Introduced in 1856 by Queen Victoria, the Victoria Cross is the British Military’s highest accolade for bravery on the battlefield.
Those awarded the medal are few and far between; eight come from Clifton College. Here we tell these Old Cliftonians’ special stories:
Born in London on the 31st October 1874, Martineau enlisted in the 11th Hussars in 1891 at the tender age of 17. Martineau was deployed to South Africa during the Second Boer War in 1899.
It was during this period that the Old Cliftonian was awarded the Victoria Cross. On Boxing Day 1899, Martineau was stationed at Game Tree, Mafeking when the order was given to retreat due to heavy fire. Upon seeing his Corporal struck down while in the midst of no man’s land, the young Sergeant defied orders to undertake an impromptu rescue.
He dragged his Corporal 150 yards to a nearby bush, despite being shot three times, the latter of which resulted in the later amputation of his arm. In spite of this, both men survived the attack. Martineau’s dedication to military service was widely recognised and celebrated in both New Zealand and in his home country, the United Kingdom.
Born on the 11th May 1891 in Devon, Sandford attended Clifton College before enlisting in the Royal Navy upon the outbreak of the World War. His natural leadership abilities saw the Old Cliftonian become a Lieutenant in command of the submarine HMS C3 at the tender age of 26.
It was on this vessel that Lieutenant Sandford was awarded the Victoria Cross during the Zeebrugge Raid of 1918. The Royal Navy had been tasked with strategically sinking dispensable ships in order to form a blockade and prevent German ships from leaving the dockyard.
Sandford selflessly remained on his vessel when positioning his part of the blockade, in spite of orders to abandon ship at a safe distance, and only abandoned ship moments before the explosion. Lieutenant Sandford survived the mission and led his crew for the remainder of the war.
His courage in battle is immortalised through a display at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.
Born in Sussex on the 15th May 1883, Theodore Wright was educated at Clifton College before moving on to the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. After serving in the 57th Field Company Corps of Royal Engineers for the majority of his service, Wright was 31 years old upon deployment to Belgium as part of the First World War effort.
It was during this deployment that Captain Wright partook in the mission that would award him the Victoria Cross. On the 23rd August 1914, during an attempt to hold a barricade at Mons-Conde canal, return fire became prevalent and the men were ordered to retreat. Another company had been tasked with destroying the bridge which joined the banks of the canal, but was missing the exploder and leads needed to effectively detonate the bomb.
Wright volunteered himself to retrieve the necessary equipment, in spite of a head injury and constant fire. Whilst attempting to join the cables, Wright was constantly thwarted by enemy bullets. Eventually, he was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and collapsed. Having been rescued by a fellow soldier, Wright went on to serve in a series of key battles.
His bravery was commemorated with a display at the Royal Engineers Museum in Kent where his Victoria Cross remains to this day.
Cyril Gordon Martin
Born in China on the 19th December 1891, Cyril Gordon Martin moved to the United Kingdom as a young child and was educated at Clifton College before enlisting with the 6th Field Company Corps of Royal Engineers.
By the age of 23, he was a Lieutenant and on 12th March 1915 at Spanbroek Molen, Belgium, volunteered to lead a small group of men in an attempt to cut off a section of an enemy trench that was delaying the British advance. During the assault, Lieutenant Martin was severely wounded yet insisted on completing the mission before receiving any medical treatment. Due to his courage under fire, and ability to hold his position in spite of intense enemy fire for over two hours, the assault was successful and allowed the British forces to move forward into battle.
Edward Donald Bellew
Born in Bombay on the 28th October 1882, Bellew attended Clifton College before furthering his education at Sandhurst.
After serving in the Royal Irish Regiment until 1903, Bellew emigrated to Canada before immediately re-enlisting with the British Columbia Regiment upon the declaration of World War One.
It was during the now famous Second Battle of Ypres on the 24th April 1915 that Bellew’s bravery earned him Victoria Cross. Canadian forces were suffering heavy casualties and Lieutenant Bellew was charged with manning the forces’ machine gun. As reinforcements failed, and with the enemy stationed less than 100 yards away from his position, Bellew made the decision to fight until ammunition failed. He then grabbed a rifle and continued to defend his position until finally being taken prisoner.
Bellew remained a prisoner of war until 1919 and upon release returned to Canada where he passed away at the age of 79. While his Victoria Cross was believed to be stolen and was never recovered, his legacy is commemorated at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto.
George Henry Tathom Paton
A Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross, George Henry Tathom Paton was born in Innellan on the 3rd October 1895 and attended Clifton College before enlisting in the Grenadier Guards upon outbreak of World War One.
At just 22 years old, Paton was acting Captain of the Grenadier Guards when his company were surrounded on the frontline in France. In spite of overwhelming enemy fire, Paton walked up and down the company lines on three occasions, even using the parapet in order to motivate his men in spite of the enemy firing from less than 50 yards away.
Having personally removed over a dozen wounded men, Paton was eventually mortally wounded and was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously, becoming the first of the Grenadier Guards to receive the accolade since the Crimean War in 1856.
Claude Congreve Dobson
Born and educated in Clifton, Claude Congreve Dobson was a submarine commander with the Russian Relief Force during World War One.
On the 18th of August 1919, Commander Dobson led his vessel, the Coastal Motor Boat, through a chain of forts toward the entrance of the Kronstadt harbour while under heavy machine gun fire. Nevertheless, he was able to take the boat into the harbour, torpedo the Russian battleship Andrei Persovanny and then negotiate the vessel back out into the open sea. His leadership skills and bravery under pressure saw him rewarded with the Victoria Cross.
While many may not realise the British efforts during the Russian Civil War, Commander Dobson’s story continues to be told at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
John Pennington Harman
Born in Beckenham, London, on the 20th July 1914, John Pennington Harman was the son of successful businessman Martin Coles Harman (the owner of Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel), and attended Clifton College upon his request.
By 29 years old, Harman was a Lance Corporal with the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment and was stationed in India when he undertook the actions which would warrant a Victoria Cross.
Harman was on the forefront of the Battle of Kohima when enemy Japanese forces established a machine gun post which was causing heavy casualties to the company. Upon seeing this, the Cliftonian advanced alone and used a grenade to destroy the heavy artillery and save the lives of countless men.
Unfortunately, the following morning Harman once again ventured into enemy territory alone and, despite successfully charging a group of Japanese soldiers who were attempting to establish a trench, he was killed by enemy fire upon his return. His bravery was immortalised by a plaque situated on his home in Shrewsbury Road, Beckenham, and a memorial erected by his father on Lundy Island.
Read more Clifton Memories
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ll photos courtesy of victoriacrossonline.co.uk