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A List of South African-born Recipients of the Victoria Cross, 1855-1945
A List of South African-born Recipients of the Victoria Cross, 1855-1945

Ross Dix-Peek

The coveted Victoria Cross is the highest British military decoration “For Valour” in combat, and is awarded for: “... most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy."
The prestigious award was instituted on the 29 January 1856 and gazetted on the 5 February 1856, being made retrospective in order to include the Crimean War (1854-1856), and 1 356 Victoria Crosses have been awarded since, the most recent of which was granted in July 2007.
Of this number, Nineteen South African-born men have been awarded the coveted honour.
Of these, ten were awarded to South African-born men serving as members of the British Defence Force, Five to South Africans serving in South African Units, two to South Africans seconded to the British Defence Force, one to a South African-born officer serving with the Australian Army, and one to a South African serving with the Rhodesian forces.

The South African-born Recipients are as follows:

Lieutenant (later Major-General) Sir Christopher Teesdale, Royal Artillery, (Crimean War: Siege of Kars, 1855; Presented with VC on the 21 November 1857)

Christopher Teesdale, the first South African-born soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross, was Born in Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape, on the 1 June 1833. He joined the Royal Artillery and served in the Crimean war (1854-1855). During the Siege of Kars, in Armenia, on the 29 September 1855, Teesdale volunteered to take command of the force engaged in the most advanced part of the defences, encouraging the garrison to implement an attack so vigorous that the Russians were driven out. Teesdale was also instrumental in saving the lives of a considerable number of the Russian wounded. Lieutenant Teesdale was personally decorated with the Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria herself, in the quadrangle of Windsor Palace, on the 21 November 1857.

Lieutenant (later Lieutenant-Colonel) J.P.H. Crowe, 78th Regiment of Foot, Ross Shire Buffs, later the Seaforth Highlanders (Indian Mutiny: Boursekee Chowkee, 12 August 1857. Gazetted 15 January 1858).

Joseph Petrus Hendrick Crowe was born in the district of Uitenhage, in the Eastern Cape, on the 12 January 1826. He was appointed an Ensign in the 78th Regiment of Foot in October 1846. During the Indian Mutiny (1857-1858), Crowe was the first British soldier to reach the breastworks at Busherut-Gunge, for which he was awarded the VC. He later served with the 10th Regiment of Foot (The Lincolnshire Regiment) and retired from the British Army with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He died of lung congestion and a rheumatic heart on the 12 April 1876, near Croydon, Surrey, England, and is buried in London.

Captain R.C. Nesbitt, Mashonaland Mounted Police, Rhodesian Forces (Matabeleland and Mashonaland Rebellion, Rhodesia, June 1896; Gazetted 7 May 1897)

Randolph Cosby Nesbitt was born at Queenstown, in the Eastern Cape, 20 September 1867. He attended Dale College, in Kingwilliamstown, in the Eastern Cape, and later served with the British South Africa Police (BSAP). It in June 1896 that Lieutenant Nesbitt, while a member of the Mashonaland Mounted Police, led a patrol in order to rescue a group of men and women stranded at the Alice Mine, in the Mazoe Valley. On the way back to safety, a running fight ensued, with the party arriving safely in Salisbury, thanks to Nesbitt’s courage and leadership. Nesbitt died at Muizenberg, Cape Town, in July 1956.

Captain (later Major) Charles Herbert Mullins, Imperial Light Horse Regiment, South African Colonial Forces (Second Anglo-Boer War: Battle of Elandslaagte, 21 October 1899; Gazetted 12 February 1901)

Mullins was born in Grahamstown on the 28 June 1869. He was educated at St. Andrew’s College, Grahamstown. It was during the Battle at Elandslaagte, that Mullins, Captain R Johnston, and Lieutenant Arthur Edward Brabant rallied their men, withstanding a Boer counter –attack, whereupon they captured the hill. Sadly, but a few months later, Major Mullins was wounded and permanently crippled. Mullins died in May 1916 and is buried in Grahamstown, his place of birth.

Trooper H. Albrecht, Imperial Light Horse, South African Colonial Forces (Second Anglo-Boer War: The Battle of Wagon Hill, 6 January 1900: Gazetted (Posthumously) August 1902 )

Albrecht was born in South Africa in 1880. He joined the Imperial Light Horse Regiment. On the 6 January 1900, during a Boer attack on Wagon Hill, Ladysmith, the British troops fled in panic, and Trooper Albrecht, together with others, defended the breach. Albrecht, who showed great courage during the engagement, was killed, and would have been recommended for the Victoria Cross had he survived the Battle. However, He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously on the 8 August 1902.

