthumously. We only left with a citation. An individual and an action frozen in time and space never to be changed, just read and interpreted by any one interested enough to want to.
A photo often accompanies citations. Only those few that don't carry an image are the individuals condemned to remain invisible heroes. But some citations border on the mundane and again unintentionally reduce the act to almost everyday.
It seems to depend on how long after the action the citation is written and how close the writer was to the original deed and their creative skill in reproducing the facts. If you can have luck in such things we have it in the highly detailed citation to Lt George Knowland.


George Arthur Knowland was born in Catford in South East London on 16 August 1922 and, after the death of his mother, he spent some time in care at an orphanage. In the 1930s, he lived with his father in Greenfield Road, Croydon and attended the local school, Elmwood Junior School. As soon as he was old enough, he enlisted in the army in 1940 and joined the Royal Norfolk's, later volunteering for the Commandos.
He was posted to No3 Commando and fought with them in Sicily and Italy. Distinguishing himself in this theatre, he was promoted to sergeant. When he returned home for officer training, he married Ruby Weston. In January 1945, he was sent out to the Far East to join No I Commando, which was now resident in Myebon, Burma.
No 1 Commando had fought in North Africa on the Torch Landings and had spent months of hard training in India preparing for the assault of the Arakan Peninsular. George Knowland, now commissioned lieutenant, was posted to 4 Troop as a section leader.
3 Commando Brigade, of which No.1 Army Commando were a part along with No.5 Army Commando and 44 and 42 RM Commando, were given the task of assaulting the Arakan Peninsular at Myebon. Here they were to take and hold the dominant features of the southern Chin Hills. If they could achieve this, they would cut off the supply and escape routes of the enemy and secure the bridgehead.

