SGT NORMAN JACKSON
RAFVR
RORKE'S DRIFT
Natal, South Africa
G'DSMAN EDWARD CHARLTON
Irish Guards
SGT EDWARD COOPER
King's Royal Rifle Corps
F.O. JOHN CRUICKSHANK
RAFVR
CORP. THOMAS HUNTER
43 Royal Marine Commando
SGT IAN MCKAY
The Parachute Regiment
LT GEORGE KNOWLAND
Royal Norfolk Regiment
L.SEAMAN JACK MANTLE
Royal Navy


SERGEANT NORMAN CYRIL JACKSON, VC

ROYAL AIR FORCE VOLUNTEER RESERVE

Anybody who still thinks that decorations came easily to members of bomber crews during the Second World War might change their mind if told the story of Sergeant Norman Jackson, a flight engineer of 106 Squadron. His exploit may have been the most amazing of the war and certainly it was the most unusual. It happened on the night of 26/27 April 1944 when 215 Lancasters and 11 Mosquitoes raided Schweinfurt. The pathfinding aircraft inaccurately marked the target, strong headwinds upset the bombing schedule and enemy fighters incessantly attacked the bombers. Even the terse official language of Jackson's citation, gazetted on 26 October 1945, cannot mask the high drama of his exploit and half a century later it still has the power to horrify an 'ordinary' reader.

In recognition of most conspicuous bravery. This airman was the flight engineer in a Lancaster detailed to attack Schweinfurt on the night of 26th April 1944. Bombs were dropped successfully and the aircraft was climbing out of the target area. Suddenly it was attacked by a fighter at about 20,000 feet. The captain took evading action at once but the enemy secured many hits. A fire start near a petrol tank on the upper surface of the starboard wing, between the fuselage and the inner engine. Sergeant Jackson was thrown to the floor during the engagement. Wounds which he received from shell splinters in the right leg and shoulder were probably sustained at that time. Recovering himself, he remarked that he could deal with the fire on the wing and obtained his captain's permission to try to put out the flames.

Pushing a hand fire-extinguisher into the top of his life-saving jacket and slipping on his parachute pack, Sergeant Jackson jettisoned the escape hatch above the pilot's head. He then started to climb out of the cockpit and back along the top of the fuselage to the starboard wing. Before he could leave the fuselage his parachute pack opened and the whole canopy and rigging lines spilled into the cockpit. Undeterred, Sergeant Jackson continued. The pilot, bomb aimer and navigator gathered the parachute together and held on to the rigging lines, paying them out as the airman crawled aft. Eventually he slipped and, falling from the fuselage to the starboard wing, grasped an air intake on the leading edge of the wing. He succeeded in clinging on but lost the extinguisher, which was blown away.

By this time, the fire had spread rapidly and Sergeant Jackson was involved. His face, hands and clothing were severly burnt. Unable to retain his hold, he was swept through the flames and over the trailing edge of the wing, dragging his parachute behind. When last seen it was only partly inflated and was burning in a number of places.

Realising that the fire could not be controlled, the captain gave the order to abandon aircraft. Four of the remaining members of the crew landed safely. The captain and rear gunner have not been accounted for. Sergeant Jackson was unable to control his descent and landed heavily. He sustained a broken ankle, his right eye was closed through burns and his hands were useless. These injuries, together with the wounds received earlier, reduced him to a pitiable state. At daybreak he crawled to the nearest village, where he was taken prisoner. He bore the intense pain and discomfort of the journey to Dulag Luft with magnificent fortitude. After 10 months in hospital he made a good recovery, though his hands required further treatment and are only of limited use.

This airman's attempt to extinguish the fire and save the aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands was an act of outstanding gallantry. To venture outside, when travelling at 200 miles an hour, at a great height and in intense cold, was an almost incredible feat. Had he succeeded in subduing the flames, there was little or no prospect of his regaining the cockpit. The spilling of his parachute and the risk of grave damage to its canopy reduced his chances of survival to a minimum. By his ready willingness to face these dangers he set an example of self-sacrifice which will ever be remembered.

