Tag Archives: Victoria Cross

Today’s blog post was written by one of our volunteers, Richard.

‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend…’

Wilfred Owen ‘Strange Meeting’

The reference in an earlier blog post to memorials to nationals of enemy countries may seem strange, although in recent times new memorials have been erected with inscriptions intended not to cause offence by referring to all victims of war or conflict.

While such inscriptions may seem colourless, if well-intended, they do recognize that the advance of technology during the twentieth century rendered civilian populations in wartime vulnerable to an unprecedented extent. So for example small children killed in Dresden or Hiroshima were as blameless as their counterparts in a Poplar school killed in a German air raid on London’s docklands in 1917. (Click to see memorial record)

Distinct from this, there is the recognition that it’s advisable for all concerned for there to be some constraints on the conduct of war, and part of this is the respect, including war memorials, paid to the enemy’s dead: some examples were quoted previously.

Another example is the memorial to French prisoners of war at Norman Cross on the A1 in Cambridgeshire. Significantly this was not unveiled until nearly a century after Waterloo, not long after the Entente Cordiale and shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. Some Napoleonic memorials, however, are rather earlier such as the one at HM Prison, Dartmoor, and one now at Chatham. On this one part of the inscription refers to ‘...many brave soldiers and sailors who…have been laid in an honourable grave by a nation which knows how to respect valour and to sympathise with misfortune.’

From the First World War a German teacher is commemorated on a memorial at Manchester Grammar School. At Oxford at the insistence of the Warden of New College, Dr Spooner (he of the spoonerism), a tablet to three German students was unveiled in the 1920s, amid some controversy. 

Recent research has established that Gerhard Brumund, included on the Great Central Railway’s memorial at Sheffield was born in Germany. He was killed when that company’s steamship SS Leicester hit a mine in the English Channel and sank in 1916.

The last moments of the the German Army's airship, SL 11, in flames above HertfordshireSome enemies died in the skies over Britain. In the First World War, SL11 a German Army airship, was shot down over Cuffley in Hertfordshire in 1916 by Lt William Leefe Robinson. He was awarded the VC for ‘most conspicuous bravery’ in attacking the first German airship destroyed on British soil. The crew of SL11 were buried with full military honours at Potters Bar, the vicar of Cuffley having refused them burial. The photo opposite shows the last moments of SL 11, in flames above Hertfordshire. In 1967 the graves of Germans who died in Britain during the two world wars, including the crew of SL11, were concentrated at the Cannock Chase German War Cemetery in Staffordshire.

At King’s Somborne in Hampshire is a small memorial to the crew of a Luftwaffe plane downed in 1940. A more substantial Second World War memorial at St Peter’s Italian church in central London commemorates enemy aliens, both Italian and German, lost when the Arandora Star carrying them to internment in Canada was torpedoed in 1940 by the German submarine U47. As a reminder that political alliances are not necessarily unchanging, the same church has a memorial to its members in the war of 1915-1918 (sic) killed at a time when Italy was one of Britain’s allies.

A memorial service has been held in the English Channel to mark the anniversary of the ‘Channel Dash’Watch a report about the service from BBC News.

The Channel Dash is the name given to an action that took place during the Second World War.  For several months, from early 1941, three German ships (the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen) had been trapped in the French port of Brest, where they were subjected to heavy bombing by the RAF. 

On 12 February 1942, RAF Spitfires reported that the German ships were making a break for the safety of a North German port.  The British hastily assembled a force of six Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers.  These were slow and vulnerable aircraft.  To have any success reaching and attacking the German ships they would need a large escort of fighter planes.  Unfortunately the Spitfire squadrons were too far away and speed in launching the attack was critial.  Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde – who was in command of the Swordfish bombers – made the decision to go after the German ships with a small escort of just ten Spitfires.

The RAF Station Commander at Manston said of Esmonde:

“He knew what he was going into. But it was his duty. His face was tense and white. It was the face of a man already dead. It shocked me as nothing has ever done since.”

