In pictures: Victoria Cross heroes of the First World War

A new book reveals never seen before images and stories of the men who received Britain's highest military honour for their contribution to the First World War...

Albert Ball VC, Britain’s ‘best aviator’ on leave with his dog in 1916.
Albert Ball VC, Britain’s ‘best aviator’ on leave with his dog in 1916. He died in a fatal crash aged 20 in the arms of a young French woman. He was awarded a posthumous VC.

 

Victoria Cross Heroes of World War One includes 1,500 rare images of the recipients of the Victoria Cross and their remarkable stories.

Although the Victoria Cross was first awarded in 1857, during the First World War the number of people given the military honour more than doubled to 627. However, one in four of these men in the book did not survive the war to receive their medal.

Here, we bring you a selection of the photographs of some of the recipients and their stories of sacrifice...

John ‘Jack’ Travers Cornwall VC was the 1st Class Boy on the HMS Chester during the battle of Jutland. At only 16 years old, he courageously stuck to his guns throughout and died of injuries soon after.

 

Philip Neame VC, who collected numerous other military honours, was also a Knight of the Realm, and won a gold medal at the 1924 Olympic Games in the Team Running Deer event. His closest brush with death occurred years later when he was mauled by a wounded tiger.

 

Noel Chavasse VC, the only double VC winner in the First World War, and one of three men to have done so throughout history. Part of the medical corps, he lead missions to rescue and recover fallen comrades in the perilous no man’s land despite aggressive shell fire. He took a fatal shot to the head at Passchendaele.

 

Men at a dressing station move the injured on stretchers ready be taken to a field hospital further back behind the lines.

 

Frank de Pass VC, the first Jewish VC recipient and the first Indian Army officer to receive the award during the war.

 

Frederick Jeremy Edwards VC (fourth left) and Corporal Henry Vealer VC (third right) and their families as they leave Buckingham Palace after their VC investiture in 1917. Awarded for initiative and extreme bravery on the Somme, Edwards was forced to sell his VC to make ends meet.

 

William Leefe Robinson VC was the first airman to fall a Zeppelin, at aged 21, in 1916. He was brought down over France in 1917 and saw the rest of the conflict as a POW. He died of influenza less than a fortnight of returning home.

 

Six VCs were awarded to the Lancashire Fusiliers in one morning at Gallipoli. This broke the terms of the original warrant for the award, which said that collective acts of valour could only accrue a max of four VCs (one officer, one NCO and two men from the ranks). This did not seem like an appropriate acknowledgment for the courage the men had displayed at the Lancashire Landing. Captain Willis VC, here with his wife, was one of the six recipients.

 

Spencer John Bent VC was a drummer who took command of his platoon and succeeded in holding the position when the platoon sergeant had been struck down. He was the only man to be recommended for a Victoria Cross five times. Here he receives his VC from King George V. He became a caretaker after the war.

 

Infantry in the trenches protect themselves from the dangers of poison gas. During the first major German chlorine gas attacks in April 1915, the only means of defence for soldiers were pieces of material soaked in their own urine which neutralised the poison. British authorities swiftly responded by issuing cotton pads that could be dipped in bicarbonate of soda.

 

Freddie Maurice Felix West VC was the first VC winners of the newly formed RAF in August 1918. He took bullets to both legs from enemy aircraft whilst flying. He made a tourniquet, removed the more disabled limb from the controls, and counter attacked. Upon landing, he insisted on ‘filing a report’ before having his leg amputated.

 

Soldiers from a battalion of the Durham Light Infantry raise their steel helmets on their rifles. Most of these men came from Sunderland and this photograph was probably taken for distribution in their local area.

Victoria Cross Heroes of World War One by Robert Hamilton is out now (Atlantic Publishing, £40). Robert Hamilton is the author of numerous historical reference works and biographies, including The Great War: Unseen Archives and The Story of the Unsinkable Titanic.

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