The Lancaster's captain, Flying Office F. Mifflin, and the rear gunner were killed in the crash, the others spent the rest of the war as prisoners. Sergeant Jackson's astonishing experience did not become known until after the war when the members of the Lancaster's crew were repatriated. Jackson had said nothing about his courage but the navigator, Flight Lieutenant F. Higgins, and the others unaninmously recommended him for a high decoration. Norman Jackson died in March 1994 and is buried in Middlesex.

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RORKE'S DRIFT - 24TH REGIMENT

JANUARY, 1879, NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA

In January 1879 the British invaded KwaZulu in South Africa, without the sanction of the Home Government, in a war brought about by the misguided policy of "Confederating" southern Africa under the direction of the Governor-General Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere. The fierce indepedent AmaZulu people refused to lay down their arms and accept British rule over the Sovereign Kingdom. The British General Officer Commanding, Lord Chelmsford, despite having abundant military intelligence on the AmaZulu had a misconceived idea of the fighting prowess of his enemy. The result was that on 22nd January a British force of seventeen hundred strong, was attacked and only some four hundred men, of whom only some eighty Europeans, survived at a place called Isandlwana.

Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande commanded an impi, the Undi 'corps' of 4,500. His men had played little part in the action at Isandlwana, but goaded on by his men, and despite the orders of his brother, King Cetshwayo kaMpande, not to cross the Buffalo River into Natal, he chose to attack the British supply base close to a river crossing known as Rorke's Drift, which the AmaZulu called KwaJimu.

The post was established in a trading store cum mission station that consisted of a dwelling house and a chapel, both sturdily built of stone. The house was doing temporary duty as a field hospital, the chapel was full of stores and there were only 104 men who were fit enough to fight. The command of the post had passed to Lieutenant Chard of the Royal Engineers, when Major Henry Spalding of the 104th Regiment left on the morning of the 22nd January. Commanding a company-strength was Lieutenant Bromhead of the 24th Regiment.* James Langley Dalton, a volunteer serving as an Acting Assistant Commissary and a former Staff Sergeant, ordered the construction of barricades connecting the two buildings with sacks of corn, and an inner barricade with biscuit boxes.

When the Zulus attacked, wielding their short stabbing assegais, they were unable to reach the men behind the barricades and they were blasted by rifle fire at point blank range. Most of those who did mount the breastwork were repulsed by the bayonets of the defenders. Some of the Zulus were armed with rifles, purchased from unscrupulous traders, but they were not trained marksmen and the British soldiers were able to pick them off at long range. After a number of unsuccessful attacks the Zululs set fire to the hospital, burst in and began to spear the patients. A private named Alfred Henry Hook, a Gloucestershire man, kept them at bay with his bayonet while his friend John Williams hacked holes in the wall separating one room from another and dragged the patients through one by one, the last man had dislocated his knee. Williams had to break the other to get him out of a window and into the yard where the barricades offered some protection.

Fighting went on all night in the fitful glare from the blazing hospital as the Zulus made charge after charge on the barricades. Both sides fought with desperate courage. A patient from the hospital, a Swiss born adventurer Christian Ferdnand Schiess, stabbed three Zulus in quick succession after he had clambered over the breastwork. In the yard Surgeon James Henry Reynolds tended to the wounded, oblivious to the life and death struggle going on all around him. Those too badly hurt to shoot propped themselves up as best they could and reloaded the guns, and re-supplied ammunition to those who were still on their feet. When dawn came at last, the Zulus drew off taking their wounded with them and leaving at least 351 dead around the barricades. Later Lord Chelmsford arrived on the scene with a column of British Soldiers.

Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead were both awarded the Victoria Cross, as were Corporal William Allan and Privates Frederick Hitch, Alfred Hook, Robert Jones, William Jones & John Williams of the 24th. Surgeon Reynolds got the Cross for tending the wounded under fire; so did the Swiss volunteer Christian Schiess and Assistant Commissary James Langley who was responsible for the post's defences.

