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The Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross was founded by Royal Warrant on 29 January 1856, and was originally intended to be awarded to members of the Royal Navy and British Army who, serving in the presence of the enemy, should have performed some signal act of valour or devotion to their country.

As Queen Victoria pointed out, it was not an Order, such as the Garter of the Bath. It offered no knighthood, bore no religious significance and contained no ranks within itself. It was intended solely as a decoration "to be highly prized and eagerly sought after by the officers and men of our naval and military services".

In 1881, a new VC warrant was signed which stated "Our Will and Pleasure is that the qualification (for the award of the Victoria Cross) shall be "Conspicuous bravery or devotion to the country in the presence of the enemy". It was this last stipulation that necessitated the introduction of the George Cross in 1940.
In 1902 King Edward VII approved the extremely important principle of awarding the VC posthumously. In 1911 King George V admitted native officers and men of the Indian Army to eligibility, and in 1920, it was extended to include the Royal Air Force, and "matrons, sisters, nurses ... serving regularly or temporarily under the orders, direction or supervision" of the military authorities. It was again emphasised that the VC "... shall only be awarded for most conspicuous bravery or some daring pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy."

Queen Victoria chose the design for the new decoration. It is in the form of a Maltese Cross ensigned with the Royal Crest and a scroll inscribed simply "For Valour". It is connected by a V-shaped link to a bar engraved on the face with the recipient's name. The date of the deed for which the honour is bestowed is engraved on the back of the Cross itself. It is worn on the left breast, before all other medals or awards and suspended from a 11⁄2-inch wide red ribbon. Originally the VC ribbon was blue for the Navy, and dark red for the Army. Since 1918, all VC awards use the crimson shade. The medal itself was, and still is, made of bronze melted down from the Russian cannons captured at Sevastopol in the Crimean War.

Below are the Officers and other ranks (in no particular order) who were awarded the Victoria Cross while serving with the 36th (Ulster) Division 1914-1918.

Second - Lieutenant Edmund De Wind VC

107th Infantry Brigade, 15th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (North Belfast Volunteers)

For most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice at the Racecourse Redoubt, near Grugies 21st March 1918 Age: 34

"For seven hours he held this important post, and, though twice wounded and practically single handed, he maintained his position till another section could be got to his help.  On two occasions, with two N.C.O.'s only he got out on top, under heavy machine gun-fire and rifle fire, and cleared the enemy out of the trench, killing many.  He continued to repel attack until he was mortally wounded and collapsed.  His valour, self-sacrifice, and example were of the highest order."

Lance - Corporal Ernest Seaman VC

109th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Batt Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty.  Age: 25

"When the right flank of his company was held up by a nest of enemy machine- guns, he, with great courage and initiative, rushed forward under heavy fire with his Lewis gun ,and engaged the position single handed, capturing two machine-guns and twelve prisoners, and killing one officer and two men. Later in the day he again rushed another enemy machine-gun position, capturing the gun under heavy fire. He was killed immediately after.  His courage and dash were beyond all praise, and it was entirely due to the very gallant conduct of Lance Corporal Seaman that his company was enabled to rush forward to its objective and capture many prisoners."

Second - Lieutenant Cecil Leonard Knox VC

Royal Engineers, 150th Field Company Royal Engineers - attached to 36th Ulster Division

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty.Age: 29

"Twelve bridges were entrusted to this officer for demolition and all of them were successfully destroyed.  In the case of one steel girder bridge, the destruction of which he personally supervised, the time fuse failed to act. Without hesitation, Second-Lieutenant Knox ran to the bridge, under heavy machine gun and rifle fire, and, when the enemy were actually upon the bridge, he tore away the time fuse and lit the instantaneous-fuse, to do which he had to get under the bridge. This was an act of the highest devotion to duty, entailing the gravest risk, which, as a practical civil engineer, he fully realized."

Private Norman Harvey VC

109th Infantry Brigade, 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty near Ingoyghem, 25th October 1918.  Age: 19

"When his battalion was held up and suffered many casualties from enemy machine-guns. On his own initiative he rushed forward and engaged the enemy single-handed, disposing of twenty enemies and capturing two guns.  Later, when his company was checked by another enemy strong point, he again rushed forward alone and put the enemy to fight. Subsequently, after dark he voluntarily carried out, single-handed, an important reconnaissance, and gained valuable information. Private Harvey throughout the day displayed the greatest valour, and his several actions enabled the line to advance, saved many casualties and inspired all."

