by Ian S. Uys
(Revised and edited by Mrs H. HANSMEYER)
The Victoria Cross is the highest British military decoration, essentially
for valour in the face of the enemy, although on six occasions it has been
awarded for bravery not in the presence of the enemy. The award was first
made official in the London Gazette of 5/2/1856, when it was made retrospective
to 1854 in order to include the Crimean conflict.
The Victoria Cross can be awarded to all members of Commonwealth Forces, irrespective of rank. South Africans were eligible until the declaration of the Republic in 1961. Members of the Women's Services are eligible, but to date no woman has won the award.
The Victoria Cross is a bronze Maltese Cross, made from the metal of two Russian guns captured at Sebastopol, in the Crimea. A scroll with the words 'For Valour' is surmounted by the Royal Crest. Behind the clasp appears the name of the recipient, and behind the cross the date of the action of bravery. The ribbon is red.
The first investiture of the Victoria Cross was made by Queen Victoria to 62 recipients on 26/6/1857 in Hyde Park. The Victoria Cross could be forfeited for infamous conduct on the part of the recipient. Only eight forfeited their award up to 1908. In 1920 King George V expressed strong views about the practice and no further forfeitures have taken place. The Royal Warrant does, however, still contain the relevant clause maintaining the Sovereign's right to erase the name of a recipient on account of infamous conduct.
In earlier years no provision was made for posthumous awards. A memorandum would appear in the London Gazette stating that the person 'would have been recommended for the Victoria Cross had he survived.' Approximately 291 posthumous awards have been made since the regulations of August 8th, 1902 sanctioned posthumous awards retrospectively to the Zulu War in 1879.
The first man to win the award was Mate (later Rear-Admiral) C. D. Lucas, Royal Navy, in the Baltic on 21/6/1854. An unexploded Russian shell lay on the deck of his ship during an engagement. He threw it overboard seconds before it exploded.
The youngest VC recipient is generally regarded as Hospital Apprentice Arthur Fitzgibbon, Indian Medical Establishment (15 years and 3 months) for bravery at Taku Forts in China on 21/8/1860. Boy (First Class) John Travers Cornwell won the VC posthumously at the age of 16 in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The oldest VC recipient was Lieutenant W. Raynor (69 years), Bengal Veteran Establishment, Indian Mutiny, 11/5/1857.
Three men have won a bar to the Victoria Cross. They are:-
There is no limit to the number of bars that can be won.
Four civilians have won the VC under special provisions in the warrants of 13/12/1857 and 6/8/1881. From 1858 to 1881 the VC could be won for acts of bravery not in the presence of the enemy, of which six awards were made. One of these was awarded for bravery in Quebec, this being the only VC won in the New World. Later the GC, BEM and the Albert medal replaced the VC for this type of courage.
During earlier Wars the VC was awarded far more frequently than in this century. As many VC's were awarded during the Indian Mutiny as during the Second World War. This is due to the fact that the VC and the DCM were virtually the only awards then, whereas later many other awards for bravery were presented, for example, the DSO, MC, MM, DSC, DSM, etc.
"The Victoria Cross Association" was formed in 1956, with Sir Winston Churchill as President, and Sir John Smyth, TC, MC, as Chairman. In 1961 the Association was renamed "The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association.''
To date 1 352 Victoria Crosses have been awarded (including three bars). This is made up as follows:
|Up to 1914||522|
|World War I||633|
|U.S. Unknown Soldier||1|
|Between the World Wars||5|
|World War II||182|
|Since World War II||9|
The awards were made to the following forces:
|Royal Navy, RNR, RNVR and RM||119|
|Royal Air Force and RFC||32|
|South African Forces||28|
|New Zealand Forces||22|
|Fiji Military Forces||1|
|Kings African Rifles||1|
|India and East India Company||137|
|U.S. Unknown Soldier||1|
Of the 28(sic) VC's awarded to men who served in the South African forces:
21 were awarded between 1856-1914
4 were awarded between 1914-1918
3 were awarded between 1939-1945
Two of these 'official' South African awards were posthumous: one to a soldier and one to an airman.
