War is a singularly messy business that pushes good men and women to their absolute limits and sometimes beyond, to places they had never been and never wish to return to, allowing them to commit incredible act of bravery on the battlefields.
In 1856 Queen Victoria required a medal be struck to honour these men who committed such acts of bravery and so a cross was designed, bearing her name and the words ‘for valour’, to be struck from the bronze of a cannon captured by the British at Sebastopol. Today the medal is still struck from bronze.
Over the many years since its inception only 100 Australian men out of the more than two million who have served in action, have been the recipients of this medal.
In ‘For Valour’ Craig Blanch and Aaron Pegram present these men and their back stories; the stories of ordinary men who went to war, beginning with the Boer War and more recently Afghanistan, bringing these almost accidental heroes’ to the forefront once again.
Many of the medals were awarded during the First Word War to men who considered they were simply doing what needed to be done; humble men who although they received the honour, considered it was not just them, as all around them were the rest of the team doing equally as challenging things, in times of immense difficulty and horror.
The stories unfold commencing with Capt. Neville Reginald HOWSE a member of the New South Wales Medical Corps serving at Vredefort, Orange Free State in 1900. On the 24 July 1900 he went out under heavy crossfire and picked up a wounded man, and carried him to shelter. (London Gazette, 4 June 1901).
A brief involvement in Russia in 1918-19 saw two Australians awarded the Victoria Cross; one for Sheika River and the other for Emtsa, in a conflict barely registering on the grand scale of the much larger Australian personnel commitments.
The Second World War saw bravery awarded but not to the same degree as the previous wars, with more specific details provided, painting a stark picture of the conditions many worked in day after day. Their stories are fascinating, as once again they were young men carrying out orders which did not always make sense, operating in seemingly impossible locations and doing whatever was required to be done at the time.
Vietnam, that very controversial war, is represented in stark simplicity with only four medals being awarded, two posthumously and latterly Afghanistan with four VC’s awarded, one posthumously, which was awarded to the final man in this edition, Crpl. Cameron Stewart BAIRD (Posthumous) 2nd Commando Regiment, Australian Army for conspicuous acts of valour, extreme devotion to duty and ultimate self-sacrifice at Ghawchak Village, Urusgan Province, Afghanistan on 22 June 2013.
For Valour is the carefully revised version of They Dared Mightily written by Lionel Wigmore with Bruce Harding in 1963, recounting the actions of each of Australia’s Victoria Cross recipients to that time.
With fresh new information, along with a collection of photographs made available from the Australian War Memorial collection, the original work, They Dared Mightily, has benefitted immensely with considerably more detail as to the men, their lives and the consequences of their bravery serving in such theatres, which remained with them for the rest of their days. For some it made them, for others it destroyed them, but for all of them, War had and has a lasting and lifelong effect.
As a book on Australian history it is magnificent, as a research/reference book on Australians at War For Valour is long overdue. Many of the stories presented do not fit with legend of the ANZAC, but show in raw detail the horror and immense bravery of all who served and still serve on the front line. It is also a tribute to them and their families.
In the words of official Australian War Correspondent Charles Bean when writing about the Somme Offensive in 1916 – ‘They are not heroes” he said: They do not intend to be thought or spoken of as heroes. They are ordinary Australians doing their particular work as their country would wish them to do. And pray God, Australians in days to come will be worthy of them.’
Lest We Forget.
|Author||Aaron Pegram, Craig Blanch|
|Publisher||New South Publications|
|Distributor||New South Books|