HILL 170

No 1 Commando secured and dug in on a feature known as Hill 170, code named ‘Brighton’, a half mile from the village of Kangaw, with 4 Troop defending the most northerly end. It was the start of which was to become an epic battle lasting 10 days. Finally, the Japanese commander concentrated his numerically superior force of 300 against Hill 170 and the surviving 24 men of 4 Troop. An estimated 700 shells landed on the hill on that last day of the battle. In a day of continuous fighting, much of it hand to hand, the Commandos repulsed and counter-attacked the waves of fanatical Japanese. Prominent amongst the defenders was the newcomer, George Knowland, whose energy and bravery acted as an inspiration to his comrades. This made him a particular target and he drew heavy incoming fire, but miraculously he was unscathed.
He used just about everything he could lay his hands on the keep the enemy at bay; grenades, rifle, light machine gun and even a 2 inch mortar, which he fired from the hip against a tree stump. This use of a mortar was both difficult and dangerous, as the recoil would have been considerable. At a moment when the Japanese were only about 10 yards away, Knowland grabbed a Tommy gun from a casualty and, standing up in full view, sprayed the attackers until they fell back. At this moment of victory, he was mortally wounded. The crucial ground, however, was never lost and the critical position secured until re enforcements arrived.
When 3 Commando Brigade second in command, Brigadier Peter Young, arrived, he noted, almost the first of our dead I saw was Knowland. He lay on his back, one knee slightly raised, with a peaceful smiling look on his face, his head uncovered.
Around the forward positions occupied by 4 Troop lay 340 enemy dead and a further 2300 dead around the whole of Hill 170.
Citation in respect of VC award to Lt G.A. Knowland
War Office – 12 April 1945
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to: -
Lieutenant George Arthur KNOWLAND (323566), The Royal Norfolk Regiment (attached Commandos) (London S.E.1)
In Burma on January 31, 1945, near Kangaw, Lieutenant Knowland was commanding the forward platoon of a troop positioned on the extreme north of a hill, which was subject to very heavy and repeated enemy attacks throughout the whole day. Before the first attack started Lt Knowland’s platoon were heavily mortared and machine gunned, yet he moved about among his men keeping them alert and encouraging them, though under fire himself at the time.
When the enemy, some 300 strong in all, made their first assault they concentrated their efforts on his platoon of twenty four men, but in spite of the ferocity of the attack, he moved about from trench to trench distributing ammunition, and firing his rifle and throwing grenades at the enemy, often from completely exposed positions.
Later when the crew of one of his forward Bren guns had all been wounded, he sent back to troop HQ for another crew and ran forward to man the gun himself until the crew arrived.
The enemy was less than ten yards away from him in dead ground down the hill, so, in order to get a better field of fire, he stood on top of the trench firing the light machine gun from the hip and successfully kept them at a distance until a medical orderly had dressed the wounded men behind him.
The new Bren team became casualties on the way up, and Lt Knowland continued to fire the gun until another team arrived.
Later when a fresh attack came in he took over a 2inch mortar whose team had been ordered to the forward trenches to replace casualties, and in spite of heavy fire and the closeness of the enemy he stood up firing the weapon from the hip and killing six of the enemy with his first bomb. When all bombs were expended he went back through heavy grenade mortar and machine gun fire to get more, which he fired in the same way in front of his platoon in the open. When those bombs were finished he went back to his own trench and continued to fire his rifle at the enemy. Being hard pressed and with the enemy closing in on him from only 10 yards away he had no time to recharge his magazine. Snatching up a Tommy gun of a casualty he sprayed the enemy and was mortally wounded stemming this assault, though not before he had killed and wounded many of the enemy.
Such was the inspiration of his magnificent heroism, that, though fourteen out of twenty four of his platoon became casualties at an early stage, and six of his positions were over¬run by the enemy, his men held on through twelve hours of continuous and fierce fighting until reinforcements arrived. If this northern end of the hill had fallen, the rest of the position would have been endangered, the beach head dominated by the enemy and other units inland cut off from supplies.
Not suprisingly, No.1 Commando was honoured with many gallantry awards, of which Knowland’s was the highest. In addition, there were 2 MCs, 2 DCMs and 13 MMs.
Knowland’s VC was received by his widow, Ruby, who handed it on to his father, now a publican. For many years it was proudly displayed in his Finsbury pub but, in 1958, it was stolen and has never been seen again.
George Knowland’s body was buried at Taukkyan War Cemetery, 20 miles north of Rangoon. On 9 May 1995, a brass plaque was unveiled by the late Captain Philip Gardner VC to the eight VC recipients, including Knowland, from the London Borough of Lewisham.
 On 31 January 2002, George Knowland was further honoured by his old school in Croydon. Through the efforts of Michael Lyons of the British Legion, a handsome plaque has been placed in the hall at Elmwood Junior School and was unveiled by Countess Mountbatten.
Subsequently, the Commando Association contacted the school's head teacher, Heather Jones, and together formulated an annual award to be given on 31 January, to mark the anniversary of Knowland’s death.
The George Knowland Certificate of Merit will now be presented to the Elmwood pupil who exhibits the lieutenant’s example of selflessness.
Editor’s note)
Harry Winch (2 Troop), John Huntington (3 Troop), Charles Hayes, Vic Ralph, the late Bob Mewett (4 Troop), Henry Brown MBE, ORSM…all veterans of Hill 170. They also served: John Lowman (4 Troop),
Pete Dovey & Roy Nicholls (5 Troop)
* Photo portrait reproduced with kind permission of the Imperial War Museum, ref. HU2031

Artist’s impression of Lt. George Knowland defending Hill 170, with kind permission from the 1st Battalion the Anglian Regt.