Including those to men who were born or lived in South Africa but who served in British or Commonwealth Regiments, approximately(sic) 44 VC awards may be attributed to South Africans. The first South African awarded the VC was Lieut. J. P. H. Crowe, serving in the 78th Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders) during the Indian Mutiny in 1857. He was born in Uitenhage in 1826 and enlisted in the British Army in 1846. The first VC awarded for an action on South African soil was to Brevet-Major H. G. Moore of the 88th Regiment (Connaught Rangers), who was seconded to the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police, a South African Colonial Unit near Kingwilliamstown, during the Gaika-Galeka War in 1877. This Victoria Cross was gazetted only after those awarded for the action at Rorke's Drift, although it was the first Victoria Cross actually won in South Africa.
I have seen no 'official' list of South African VC recipients. However, on the basis of the "unit in which served" as denoting the nationality of the award, I consider the following to be the 28 South African V.C. recipients(1):
Corporal F. C. Schiess, Natal Native Contingent, 22/1/1879, Zulu War, Rorke's Drift.
*Trooper P. Brown,Cape Mounted Riflemen, 8/4/1879, Basuto War, Moirosi Mt.
Sergeant R. G. Scott (later Lieut.), Cape Mounted Riflemen, 8/4/1879, Basuto War, Moirosi Mt.
Surgeon-Major E. B. Hartley, Cape Mounted Riflemen, 5/6/1879, Basuto War, Moirosi Mt.
Capt. C. D'Arcy, Frontier Light Horse, 3/7/l879, Zulu War, Ulundi.
Sergeant E. O'Toole, Frontier Light Horse, 3/7/1879, Zulu War, Ulundi.
Surgeon J. F. McCrea, 1st Regt. Cape Mounted Yeomanry, 14/1/1881, Basuto War, Tweefontein (near Thaba Tsen). Trooper J. Danaher, Nourse's Horse, 16/1/1881, First Anglo Boer War, Elandsfontein Ridge.
*Captain C. H. Mullins, Imperial Light Horse, 21/10/1899, Boer War, Elandslaagte.
Captain R. Johnston, Imperial Light Horse, 21/10/1899, Boer War, Elandslaagte.
Captain C. FitzClarence, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) attached to The Protectorate Regiment, 14 and 27/10/1899, and 26/12/1899, Boer War, Mafeking.
Sergeant H. R. Martineau, The Protectorate Regiment, 26/12/1899, Boer War, Mafeking.
Trooper H. E. Ramsden, The Protectorate Regiment, 26/12/1899, Boer War, Mafeking.
*Trooper H. Albrecht, Imperial Light Horse, 6/1/1900, Boer War, Waggon Hill, Ladysmith (posthumous award).
Lieutenant F. A. Maxwell, DSO, Indian Staff Corps attached to Roberts Light Horse, 31/3/1900, Boer War, Koorn Spruit.
* Corporal J. J. Clements, Rimington's Guides, 24/2/1901, Boer War, Strijdenburg.
Sergeant J. Rogers, South African Constabulary, 15/6/1901, Boer War, Thaba N'chu.
Lieutenant W. J. English, 2nd Scottish Horse, 3/7/1901, Boer War, Vlakfontein.
Sergeant Major A. Young, Cape Police, 13/8/1901, Boer War, Ruiter's Kraal.
Surgeon-Captain T. J. Crean, Imperial Light Horse, 18/12/1901, Boer War, Tygerkloofspruit, Orange Free State.
Surgeon-Captain A. Martin-Leake, South African Constabulary, 8/2/1902, Boer War, Vlakfontein. He won a bar to his VC in the first battle of Ypres in 1914.
*Private W. F. Faulds, 1st Bn. S.A. Infantry, 18/7/1916, France, Delville Wood.
Captain W. A. Bloomfield, Scout Corps and 2nd S.A. Mounted Brigade, 24/8/1916, East Africa, Mlali.
Sergeant F. C. Booth, B.S.A. Police attached Rhodesia Native Regt. 12/2/1917. East Africa -Johannesbruck, (nr. Songea).
