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VC/GC Diary

Welcome to the Victoria Cross and George Cross Diaries


Here we add daily diary entries on the anniversaries of when the Victoria Crosses and George Crosses were awarded.

By victoriagreen068, Sep 27 2016 05:02AM

The George Cross Diary for 27th September, sadly the final edition to complete a year of diaries, sees just one entry, an Albert Medallist in Bronze recipient for a sea rescue off the coast of Iceland in 1940.

John Henry Mitchell AM/GC, BEM was born on 1st January 1917 in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, the son of John Henry Mitchell and his wife Minnie Selina (nee Parrot). When John was young, the family moved to Fleetwood in Lancashire. His father was a well-known trawler skipper and John junior worked with him and trained as a radio operator and mate for 6 years after elementary education.

When the War broke out, John joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and served on various aircraft carriers and cruisers from December 1939 to April 1946. He married in May 1941 to Evelyn Sparks and they had a son and a daughter.

On 27th September 1940, Chief Engineman Wedderburn fell into the harbour between two trawlers. He could not swim, and was soon unconscious. A seaman who jumped in to save him was soon in difficulties himself. Mitchell, hearing shouting, clambered over a vessel to the quay, ran 100 yards. climbed across two ships and jumped into the water. He seized Wedderburn by his hair, and held up the other man until a rope was passed down. This he secured with a bowling around the now helpless seaman, using one hand, while he supported both men and himself by gripping the rope with his teeth. The seaman was then hauled out of the water by the men in a trawler. Mitchell, although fully clad and wearing sea boots, supported Wedderburn by treading water until a pilot ladder could be lowered. He made the rope fast around Wedderburn, and steadied him as he was hauled out, Mitchell had been in the very cold water for 35 minutes, and was unconscious when rescued.

He was awarded the Albert Medal for his actions on 25th April 1941. Following demobilisation from the Navy in 1946, he joined the Metropolitan Police and became a Constable on 9th April 1948. He moved up the ranks and finally became a Detective Inspector in 1965. He was then appointed to the Stolen Motor Vehicle Investigation Branch.

While with the Met, he was commended three times, firstly in 1957 for “ability and initiative in a case of shopbreaking”, second for “valuable assistance in a murder investigation in 1965 in Antigua”. The third commendation came in 1970 when he was awarded the British Empire Medal. Sadly, Mitchell passed away less than two years later, on 12th April 1972 in Wandsworth. His burial location is not known. His George Cross which he obtained in exchange for his Albert Medal shortly before his death is privately held.

By victoriagreen068, Sep 26 2016 05:10AM

The George Cross Diary for 26th September (the penultimate edition) contains the story of two direct recipients of the medal, beginning with a railway worker from the North West of England whose actions during a bombing raid on Morpeth Dock in 1940 earnt him the George Cross.

Norman Tunna GC was born on 29th April 1908 in Birkenhead, the second child of five to Charles Tunna, a goods checker on the railways and his wife Emily. Norman attended St Paul’s School until 1922 when he joined Cammell Laird, the great ship-building company as a trainee riveter but he still had a passion for the railways and after less than a year, he left Cammell Laird to join his father and elder brother. He became a trainee Shunter on his way to his ambition to become a Guard. By 1938, he had been promoted to Shunter First Class.

On the night of 26th September 1940, a large number of incendiary bombs fell on and around the goods station and sidings at Morpeth Dock. Among the wagons was a train load of ammunition, petrol, bombs and fuses. Most of the incendaries were extinguished by the prompt action of the staff on duty before much damage could be done, but a serious fire broke out. Tunna climbed on top of a covered wagon containing 250lb bombs and discovered two incendiary bombs burning there. With disregard for his own safety, he removed the cover, extinguished the fire and then removed the bombs from the truck. He was helped by Ivor Davies and Frank Newns, who both were awarded the George Medal.

Norman married Helena Higgins and they had two children James and Irene. Norman liked to work with wood in his spare time and built a large workshop behind his house in Birkenhead. Norman passed away on 4th December 1970 and he was cremated and his ashes scattered at Landican Crematorium on The Wirral. His medal is privately held.

William Horace Taylor GC, MBE was the son of a printer William Arthur Taylor and Hilda Jane Nicholson and was born in Manchester on 23rd October 1908. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School. Prior to the Second World War, he was a partner and, later, managing director of an advertising company in the city.