(* In 1879 the regiment that fought at Rorke's Drift was the 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot. The 24th Regiment later became the South Wales Borderers in 1881 and in 1969 was amalgamated with The Welch Regiment to form the present Royal Regiment of Wales. However, the regimental depot of the 2nd Warwickshire's was based in Brecon, therefore a Welsh influence was very strong).

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GUARDSMAN EDWARD COLQUHOUN CHARLTON, VC

IRISH GUARDS

On the morning of 21st April 1945, Guardsman Charlton was co-driver in one tank of a troop, which, with a platoon of infantry seized the village of Wistedt. Shortly afterwards, the enemey attacked this position under cover of an artillery concentration and in great strength, comprising as it later transpired a battalion of the 15th Panzer Grenadiers supported by six self-propelled guns. All the tanks, including Guardsman Charlton's, were hit, the infantry were hard pressed and in danger of being over-run. Thereupon, entirely on his own initiative, Guardsman Charlton decided to counter-attack the enemy. Quickly recovering the Browning from his damaged tank, he advanced up the road and in full view of the enemy, fired the Browning from his hip. Such was the boldness of his attack and the intensity of his fire that he halted the leading enemy company, inflicting heavy casualties on them. This effort at the same time brought much needed relief to our own infantry.

For ten minutes Guardsman Charlton fired in this manner until wounded in the left arm. Immediately, despite intense enemy fire, he mounted his machine-gun on a nearby fence which he used to support his wounded left arm. He stood firing thus for a further ten minutes until he was again hit in the left arm, which fell away shattered and useless. Although twice wounded and suffering from loss of blood, Guardsman Charlton again lifted his machine-gun on to the fence, now having only one arm with which to fire and reload. Nevertheless, he still continued to inflict casualties on the enemy until finally he was hit for the third time and collapsed. He died later in enemy hands. The heroism and determination of this Guardsman in his self-imposed task were beyond all praise. Even his German captors were amazed at his valour. Guardsman Charlton's courageous and self-sacrificing action not only inflicted extemely heavy casualties on the enemy and retrieved his comrades from a desperate situation, he also enabled the position to be speedily recaptured.

Charlton was not mentioned in the battalion's war diary because apart from the troop commander all the tank commanders had been either captured or kllled and most other witnesses close to the site of Charlton's exploit were also captured. The Germans who made them prisoner were sailors who had been based on the Kiel Canal. The first indication of the extent of Charlton's bravery came to light when several guardsmen taken prisoner were released from POW camps on 28 April 1945 and confirmation of his death came when his grave was discovered after the war.

When Sergeant Jim Connolly, one of Charlton's comrades, was released from the POW camp he reported Charlton's gallantry to a staff liaison officer, repeating what a German officer had told him after Charlton's capture. His daring and bravery had astonished the enemy. Back in Britain, Connolly made a further report to the OC Guards Depot at Tring and for good measure repeated it to Captain Parker at No. 9 RAOC Company at Thetford.

A condition of the award is that an exploit must have been witnessed by at least two other individuals. Proof of Charlton's exploit was found in accounts taken from German prisoners of war who spoke of a lone guardsman who stood in front of three burning tanks and held up a battalion of German infantry, obviously buying time for his comrades to reorganise themselves. Gradually the full story of Charlton's valour came out and was recognised. His VC was gazetted in what was to be the final wartime honours list, on 2nd May 1946.

Guardsman Edward Charlton is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Soltau, Germany, close to the grave of Captain Ian Liddell VC. On 28th May 1946, at the opening of the Household Brigade War Memorial Cloister at the Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks, London, Charlton's mother presented his VC to the Irish Guards for permanent safekeeping.