Lance-Corporal W. H. Hewitt, 2nd Bn. S.A. Infantry, 20/9/1917, Belgium - East of Ypres.
*Sergeant Q. G. M. Smythe, 1st Royal Natal Carbineers, 5/6/1942, Western Desert, Alem Hanza Area.
*Lieutenant G. R. Norton, MM, Kaffrarian Rifles (attached to Hampshire Regiment), 31/8/1944, Italy - Gothic Line.
*Captain E. Swales, DFC, South African Air Force (attached to R.A.F.), 23/2/1945, Germany - near Stuttgart (posthumous award).
The men born or living in South Africa, or who had lived in South Africa, to be awarded the Victoria Cross in other Commonwealth Forces were:
*Lieutenant J. P. H. Crowe, Seaforth Highlanders, 12/8/1857, Cawnpore - Indian Mutiny.
Brevet-Major H. G. Moore, 88th Regiment (attached to the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police), 29/12/1877, Draaibosch (near Komgha), Gaika-Galeka War.
Commissary J. L. Dalton, Commissariat and Transport Dept., 23/1/1879, Zulu War - Rorke's Drift.
*Captain R. C. Nesbitt, Mashonaland Mounted Police, 19/6/1896, near Salisbury.
Bandsman T. E. Rendle, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, 20/11/1914, Belgium - near Wulverghem.
Captain P. H. Hansen, Lincolnshire Regiment, 9/8/1915, Gallipoli - Yilghin Burnu.
*Captain O. A. Reid, Liverpool Regiment, 8-10/3/1917, Mesopotamia - Dialab River.
*Major J. Sherwood-Kelly, CMG, DSO, Norfolk Regiment, 20/11/1917, France - Marcoing.
Second-Lieutenant A. M. Lascelles, Durham Light Infantry, 3/12/1917, France - Masnieres.
*Lieutenant R. F. J. Hayward, MC, The Wiltshire Regiment, 21-22/3/1918, France - near Fremicourt.
Lieutenant R. V. Gorle, Royal Field Artillery, 1/10/1918, Belgium - Ledeghem.
*Lieutenant A. W. Beauchamp-Proctor, DSO, MC, DFC, Royal Flying Corps, 8/8/1918 to 8/10/1918, France.
Major H. Greenwood, Yorkshire Light Infantry, 23-24/10/1918, France - Ovillers.
Captain R. A. West, North Irish Horse, 21/8/1918 and 2/9/1918, France - Courcelles and Vaulx Veaucourt (posthumous award).
*Acting Squadron-Leader J. D. Nettleton, 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron, R.A.F., 17/4/1942, S. Germany-Augsburg.
*Lieutenant-Colonel C. G. W. Anderson, Australian Military Forces, 18-22/1/1942, Malaya - Battle of Muar.
In addition, there were three Rhodesian awards to men who took part in the Matabele Rebellion of 1896. Of these, Captain
R. C. Nesbitt, because he was born in South Africa, is included above. The others were:
Trooper H. S. Henderson, Bulawayo Field Force, 30/3/1896, near Campbell's Store in the vicinity of Bulawayo.
Trooper F. W. Baxter, Bulawayo Field Force, 22/4/1896, Mashonaland, near Bulawayo (posthumous award).
* VC recipients known to have been born in South Africa.
(The backgrounds of O'Toole, Ramiden and Baxter are unknown. Can any of our readers throw light on their origins, or provide any interesting details of our 'South African VC's?')
1. AUTHOR'S NOTE: There are varying interpretations of who are the official 28 South African VC recipients. I believe that the nationality of the "unit in which served" (not merely attached to) at the time of the action should be the deciding factor. On this basis Captain C. FitzClarence should not appear above -- leaving 27 'official' South African VC recipients accounted for.
EDITOR'S NOTE: On this basis, Lieut. F. A. Maxwell of the Indian Staff Corps attached to Roberts Light Horse does not qualify as a South African VC. The final figure is thus 26.
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