On this day – Queen Victoria approves the introduction of the Victoria Cross (VC) awarded for gallantry ‘in the face of the enemy’ – 29 January 1856

Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross, Britain’s (and some Commonwealth countries) highest award for gallantry for members of the Armed Forces, was officially constituted by warrant on this day in 1856.

Since that time the medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients. Only 15 medals have been awarded since the Second World War.

As of 2018, there are six (6) living recipients of the Victoria Cross, three (3) living recipients of the Victoria Cross for Australia and one (1) living recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand. They are:

  • Flight Lieutenant John Cruickshank VC, 210 Sqn RAF (awarded  for his actions in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1944)
  • Sergeant Bill Speakman VC, Black Watch attached to King’s Own Scottish Borderers (awarded for his actions in Korea in 1951)
  • Captain Rambahadur Limbu, VC, MVO, 2nd Battalion, 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles (awarded for his actions in Borneo in 1965)
  • Warrant Officer Class 2 Keith Payne VC, AM, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (awarded for his actions in South Vietnam in 1969)
  • Corporal Willie Apiata VC, New Zealand Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2004
  • Lance Sergeant Johnson Beharry, VC, CNG, 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (awarded for his actions in Iraq in 2005)
  • Corporal Mark Donaldson VC, Australian Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2008)
  • Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG, Australian Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010)
  • Corporal Dan Keighran VC, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010)
  • Corporal Joshua Leakey VC (shown below), 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2015)

Joshua Leakey VC

The largest collections of VCs in the world are held by the Ashcroft Collection in Britain (established in 1986) which now contains 210 medals and the Australian War Memorial, which has 69 medals on public display.

You can find out more about the Ashcroft Collection here: http://www.lordashcroftmedals.com/

You can find out more about the AWM collection here: https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/vic_cross

 

 

 

War Poetry – ‘Aftermath’ by Siegfried Sassoon CBE, MC (1919)*

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“Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same–and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.”

At the centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme in 2016 the actor Charles Dance gave a beautiful rendition of this poem. You can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ks-x5Dfj5k

*this poem was very popular in the 1920s and often formed part of Remembrance services held throughout Britain and her Dominions.

On this day – 2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment capture the standard of the 80th Turkish Infantry Regiment during the battle of Magdhaba – 23 December, 1916

80th Turkish Infantry Regiment Standard

This Turkish Standard was captured by Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant (SQMS) Dennis Walker, of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment AIF (2 LH) during the Battle of Magdhaba, on 23 December 1916.

Magdhaba, a village in the northern Sinai desert was occupied by Turkish forces blocking the route to Palestine, was attacked by the ANZAC Mounted Division and the Imperial Camel Corps. After a night march of 22 miles from El Arish the hard fought action was secured by a bayonet assault by the 1st Light Horse Brigade, of which the 2nd Light Horse Regiment was a part, just as the entire Division had been ordered to withdraw.

Walker captured the standard of the 80th Turkish Infantry Regiment from a Turkish officer who was struggling to remove it from it from its elaborate pole and cords. In the process the standard was torn and Walker repaired it with black thread the following night.

The Standard is made of crimson silk with a gold bullion fringe on the upper and lower edges, and on the fly.

One side of the standard is embroidered in gold bullion thread with the toghra (personal cypher) of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet V (1909-1918) within a circle. The circle is surrounded by embroidered representations of four regimental flags and various military symbols, including pikes, double-headed axes and trumpets. Beneath is a scroll of leaves from which are suspended embroidered representations of five medals.

The other side of the standard is also embroidered in gold and shows two texts from the Koran written in arabic script. They translate as ‘There is no god but God‘ and ‘Mohammed, the Messenger of God‘.

The Standard is one of at least three captured in the course of the campaign in Palestine. All are now in the collection of the Australian War Memorial.

You can find out more about the successor to 2 LH, the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment here: https://www.army.gov.au/our-people/units/forces-command/7th-brigade/2nd14th-light-horse-regiment-queensland-mounted-infantry

 

 

Naval News – Missing Australian World War 1 Submarine AE1 found off the coast of New Guinea after 103 years

AE!

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) announced today that they have discovered the wreck of the Australian WW1 submarine AE1, which had been missing for over a century.