Corporal John James Clements, Rimington Guides, South African Colonial Forces (Second Anglo-Boer War: Strydenburg, 24 February 1901; Gazetted 4 June 1901)

John James Clements was born at Middelburg, in the Cape on the 19 June 1872. In late February 1901, Corporal Clements was with a party of men under the command of Lieutenant Harvey when fighting ensued. Lieutenant Harvey was mortally wounded and Clements shot in the chest.Although wounded, and called upon to surrender, Clements rushed into their midst, shooting three of the Boers and taking a further three prisoner. He later farmed in Newcastle, Natal, where he passed away in 1937, one day before his sixty-fifth birthday.

Captain (later Brigadier)Percy Howard Hansen,6th (Service)Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment (First World War: Gallipoli, 1915:Gazetted 15 October 1915)

Percy Howard Hansen was born in Durban,Natal, on the 26 October 1890. He was awarded the VC for his heroic endeavours at Yilghin,Burnu, Gallipoli, on the 9 August 1915, during that most ill-fated of campaigns.Hansen's battalion had been forced to retire in the face of intense heat from scrub set on fire from shell-bursts.Acting quickly and calmly, Hansen called forth volunteers and dashed into the burning scrub to rescue the wounded.Choked by thick black smoke and under a hail of fire from the Turkish positions,he nevertheless managed to save the lives of six men, preventing these fortunate men from being burnt alive. Hansen remained with the British Army following the cessation of hostilities and later attained the rank of Brigadier.

Private (later Lieutenant) William Frederick Faulds, 1st South African Infantry (First World War: Delville Wood 14-20 July 1916: Gazetted, 9 September 1916)

William Frederick Faulds was born at Cradock, in the Eastern Cape, on the 19 February 1895. During the Battle of Delville Wood, in which the South Africans won undying fame, Faulds repeatedly rescued wounded men under fire, the first being on the 16 July when he and two other men rescued Lieutenant Craig, and two days later, on the 18 July, Faulds again rescued a man, all the while under shell and rifle fire. He was later commissioned, as well as being captured. He died in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia on the 16 August 1950.

Captain (later Acting Major) Oswald Austin Reid, King’s Liverpool Regiment (The First World War: Mesopotamia, Dialah River, 8-10 March 1917; Gazetted 8 June 1917)

Oswald Austin Reid was born in Johannesburg on the 2 November 1893. He attended St. John’s Colege in Johannesburg. Reid joined the 4th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, and subsequently served in Mesopotamia, being attached to the 6th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. On the 8 march 1917, finding himself and a small party of men cut off on the Turkish side of the Dialah River, he and his men held firm, for no-less than thirty hours, against continuous Turkish attacks, Reid being wounded in the process. Reid later returned to his native Johannesburg, and sadly, died in October 1920, at the age of twenty-six.

Acting Captain Clement Robertson, Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment attached to the Tank Corps (later the Royal Tank Regiment) (First World War: Zonnebeke,Belgium, 4 October 1917; Gazetted 18 December 1917)

Clement Robertson was born in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, on the 15 December 1890, but spent most of his life in Ireland.On the 4 October 1917, in the build up to a tank attack at Zonnebeke,Belgium, Robertson and his batman spen three days reconnoitring ground cut up by shellfire, trying to find a viable route for his tanks to follow. This gallant officer then personally led his tanks on foot during the attack, giuding them to their objective,but alas, was killed after the objective had been taken. Captain Robertson is buried at Oxford Road Cemetery, Ieper, Belgium.

Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) John “Jack” Sherwood-Kelly, Norfolk Regiment (First World War: Cambrai, 20 November 1917; Gazetted 11 January 1918)

Sherwood-Kelly was born at Lady Frere, in the Transkei region of South Africa, on the 13 January 1880. He enlisted in the British South Africa Police (BSAP) at the age of 16, serving in the Matabele Campaign. He then served in the Second Anglo-Boer War. Sherwood joined the British Army during World War One, and by November 1914 was a Major in the Norfolk Regiment. Sherwood-Kelly later served on attachment to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He personally led an attack near Cambrai in November 1917, taking part in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, and was awarded the Victoria Cross. He contracted malaria in later life and passed away in London on the 18 August 1931, and can possibly be said to have been one of the most colourful characters in the history of the British Army.

Lieutenant (later Lieutenant-Colonel) R.F.J. Hayward, Wiltshire Regiment (First World War: Fremicourt (21-23 March 1918: Gazetted April 1918)

Reginald Frederick Johnson Hayward was born at Beersheba, Griqualand West, South Africa, on the 17 June 1891. He was educated at Hilton College in Natal. Hayward was commissioned in the 6th Wiltshire Regiment, and during the German offensive of March 1918, displayed remarkable powers of endurance, being wouned three times, all the time exhorting his men to withstand the German onslaught. He remained in the British Army following the war and passed away in London in 1970.

Captain A.F.W. Beauchamp-Proctor, Royal flying Corps and Royal Air Force (First World War: Over the Western Front, 1918: Gazetted 30 November 1918)

Andrew Frederick Weatherby Beauchamp-Proctor was born in Mossel Bay, in the Eastern Cape, in September 1894. He was educated at the South African College School (SACS) in Cape Town. He enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps, and served with No 84 squadron. He accounted for no-less than 54 victories within the space of a year, finishing as the fifth highest ranking Allied air-ace of the war. He was, rather tragically, killed while performing at an air display in England on the 21 June 1921.