Captain Eric Norman Frankland Bell VC

109th Infantry Brigade, 9th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Tyrone Volunteers) 

For most conspicuous bravery at Thiepval 1st July 1916Age: 20

Captain Bell was in command of a trench mortar battery and advanced with the Infantry to the attack. When our front line was hung up by enfilading machine-gun fire, Captain Bell crept forward and shot the machine gunner. Later, on no less than three occasions when our bombing parties, which were clearing the enemy trenches, were unable to advance, he went forward alone and threw trench mortar bombs among the enemy. When he had no more bombs available, he stood on the parapet, under intense fire, and used a rifle with great coolness and effect on the enemy advancing to counter attack. Finally he was killed rallying and re-organising Infantry units which had lost their officers. All this was outside the scope of his normal duties with his battery.

He gave his life in his supreme devotion to duty. Captain Bell's citation from the London Gazette, September 26th 1916 reads:

"For most conspicuous bravery, when the front line was held up by enfilading machine gun fire, Captain Bell crept forward and shot the machine gunner. Later, on no less than three occasions when the bombing parties that were clearing the enemies trenches were unable to advance, he went forward alone and threw trench mortars among the enemy. When he had no more bombs available, he stood on the parapet under intense fire and used a rifle with great coolness and effect on the enemy advancing to counter attack.
Finally he was killed rallying and reorganising infantry parties, which had lost their officers. All this was outside the scope of his normal duties with his battery.
He gave his life in his supreme devotion to duty."

His Victoria Cross was presented to his family on November 29th 1916, by King George V at Buckingham Palace.

Lieutenant Geoffrey St George Shillington Cather VC

108th Infantry Brigade, 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers (Armagh, Monaghan and Cavan Volunteers) 

For most conspicuous bravery near Hamel, France 1st July 1916 Age: 25 

Geoffrey Cather was born on October 11th 1890 at Streatham Hill south west London. In September 1914, he enlisted in the University and Public Schools corps and was then commissioned into the 9th battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers in May 1915.

"On the eve of the Somme battle, the 9th battalion were just north of the river Ancre.They moved off just before 7.30 am to cross six hundred yards of No-Mans Land towards their objective of Beaucourt Station.  At roll-call at the end of the day of over six hundred men who had started off, just over five hundred were either killed, missing or wounded.
Later in the day the remnants of the battalion were withdrawn to the village of Hamel. Search parties were organised that evening to go back over no-mans land to look for their missing comrades. Lieutenant Cather as battalion adjutant led one of the parties. From 7pm until mid-night he searched ‘No-mans-land’ and brought in three wounded men. Next morning at 8am he continued his search, brought in another wounded man and gave water to others arranging for their rescue later. Finally at 10.30am, he took water out to another man and was proceeding further on when he himself was killed. All this was carried out in full view of the enemy and under direct machine-gun fire and intermittent artillery fire. He set a splendid example of courage and self-sacrifice."

His Victoria Cross citation was gazetted on September 9th 1916 and presented to his family by King George at Buckingham Palace on March 31st 1917.

Private Robert Quigg VC

108th Infantry Brigade, 12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (Mid Antrim Volunteers)

For most conspicuous bravery at Hamel, France 1st July 1916 Age: 31 died on May 14th 1955 aged 70 in Ballycastle, County Antrim. He was buried with full military honours in Billy parish churchyard.

"On the morning of July 1st, the Mid-Antrim Volunteers met a fierce response from the German machine gunners as they emerged from Thiepval Wood. Robert advanced to the assault with his Platoon three times. Early next morning hearing a rumour that his Platoon Officer was laying out wounded, he went out seven times to look for him, under heavy shell and machine-gun fire, each time bringing back a wounded man. The last man he dragged in on a waterproof sheet from within a few yards of the enemy’s Private wire. He was seven hours engaged in this most gallant work, and finally was so exhausted that he had to give it up."

These heroic actions earned Robert Quigg his Victoria Cross which was gazetted on September 9th 1916. Harry McNaghten was never recovered from the battlefield.
On January 8th 1917 Robert Quigg travelled to Sandringham House in Norfolk to receive his decoration from King George V. A story at the time relates that when the presentation was being made, the king commented, "You're a very brave man Quigg".  To which Robert replied, "You're a brave man yourself king".

He saw out the war and remained in the army, being promoted to Sergeant and finally retiring in 1926 after an accident in Belfast.  In 1929 Robert attended the VC reunion dinner held in the Royal Gallery at the House of Lords and 1953 Robert Quigg was presented to the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II.

Second-Lieutenant James Samuel Emerson VC

109th Infantry Brigade, 9th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Tyrone Volunteers)

For repeated acts of most conspicuous bravery North of La Vacquerie 6th December 1916 Age: 22

"He led the company in an attack, and cleared four hundred yards of trench.  Though wounded, when the enemy attacked in superior numbers, he sprang out of the trench with eight men and met the attack in the open, killing many and taking six prisoners. For three hours after this, all other officers having been casualties, he remained with his company, refusing to go to the dressing station, and repeatedly repelled bombing attacks.   Later when the enemy attacked in superior numbers, he led his men to repel the attack, and was mortally wounded.  His heroism, when wore out and exhausted from loss of blood, inspired his men to hold out, though almost surrounded, till reinforcements arrived and dislodged the enemy."

