Plain medal still honours rare mettle, 150 years on
By Michael Evans, Defence Editor
THEY were the youngest ones there but the respect and awe for Private Johnson Beharry and Lance Corporal Christopher Finney was none the less undiminished.
The pair were among Britain’s most courageous men and women who gathered at Westminster Abbey yesterday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross and the 50th anniversary of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association.
The service was in honour of their outstanding courage but, as the Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, put it, acts of selfless gallantry were often performed by ordinary people. He said that the medal instituted by Queen Victoria in January 1856 and described by The Times as “plain” suited “the modesty that often accompanies great courage”.
The service and the reception at St James’s Square were attended by 8 of the surviving holders of the VC and 22 of the 24 surviving holders of the GC. They were joined by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and families of medal holders who had died or been killed in action.
Private Beharry said: “When we all meet, I don’t ask what they did (to get the VC) and they don’t ask what I did, but they are all great people and they give me good ideas about how to deal with things.” He admitted that winning the VC had changed his life.
Private Beharry and Lance Corporal Finney carried a wreath down the aisle of the Abbey and handed it to the Prince, who laid it on the VC, GC memorial. At the reception in St James’s Square, the Prince met all the VC and GC holders.
“Circumstances may change, technology may change, but the capacity for some very rare human beings to act in an utterly exceptional and selfless way remains unchanged by the passage of time,” he said in an address to the 1,600 guests.
NONE BUT THE BRAVE: THE SURVIVING 12
Private Johnson Beharry, of the 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, who saved the lives of 30 comrades in two individual acts of heroism in al-Amarah, southern Iraq, in May and June 2004
Havildar Bhan Bhagta Gurung, of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles, who cleared four enemy foxholes on his own in Burma in March 1945
Flight Lieutenant John Cruickshank, of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No 210 Squadron, who attacked a German U-boat in July 1944, while piloting a Catalina flying boat, persisting with the assault despite being seriously wounded.
Lieutenant-Commander Ian Fraser, of the Royal Naval Reserve, who commanded a midget submarine in a daring raid on the Japanese cruiser Takao in July 1945
Private Edward Kenna, of the 2/4th Battalion Australian Imperial Force, who, under fire, destroyed a Japanese machinegun post in New Guinea in May 1945
Havildar Lachhiman Gurung, of the 8th Gurkha Rifles, who single-handedly fought off wave after wave of enemy attacks on his position in Burma in May 1944
Warrant Officer Class 2 Keith Payne, of the Royal Australian Infantry Regiment, who defended his men and rescued wounded while under fierce attack by North Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War in May 1969
Captain Rambahadur Limbu, of the 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles, who saved his men during an enemy attack in Sarawak, Malaysia, in November 1965
Private William Speakman-Pitts, of The Black Watch, who led a grenade charge against the enemy in the Korean War in November 1951
Lieutenant Tulbahadur Pun, of the 6th Gurkha Rifles, who charged a Japanese position on his own in June 1944 in Burma
Lieutenant Sir Tasker Watkins, of The Welch Regiment, who charged two enemy posts in August 1944
Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Wilson, of The East Surrey Regiment, attached to the Somaliland Camel Corps, who managed to beat off an enemy attack in Somaliland in August 1940
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