Taylor had received his training on bomb disposal during the early days of the Blitz while serving in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). Sub-Lieutenant Taylor disposed of a number of mines while serving on HMS Vernon. He became widely known for his fondness for building “funkholes” – intended as a protective bunker to leap into if the bomb he was tackling started to tick.

When he was operating in a built-up area where such digging was impossible, Taylor instead chose a nearby building to run to in the event of the bomb starting to tick. Despite taking such precautions, Taylor had a couple of close shaves, including one occasion when a parachute mine could not be immediately rendered safe at a cross-roads in a built-up area of Birmingham. However, as he was deciding what to do next, he learnt that a colleague, Lieutenant Rowson, had decided to tackle it. Initially, Rowson had started the bomb fuse ticking and had run for his life. But when nothing happened he, this time with Taylor, went to have another go, armed with spanners and other tools. When Rowson added to their problems by dislocating his thumb, the two men opted to detonate the bomb where it lay.

In his own words Taylor describes what happened next: “the thing went off with an enormous explosion which blew us both reeling down the street, bruised, filthy, shaken – but still alive.”

Taylor’s George Cross was announced on 14th January 1941 when his citation praised his “great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty”. Taylor, who was a devout Christian, later described to Sir John Smyth VC that he was never afraid doing his work. “It was prayer that kept me going. Every morning at breakfast time I’d ask God to hold my hand steady and deal with the treacherous little fuse. Each time my arm was taken in a firm grip and I was in safe-keeping.”

Later in the War, in 1944, Taylor became a diver and a pioneer of “human minesweepers”, which paved the way for the Royal Navy Minewarfare & Clearance Diving Branch. After the War, he married a Wren officer Joan Skaife d’Ingerthorpe in 1946 and the couple later had four children (Susan, Norman, Jane and Belinda). His career remained linked to the military; he worked for the RNVR and was responsible for training work, including diving instruction. In 1975, he was awarded the MBE for services to Scouting, his great passion before and after the War. Taylor died on 16th January 1999 in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, aged 90. He was cremated at Aberdeen Crematorium. His medals are privately held.

By victoriagreen068, Sep 25 2016 07:03AM

The George Cross Diary for 25th September unfortunately has no direct recipients or any anniversary of citations for the award, so therefore I am going to include the story of a recent discovery as a George Cross holder, who was originally omitted from the invitation to exchange his Edward Medal for a George Cross in 1971.

Percival Leslie Norwood EM/GC was born in Eastleigh, Hampshire on 15th November 1893. Little is known about Norwood other than the actions which saw him awarded the Edward Medal.

On 27th November 1913, in Liss, Hampshire, a blacksmith named Harry Rasell was driving downhill towards the London and South-Western Railway Station, Liss, when his pony bolted and dashed into the gates of a level-crossing, which were already closed owing to the approach of a train only 80 to 120 yards away. Rasell was pitched over the gates and lay stunned across the inside rail on which the train was approaching. The driver of the train put on his brakes and reversed the engine, but was unable to pull up until he had run over the level-crossing. Just as the train came up, Norwood jumped down from the platform and tried to pull Rasell clear by his legs; failing to do so, he went in front of the engine, grasped Rasell by the shoulder, and tried to roll him over. Norwood just succeeded in getting Rasell clear, but was struck on the head by the front of the engine, which came to a standstill a few yards further on.

If the driver had not reversed his engine, both Rasell and Norwood must have been killed. The injuries to Norwood’s head were serious, and he is stated by the doctor who attended him to have had a miraculous escape from death. His intention to effect the rescue at all hazards is shown by his changing his hold on Rasell, and by his maintaining his hold after being struck by the engine.

Norwood died on 29th June 1972 in Exminster, Devon, without having knowledge of the opportunity to exchange his EM for a GC. His final resting place and location of his medal is unknown.

By victoriagreen068, Sep 24 2016 06:28AM

The George Cross Diary for 24th September contains five men who were all awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal for their actions during the disturbances in Malabar, India during 1921-22.

Assistant Surgeon George David Rodrigues EGM/GC was born in Podanur, India on 1st March 1892, the son of David Rodrigues and his Irish wife Amelia O’Connor. He was an only child and spent his early life in Podanur. After schooling, he went to Madras Medical School as a military student from where he qualified as a doctor and then joined the Indian Medical Department. He was posted to different parts of India before arriving in the Malabar area just prior to the disturbances.

