World news story

Britain honours Belgian Victoria Cross recipient from the First World War

The UK today unveils plaques commemorating 175 men from overseas who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War, including one from Belgium.

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Today, as part of the UK Government’s First World War Centenary Programme, HRH The Duke of Kent and Senior Minister of State in the Foreign Office and Minister for Faith and Communities, Baroness Warsi, unveiled commemoration plaques for the 175 men from overseas who won Britain’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, for service in the First World War.

The 11 bronze memorial plaques, which have been displayed to the public for the first time at an event at Lancaster House in London, are inscribed with the names of the Victoria Cross holders and will be sent to the recipients’ home countries and displayed at a prominent location as a symbol of the gratitude that is felt towards them by the people of the United Kingdom.

For Belgium, the memorial plaque from the people of the United Kingdom honours Acting Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Carton De Wiart who was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, during the First World War.

Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart was born in 1880 in Brussels and was of Belgian and Irish descent. In the First World War he served with the British Army, and in early 1915 he was moved to the Western Front where he commanded three infantry battalions and a brigade. Carton de Wiart was awarded the Victoria Cross during the fierce fighting at La Boisselle on 2-3 July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme.

His Victoria Cross citation states:

For most conspicuous bravery, coolness and determination during severe operations of a prolonged nature. It was owing in a great measure to his dauntless courage and inspiring example that a serious reverse was averted. He displayed the utmost energy and courage in forcing our attack home. After three other battalion Commanders had become casualties, he controlled their commands, and ensured that the ground won was maintained at all costs. He frequently exposed himself in the organisation of positions and of supplies, passing unflinchingly through fire barrage of the most intense nature. His gallantry was inspiring to all.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said:

It is our duty to remember them all. That is why this programme to honour the overseas winners of the Victoria Cross is so important. Every single name on these plaques represents a story of gallantry, embodying the values of courage, loyalty and compassion that we still hold so dear. By putting these memorials on display in these heroes’ home countries, we are sending out a clear message: that their sacrifice – and their bravery – will never be forgotten.

Speaking about the event, Senior Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi said:

It is important to remember this was a truly global war, one which pulled in people from every corner of the earth. Sacrifices were made not only by people in the United Kingdom but by many millions across the world: whether it was the large proportion of Australian men who volunteered to fight in a war far from home, the 1.2 million Indian troops who took part in the war, or the essential support which came from the islands of the West Indies. It is truly inspiring that so many countries came together 100 years ago to uphold our way of life. This was a war which saw extraordinary courage and sacrifice from an entire generation.

This year, we are marking our gratitude to 175 men from 11 countries who demonstrated the utmost bravery “in the face of the enemy” during the First World War. These extraordinary men were awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for valour for their actions during the War. We shall honour them by engraving their names on bronze memorial plaques, to be presented to their home countries, sending out a powerful message that people of all backgrounds and faiths can unite in the name of a common cause.

I am determined that we ensure that people of all backgrounds and of all generations learn about the courage and heroism of their forefathers a hundred years ago.

Two of the only nine Victoria Cross holders alive in the world today, Sgt Johnson Beharry VC and Australian Cpl Mark Donaldson VC, also attended the launch of the plaques.

Notes for editors

  • 175 VCs were honoured from 11 countries. These countries are: Canada (70 VCs); Australia (66); New Zealand (16); South Africa (14); India (6); USA (5); Pakistan (3); Nepal (2); Denmark (2); Belgium (1) and Ukraine (1). (NB: a handful had allegiances to more than one country, hence the discrepancy of numbers on the plaques.) More information can be found in the following publication.

  • This is an extension of the HMG programme to honour UK-born VC recipients with a commemorative paving stone in their home town - The bronze plaques were made at a family-run artisan foundry in the Peak District, Leander Architectural, and use the same design as the flagstones, a design that was chosen through a nationwide competition in 2013.

  • After the launch, the plaques will be sent to their countries where we intend for them to be displayed in a prominent public location, eg Arlington Cemetery for the US plaque; the Australian War Memorial for the Australian one; Cape Town Castle for the South African plaque etc.

  • Later in the year, the FCO will be publishing an online digital archive of all the overseas Victoria Cross recipients.

  • On 4 August 2014 it will be 100 years since Britain entered the First World War. Within government the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is leading plans to build a commemoration fitting of this significant milestone in world history. As the Prime Minister made clear when he launched the programme in October 2012, the main theme will be remembrance with a particular focus on bringing the centenary alive for young people. There will be a number of national events across the four years, as well as cross-Government programmes to help deliver this. Further details can be found here.

Published 26 June 2014