 Private William (Billy) Fredrick McFadzean VC

109th Infantry Brigade, 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles Young Citizen Volunteers

For most conspicuous bravery near Thiepval Wood 1st July 1916 Age: 20

Billy McFadzean was born in Lurgan County Armagh and raised in the Cregagh area of east Belfast.  By the time he had finished school he was 6 foot tall and weighed 13 stone and played rugby for Collegians.  He was employed as an apprentice in the linen trade where he earned £20 per week. 

Billy joined the Young Citizen Volunteers, 1st Battalion Ballynafiegh and Newtownbreda East Belfast Regiment.  He joined up for war service on the 22nd September 1914 as a Private with the 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.  He left for France on the 5th October.  In a letter home Billy wrote;

“You people at home make me feel quite proud when you tell me “I am the soldier boy of the McFadzeans.”   I hope to play the game and I don’t add much lustre to it, I certainly will not tarnish it.”

On the night of the 30th June 1916, Billy and his Battalion found themselves in their assembly trenches at Elgin Avenue in Thiepval Wood.  The Battalion war diary reads;
“heavy bombardment, trouble keeping the candle alight.”

"Around 6.45 on the morning of the 1st July 1916 as zero hour approached to mark the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, a tragic incident occurred.  Billy and his fellow grenadiers were making final preparations; boxes of grenades were open and bombs handed being handed out.  Shells were dropping all around.  Billy was opening a box, using a knife to cut the cord around it, when the box tumbled of it’s shelf and two bombs spilt out and shed their pins.  An explosion would rip through the trench in a matter of seconds.  Billy threw himself on the ground on top of the bombs, sheltering his comrades from the blast.  He was killed instantly, but his comrades, with one exception who was injured, were saved from death or serious injury." 

For this act of gallantry Billy McFadzean aged 20 was awarded the highest honour in the British Army the Victoria Cross.

Robert Morrow VC

Born in Newmills near Dungannon.

He was 23 years old, and a Private in the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

"On 12 April 1915, the battalion was in trenches in the River Douvre sector near Messines, Belgium, when German artillery started to shell the frontline.  Parts of the trench system was blown in and the dug-outs collapsed in the heavy bombardment with a number of men buried in the debris.  Private Morrow who was sheltering in the reserve lines, left comparative safety to go forward and dig out his comrades and drag them to the rear.  He carried out this work on his own initiative and under very heavy fire from the enemy."

He was killed in action just a fortnight later during the second battle of Ypres Salient, Belgium on the 26th April 1915.  True to his nature, he had been helping to carry wounded colleagues to the rear when he was injured.  He died the following day.  He is buried in White House Cemetery.

The largest number of Victoria Crosses awarded in a single conflict was 634 during the First World War. During the First World War men from Ulster fought and won the highest decoration that can be awarded in other theatres of war some fought in the armies of Commonwealth countries whilst in one case a Canadian was an adopted Ulster man. 

Their details are as follows: -

Major David Nelson, VC Royal Horse Artillery. Born Deraghland Stradnoden Co Monaghan.

As a 28-year-old Sergeant on 1st September 1914, David Nelson, played a leading part in the famous three VC action of ‘L’Battery, Royal Horse Artillery at Néry, Flanders.  As junior rank of a gun team of three (Captain Edward Kinder Bradbury, posthumous VC and Battery Sergeant Major George Thomas Dorrell, VC) Nelson helped bring the gun into action under heavy fire. He defied an order to retire when severely wounded and continued to range-set the gun until all the ammunition was exhausted.
Nelson was commissioned in November 1914 and became a Major in 1918. During the German Spring Offensive in 1918, whilst serving with ‘’D’ Battery, 59 Brigade, RFA, he was wounded in action at Lilliers, Pas de Calais, France and died of his wounds on 8th April 1918.

John Alexander Sinton (VC, OBE, FRS)

Born in Canada however lived all of his life, and was educated in, Northern Ireland, he was a recipient of the Victoria Cross the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

He was 31 years old, and a Captain in the Indian Medical Service, during the First World war when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

"On 21st January 1916 at Orah Ruins, Mesopotamia, Captain Sinton attended to the wounded under very heavy fire and although he was shot through both arms and through the side he refused to go to hospital, remaining on duty as long as daylight lasted. In three previous actions he had also displayed the utmost bravery."

He later achieved the rank of Brigadier.  Sinton is the only person to have had the letters VC, FRS following their name.

