Pte George Peachment one of the youngest recipients of the VC during WW1

George Peachment was the son of a barber and  lived with his parents in Bury Lancashire. He wanted  to join the army and fight in the war but was aware the minimum age for overseas service was 19 so  decided to lie about his age. According to figures compiled by the British Legion George Peachment was one of 250,000 young men under the age of 19 who served in the Great War after claiming to be over 19 years of age.

On 19 April 1915, at the age of 17, he told the recruiting sergeant he was 19 years old  and one month and wore his father’s bowler hat to make him look older and successfully enlisted into the Rifle Corp, but his military service got off to a bad start.

Private Peachment was charged for being absent without leave from 0700 hrs on 2 July 1915 until 0810 hrs 5 July and was fined seven days loss of pay. Two months later he was confined to barracks for three days for having a dirty bayonet whilst on parade. Six days later he was fighting during the opening Battle of Loos, the largest British offensive on the western front during 1915.

After four-days of artillery bombardments against German lines at 0630 hrs on 25 September 1915 George Peachment took part in this major offensive but the preliminary artillery bombardment had not silenced the German machine guns, barbed wire defences were still intact and once in no man’s land many British soldiers were cut down by machine gun and rifle fire from the German trenches creating a scene of mass slaughter common throughout the Great War.

Due to the large number of dead and dying caught up in barbed wire defences and scattered across the battlefield,  the line was retiring so it could be reorganised when private George Peachment saw his company commander, Captain Dubs lying wounded near the German trenches. Instead of falling back or taking cover with other men in a shell hole, Peachment whilst under intense machine gun fire crawled towards Captain Dubs.

In 1996 Lord Ashcroft bought Peachment’s Victoria Cross at auction along with a remarkable letter from Peachment’s company commander to his mother which tells the story of how her son died saving his life. Captain Dubs wrote:

“I cannot tell you how sorry I am that your brave son was killed, but I hope it may be some consolation to you to know how bravely he behaved and how he met his end…

When we reached the {barbed} wire we found it absolutely untouched by our artillery fire and an almost impossible obstacle as a result. However, we had to push on and I gave the order to try and get through it and over it. Your son followed me over the wire and advanced with me about 20 yards through it till we were only about 15 yards from the German trenches. None of the other men of the line were able to get as far and he was the only man with me. As a matter of fact, I had not noticed your son with me, but at this point a bomb hit me in the eye blowing it and part of my face away.

I fell to the ground, but on sitting up found your son kneeling beside me. The German fire at this time was very intense but your son was perfectly cool. He asked me for my field dressing and started bandaging my head quite oblivious to the fire. His first thought was to help me, and although there was a shell hole nearby where he might have got cover, he never thought of doing so.

Of course, the Germans were bound to see us sitting up, and one of them threw a bomb which hit your son in the chest whilst at the same time I received a bullet in the chest. Your son was beyond feeling any pain though still alive. I tried to drag him into the shell hole and at the same time keep him from moving, but at that moment a bullet hit him in the head and killed him.

After his first wound he was bound to die, in fact he was already, immediately after he received it unconscious of any pain. I lay beside him there all day, and eventually we were picked up in the late afternoon when the trench was taken by a flank attack.

I can’t tell you how much I admired your son’s bravery and pluck. He lost his life in trying to help me and no man could have been braver than he was… I have recommended him for the Victoria Cross and have heard the commanding officer has seen the recommendation.

If he gets it, it is sad to think he is not in this world to receive all the congratulations he would get, but perhaps it may be of comfort to you… Your son died the finest death that man can die, he showed the greatest gallantry a man could show, and I hope these facts help you in your sad loss together with the fact he was spared all pain and suffering.”

IWW

Official Citation published in the London Gazette 18 November 1915

“During heavy fighting when our front line was compelled to retire to reorganise, Private Peachment, seeing his company commander Captain Dubs lying wounded crawled to assist him. The enemy fire was intense but though there was a shell hole quite close in which men had taken cover, Private Peachment never thought of saving himself.

He knelt in the open by his officer and tried to help him but while doing this he was first wounded by a bomb and a minute later mortally wounded by a rifle bullet.

He was one of the youngest men in his battalion and gave this splendid example of courage and sacrifice. “

Pte Peachment’s medals (Ashcroft Collection)

On 29 November 1916 the Victoria Cross was awarded to his mother by King George V at Buckingham Palace. His body was never recovered but he is commemorated on the Loos memorial which lists the names of more than 20,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died during the battle.

Third Supplement to The London Gazette of 16 November 1915. 18 November 1915, Numb. 29371, p. 11450

Name: George Stanley PEACHMENT

D.O.B: 5th May, 1897

D.O.A: 25th September, 1915

D.O.D: 25th September, 1915

Award: Victoria Cross

Occupation at time of action: Private, 2nd Battalion The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 2nd Brigade, 1st Division

Loos, France 25 September 1915

(Primary source Lord Ashcroft Collection)

Source http://www.lordashcroft.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/LORDASHCROFT_NOV2013.pdf

Barbara Harrison, GC

Barbara Harrison wanted to travel the world and was excited after successfully completing her training as a flight attendant for the British Overseas Airways Corporation (now part of British Airways).  