 German Messerschmitts engaged the Spitfires soon after they had set out and the Swordfish were left on their own.  They approached the German ships, under heavy attack from the fighter planes escorting them.  Some were able to drop their torpedoes, although none made contact with the ships.  All six Swordfish were shot down with the loss of 13 of the 18 crew.  Those 18 crew were decorated for their part in the action, with Esmonde receiving a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Further attacks were launched by Royal Navy ships and RAF fighters and bombers but the German ships were able to reach safety.  It did however mean that the German navy was never again able to launch attacks on Atlantic convoys from Western French ports.

The German battlecruisers SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU travel in a line with their guns firing, allegedly taken during their escape from Brest, known as the 'Channel Dash' on 12 February 1942

This photo shows the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau travelling in a line with their guns firing.  It is believed to have been taken during the Channel Dash on 12 February 1942.

Read a detailed report on the action from the Ministry of Defence

There are a few memorials commemorating this action.  These include a wooden memorial board in Manston, Kent. It reads:


HMS Belfast, now a floating museum and a branch of the Imperial War Museum, was later involved with the sinking of the Scharnhorst, on Boxing Day 1943.

The Duke of Edinburgh has unveiled a new memorial at the Historic Dockyard Chatham to the 11,000 men who died while serving on Royal Navy destroyers in the Second World War.

Read more from BBC NEWS

Among those who died was Captain Bernard Warbuton-Lee VC.  On 10 April 1940, Warburton-Lee led a flotilla of 5 destroyers into a fjord in a heavy snowstorm.  His mission was to carry out a surprise attack on a larger force of German ships, stationed near the strategically important Norwegian city of Narvik.  

Warburton-Lee was fatally wounded by a shell during the battle and was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions that day.

Read UKNIWM memorial record

A new memorial to VC winners has been unveiled in Glasgow at the city’s Necropolis.  The unveiling co-incides with the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross and was preceded by a memorial service in Glasgow Cathedral.

Read more from BBC NEWS

We have currently recorded 606 memorials that commemorate VC or GC winners.

Browse the list of memorials to VC and GC winners.

Among these is a memorial to Thomas Arthur V.C.  Arthur was one of the first men to be awarded the Victoria Cross at the first Investiture ceremony held by Queen Victoria on 26 June 1857.

A Victoria Cross winner, Sergeant Ivor Rees, was honoured with a new memorial plaque last week.  More than 60 members of his family were expected to attend the unveiling in his home town of Llanelli.

Sgt Rees was awarded the VC for capturing a German machine gun at Passchendaele.  He survived the First World War and lived until 1967, serving in the Home Guard during the Second World War.

Read more from BBC NEWS

72 different wars and conflicts are marked by memorials on our database and you can now browse this list. 

Click to browse by War

The First World War produced the most memorials (37,028) but you can also browse memorials with dedications to First World War Civilians (71 memorials).

Why not have a look at some of the more unusual conflicts, like the Austrian Succession, the Maori Wars or the Suez emergency and crisis.

Some do not mark a specific conflict, but rather a type, such as memorials to animals, blessed villages or VC and GC Winners.

Birmingham council is supporting a proposal to erect a memorial plaque to the 25 soldiers awarded the Victoria Cross and George Cross.

Read more from BBC NEWS

We record memorials that list VC and GC winners on our database and currently have 606.  These are both memorials that solely commemorate a VC or GC winner and where they are listed among others who served and died.

Captain Noel Chavasse, one of only three men to be awarded the VC twice, is the individual we believe to be commemorated on the most memorials. We are currently aware of 16 that bear his name, such as this one unveiled by his brother, who was Lord Bishop of Rochester.

Memorial tablet to Capt N Chevasse

Capt Chavasse, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, was awarded his first VC for actions on 9 and 10 August 1916, rescuing many wounded under heavy fire.  His second VC was awarded for actions between 31 July and 2 August 1917, when he attended to many wounded, again under heavy fire, despite being severely wounded himself.  He later died from these wounds and is buried in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery in Belgium.