Company Sergeant-Major George Gristock, Norfolk Regiment (Second World War, Belgium, 21 May 1940)

George Gristock was born in Pretoria, South Africa, on the 14 January 1905. He won the VC during World War Two while serving as a Company Sergeant Major with the Norfolk Regiment, near the River Escaut in Belgium. The Germans had broken through the company's right flank, and it was CSM Gristock that organised a party of eight riflemen to push forward and cover the exposed position. He was wounded in both legs and yet managed to destroy a machine-gun nest, killing all four of its crew. He refused to be evacuated until apprised of the fact that contact with the battalion had been established. Gristock died the following month (16 June 1940) while recuperating in England.

Lieutenant-Colonel C.G.W. Anderson, 2/19th Australian Infantry Battalion (Second World War, Malaya, in the vicinity of the Muar River, January 1942)

Charles Groves Wright Anderson was born in Cape Town on the 12 February 1897, the son of A.G.W. Anderson. Anderson served with the King’s African Rifles (KAR) in East Africa during the First World War. He emigrated to Australia in 1934. As Commanding Oficer of the 2/19th Australian Infantry Battalion, he was engaged in fierce fighting in Malaya in the vicinity of the Muar River between the 18-22 January 1942. Anderson was captured, together with 15 000 Australian Soldiers when Singapore surrendered on the 15 February 1942, just three days after his forty-fifth birthday. Anderson was interned in the infamous Changi Jail. Anderson also possessed diplomatic talents which stood him and his fellow prisoners in good stead, and undoubtedly saved lives. This forgotten South African soldier later served as the member for Hume, New South Wales, in the Australian House of Representatives, passing away in Canberra on the 11 November 1988.

Squadron-Leader (later Wing-Commander) John Dering Nettleton, Royal Air Force (Second World War: Raid on Augsburg, Germany, 17 April 1942: Gazetted 28 April 1942)

Nettleton was born at Nongoma, Zululand, on the 28 June 1917. He was educated on the South African training ship, The General Botha, and joined the Royal Air Force in 1938. Trained as a Bomber pilot, Nettleton served with No 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron. On the 17 April 1942, Nettleton led six of his Squadron’s Lancaster Bombers on the famous daylight raid on the MAN Diesel Works at Augsburg, Germany. Nettleton’s aircraft was the only one to return. He was killed in July 1943, after having led his Squadron in an attack on Turin, in Italy.

Sergeant (later Captain) Q.G.M. Smythe, Royal Natal Carbineers, South African Forces (Second World War: North Africa; Alam Hamza, 5 June 1942: Gazetted 11 September 1942)

Born at Nottingham Road, Natal, on the 6 August 1916, Smythe was educated at Estcourt High School, in Natal. He then joined the Royal Natal Carbineers, and on the 5 June 1942, participated in the attack on Italian positions at Alem Hamza. Although wounded, he attacked the enemy positions, armed only with rifle, bayonet and grenades. Smythe consolidated the ground won and also managed to forestall any encirclement, before withdrawing to safety.

Lieutenant G.R. Norton, Kaffrarian Rifles, South African Forces, attached to the Hampshire Regiment of the British Army (Second World War: The Gothic Line; Monte Gridolfo, 31 August 1944: Gazetted 26 October 1944)

Gerard Ross “Toys” Norton was born at Herschel, in the Cape, on the 7 September 1915. He was educated at Selborne College, in East London, in the Eastern Cape. He joined the Kaffrarian Rifles and was seconded to the Hampshire Regiment of the British Army. It was at Monte Gridolfo, that this intrepid soldier, advancing alone, destroyed machine-gun nests, a self-propelled gun, and additional enemy positions, virtually breaching the formidable Gothic Line single-handedly. After the war, Norton retired to Rhodesia where he took up farming.

Captain Edwin Swales, South African Air Force attached to the Royal Air Force (Second World War: over Germany and Holland, February 1945: Gazetted (Posthumously) 24 April 1945)

Edwin Swales was born at Inanda, in Natal, on the 3 July 1915. He attended Durban High School and initially served with the Natal Mounted Rifles before transferring to the South African Air Force. He was seconded to the Royal Air Force, joining No 582 (Pathfinder) Squadron. Swales was master bomber in an attack on Pforzheim, Germany on the 23 February 1945. His aircraft was hit, but he still bombed the target and then attempted to fly back to England. The aircraft became far too difficult to handle and, while over North Holland, Swales ordered his crew to bail out, the bomber then plummeting to earth with the courageous Swales still at the controls.

May Their Names Live Forever More in the Annals of South African Military History!

©Ross Dix-Peek