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SERGEANT EDWARD COOPER, VC

KING'S ROYAL RIFLE CORPS

The battle fought in the summer of 1917 which is known in the official history books as Third Ypres, was a four month slog through mud and blood which achieved nothing except the death or wounding of 300,000 British troops and rather less than that number of Germans. But as in so many other campaigns the incompetence of the High Command was matched only by the heroism of the junior officers and men who had to carry out their orders. Over sixty VCs were won during Third Ypres. One of them was awarded to a dogged little sergeant named Edward Cooper who had already survived two years in the trenches and was now Second in Command of a platoon of thirty men of the King's Royal Rifle Corps.

As they waded through the mud on the approaches to the shattered Belgian village of Langemarck, the advancing troops came up against a line of German pillboxes, which were almost impervious to artilllery bombardment. Each block-house was equipped with two or more machine-guns and the British were caught in the interlocking fields of fire. Within minutes half the battalion were dead or wounded including Cooper's Platoon Commander. Shocked and angry Cooper picked up the dead officer's shiny new revolver and dashed into the attack against the nearest pillbox. Noticing that the machine guns were limited in their arc of fire he worked his way round to one side so that the fire of the bullets could not reach him, crept up close and fired the revolver down the barrel of one of the guns. Both machine guns were shot into silence. Cooper then marched around the back of the block-house and called on the enemy to surrender. Forty-five men with eight machine guns emerged and surrendered to him in full view of their comrades who were lining the trenches a few hundred metres away. When they realised what was going on the German troops in the trenches opened fire, missed Cooper and shot several of their own side.

By the book, Cooper did everything wrong. He should have lobbed a bomb into the block-house, but he was a compassionate man and did not like to take life unnecessarily. When a senior officer arrived on the scene he abused Cooper for being off his line of advance, but eventually his achievement was recognised. On his own, armed only with a pistol, he had taken a position which could well have resisted an attack by a whole company.

He was not sent on leave until 15 January 1918, nearly five months after the action in front of Langemarck, and when he left the front he still did not know anything about an award. It was not until he was sitting in a YMCA cafe at King's Cross railway station that he happened to see a newspaper carrying a list of the new VCs. The name of Chavasse caught his eye - Captain Noel Chavasse who had just won a Bar to his VC, one of only three men ever to do so and the poor man died shortly afterwards. Next in alphabetical order was Cooper.E. It was not until he had read and re-read the name and the regimental number that he realised that it was his own citation that he was reading. The small shy sergeant in the corner of the carriage said nothing, but when the train finally reached Darlington, where he had to change, Cooper was astonished to find his father and his elder brother waiting for him. Then, to his enormous embarrassment, a civic reception awaited him at Stockton-on-Tees.

For thirty-five years he lived in modest obscurity until the Victoria Cross Association was formed in 1953 and someone hunted him down. Suddenly he was a hero all over again. On 24 July 1985 Edward Cooper VC was given the Freedom of Stockton but he died less than four weeks later on 19 August 1985.

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FLYING OFFICER JOHN CRUICKSHANK, VC

ROYAL AIR FORCE VOLUNTEER RESERVE
210 SQUADRON - COASTAL COMMAND

Flying Officer John Cruickshank, RAFVR, first flew operationally with Coastal Command in 210 Squadron in March 1943. It was not until 17th July 1944 and his 48th mission that he saw an enemy submarine. What then happened is described in his VC citation, gazetted on 1st September 1944.

In recognition of most conspicuous bravery. This officer was the captain and pilot of a Catalina flying boat which was recently engaged on an anti-submarine patrol over northern waters, close to the Artic Circle. When a U-boat was sighted on the surface, U-boat 347, Flying Officer Cruickshank at once turned to the attack. In the face of fierce anti-aircraft fire he manoeuvred into position and ran in to release his depth charges. Unfortunately, they failed to drop.

