Victoria Cross Heroes – so near yet so far?

Plenty have people have come close to winning a Victoria Cross over the years, but somehow fallen short of the very exacting criteria. The Victoria Cross is perhaps the hardest of all the Supreme Decorations to win. So few of them have been awarded, especially in recent years. And even more so in recent years, most awards are posthumous.

A lot also depends on how the incident is reported. Firstly, if somebody performs a heroic act, but there are no witnesses, they have almost no chance of being honoured. Secondly, brave acts are reported up the chain of command, and at each stage they can be rejected. A lot depends on HOW senior officers write up a report of an action. On such administrative whims, brave acts can be lionised or forgotten.

There are quite a few well-document cases where men have almost certainly earnt a VC, or come very very close to winning one, but for some reason have missed out.

Blair Mayne DSO and 3 Bars

Blair Mayne DSO and 3 Bars

The most extraordinary has to be Lieutenant-Colonel Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne. Mayne won 4 Distinguished Service Orders during World War Two, a phenomenal record. Even King George VI asked why Mayne had not been recommended for a VC. His abrasive attitude probably didnt help matters. One VC recommendation was even signed by Montgomery before being rejected at the War Office. In 2005 a petition of over 100 MP’s demanded that Mayne’s Victoria Cross be reinstated posthumously. To this date, however, nothing has been done to recognise this gross injustice.

While it could be argued that a VC should only be awarded for a specifically brave act and not continual bravery, there are precedents. Leonard Cheshire was awarded his VC for his accumulated service throughout the war, as was Guy Gibson – although in Gibson’s case the Dams raid tipped the balance in his favour.

There also plenty of cases of young officers performing very bravely in war, and being given an unusually high award for their rank. This was usually a recognition that they had gone very close to winning the Victoria Cross but for some reason it had been downgraded. Field Marshal Montgomery won the Distinguished Service Order in World War One as a young Lieutenant. The DSO was usually reserved for Officers of Major and above. Lieutenant-General Boy Browning also won a DSO in World War One as a young Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards.

Lance Corporal Matt Croucher GC

Lance Corporal Matt Croucher GC

In recent years, the George Cross has been instituted for acts of bravey that are not in the face of the enemy. Whilst this is a very noble concept, and especially fitting for civilians, bomb disposal personnel, there are flaws. In modern warfare, especially with IED’s in Afghanistan, the enemy often does not face down our troops. But does this make a brave act any less brave? In 2008 in Afghanistan Royal Marines Reservist Lance-Corporal Matt Croucher saved the lives of his comrades by jumping on a grenade. His rucksack shielded him from the blast. He was initially put forward for a VC, but this was downgraded to a GC as there were no enemy nearby. How some desk wallah felt able to decree that Crouchers actions did not deserve a VC escapes me.

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4 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, victoria cross

4 responses to “Victoria Cross Heroes – so near yet so far?

  1. John S. WOOD

    Paddy Mayne – “The answer almost certainly lies in Mayne’s abrasive attitude to some of his superiors, combined with the Army hierarchy’s askance view of the unconventional attitudes and tactics of the special forces” vide http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paddy_Mayne

  2. James Daly

    Thanks John, that does sum up his personality quite well I think. He might have been an unconventional character, but thats exactly what made him such a good SAS commander. His biography is a very good read, cant recall who it is by

  3. John S. WOOD

    If there is to be a medal for the utmost and supreme level of courage, it’s distribution must be guarded. As an example, think of the number awarded after Rorkes Drift. A total of eleven. This is addition to a number of other high value decorations. Certainly, an epic in British military history but eleven VCs! The story at the time was that this was in some way related to the awful debacle at Isandlwana and was an early example of manipulation by a Forces media org. The extolling of the victory at Rorke’s Drift took the public’s attention away from the great defeat at Isandlwana.

  4. James Daly

    It has definitely been more guarded over the years, and I think overall that is a good thing. It adds to the supreme nature of it. Without wanting to decry it, I think the Medal of Honour probably gets awarded too often, as was the Iron Cross in WW2. Another thing the authorities did well to stop was the ballot award of VC’s.

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