On 8 April 1968, 22-year-old Barbara Harrison was a flight attendant on a BOAC Boeing 707 which took off from London Heathrow Airport at 16.27 bound for Sydney Australia and the citation for her GC describes what happened immediately after take-off.

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD

ST. JAMES PALACE, LONDON SW1

8TH AUGUST 1969

THE QUEEN HAS BEEN GRACIOUSLY PLEASED TO MAKE THE UNDERMENTIONED AWARD

GEORGE CROSS

Miss Barbara Jane Harrison (deceased) stewardess, British Overseas Airways Corporation

No. 2 engine of B.O.A.C. Boeing 707 G-ARWE caught fire and subsequently fell from the aircraft, leaving a fierce fire burning at No. 2 engine position. About two and a half minutes later the aircraft made an emergency landing at the airport and the fire on the port wing intensified.

Miss Harrison was one of the stewardesses in this aircraft and the duties assigned to her in an emergency were to help the steward at the aft station to open the appropriate rear door and inflate the escape chute and then to assist the passengers at the rear of the aircraft to leave in an orderly manner. When the aircraft landed, Miss Harrison and the steward concerned opened the rear galley door and inflated the chute, which unfortunately became twisted on the way down so that the steward had to climb down it to straighten it before it could be used. Once out of the aircraft he was unable to return; hence Miss Harrison was left alone to the task of shepherding passengers to the rear door and helping them out of the aircraft. She encouraged some passengers to jump from the machine and pushed out others. With flames and explosions all around her, making an escape from the tail of the machine impossible, she directed her passengers to another exit while she remained at her post. She was finally overcome while trying to save an elderly cripple who was seated in one of the last rows and whose body was found close to that of the stewardess. Miss Harrison was a very brave young lady who gave her life in her utter devotion to duty.

According to witnesses, after the escape chute had been burnt away Harrison continued to force passengers to safety by pushing them out the door and continued to do this  even as flames and smoke were licking {sic} around her face.  She then seemed to be preparing to jump but instead turned back to help the remaining passengers. There was another explosion and she was not seen again. Her body was found with four others near the rear door; all had died from asphyxia.

Her George Cross was presented to her father and was eventually sold at auction and purchased by British Airways.  It is now on display at the British Airways’ Speedbird Centre in Harmondsworth, Middlesex.

Barbara Harrison is buried at Fulford Cemetery, York.

Daphne Pearson the first female recipient of the GC

Photo credit artist Laura Knight.

In 1940 Daphne Pearson was serving as a medical corporal (WAAF) with 500 Squadron Coastal Command at RAF/RNAS Detling in Kent.

The following are extracts from her obituary published in the Telegraph and the Times both dated 26 July 2000.

It was around 1 am on 31 May 1940 when Daphne was woken by the sound of an aircraft which appeared to be in distress: one engine was cutting out and the aircraft appeared to be approaching the airfield. She quickly dressed, put on her tin hat and dashed outside in time to see the aircraft crash through trees and hit the ground. After the war Pearson said,  “A sentry told me to stop but I said no and ran on and opened a gate to allow an ambulance to get through… and there was a dull glow where the plane had come to rest “ 

After scrambling over a fence, falling into a ditch and running across a long field she eventually reached the crash site and saw a small group of people starting to drag the pilot clear. Running towards them she shouted: “Leave him to me – go and get the fence down for the ambulance”.

Daphne Pearson IWW

On her own she dragged  the pilot from the burning aircraft before  stopping to give him a quick examination during which she was concerned he may have a broken neck. The  pilot then mumbled there were  bombs on the aircraft and after hearing this she began dragging him further away and had just reached a small dip in the ground when the fuel tanks exploded. Pearson immediately threw herself on top of the pilot to protect him from the blast and placed her helmet over his head. As they lay on the ground, she was holding his head still to prevent further injury to his neck when one of the  120 lb bombs on the aircraft exploded.

She later recalled, “There was a lot of blood around the pilot’s mouth and a tooth was protruding from his upper jaw and I was about to examine his ankle when the plane exploded again… The force of the blast and the shock wave caused the air around them to collapse and their breath was sucked out of them whilst being showered with debris from the aircraft”.  She also recalled seeing other rescuers  running towards the field being blown to the ground by the hurricane-force wind of the explosion.

Daphne Pearson was aware of the dangers from other unexploded  bombs as she broke cover,  ran across open ground and helped the medical officer over a fence with a stretcher.

Shortly after the pilot was removed by ambulance there was another huge explosion but still undeterred by the dangers   she ran to the burning wreck to look for the wireless operator but found he was already dead. At 0800 hours Daphne Pearson reported for her regular duties as if nothing had happened a few hours earlier.

In July 1940 the King awarded Joan Daphne Pearson the Medal of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for Gallantry. After the revocation of the Empire Gallantry Medal, on 31 January 1941 the King invested her with its replacement, the George Cross and Daphne Pearson became the first woman to be awarded the medal.

In 1969 Daphne Pearson emigrated to Australia and eventually settled in Melbourne where she died in July 2000 at the age of 89.