In later life he served as Deputy Lord Lieutenant for County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

James Somers VC

Born in Belturbet, County Cavan.

He was 31 years old, and a sergeant in the 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

On 1/2 July 1915, in Gallipoli, Turkey, when, owing to hostile bombing, some of our troops had retired from a sap, Sergeant Somers remained alone there until a party brought up bombs. He then climbed over into the Turkish trench and bombed the Turks with great effect. Later on, he advanced into the open under heavy fire and held back the enemy by throwing bombs into their flank until a barricade had been established. During this period, he frequently ran to and from our trenches to obtain fresh supplies of bombs.
In a letter to his father, Somers wrote:

"I beat the Turks out of our trench single-handed and had four awful hours at night. The Turks swarmed in from all roads, but I gave them a rough time of it, still holding the trench. It is certain sure we are beating the Turks all right. In the trench I came out of, it was shocking to see the dead. They lay, about three thousand Turks, in front of our trenches, and the smell was absolutely chronic. You know when the sun has been shining on those bodies for three or four days it makes a horrible smell; a person would not mind if it was possible to bury them. But no, you dare not put your nose outside the trench, and if you did, you would be a dead man."

He had been severely wounded during the retreat from Mons in August 1914.

He died on 7th May 1918 aged 33, and was buried with full military honours in Modreeny Church of Ireland cemetery. His Union Jack-draped coffin was carried on a gun carriage, led by the Pipe Band of the Cameron Highlanders.

The Honourable Edward Barry Stewart Bingham VC OBE

Born in Bangor, County Down, served in the Royal Navy during the First World War and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in engaging the German fleet during the Battle of Jutland.

At the beginning of the First World War, he was given command of HMS Invincible, which saw action at the Battle of the Falklands in December 1914.

"On 31st May 1916, during the Battle of Jutland, off the coast of Denmark, Commander Bingham was in command of a destroyer division. Leading his division in their attack, first on enemy destroyers and then on their battle cruisers of the German High Seas Fleet. Once the enemy was sighted Bingham ordered his own destroyer, HMS Nestor and the one remaining destroyer of his division, HMS Nicator, to close to within 2,750 meters of the opposing battle fleet so that he could bring his torpedoes to bear. While making this attack Nestor and Nicator were under concentrated fire of the secondary batteries of the German fleet and Nestor was subsequently sunk."

For his actions, Bingham earned the Victoria Cross, one of relatively few awarded for naval bravery during the First World War.

Bingham's Victoria Cross was auctioned in 1983 and was purchased by the North Down Borough Council for £18,000, having outbid a Canadian millionaire. It is now valued at in excess of £100,000 due to the rarity of naval VCs. The medal is displayed at the North Down Heritage Centre in Bangor.

Robert Hill Hanna VC

He was 30 years old, and a Company Sergeant Major in the 29th (Vancouver) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

"On the 21st August 1917, at Hill 70 Lens, France, Company Sergeant-Major Hanna's company met with most severe enemy resistance at a heavily protected strong point, which had beaten off three assaults and all the officers of the company had become casualties. This warrant officer, under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, coolly collected and led a party against the strong point, rushed through the wire and personally killed four of the enemy, capturing the position and silencing the machine-gun. This courageous action was responsible for the capture of a most important tactical point."

He was born near Hanna's Close in Kilkeel and still has many members of family remaining in the area. To this day he is thought of in Kilkeel and his personal sword is on the wall of Kilkeel British Legion.

James Duffy VC

Born Crolly, Gweedore, in Donegal.  He was 28 years old, and a Private in the 6th Battalion, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers during the First World War, when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

"On the 27th December 1917 at Kereina Peak in Palestine, whilst the company was holding a very exposed position, Private Duffy, a stretcher-bearer, and another stretcher-bearer went out to bring in a seriously wounded comrade. When the other stretcher-bearer was wounded, Private Duffy returned to get another man, who was killed almost immediately. The private then went forward alone and, under very heavy fire, succeeded in getting both wounded men under cover and attended to their injuries. His gallantry undoubtedly saved both men's lives."

James Crichton VC

Born in Carrickfergus.  He was 39 years old, and a Private in the 2nd Battalion, Auckland Infantry Regiment, New Zealand Expeditionary Force during the First World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

"On the 30th September 1918 at Crevecoeur, France, Private Crichton, although wounded in the foot, stayed with the advancing troops despite difficult canal and river obstacles. When his platoon was forced back by a counterattack he succeeded in carrying a message which involved swimming a river and crossing an area swept by machine-gun fire. Subsequently he rejoined his platoon and later undertook on his own initiative to save a bridge which had been mined. Under close fire he managed to remove the charges, returning with the fuses and detonators."

He died Takapura New Zealand 25 September 1961.

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