by John Mulholland

Westminster Abbey Plaque

On 14 May 2003, HM The Queen paid special tribute, on behalf of the nation, to recipients of the VC and GC when she unveiled the first national memorial at Westminster Abbey. The decision to place the memorial stone in the Abbey followed an eight-year campaign by the VC and GC Association. Although there are many memorials to individuals and groups of VC and GC recipients, until now there had been no national memorial to honour them collectively. The memorial ledger is engraved in nabresina stone, with enlarged bronze and silver crosses, inlaid with enamel ribbons. Beneath is the simple inscription: "REMEMBER THEIR VALOUR AND GALLANTRY."
The Queen was accompanied by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and the service was attended by over 1,600 guests including 11 of the surviving 15 VC holders and 23 of the surviving 29 GC holders. The recipients attending the service travelled from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, Malaysia, South Africa and the USA.
Guests began arriving at the Abbey from 9.00 am onwards and there was strict security with armed police manning the security booths at each entrance. By 10.00 am there was a large traffic jam outside the Abbey as roads nearby were cordoned off. Outside the Great West Door there was a tri-service guard of honour and inside an array of flags of nations representing recipients of the VC and GC. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were received at the Great West Door by the Very Reverend Dr Wesley Carr, Dean of Westminster, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Sir Tasker Watkins VC GBE DL, Deputy President of the VC and GC Association.
The service began at 11.00 am with Fanfare for a Ceremonial Occasion played by the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Royal Marines. During the opening hymn, The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh took their places. The bidding was made by the Dean, followed by prayers and the first reading from Romans 12:1-9 by Lt. Cdr Ian Fraser VC DSC RD*, Vice-Chairman of the VC and GC Association. The Choir then sang Psalm 67.
The next reading from The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides (circa 400 BC) was an inspired choice. It was read by Colonel Stuart Archer GC OBE ERD, Chairman of the VC and GC Association. The passage from Pericles' Oration over the Athenian Dead, included the lines: "No, they joyfully determined to accept the risk. Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than live submitting, they fled only from dishonour, but met danger face to face, and after one brief moment, while at the summit of their fortune, escaped, not from their fear, but from their glory."
Colonel Archer then invited The Queen to unveil the Memorial, which was placed on a specially designed stand and covered with the Union Flag. After the unveiling the Queen said: "Mr Dean, to remember the valour and gallantry of all holders, living and departed, of the Victoria Cross and George Cross, I ask you to receive this memorial into the custody of the Dean and Chapter, and invite you to dedicate it." Following the dedication the congregation stood for the stirring Antiphon which was specially commissioned for the service.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, then delivered a sermon and argued that bravery was not simply a wild disregard for danger. "The conduct of war relies on many kinds of bravery… and often behaviour in war or in crisis is so mixed that it is hard to tease out real virtue from the courage of temperament or madness", the Archbishop said. But there was more to bravery than heroic insanity: "Courage of heart and mind comes not just from patriotism, but from conviction that a country is committed to justice and freedom; not just from obedience to orders or to some abstract duty, but from a sense of the human worthwhileness of comrades and colleagues and, simply, other human beings." The Archbishop concluded that the type of courage displayed by the holders of the VC and GC was of a selfless nature: "Courage as a true virtue is the kind of courage that reflects the bravery of Christ, courage that does not deny the reality of fear but is moved and energised by a vision," he said. "It is always courage that is exercised in one way or another for the sake of others, to make something possible for others, not for personal gain or glory."
A soldier, sailor, airman and a policeman then carried the newly dedicated memorial to its site close to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. The party was preceded by the flags of the representative nations and four holders of the George Cross: Michael Pratt, Alf Lowe, Tony Gledhill and Derek Kinne. Four holders of the VC immediately followed the memorial: Lt Cdr Ian Fraser, Keith Payne, Flt. Lt. John Cruickshank and Capt. Rambahadur Limbu. At the rear were the Verger, the High Commissioner for Malta, the Dean's Verger and the Dean. Whilst this procession slowly moved down the nave, the choir sang an anthem from The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. The congregation stood and faced west for the Act of Remembrance and the notes of the Last Post resounded around the Abbey. The Last Post caused some, in an otherwise stoical congregation, to dab their eyes in memory of departed relatives and friends.
The High Commissioner for Malta gave the exhortation to which the congregation said, "We will remember them". During the silence the stone was placed close to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, near the Great West Door. After a faultless Reveille, the procession returned to the Quire and Sacarium whilst the congregation sang He who would valiant be. The prayers were adapted from a collection selected by the late Rev. Geoffrey Woolley VC OBE MC. The closing hymn was Now thank we all our God, followed by the blessing and the National Anthem.