Flying Officer Cruickshank knew that the failure of this attack had deprived him of the advantage of surprise and that his aircraft offered a good target to the enemy's determined and now heartened gunners. Without hesitation, he climbed and turned to come in again. The Catalina was met by intense and accurate fire and was repeatedly hit. The navigator/bomb aimer was killed, the second pilot and two other members of the crew were injured. Flying Officer Cruickshank was struck in seventy-two places, receiving two serious wounds in the lungs and ten penetrating wounds in the lower limbs. His aircraft was badly damaged and filled with the fumes of exploding shells. But he did not falter. He pressed home his attack, and released the depth charges himself straddling the submarine perfectly, sinking U-347 immediately.

He then collapsed and the second pilot took over the controls. He recovered shortly afterwards and, though bleeding profusely, insisted on resuming command and retaining it until he was satisfied that the damaged aircraft was under control that a course had been set for base and that all the necessary signals had been sent. Only then would he consent to receive medical aid and have his wounds attended to. He refused morphia in case it might prevent him from carrying on.

During the next five and a half hours of the return flight he several times lapsed into unconsciousness owing to loss of blood. When he came to, his first thought on each occasion was for the safety of his aircraft and crew. The damaged aircraft eventually reached base but it was clear that an immediate landing would be a hazardous task for the wounded and less experienced second pilot. Although able to breath only with the greatest difficulty, Flying Officer Cruickshank insisted on being carried forward and propped up in the second pilot's seat. For a full hour, in spite of his agony and ever-increasing weakness, he gave orders as necessary, refusing to allow the aircraft to be brought down until the conditions of light and sea made this possible without undue risk. With his assistance the aircraft was safely landed on the water. He then directed the taxiing and beaching of the aircraft, so that it could easily be salvaged. When the medical officer went on board, Flying Officer Cruickshank collapsed and he had to be given a blood transfusion before he could be removed to hospital.

Even by the demanding standards of exploits worthy of VC consideration, John Cruickshank's skill, courage, fortitude and leadership were remarkable. A U-boat was difficult to hit, partly because it was a small target and also because its gunners were well trained. Only masterly flying by Cruickshank and his second pilot, Flight Sergeant Garnett, brought the aircraft down safely. Garnett was awarded the DFM. John Cruickshank is one of the few living Victoria Cross recipients.

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CORPORAL THOMAS PECK HUNTER, VC

43 ROYAL MARINE COMMANDO

No. 43 Royal Marine Commando was part of the British 5th Army and the unit had disembarked at Castellano, Italy, on 9th January 1944 and in its ranks was Temporary Corporal Thomas Hunter, aged 22, from Stenhouse, Edinburgh. During the Battle of Lake Comacchio the Marine Commandos were moved into the Argenta Gap, near Ravenna Ferrara, where they were heavily engaged. It was here on 3rd April 1945 that Corporal Hunter won the Victoria Cross.

In Italy during the advance by the Commando to its final objective, Corporal Hunter of 'C' troop was in charge of a Bren group of the leading sub-section of the Commando. Having advanced to within 400 yards of the canal, he observed the enemy were holding a group of houses South of the canal. Realising that his Troop behind him were in the open, as the country there was completely devoid of cover, and that the enemy would cause heavy casualties as soon as they opened fire, Corporal Hunter seized the Bren gun and charged alone across two hundred yards of open ground. Three Spandaus from the houses, and at least six from the North bank of the canal opened fire and at the same time the enemy mortars started to fire at the Troop. Corporal Hunter attracted most of the fire, and so determined was his charge and his firing from the hip that the enemy in the houses became demorilised. Showing complete disregard for the intense enemy fire, he ran through the houses, changing magazines as he ran, and alone cleared the houses. Six Germans surrendered to him and the remainder fled across a footbridge onto the North bank of the canal.

The Troop, dashing up behind Corporal Hunter, now became the target for all the Spandaus on the North of the canal. Again, offering himself as a target, he lay in full view of the enemy on a heap of rubble and fired at the concrete pillboxes on the other side. He again drew most of the fire, but by now the greater part of the Troop had made for the safety of the houses. During this period he shouted encouragement to the remainder, and called only for more Bren magazines with which he could engage the Spandaus. Firing with great accuracy up to the last, Coporal Hunter was finally hit in the head by a burst of Spandau fire and killed instantly.

