The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious gallantry medal awarded to any member of UK armed forces following action “in the presence of the enemy.” It is inscribed with the words “For Valour.”
As the name indicates the award was created by Queen Victoria to recognise the actions of any service personnel, of any age, length of service or rank. The original recipients in 1857 were veterans of the Crimean War and the story goes that the metal used for all VCs is from Russian cannons seized at Sebastopol. In recent years an alternative opinion has emerged that Chinese cannon were used that were captured during the dubious Opium Wars.
What is known is that only 10 kgs of the original metal exists which is held under guard at the Royal Logistics Corps base at MOD Donnington near Telford. This is reckoned to be sufficient for another 80 or so Victoria Crosses.
This was all outlined by Nick Saunders, the latest speaker at the Probus Club of Basingstoke. He is a part time archivist in the Royal Hampshire Regiment in Winchester as well as WW1 battlefields guide while continuing his studies working towards a master’s degree in local history from the Open University.
His particular interest is the award of the Victoria Cross to three members of the Hampshire Regiment during WW1. (The regiment only received its Royal honorific in 1948). They were all Second Lieutenants and were very young.
In 1915 2nd Lt George R D Moor was only eighteen years old during the Gallipoli campaign in the Dardanelles, which today is in modern Turkey.
Things were going badly for 2nd Lt Moor’s 2nd battalion of the Hampshire regiment. Of one thousand men they had been reduced to only three hundred and lost five commanding officers in six weeks. A detachment of a battalion on his left, which had lost most of its officers was rapidly retiring before a heavy Turkish attack. Recognising the danger to the rest of the line he dashed some 200 yards and stemmed the retirement, led back the men and recaptured the lost trench. What emerged from the talk was that this young officer shot dead four men which no doubt encouraged a rethink on behalf of the retreating troops. He died of the Spanish flu on November 3rd, 1918, aged just twenty-one. As well as the V.C. he had also been awarded the M.C.and Bar.
On 31st July 1917 2nd Lt Denis GW Hewitt was in command of a company at Ypres and after capturing his first objective he advanced but was hit by shrapnel that set alight signal flares in his haversack. He put out the fire by rolling in the deep mud of the battlefield and despite his severe burns he led the company forward under heavy machine gun fire, capturing and consolidated his objective. He was killed by a sniper while inspecting the consolidation and encouraging his men. His body was lost on the battlefield and his name is engraved on the Menin Gate. He had been educated at Winchester College and Sandhurst and was aged just nineteen.
Not being a success at grammar school, 2nd Lt Montague SS Moore had been privately tutored before attending Sandhurst. While at Ypres on 20th September 1917 his actions earned him the Victoria Cross and subsequently the Croix de Guerre.
He was in command and dashed ahead of some seventy men who were met with heavy machine gun fire which caused severe casualties with the result that he arrived at his objective some five hundred yards on with only a sergeant and four men. Undaunted he bombed a large dug out and took 28 prisoners, 2 machine guns and a light field gun. Gradually more officers and men arrived, to number about sixty. They defended the position under constant fire for 36 hours using enemy rifles and bombs and beat off several counterattacks. By this time his force was reduced to just ten men. 2nd Lt Moore eventually got away his wounded and withdrew under cover of a thick mist. He was only eighteen years old.
Such courage was soundly appreciated by the members of the Probus Club of Basingstoke who enjoy a variety of talks at their monthly business meetings.