To anyone present it was clear that much thought and preparation had been given to the service and everything appeared to go to plan. Those in the congregation had the benefit of video screens to view the proceedings. Unfortunately, for some, the view was marred by the headress of some ladies in the congregation - a similar problem was reported by The Times at the first VC investiture in Hyde Park on 26 June 1857. Also the sound system in the Abbey had its problems so that in certain parts of the service, notably the Archbishop's sermon, echoes caused an indistinct sound. But these problems were minor in comparison to the spectacle of such a momentous occasion - the most important gathering of VC and GC holders and relatives since the 1956 VC centenary celebrations in London.
Each member of the congregation received an Order of Service and a memorial booklet, which listed all recipients of the VC and GC and a list of donors to the memorial. At the end of the service most of the congregation filed past the memorial and left by the Great West Door.
After the service many of the guests attended a reception at Westminster Hall. They walked past the North Door of the Abbey on a cordoned off pavement on Broad Sanctuary. The traffic was diverted around Parliament Square because Margaret Street (opposite the Palace of Westminster) was shut to traffic to allow the guests across the road to Westminster Hall. Many guests were in uniforms or suits wearing their full size medals. Some guests wore their relatives' VC groups or miniatures on their right breasts. Members of the general public were cordoned off behind barriers at either end of Margaret Street and a large police presence ushered guests towards the security gates where invitation tickets were shown to gain access to Westminster Hall.
Not all those who had received invitations to the service received invitations to the reception in Westminster Hall. Each VC or GC holder was accompanied by up to three guests and deceased VC and GC recipients were also represented by up to three guests. There were a number of other invited guests, politicians and VIPs. Once inside the gates of the precincts of Westminster Hall there was a relative calm and the guests formed an orderly queue to enter.
The Queen arrived at Westminster Hall in her maroon Daimler which first saw service in 2002 for her Golden Jubilee celebrations. The Lord Great Chamberlain, the Marquess of Cholmondeley and Colonel Stuart Archer, received her Majesty.
Once in the Hall there was a great crush of people and it was difficult to move about. An army of white-clad waiters and waitresses provided a constant supply of food and beverages. The walls were decked with large murals of the VC and GC. The Hall is a rather dark and forbidding place with little natural light. Even with artificial light it had a gloomy appearance. Apart from its size, it is because of the Hall's sombre nature that it has been used on so many lying-in-state occasions.
The Queen, Patron of the VC and GC Association, received applause as she walked down a red carpet and was presented to a number of special guests by Mrs Didy Grahame MVO, Secretary of the VC and GC Association. The proceedings in the Hall were informal. There were no speeches or programme and just one short announcement. A number of the elderly or infirm VC and GC holders took to seats and were surrounded by friends and well wishers. On the stage at the back of the Hall the orchestra of the Irish Guards played popular melodies but at the beginning of the reception their notes were drowned out by the conversation of the guests. Official photographers in smart suits moved about the Hall doing their work. At about 2.30 pm coaches arrived for some guests and the Hall began to empty and by 3.00 pm the reception was over.
The Guardian of 15 May 2003 reported the evaluation of one VC holder and one GC holder. John Cruickshank VC said of the memorial: "It is magnificent, but it could have been done before now." But Alf Lowe GC said, "I think the reason there's been no memorial before is because the majority of us would not have initiated it ourselves. We're rather reticent." An Australian newspaper recorded the comment of Mr Keith Payne VC, a Vietnam veteran who said: "It's a little overdue but it's an appropriate time with the world situation so uncertain at the moment".
The Daily Mail reported that for two women, it was a particularly poignant occasion. Mrs Sara Jones, widow of the late Colonel 'H' (Herbert) Jones VC said: "It would have been H's birthday today. He'd have been 63 so it's good timing and it's been a wonderful day."
As the mother of the late Sergeant Ian McKay VC, Mrs Freda McKay also felt deeply moved: "I must be the only VC's mother here and I have met some lovely people." Both women were a present reminder of the exacting toll of war and the fact that many of the VC and GCs were awarded posthumously. This thought was echoed during the Service in the final words of the reading from Thucydides:
"For this offering of their lives, made in common by them all, they each of them, individually received that renown which never grows old, and for a sepulchre, not so much that in which their bones have been deposited, but that noblest of shrines wherein their glory is laid up to be eternally remembered upon every occasion on which deed or story shall call for its commemoration. For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb."