There can be no doubt that Corporal Hunter offered himself as a target in order to save his Troop, and only the speed of his movement prevented him being hit earlier. The skill and accuracy with which he used his Bren gun is proved by the way he demorilised the enemy, and later silenced many of the Spandaus firing on his Troop as they crossed open ground, so much so that under his covering fire, elements of the Troop made their final objective before he was killed.

Corporal Hunter was buried in the Argenta Gap War Cemetery and his parents were presented with his VC by King George VI at a private investiture in the palace of Holyrood House, Edinburgh. His Victoria Cross now resides in the Royal Marines Museum, Southsea, Hampshire.

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SERGEANT IAN MCKAY, VC

THE PARACHUTE REGIMENT

The Official Announcement in The London Gazette
of Friday, 8th October 1982

During the night of 11th/12th June 1982, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment mounted a silent night attack on an enemy battalion position on Mount Longdon, an important objective in the battle for Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands. Sergeant McKay was platoon sergeant of 4 Platoon, B Company, which, after the initial objective had been secured, was ordered to clear the Northern side of the long East/West ridge feature, held by the enemy in depth, with strong, mutually-supporting positions.

By now the enemy were fully alert, and resisting fiercely. As 4 Platoon's advance continued it came under increasingly heavy fire from a number of well-sited enemy machine gun positions on the ridge, and received casualties. Realising that no further advance was possible the Platoon Commander ordered the Platoon to move from its exposed position to seek shelter among the rocks of the ridge itself. Here it met up with part of 5 Platoon.

The enemy fire was still both heavy and accurate and the position of the platoons was becoming increasingly hazardous. Taking Sergeant McKay, a Corporal and a few others, and covered by supporting machine gun fire, the Platoon Commander moved forward to reconnoitre the enemy positions but was hit by a bullet in the leg and command devolved upon Sergeant McKay.

It was clear that instant action was needed if the advance was not to falter and increasing casualties to ensue. Sergeant McKay decided to convert this reconnaissance into an attack in order to eliminate the enemy positions. He was in no doubt of the strength and deployment of the enemy as he undertook this attack. He issued orders and taking three men with him broke cover and charged the enemy position.

The assault was met by a hail of fire. The Corporal was seriously wounded, a Private killed and another wounded. Despite these losses Sergeant McKay, with complete disregard for his own safety, continued to charge the enemy position alone. On reaching it he despatched the enemy with grenades, thereby relieving the position of beleagured 4 and 5 Platoons, who were now able to redeploy with relative safety. Sergeant McKay, however, was killed at the moment of victory, his body falling on the bunker.

Without doubt Sergeant McKay's action retrieved a most dangerous situation and was instrumental in ensuring the success of the attack. His was a coolly calculated act, the dangers of which must have been apparent to him beforehand. Undeterred he performed with outstanding selflessness, perseverance and courage. With a complete disregard for his own safety, he displayed courage and leadership of the highest order, and was an inspiration to all those around him.

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LIEUTENANT GEORGE KNOWLAND, VC

ROYAL NORFOLK REGIMENT, attached to the COMMANDOS

In Burma on 31st January 1945, near Kangaw, Lieutenant Knowland was commanding the forward platoon of a Troop positioned on the extreme North of a hill which was subjected to very heavy and repeated enemy attacks throughout the whole day. Before the first attack started, Lieutenant Knowland's platoon was heavily mortared and machine gunned, yet he moved about among his men keeping them alert and encouraging them, though under fire himself at the time.

