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 and awards, 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 who were awarded the Victoria Cross while serving with the 36th (Ulster) Division 1914-1918.


Captain Eric Norman Frankland Bell
109th Infantry Brigade, 9th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
(Tyrone Volunteers)

For most conspicuous bravery at Thiepval
1st July 1916


Age : 20

No known grave. Remembered on on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

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 bomb 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
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

No known grave. Remembered on on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

VC on public display at the Regimental Museum The Royal Irish Fusiliers (Armagh, Northern Ireland)

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 untill 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.


Second Lieutenant James Samuel Emerson
108th Infantry Brigade, 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers
(Armagh, Monaghan and Cavan Volunteers)

For most conspicuous bravery La Vacquerie.
6th December 1917


Age : 22


On 6 December 1917, on the Hindenberg Line north of La Vacquerie, France, Second Lieutenant Emerson led his company in an attack and cleared 400 yards of trench.
Though wounded, when the enemy attacked in superior numbers he met their attack with eight men, killing many and taking six prisoners. For three hours afterwards, all other officers having become casualties, he remained with his company, refusing to go to the dressing station, and repeatedly repelling bombing attacks.
Later, leading his men to repel another attack, he was mortally wounded. His heroism inspired his men to hold out until reinforcements arrived.

His name is inscribed on the war memorial at the Church of Ireland parish church at Collon, County Louth and on the Cambrai Memorial to the Missing.


Second-Lieutenant Cecil Leonard Knox
Royal Engineers, 150th Field Company

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty.

Age : 29

Died : 4 February 1943, Nuneaton

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 risks, which as a practical civil engineer, he fully realised.


Second-Lieutenant Edmund De Wind
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 until another section could be got to his help. On two occasions, with two NCO’s only, he got out on top, under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and cleared the enemy from the trench, killing many. He continued to repel attack after attack until he was mortally wounded and collapsed. His valour, self-sacrifice and example were of the highest order.


Lance-Corporal Ernest Seaman
109th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty

Age : 25

VC on public display at The Royal Logistic Corps Museum (Camberly, Surrey, England)

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 an 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.


Private William (Billy) Frederick McFadzean
109th Infantry Brigade, 14th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
(Young Citizen Volunteers)

For most conspicuous bravery near Thiepval Wood
1st July 1916

Age : 20

VC Publicly displayed at the Royal Ulster Rifles museum (Belfast, Northern Ireland)


Billy McFadzean was born at Lurgan Co Armagh on October 9th 1895 the son of William McFadzean JP senior and Mrs McFadzean of Rubicon, Cregagh, Belfast.
He was educated at Mountpottinger Boys School and later attended the Trade Preparatory School in Belfast, where he had been less than a model pupil, having been reprimanded no less than thirty-four times for bad conduct in his second year. Billy was described as "13 stones and six feet tall, a fine healthy young Ulsterman", and gained respect as a useful player with the Collegians Rugby Club.
After school he became an apprentice in the linen business with Spence, Brysin and Co. of Belfast at a wage of £20 per anunum. He was also an enthusiastic member of the Young Citizen Volunteers, 1st battalion Ballynafeigh and Newtownbreda East Belfast Regiment.
He joined up for war service on September 22nd 1914 as a Private with the 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and on 5 October he along with his Battalion made their crossing to France aboard an old Isle of Man paddle-steamer called the Empress Queen, where Billy wrote to his family : "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 if I dont add much lustre to it, I certainly will not tarnish it."
T he night of June 30th 1916, Billy and his battalion found themselves in their assembly trenches at Elgin Avenue in Thiepval Wood. The battalion war diary records, "heavy bombardment, great trouble in keeping the candle alight," In the trench Billy was singing his favourite song "My little Grey Home in the West" and keeping his comrades spirits up with his jokes and banter.
Around 6.45am on the morning of July 1st 1916 as zero hour approaced to mark the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, the tragic incident occurred. The bombardiers were particulary busy and Billy and his fellow grenadiers were making final preparations; boxes of grenades were open and bombs were 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 off its shelf and two bombs split out and shed their pins. An explosion would rip through the trench in a matter of seconds. Billy threw himself on thre ground, on top of the bombs, sheltering the rest of the men from the blast. He was killed instantly, but his comrades were saved from death or serious injury - except one man who eventually was to lose a leg as a result of his wounds. Billy's mutilated remains were placed on a stretcher and as they were being taken away, his fellow soldiers instinctively removed their helmets, despite the ongoing bombardment and the flying shrapnel; many were in tears.
William McFadzean's Victoria Cross was gazetted on September 9th 1916 and once again his name is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial for all those with no known grave.
His commanding officer Lieut Col F C Bowen wrote to Billy's father on September 16th.
"Dear Mr McFadzean,
It is with feelings of great pride that I read the announcement of the granting of the
VC to your gallant son and my only regret is that he was not spared to us to wear his
well-earned decoration.
It was one of the finest deeds of a war that is so full of big things and I can assure you that the whole battalion rejoiced when they heard it. Your gallant boy, though gone from us, his deeds will forever live in our memories and the record will go down for all time in the regimental history which he has added fresh and great lustre to."
The family also received a letter from Buckingham Palace on December 18th 1916.
"It is a matter of sincere regret to me that the death of Private McFadzean deprived me of the pride of personally conferring upon him the Victoria Cross, the greatest of all rewards for valour and devotion to duty."
Signed George R I
Billy McFadzean's VC was the first to be won on that July day in 1916. Billy's father was given a third class rail ticket with which to travel to London on February 28th 1917 where his sons Victoria Cross was presented to him by the king at Buckingham Palace.
"Nothing finer has been done in this war for which I have given a Victoria Cross than the act committed by your son to save many lives in giving his own so heroically."
(The king's words to Billy's father.)
On Sunday 1 July 1917 in Newtownbreda Presbyterian Church, on the outskirts of Belfast, an afternoon service was held to pay respects to the memory of Billy McFadzean in what had been his home church. A tablet was unveiled on which were the words:
'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends'.

The last Post was played, the congregation sang 'O God, our help in ages past' and the choir performed a beautiful anthem, a setting by Woodward of Tennyson's poem 'Crossing the bar', which includes these lines :

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.


The process of keeping alive the memory and significance of the Somme dead was maintained not only publicly but privately by the families of the victims. Part of this process sometimes involved a search for a grave - impelled by a deep need to know some physical location as the last resting place of the dead soldier. In 1920 the parents of Billy McFadzean were still trying desperately to find some particular gavestone in the military cemeteries of the somme where their famous son might have been laid to rest.


Private Robert Quigg
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.

VC Publicly displayed at the Royal Ulster Rifles museum (Belfast, Northern Ireland) along with his Medal of the order of St George 4th class, which was presented to him by Russia

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’sPrivate 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 from left is Volunteer Robert Quigg VC - 12TH Battalion Royal Irish Rifles
Pictured receiving an award at the Ulster Hall in 1954. "A Brave Wee Man".

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At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

 

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