Westminster Abbey VC & GCs

The VC holders present were:

Capt Richard Annand
Flt Lt John Cruickshank
Lt. Cdr Ian Fraser

Havildar Lachhiman Gurung

Havildar Lachhiman Gurung (Pictured)
Capt Rambahadur Limbu
Mr Keith Payne
Sub Major Umrao Singh
Mr Ernest Smith
Mr William Speakman
Sir Tasker Watkins
Lt Col Eric Wilson
Total: 11 out of 15 living recipients

The VC holders unable to attend were Bhanbhagta Gurung, Edward Kenna, Gerard Norton and Tulbahadur Pun.

The GC holders present were:

Col Stuart Archer
Mr John Bamford
Mr James Beaton
Lt Cdr John Bridge
Lt. Col. Arthur Butson
Mr Harry Errington
Mr Kenneth Farrow
Mr Harwood Flintoff
Mr Anthony Gledhill
Mr John Gregson
Mr Derek Kinne
Mr Alfred Lowe
Mr Joseph Lynch
Mr Frank Naughton
Mr Michael Pratt
Mrs Margaret Purves
Mr Awang anak Raweng
Mr Geoffrey Riley
Mr Henry Stevens
Lt Col George Styles
Mr Charles Walker
Mr Eric Walton
Mr Charles Wilcox
Total: 23 out of 29 living recipients

The Times of 15 May lists Mr Carl Walker GC as attending, but the VC & GC Association confirmed that he was unable to attend at the last minute
The Island of Malta and the Royal Ulster Constabulary also received the GC. Dr. L. Gonzi, the Deputy Prime Minister of Malta and Mr Jim McDonald, Chairman of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC Foundation represented them at the Service.

The above list of those attending was taken from The Times, 15 May 2003.


Order of Service Programme - Westminster Abbey, 14 May 2003
The Daily Telegraph, 15 May 2003
The Guardian, 15 May 2003
The Times, 13 and 15 May 2003
The Daily Mail, 15 May 2003
The Evening Standard, 14 May 2003
Terry Hissey and Derek Hunt for their contributions and helpful comments
Rebecca Lee for drafting assistance

Memorial Video and Booklet

The video of the service and reception is available at £12 per copy and the VC and GC Memorial Booklet is available at £2.50 per copy from The VC and GC Association, Horse Guards, Whitehall, London SW1A 2AX. Tel 020 7930 3506 Fax 020 7930 4303.

Harry Willey, New South Wales, Australia

Captain of the Afterguard JAMES GORMAN VC.
Second Mate, NSS VERNON

This Portrait was presented to James Gorman VC.
on his leaving the NSS "Vernon" by the boys of the ship as a token of their regard
Artist unknown; Photo by Harry Willey.
Original portrait donated by Marjorie Willey
to Naval Collection, Spectacle Island


I first became interested in the Crimean War Victoria Cross recipient, James Gorman, when I was shown a portrait of him by my future father-in-law, who had been married to one of Gorman's six grand-daughters. The family, who owned the VC medal group, were justly proud of their ancestor and believed he had been awarded his Cross for saving the life of Captain Lushington at the Battle of Inkermann.

Subsequent investigation threw up a mystery in the form of another James Gorman, who had changed his name from Devereaux when joining the Royal Navy. This Gorman/Devereaux had been born in Suffolk in 1819, whereas the true James Gorman had been born on 21 August 1834 in Islington. The latter joined the Navy in 1850 and was serving on HMS Albion at the outbreak of the Crimean War. It is probable that Gorman/Devereaux was a rating on the Beagle when the call came for the Navy to supply a Brigade to help in the bombardment of Sebastopol.

On 26 October 1854, the day after the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, a strong Russian force attacked the right flank of the British siege position before Sebastopol. Disregarding an order to spike his gun, Acting Mate William Hewett and three naval gunners, including Gorman/Devereaux, kept such a rate of fire at close range, that the Russians were forced to withdraw. For his steadiness in the face of the enemy, Hewett was awarded the Victoria Cross.

It was for this action that the bogus James Gorman claimed to have also been awarded the Victoria Cross and many have genuinely believed his was entitled to such an award. After all, he had faced the same danger as Hewett and received nothing. Whatever his grievance, he was not entitled to the Victoria Cross and, whether deliberately or through a misunderstanding, he managed to convince enough people of this claim that successive reference works accept him to be the rightful James Gorman.

One of the reasons the bogus Gorman was not exposed was that the true recipient had made his home on the other side of the world, Australia.

With the help of friends who researched the primary sources in England, and my own research of the well-recorded life and death of James Gorman VC, following his emigration to Australia in 1863, I have been able to write the following story.

His Life in the Navy

Captain of the Afterguard, JAMES GORMAN VC was born in Islington, Middlesex, on 21 August 1834 to Patrick James Gorman, a nurseryman, and his wife Ann (nee Furlong). They had been married at the famous St. Martin's in the Field Church, Westminster, on the 23rd of November 1829. When he reached the age of thirteen, James was one of the first group of two hundred boys to be accepted into the Royal Navy as apprentices.

He entered HMS Victory as a boy second class on 2 March 1848. The old 2164 ton Victory had been Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar but, with the advent of steam, he had been relegated to a training ship thus avoiding the fate of most of the obsolete sailing warships, which were used as prison hulks, floating stores or just broken up.

