Among the decorations won by Portsmouth servicemen in both world wars, I have come across several who have been awarded the Royal Humane Society‘s Bronze Medal for lifesaving. Having done a bit of research on them, I thought it might be timely to take a look at the history of the RHS, and how these brave men came to be awarded their medals.
The Society was founded in London in 1774 by two Doctors, William Hawes and Thomas Cogan. They aimed to promote the revolutionary new techniques that had emerged for resucitating people who were apparently dead. The Society presents awards for acts of bravery and lifesaving, and not surprisingly some servicemen find themselves in situations where they are called upon to save lives.
Here are a few details of Portsmouth men who won RHS Bronze Medals, from WW1 and WW2:
KIRKPATRICK, James Cramb; Canteen Manager, HMS Bulwark. Killed 26 November 1914, aged 45, remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. Born in Birkenhead on 18 March 1869, lived at 17 St Helens Park Crescent in Southsea, a Parishioner of St Wilfrids Church. He was an ex Chief Petty Officer. Sadly I have not been able to find the citation for his Royal Humane Society award.
SMITH, Samuel Charles Arthur; Gunner, HMS Comet. Killed 1 February 1915, aged 37, buried in Basra War Cemetery, Iraq. Lived at Eastfield, 3 Kewsick Avenue, Copnor. Smith was awarded the Bronze Medal of the Royal Humane Society in 1912. Whilst serving as the Gunner on HMS London, Smith was involved in the rescue of survivors from the SS Delhi, a wrecked merchant vessel. On 15 December 1911, as Lascars (foreign seamen) were being landed to shore, one of them was washed away in rough seas. Smith swam after him and got him back to the Delhi, where they were both hauled aboard. Smith was also awarded the Board of Trade’s Medal for lifesaving.
WOOD, Frederick James; Lieutenant, HMS Cerberus II. Died 16 January 1941, aged 48, remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. From Southsea. Wood’s RHS Bronze Medal was awarded in 1917, when as a Petty Officer, he and an officer rescued a man who had gone overboard in the Thames. Although the sea was choppy and the ship was travelling at 12 knots, they managed to keep him afloat until they could be rescued.
HEAP, Jack Edward; Aircraftsman 1st Class, 151 Maintenance Unit, RAF. Died 9 April 1945 aged 35, buried in Ambon, Indonesia. From Southsea. He was captured by the Japanese on 8 March 1942 and held as a prisoner at Java, Malacca and Celebes. He died at Muna. His RHS Bronze Medal was awarded posthumously in 1947 for an unspecified incident on 8 November 1944.
I find the RHS Medals quite humbling. The citations stand out amongst other military decorations, as they are explicitly for saving life. Whereas – obviously – many ‘mainstream’ medals are awarded for the opposite. Of course, in war killing is something of a necessary evil, but never the less, it is difficult not to be inspired by the humanity shown by some of these men.