Monday, January 17, 2011

"For valour"

The Victoria Cross is the "highest decoration for valour in the British armed forces," roughly comparable to our Congressional Medal of Honor. Lord Ashcroft has made a collection of them and they are currently on exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London. In The Telegraph he provides accounts of "Fifty great heroes," awarded the VC. Those familiar with the Flashman books may recall a fictionalized account of this one:
William McDonell is one of very few civilians to have been awarded the VC. As a member of the Bengal Civil Service, he was involved in trying to quell the Indian Mutiny as the rebellion spread in 1857. In July of that year, the British were determined that the city of Arrah should not fall because the entire Bihar region might then be seized. McDonell was sent to guide a steamer carrying a military force to the city.

On July 29, a force of more than 400 men marched on Arrah House, but they were ambushed by rebel forces. McDonell was fearless in battle, during which he was wounded. Outnumbered, the British force had to retreat to the River Sone, where McDonell helped the soldiers into small boats so that they could reach the safety of their steamer. It was only when McDonell and his comrades got into the final boat – under heavy fire – that they discovered the rebels had removed the oars and tied the rudder to the side.

With the 35 men in the boat unwilling to get out to cut the rudder free, the injured McDonell braved the fire himself. Miraculously, he was uninjured by a hail of bullets. A Royal Warrant of 1858 extended the eligibility of the VC to civilians who were under the orders of an officer – and McDonell was eventually awarded the decoration in February 1860. .... [more here and here]
Fifty great heroes: 1-25 - Telegraph, Fifty great heroes: 26-50 - Telegraph