At the completion of six months' training on board the HMS Victory, Gorman was transferred with sixty-one other apprentices to HMS Rolla, a paddle wheel and sail tender to Victory. She was a "Cherokee" Class 10 gun brig sloop of 231 ton that had been completed in 1829 in Plymouth Dockyard. The Apprentices cruised the choppy waters of the Channel on the Rolla until they were declared fit to go to sea.

Gorman gained recognition as a good seaman and was kept beyond his allotted time on HMS Rolla to work as an Instructor for the second intake of apprentices. At the completion of his duty on HMS Rolla he was transferred to Dragon for only a short period from 13 September 1849 till 1 November 1849, before he was transferred to Howe where he stayed until 12 July 1850.

He then transferred from Queen (a floating barracks) to HMS Albion, his first ship as a boy first class on 13 July 1850. Records show that at that time he was 5ft 2in (155cm) tall, with blue eyes, had light brown hair and a ruddy complexion. It was also noted that he had been vaccinated against smallpox.

James was promoted to Ordinary Seaman 2nd Class on 13 May 1852, then further promoted to Able Seaman two months later. During the Crimean War, he was a member of The Naval Brigade from the 1st October 1854 to 9 September 1855.

The Naval Brigade consisted of 1020 officers and men from HMS Albion, Britannia, Bellerophon, Diamond, London, Queen, Rodney, Trafalgar and Vengeance, who were under the Command of Captain Stephen Lushington of the Albion.

The Naval Brigade had been formed at the request of Lord Raglan who had asked the Navy for assistance. At first the sailors only worked around the camps in a non-combatant role. Then, as more of the soldiers were either killed or wounded, they were replaced by the sailors.

The Crimean War was the first time correspondents had been allowed to report first hand from the battlefield. They sent their eyewitness accounts of the conflict to the London Newspapers. The reports by William Howard Russell of The Times were thought to be the most graphic. In describing the Battle of Inkermann, Russell had quoted Lushington's own words: "It had commenced at half past seven on a cold misty morning and was a determined attempt by the Russians to force the British from the heights above the town of Sebastopol. A long day of heavy fighting followed and the Russians were eventually driven back."

In the Right Lancaster Battery, where eleven days before Hewett had won his VC, the British were suffering heavy casualties as the massed grey ranks of Russians advanced up the Careenage Ravine.

Among the acts of bravery Russell reported was the determination of five sailors from the Albion. These sailors, when ordered to withdraw and leave the wounded, were reported to have replied "They wouldn't trust any Ivan getting within bayonet range of the wounded". The five sailors then mounted the defence works (banquette) and kept up a continual and rapid rate of firing which drove the enemy back three times. They were helped by wounded soldiers who lay in the trench beneath them, who kept a constant flow of reloaded rifles for their bluejacket comrades. Because of their exposed position, the inducted infantrymen came under heavy fire, which swept the top of the parapet and two of the sailors fell dead. This left the surviving three sailors, James Gorman, Thomas Reeves and Mark Scholefield, to hold the Russians at bay. The Russians advanced to within forty yards of the battery before the steady fire from the naval trio finally caused the attack to stall and the enemy began to retreat.

On the 7 June 1856 the three surviving sailors, Gorman, Reeves and Scholefield were recommended by Sir Stephen Lushington to Queen Victoria as being worthy recipients of the Victoria Cross. On the 24 February 1857 their names appeared along with the names of 83 others upon whom the Queen had conferred this honour. The Queen presented his decoration to Thomas Reeves in Hyde Park, London, on 26 June 1857. On the same day, two Victoria Crosses were dispatched by the War Office to be presented to Gorman and Scholefield who were both serving in the China War.

Reeves and Scholefield had little time to enjoy the fame of their awards; the former died in 1862 and the latter at sea on 1858.

Gorman's Victoria Cross was one of fifteen awarded for the Battle of Inkermann. His service medals at this time were the Crimea Metal with Clasps for Inkermann & Sebastopol, and the Turkish Crimea Medal, which was presented to him by the Sultan of Turkey. He subsequently receive the 2nd China Medal with the Canton 1857 bar.

The Metals Awarded to James Gorman VC
Photo by Harry Willey, c1993

Gorman left HMS Albion on 5 January 1856 with a "Very Good Conduct" report and the following day signed on HMS Coquette as an AB. HMS Coquette was a 670 ton wooden screw steam gun vessel of 200 horsepower, carried 4 guns and had a top speed of 10.8 knots. She had been built by Green Blackwall on the Thames in 1855.