When the enemy, some 300 strong in all, made their first assault they concentrated all their efforts on his platoon of 24 men but in spite of the ferocity of the attack, he moved about from trench to trench distributing ammunition, and firing his rifle and throwing grenades at the enemy, often from completely exposed positions. Later, when the crew of one of his forward Bren guns had all been wounded, he sent back to Troop Headquarters for another crew and ran forward to man the gun himself until they arrived. The enemy was then less than 10 yards from him in dead ground down the hill so in order to get a better field of fire, he stood on top of the trench, firing the light machine gun from his hip and successfully keeping them at a distance until a Medical Orderly had dressed and evacuated the wounded men behind him. The new Bren gun team also became casualties on the way up and Lieutenant Knowland continued to fire the gun until another team took over.

Later, when a fresh attack came in he took over a 2 inch Mortar and in spite of heavy fire and the closeness of the enemy, he stood up in the open to face them, firing the mortar from his hip and killing six of them with his first bomb. When all the bombs were expended he went back through heavy grenade, mortar and machine gun fire to get more, which he fired in the same way from the open in front of his platoon positions. When those bombs were finished he went back to his own trench and still standing up fired his rifle at them. Being hard pressed and with the enemy closing in on him from only 10 yards away, he had no time to re-charge his magazine. Snatching up the Tommy gun of a casualty, he sprayed the enemy and was mortally wounded stemming this assault, though not before he had killed and wounded many of the enemy.

Such was the inspiration of his magnificent heroism, that, though fourteen out of twenty-four of his platoon became casualties at an early stage, and six of his positions were over-run by the enemy, his men held on through twelve hours of continuous and fierce fighting until reinforcements arrived. If this Northern end of the hill had fallen the rest of the hill would have been endangered, the beach-head dominated by the enemy and other units farther inland cut off from their source of supplies. As it was, the final successful counter-attack was later launched from the vital ground which Lieutenant Knowland had taken such a gallant part in holding.

Lieutenant Knowland, who had been born at Catford in Kent, was only 22 when he was killed. He is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Taukkyan, Burma.

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LEADING SEAMAN JACK MANTLE, VC

HMS FOYLEBANK, ROYAL NAVY

During the sea war which began in 1939 and continued into 1945 seamen had many opportunities to show the Naval spirit, especially as the war at sea was even more dangerous than its counterpart during the First World War due to attacks from the air, which had never been a serious hazard during the earlier conflict. British harbours were dangerous places for they were attractive targets for enemy squadrons based in nearby France. The capitulation of France in mid-1940 had left Britain exposed. Dive bombers singled out one British harbour after another and on 4th July 1940 it was the turn of Portland, where some convoys were assembled. Part of the protecting force was the armed merchant cruiser HMS Foylebank and one of its 20 mm rapid-fire pom-pom guns was manned by 23-year old Leading Seaman Jack Mantle of Wandsworth, London.

Mantle already had a reputation, being at that time one of the few naval gunners on convoy protection duty to have shot down a German raider. He had done this with an old-fashioned Lewis light machine gun while serving on a French ship and for this feat he had been Mentioned in Despatches. On 4th July 1940 he reclined in his gunner's swivel chair and faced the fearful sight of more than 20 Stukas diving at him, firing their machine guns and dropping bombs. His exemplary gallantry under fire was witnessed by Foylebank's captain, P.J. Wilson. Foylebank was sunk by the attack and Jack Mantle lost his life. His VC citation on 3rd September 1940 was brief and poignant.

Leading Seaman Jack Mantle was in charge of the starboard pom-pom gun when Foylebank was attacked by enemy aircraft on 4th July 1940. Early in the action his left leg was shattered by a bomb, but he stood fast at his gun and went on firing with hand-gear only, for the ship's electric power had failed. Almost at once he was wounded again in many places. Between his bursts of fire he had time to reflect on the grievous injuries of which he was soon to die, but his great courage bore him up till the end of the fight, when he fell by the gun he had so valliantly served.

Jack Mantle's VC was the only one awarded to the Navy for an act of valour on mainland Britain. He had joined the Navy at the age of 16 and, fittingly, he was buried in the Royal Navy cemetery at Portland, Dorset


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palette Iain Stewart, 15 July 2000 (scoop@stewart.prestel.co.uk)