He was awarded the EGM for his actions in saving the lives of several of his senior officers. He married in 1923 to Winifred Bantleman and they had two children, Carlton and Nigel. George then started his own medical practice in 1925 in Calicut, where he worked until he retired to Bangalore in later years and deteriorating health. He died on 21st August 1962 and is buried in Bangalore. His medal is privately held.

William George Hand EGM/GC, MM was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire in 1896. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment at the time of being posted to India. He had served in World War One and had been awarded the Military Medal.

On 24th September 1921 in Nilambur, India, he was the subject of an ambush, but Hand, successfully bombed his way out of the situation, and then showed great gallantry in clearing up the situation. He was awarded the EGM, which later became the GC in 1940. Hand died on 28th October 1961 in Salisbury and was buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas in Porton, Wiltshire. His medals are held by The Keep Museum, Dorchester, Dorset.

Frederick H D Chant EGM/GC was born in 1900 in Sherborne, Dorset, and little is known of his early life, prior to him “advancing” his age to enlist with the Devonshire Regiment in 1918. He then moved to the Dorsetshire Regiment in February 1919, leaving them in the Sudan in July 1922, not long after his actions in India which saw him awarded the EGM.

On 24th September 1921 at Nilambur, India, he used his Lewis gun at close range against the enemy, who were occupying a house and firing at him. His gun jammed, but he calmly got up and fetched a rifle and maintained his fire in the rebels with coolness and deliberation. He, with Private Troake, subsequently showed great courage in clearing the rebels from the gardens and jungle around the house.

Chant later joined the Hampshire Regiment and became a Corporal, being an instructor of the Lewis Gun. He married and had five sons and a daughter. In 1947, he began working in a shipyard at Lymington, Dorset. He died on 9th March 1968 in Hythe, Hampshire and was buried in St John the Baptist Church, Boldre, Dorset. His medals are privately held.

Thomas Frank “Dusty” Miller EGM/GC was born on 7th October 1890 in Portland, Dorset, the son of Thomas and Louisa Miller. His father was a Prison Warden and Thomas was their sixth child. Tom enlisted in the Dorsetshire Regiment in 1907 and served with the 2nd Battalion in Mesopotamia and Palestine. He was wounded twice. He chose to re-enlist for four years at Damascus in 1919 and went out to India with the 2nd Dorsets from Portland in September 1919. Based at Belgaum, he became involved in the Malabar uprisings of 1921-22.

On 24th September 1921, at Nilambur, India, he displayed great gallantry by going forward towards a rebel ambush and firing on it at close range. He was instrumental in dislodging several snipers who were causing casualties among British soldiers. He, with Sergeant Hand GC, subsequently showed great courage in clearing up the situation.

He later served with the Battalion in Sudan and Egypt and after leaving the Army with 18 years service, he became a gardener and later moved from Portland to Birmingham. He died in Birmingham on 13th December 1974, and was cremated at the Robin Hood Crematorium in Shirley. His medals are privately held, having been sold for £16,000 at auction in 2011.

Frederick Henry Troake EGM/GC was born on 4th September 1896 in Wellington, Somerset, the son of William and Hannah Troake (nee Twose). He had two sisters, Beatrice and Florence and a brother William. The family lived at Rockwell Green and the children went to the village school. When Frederick left school at 13, he worked at the local woollen mill, before joining the Army in 1913. He soon joined the Dorsetshire Regiment from the Somerset Light Infantry and was posted to India.

On 24th September 1921, at Nilambur, India, he showed conspicuous gallantry in advancing up to the fence around a house in which rebels had been located and in covering the rush of an officer and NCO who set fire to the roof, forcing the rebels out. He and Private Chant GC subsequently showed courage in clearing the rebels out of the gardens and jungle around the house.

When he returned to England in the mid 1920s, he worked at the gasometer in Wellington but had to retire due to ill health in the 1940s. He died on 27th April 1974 and was cremated and his ashes were interred in Rockwell Green Cemetery, Wellington, Somerset. His medals are privately held.

By victoriagreen068, Sep 23 2016 05:28AM

The George Cross Diary for 23rd September contains three recipients, one a young girl who was awarded the Albert Medal for fighting off a cougar in Canada, and two bomb disposal men who were awarded GCs for actions in different locations during the Blitz.