On 17 March 1856, Gorman was transferred to Haslar Hospital in Gosport, Hampshire where he was hospitalised with "rheumatism" for six weeks. When discharged from the Hospital on 2 May 1856 he returned to HMS Coquette from where he was discharged from Her Majesties Service three weeks later. For just a fortnight, Gorman was a civilian ashore, until he re-enlisted for duty on HMS Elk when the sloop was commissioned at Chatham. HMS Elk was a brig sloop of 12 guns, having been built at Chatham Dockyard in 1847. She was 105ft long and 482 ton. It was one of the first ships of the Royal Navy to become part of the Australia Station of the Royal Navy.

It was on 31 March 1857 while serving on HMS Elk that Gorman received his first payment of the pension of £10 per year that had been granted to recipients of the Victoria Cross. He received a payment of £24 and eleven pence, the pension having been back-dated to 5 November 1854. Following this initial payment, Gorman received a quarterly payment of £2 pounds and ten shillings for the rest of his life.

During his service on HMS Elk, he took part in operations in the Canton River at the taking of Fatchan and Canton from 28 December 1857 to 5 January 1858. Promoted to Captain of the Afterguard of the Elk, James Gorman VC visited Australia on three occasions. Sydney on 31 December 1858 and again in January 1860, also calling at Melbourne in March 1859. James Gorman VC was Paid Off at Sheerness on 21 August 1860, his 26th Birthday, at which time he was recorded as having grown 3 inches to become 5ft 5in (162.5cm) in height.

For the story of his fascinating life in Australia, read the full account in the Journal of the Victoria Cross Society


Two Victoria Cross recipients from the neighbouring riverside communities of Dartmouth and Kingswear were honoured in two ceremonies that took place, appropriately, on Remembrance Sunday, 10 November and Armistice Day, 11 November 2002. In what may be a unique event in the recent honouring of Victoria Cross holders, two such ceremonies were held within 24 hours of each other in the communities which face each other across the River Dart.

Local publisher Richard Webb and author Don Collinson discovered that there were no memorials to Corporal Theodore Veale of Dartmouth or Lt Col H. Jones of Kingswear.

It was rather poignant that, in a traditional Royal Navy community, both VCs were awarded to soldiers, albeit members of the Devonshire - later the Devonshire and Dorset - Regiment. The next two years were spent researching, organising and seeking funds for the memorials.


Sir Ray Tindle, the owner of the Dartmouth Chronicle, as well as a former member of the Regiment, helped to make the event possible. Similarly, the Jones family donated funds for the memorial to the Falkland's hero.

Sunday 10 November 2002 was a wet and blustery day that did little to dampen the spirit of those who witnessed the ceremony in one of Britain's most picturesque towns. In a moving ceremony at Royal Avenue Gardens, Sir Ray Tindle paid tribute to Corporal Veale: "Teddy Veale served his country as did many others in that war in which a million and a quarter British men and women were lost.

'We remember them all today, but Teddy Veale risked his life over and over again to save another. 'His bravery was beyond the call of duty. That is why we are placing this plaque here in this public place. He will never be forgotten by his town or his regiment."

Sir Ray went on to read the citation that appeared in the London Gazette of 9 September 1916:

"For most conspicuous bravery. Hearing that a wounded officer (Lt.Eric Savill) was lying out in front, Private Veale went out to search, and found him lying amidst growing corn within fifty yards of the enemy. He dragged the officer to a shell hole, returned for water and took it out. Finding that single-handedly he could not carry the officer, he returned for assistance, and took out two volunteers. One of the party was killed when carrying the officer, and heavy fire necessitated leaving the officer in a shell hole. At dusk, Private Veale went out again with volunteers to bring in the officer. Whilst doing this an enemy patrol was observed approaching. Private Veale at once went back and procured a Lewis gun, and with the fire of the gun he covered the party, and the officer was finally carried to safety. The courage and determination displayed was of the highest order."

Mrs Theodora Grindell, Corporal Veale's daughter watches as Miss Jennifer Grindell, his granddaughter lays a wreath.

Officers, men and old comrades of Corporal Veale's regiment then marched to the war memorial accompanied by the Regimental Band of the Devonshire and Dorsets. People lined the town's streets before gathering to witness the traditional wreath-laying ceremony.