AE1

HMAS AE1 (originally known as just AE1) was an E-class submarine and the first to serve in the RAN. She was lost at sea with all hands near East New Britain, Papua New Guinea, on 14 September 1914, after less than seven months in service.

AE1 was discovered by a team led by the Submarine Institute of Australia on board the specialist Dutch survey ship the MV Fugro Equator. With $1 million in funding from the Australian Government and a private consortium they had commenced their search last Sunday.

Fugro Equator.jpg

They discovered that the boat suffered a catastrophic failure, probably during a practice dive, and struck a hard rocky bottom southeast of the Duke of York islands group.

AE1 Mao

The precise location of the wreck, and even details of the time it was discovered, are being kept secret to protect it from unauthorised salvage attempts.

It is understood there is no intention of attempting to retrieve the submarine, resting at a depth of more than 300 metres, which is regarded as a war grave.

AE1 Memorial Plaque

There had been several previous attempts over the years to locate the vessel, all unsuccessful. MV Fugro Equator is a specially designed offshore survey ship, that was involved in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370.

You can find out more about AE1 here: http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-ae1

Great Reads – ‘Somme Mud’ by Edward Lynch (2006)

Somme Mud by E.P.F.Lynch

I picked this book up off an eBay seller last week, following a recommendation from Lambis Englezos AM, who was instrumental in finding the lost Australian soldiers buried in mass graves at Fromelles in France in 2008. I met Lambis at a recent event on the Centenary of the Battle of Beersheba run by Military History & Heritage Victoria (MH&HV).

‘Somme Mud’ tells of the devastating experiences of Edward Lynch, an 18 year old Private soldier during the First World War when he served with the 45th Battalion AIF on the Western Front.

I will read it over Christmas and let you know what I think of the book in the new year.

 

 

Events – Some 2018 Commemorative events for your diary

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2018 will see a number of commemorations take place mostly relating to significant events that occurred in the final year of the First World War. I will write about each of these in this blog in due course.

April
– 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Villers Bretonneux (Tuesday 24 April 2018)

May
– The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic (Sunday 6 May 2018)

July
– 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Hamel (Saturday 7 July 2018)

August
– 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Amiens (Wednesday 8 August 2018)
– 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Mont St Quentin (Friday 31 August 2018)

November
– 100th anniversary of the First World War Armistice with Remembrance Day commemorations throughout Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States (Sunday 11 November 2018)

You can find out more information below:

http://www.defence.gov.au/events/centenaryofanzac/ProgramOfEvents.asp

http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/remembrance/ww1-centenary/

http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/world-war-commemorations

https://ww100.govt.nz/national-ceremonies

http://www.worldwar1centennial.org/

Great Battles – ‘I died in hell – (They called it Passchendaele)’* – The Centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres

Friday 10 November 2017 marks the centenary of the end of the Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly referred to as ‘Passchendaele’.

The Third Battle of Ypres was the major British offensive in Flanders in 1917. It was planned to break through the strongly fortified and in-depth German defences enclosing the Ypres salient, a protruding bulge in the British front line, with the intention of sweeping through to the German submarine bases on the Belgian coast. The battle comprised of a series of limited and costly offensives, often undertaken in the most difficult of waterlogged conditions – a consequence of frequent periods of rain and the destruction of the Flanders’ lowlands drainage systems by intense artillery bombardment. As the opportunity for breakthrough receded, Sir Douglas Haig still saw virtue in maintaining the offensives, hoping in the process to drain German manpower through attrition. The main battles associated with Third Battle of Ypres were:

– Pilckem, 31 July to 2 August
– Langemarck, 16-18 August
– Menin Road, 20-25 September
– Polygon Wood, 26 September to 3 October
– Broodseinde, 4 October
– Poelcapelle, 9 October
– Passchendaele (First Battle), 12 October
– Passchendaele (Second Battle), 26 October to 10 November.

Australian Divisions participated in the battles of Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcapelle and the First Battle of Passchendaele. In eight weeks of fighting Australian forces incurred 38,000 casualties. The combined total of British and Dominion casualties has been estimated at 310,000 (estimated German losses were slightly lower) and no breakthrough was achieved. The costly offensives, ending with the capture of Passchendaele village, merely widened the Ypres salient by a few kilometres.

* Taken from Siegfried Sassoon’s poem ‘Memorial Tablet’ written by him in October 1918 and first published the following year.