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Tasmania’s Victoria Cross Legacy

Victoria Cross medal
Victoria Cross medal

The Victoria Cross (VC) was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856 and is the highest award for acts of bravery in wartime in the British and Commonwealth armed forces. The award is also available to civilians who commit acts of bravery under military command (this has occurred six times).

To be awarded a VC, the act of bravery must be committed ‘in the face of the enemy’. For other acts of bravery, the corresponding award is the George Cross.

The Victoria Cross medal is cast in bronze and suspended from a crimson ribbon 33mm wide. It is in the shape of a Maltese Cross, 35mm wide, bearing a crown surmounted by a lion, with the inscription “FOR VALOUR”. The reverse side of each Victoria Cross is inscribed with the date of the act of bravery, along with the name, rank and unit of each recipient.

Tasmania has seen 15 of its own award a Victoria Cross Medal. This is the most per head of capita than any other Australian state or territory. Read the stories of each Tasmanian VC recipient below.

Tasmania's VC recipients

Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean VC

Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean's vessel the HMAS Armidale was hit by two Japanese torpedoes and a bomb and began to sink. As the order to abandon ship was given, he helped free a life raft and was wounded. He went to a 20 mm cannon and began to fire on the Japanese aircraft to protect those in the water. He shot down one of the Japanese bombers but was killed when the HMAS Armidale sank. Many of the survivors from the sinking credited their lives to him. He is the first member of the Royal Australian Navy to be awarded Australia’s highest honour for valour.

Corporal Cameron Baird VC MG

Baird led his team in silencing a number of enemy positions while under heavy small-arms fire. He then went to the aid of another team whose commander had been seriously wounded. With selfless disregard for his own safety, he drew the fire from an enemy machine-gun position, “the bullets hitting the ground around him”. He managed to suppress the enemy fire, allowing his team to regain the initiative.

Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murray VC, CMG, DSO (and Bar), DCM, CROIX DE GUERRE

Murray led his company's attack on Stormy Trench, near Gueudecourt. Over almost 24 hours they repelled counter-attacks, fought in merciless close quarter battles and suffered under intense shell-fire. Some 230 members of the Battalion were killed in the fight.

Sergeant John Whittle VC

Germans counter-attacked and succeeded in entering the small trench Whittle was holding. Whittle quickly reorganised his men, charged the enemy and reestablished the position. Whittle later noticed some Germans moving a machine gun into a position which offered a commanding arc of fire. He jumped to his feet and charged the enemy gun crew. He killed the whole crew and then carried the machine gun back to the Australian positions.

Captain Percy Cherry VC

Cherry's battalion, 26th Australian Infantry Battalion, was ordered to capture the village of Lagnicourt, and his company had the task of sweeping into the village. There was strong enemy opposition, and soon all of the officers in the company became casualties. Cherry organised machine-gun and bombing parties, sent back frequent reports of progress, and, when wounded later in the action, refused to leave his post.

Sergeant John Dwyer VC

During the battle of Polygon Wood (Zonnebeke, Belgium), Dwyer's Vickers machine-gun team came under fire until he rushed his gun forward, and at point-blank range put the enemy gun out of action. He then took both weapons and helped repulse a German counter-attack. Later, after his Vickers was blown up by shellfire, he led his team back through the enemy barrage to secure another and then bring it into action.

Sergeant Lewis McGee VC

During an action MeGee’s platoon was suffering severely and his company’s advance was halted by machine-gun fire from a pillbox. McGee rushed the post armed only with a revolver, shooting some of the crew and capturing the rest, and enabling the advance to proceed. He reorganised the remnants of his platoon and lead them through the rest of the advance.

Corporal Walter Brown VC DCM

Brown discarded his rifle and picked up two Mills bombs. Running towards the post, he threw one bomb, which fell short, but on reaching the position he attacked a German with his fists and threatened the others with his remaining grenade. They all promptly surrendered.

Sergeant Stanley McDougall VC

He saw the enemy knock out a Lewis gun position, he attacked two German machine-gun teams, killing their crews by "hosing" them with the Lewis. He then attacked a second wave of Germans, burning his hands on the hot barrel casing of his gun. When a German officer aimed his pistol at some Australians, McDougall killed him with a rifle and bayonet. Twenty-two Germans were killed and 30 were captured, largely as the result of McDougall's actions.

Lieutenant Alfred Gaby VC

Gaby was in command of a company. He moved his unit to the east of Villers-Bretonneux towards Card Copse, where unbroken wire entanglements were encountered. Heavy fire from Germans covering a gap in the wire pinned down the Australians. Gaby found a gap in the wire and single-handedly, approached an enemy strong point while machine gun and rifle fire poured from it. He ran along the parapet, emptied his revolver into the garrison, drove the crews from their machine guns and forced 50 of the enemy to surrender.

Sergeant Percy Statton VC

On 12 August 1918 Statton's battalion advanced until stopped by an enemy barrage, near Proyart, France. Over the next few hours Statton performed a number of brave actions, at one point rushing four enemy machine-gun positions armed only with a revolver. He disposed of two of the posts and killed five of the enemy. Later he went out under heavy fire and brought in two badly wounded men. For this he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Captain James Newland VC

In France, the 12th Battalions first major battle was at Pozieres, for which Newland was mentioned in dispatches for conspicuous courage, leadership and organisation. In December 1916 he left his Battalion to serve at Headquarters, but was reposted back to the 12th Battalion in February 1917 as commander of A Company.

Lance Corporal Sidney Gordon VC

During an attack to advance the Australian line towards Fargny Wood, Gordon single-handedly attacked a German machine-gun post, then cleaned up a trench, capturing 29 prisoners and two more machine-guns. In further actions he cleared other trenches, in all capturing 63 of the enemy and six machine-guns.

Lieutenant Guy Wylly VC

Wylly got wounded during a Boer ambush at Transvaal, but despite this, he went to the assistance of a wounded corporal, giving him his own horse and, at the risk of being cut off, then provided cover fire from behind rocks to enable the corporal’s escape.

Trooper John Hutton Bisdee VC

Bisdee and other members of an advance scouting party were ambushed by Boers in a rocky defile. Six of eight men were hit including two officers, Major Brooke and Lieutenant Wylly. Brooke’s horse bolted so Bisdee put the officer on his own horse and, despite being seriously wounded, ran alongside under fire until he too could mount up and get away.