Corporal Veale's daughter, Mrs Theodora Grindell then unveiled the memorial. Finally, there was a Remembrance service held at St Saviour's Church. Teddy Veale died a few days short of his 88th birthday on 6 November 1980 and was cremated and his ashes scattered at Enfield Crematorium.

A memorial to this brave man was long overdue and it was appropriate that his hometown should honour him.


The following day, another ceremony took place on the opposite bank at Kingswear. About 100 onlookers, dignitaries and representatives of the Parachute Regiment and the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment joined Mrs Sara Jones and her family in the unveiling of a memorial plaque on the ferry slipway.

H.Jones's brother, retired Royal Navy Commander Timothy Jones, delivered a eulogy in which he preferred not to dwell on his brother's sacrifice, but rather about his love of Kingswear: "We're not here to remember that bleak hillside in the Falklands, we're here to remember the man, how much he loved Kingswear and how much he enjoyed growing up here."

He related some anecdotes from their childhood, which highlighted the future VC's sense of daring and adventurous spirit:

"We had a great childhood and we really enjoyed ourselves, although with the exuberance of youth we did overdo it sometimes. As growing boys we were a real trial to our parents and the local bobby, PC Bailey. But life was always exciting when H was around."

On 11 October 1982, the London Gazette published the following citation: On 28 May 1982 Lieutenant Colonel Jones was commanding 2 Battalion The Parachute Regiment on operations on the Falkland Islands. The Battalion was ordered to attack enemy positions in and around the settlements of Darwin and Goose Green.

During the attack against an enemy who was well dug in with mutually supporting positions sited in depth, the Battalion was held up just South of Darwin by a particularly well-prepared and resilient enemy position of at least eleven trenches on an important ridge. A number of casualties were received. In order to read the battle fully and to ensure that the momentum of his attack was not lost, Colonel Jones took forward his reconnaissance party to the foot of a re-entrant, which a section of his Battalion had just secured. Despite persistent, heavy and accurate fire the reconnaissance party gained the top of the re-entrant, at approximately the same height as the enemy positions. From here Colonel Jones encouraged the direction of his Battalion mortar fire, in an effort to neutralise the enemy positions. However, these had been well prepared and continued to our effective fire onto the Battalion advance, which, by now held up for over an hour and under increasingly heavy artillery fire, was in danger of faltering.

In his effort to gain a good viewpoint, Colonel Jones was now at the very front of his Battalion. It was clear to him that desperate measures were needed in order to overcome the enemy position and rekindle the attack, and that unless these measures were taken promptly the Battalion would sustain increasing casualties and the attack perhaps even fail. It was time for personal leadership and action. Colonel Jones immediately seized a sub-machine gun, and, calling on those around him and with total disregard for his own safety charged the nearest enemy position. This action exposed him to fire from a number of trenches. As he charged up a short slope at the enemy position he was seen to fall and roll backward downhill. He immediately picked himself up, and again charged the enemy trench, firing his sub-machine gun and seemingly oblivious to the intense fire directed at him. He was hit by fire from another trench, which he outflanked, and fell dying only a few feet from the enemy he had assaulted. A short time later a company of the Battalion attacked the enemy who quickly surrendered. The devastating display of courage by Colonel Jones had completely undermined their will to fight further.

Thereafter, the momentum of the attack was rapidly regained, Darwin and Goose Green were liberated, and the Battalion released the local inhabitants unharmed and forced the surrender of some 1200 of the enemy.

The achievement of 2 Battalion The Parachute Regiment at Darwin and Goose Green set the tone for the subsequent land victory on the Falklands. They achieved such a moral superiority over the enemy in this first battle that, despite the advantages of numbers and selection of battle-ground, they never thereafter doubted either the superior fighting qualities of the British troops, or their own inevitable defeat. This was an action of the utmost gallantry by a Commanding Officer, whose dashing leadership and courage throughout the battle were an inspiration to all about him.

Mrs Jones said that the Kingswear tribute meant a great deal to the family as, "Of all the things that have been done over the years to commemorate my husband's bravery, this is possibly the most wonderful. There is already a memorial in the church, but I think this is particularly poignant and will be a reminder to all of us whenever we board the ferry. This was a part of the world that my husband loved and he had hoped to retire here."

(1) Three Devonians won the Victoria Cross in the First World War, rejoicing in the names of Veale, Sage and Onions.

The unveiling of memorial to Col. H. Jones VC by Mrs Sara Jones and Commander Timothy Jones




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