Doreen Ashburnham-Ruffner AM/GC was born at Ashburnham Hall, the family seat on 13th May 1905, the grand-daughter of Sir Anchitel Ashburnham and daughter of Lawrence "Tufty" and Rosalie Winifred (nee Barnard) Ashburnham. Early in her childhood, her family emigrated to Canada and settled near Cowichan Lake on Vancouver Island.

She was awarded the Albert Medal at the age of just 11 on the 23rd September 1916, when she and Anthony Farrar, who was just 8, tackled a cougar. They were the youngest recipients of the Albert Medal and were presented with their medals by the Duke of Devonshire. At the age of 25, she moved to the USA where she learnt to fly, play polo and raised show horses in Italy.

In February 1945 she married Sydney Jackson Ruffner and they had one daughter called Djinn. She chose to exchange her Albert Medal (which she donated to the Canadian War Museum) for a GC which she received in Ottawa in November 1974. She died in California on 4th October 1991 and was cremated. Her GC and other awards are now in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.

John Bryan Peter (Jack) Duppa-Miller GC was born on 22nd May 1903 in Stechford, Birmingham, the eldest son of Brian Stothert Miller and Mary (nee Sadler). They were living in Birmingham because Miller’s father was an in-house lawyer with the Birmingham City Council. John entered Rugby School in 1916 and boarded in School Field House. He was Head of School from 1921-22 and then matriculated at Hertford College, Oxford.

In 1926, he married Barbara, daughter of Viscount Buckmaster who had been the Liberal Lord Chancellor, and shortly afterwards, the newly-weds moved to Lagos in Nigeria. Their time there was brought to an abrupt end when John contracted malaria and they were forced back to England. Shortly afterwards, John decided to train for ordination at Cambridge, and became a Roman Catholic. The couple had three sons, Hilary (known as Hal), Michael and David, but sadly the marriage didn’t last and the couple divorced. John remarried in 1944 to Clare Harding.

Miller was already 37 when he volunteered for the Navy in August 1940. He decided to volunteer for bomb disposal and was soon put to work in the middle of the Blitz. On 23rd September 1940, he was called with Able Seaman Stephen Tuckwell GC to deal with a mine that was buried in the mud. They got a canoe and went looking for the mine and found it nose down in the mud. Tuckwell was ordered to stay at a safe distance but he refused, arguing that as Miller would be working under at least a foot of water he would need Tuckwell to hand down the tools. They managed to get one fuse out, but could not reach the other; if the clock had started, there would have been no chance of escape. Then they appealed to some crane-drivers who had come to see what was happening, and they at once volunteered to help. Ropes were placed around the mine and, with the assistance of the crane-drivers, it was dragged slowly out of the creek and on to the wharf. The removal of the final fuse was carried out in comparative comfort. He was recommended for a Bar to his GC by the First Lord of the Admiralty, which would have made him the first and indeed only GC and Bar, but it was not approved.

After the War, John and Clare moved back to Africa, this time to the East. He became Inspector-General of Education in Haile Selassie’s Imperial Administration, establishing the new University of Addis Ababa. They then moved to Kenya where he served for 10 years in the Government education service. In 1972, after Clare’s death, John returned to England, where for a time, he lived with his son Hal, and then moved to a rest home in Devon. John would then marry a third time to a South African woman called Greta Lanby from Cape Town. Greta had heard about John from a friend who had stayed with Hal Miller, and she came to Devon, found John and six weeks later they were married. John and Greta then returned to South Africa, where John died on 15th December 1994 in Somerset West. John was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea. His medals are held by the family.

Stephen John “Jack” Tuckwell GC was born on 16th April 1897 in Guildford, Surrey, the son of James and Ellen Elizabeth Tuckwell who lived in the Holy Trinity Parish of the city. He would have three sisters and one brother.

Stephen joined the Navy on 16th April 1915 for a period of 12 years. He had been working as a Milk Seller before then. He served on many ships and his last posting was to HMS Vernon on 15th April 1926 for a year when he was discharged and immediately signed on to the Reserve.

He then became a bus driver before the Second World War broke out, and as member of the Reserve, he was called up. He became part of the Mines Disposal Team, working with Jack Duppa-Miller GC and was awarded the GC alongside him for the incident described above. Later in the War, he was responsible for steaming out main charges from mines in a Hampshire quarry.

During his later years, he suffered from the after-effects of the chemicals he had been exposed to during his mine disposal work. He died on 2nd October 1966 in Sompting, Sussex. His final resting place is unknown at this time. His medals are privately held.

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