Tuesday, June 25, 2024



Last week’s Remembering Heroes post about Kevin ‘Dasher’ Wheatley brought a number of comments.

Warrant Officer Wheatley, 29, chose to stay with a mortally wounded comrade, knowing that he too would be killed by the nearby Viet Cong. I acknowledged his heroism and sacrifice but questioned the wisdom of his choice, given that he had a wife and 3 young children at home.

Following is an email exchange with Steve M, a multi published author:
Super post today, Otto, very moving. I especially liked the post script at the end from Lofty Hansen.
Steve m

I don’t know whether I would have done what he did.

Likewise, Otto. I enjoy writing about human nature and courage and I am so grateful that I can – thanks to men like them.
Thanks for the feedback Steve.

Bruce R commented:
Hi Otto,

Another great post. I travel down to Canberra from time to time myself to visit relatives and have stopped at a number of these rest areas to attend to calls of nature. I always make the effort to read about the person who the area is named after.

Like you I have mixed feelings about the “motives” many heroes have for their actions. Personally I think a lot comes down to that magic ingredient in all of us and that is adrenalin. In a less pressured situation when you have the time to analyse what is going on, the decision may be completely different. That is not to take away from all recipients of awards the bravery and the selflessness they display.

I still wonder however when will be the day when awards for bravery in war will not be necessary because there are no wars – I suspect never sadly. Man/womankind never seem to learn!

All the best

Thanks Bruce

David B wrote:
Hi Otto

Whist I have unbounded appreciation of the courage shown by the soldiers awarded the Victoria Cross I do share your doubts about the wisdom of Dasher Wheatley's decision to stay with his dying comrade

But your assertion that the medals are made from the metal of cannons captured by the British at the siege of Sevastopol. may well be untrue according to research described in this article

But I rather subscribe to John Ford's "When you had to choose between history and legend, print the legend"
Regards Dave
Thanks Dave.

The quote is from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Below is the article the subject of Dave’s link.

Victoria Cross not made from captured Crimean guns after all

Published on: 4 May 2020

A long-held belief that all Victoria Cross medals are made from Russian guns captured during the Crimean War is unlikely to be sustainable, research suggests.

The Victoria Cross is Britain’s highest award for valour in war and was instituted in 1856 at the end of the Crimean War.

It was reported by a newspaper at the time that the metal used for the new honour came from cannon captured at Sebastopol in 1855. In 1901, nearly 50 years after the introduction of the Victoria Cross, a detailed account of the process used in making the medal was published in the Strand magazine. This repeated the assertion that the bronze used was from guns taken from the Russians during the Crimean War – a view that continues to be asserted by various institutions, including the Ministry of Defence.

However, new analysis by a doctoral student from Newcastle University, UK, has shown that at various times since the start of World War One, Victoria Cross medals have been cast from metal from multiple sources.

The research, which is published in Post-Medieval Archaeology, was carried out by Dr Andrew Marriott, now a visiting researcher at Newcastle University.

Andrew, who served in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers for more than 30 years, explained: “Although we know that Queen Victoria decreed that the new honour be cast from bronze, there is no evidence to suggest that she wanted captured weapons from Sebastopol to be used for this purpose. Like many at the time, the Queen saw little to celebrate from the victory at Sebastopol, and had displayed little interest in the captured Russian ordnance.

“The only contemporary record of a Sebastopol connection is a newspaper report of the medal ceremony in Hyde Park in 1857. The correspondent most likely conflated various stories circulating about the redistribution and recycling of captured Crimean guns.”

One of the Chinese guns

The Crimean War took place between 1853 and 1856 and led to the defeat of Russia by an alliance of Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire. The campaign initially enjoyed public support in Britain but this quickly changed when it became clear how badly the British army had suffered as a result of disease and administrative shortcomings. Attitudes began to change and there were calls for more recognition of the service and sacrifice made by individual soldiers.

To date, 1,358 Victoria Cross medals have been awarded, including 111 to soldiers who fought during the three-year conflict in Crimea. Queen Victoria personally presented 62 of those medals at a public investiture at Hyde Park in 1857.

Dr Marriott used x-ray fluorescence scans to examine the composition of 50 Victoria Cross medals covering the period 1856 – 2013, as well as examining the apparent sources for the medals. Along with previously unpublished data collected by the Royal Armouries in the 1980s and 1990s, this revealed that part way through World War One, and again during the Second World War, there were noticeable changes in composition compared with the 19th-century medals. Some are even brass alloys, not bronze.

Donnington cascabel piece

The current source of Victoria Cross metal is understood to be a cascabel - the round protrusion at the back of a cannon - stored under secure conditions at a MOD depot in Donnington, Shropshire. Dr Marriott found historical evidence that this cascabel may have been taken from a gun captured during the Second Anglo-Chinese War of 1860, three years after the first Victoria Cross awards were made.

Use of this, or other cascabels, as the ‘mother’ metal for Victoria Cross medals began early in the First World War, when a supply of the metal was given to the London jewellers Hancocks, the sole appointed makers of the awards.

A newspaper report in 1942 claimed that this supply had run out, prompting the Commandant at Donnington to advise, in 1943, that they still held 53 lbs of the metal, and a quantity was sent to Hancocks. Dr Marriott says that this indicates that for at least one year during the Second World War Victoria Crosses were cast from bronze from an unknown source.

Dr Marriott added: “While it’s unlikely that even the earliest medals came from the ordnance captured at Sebastopol, it is clear that most of the VCs awarded since World War One have plausibly been sourced from the cascabels of captured guns - an important and symbolic fact for those who have received the honour in recognition of their bravery.”

Reference: ‘Manufactured tradition? – the Victoria Cross’, Andrew Marriott (2020), Post-Medieval Archaeology, DOI: 10.1080/00794236.2020.1750150


Steve also sent me an email commenting on the post about Willie Nelson’s song Me and Paul:
We enjoyed your Bytes today Otto. Love Mr Nelson. In fact Di asked she could have a ‘little Willie’ this morning

So I of course obliged…he’s playing right now!

S & D

Thanks Steve.

It brings to mind that Brit cricket commentator Brian Johnston is reputed to have said "The bowler's Holding; the batsman's Willey" while commentating, which supposedly occurred when Michael Holding of the West Indies was bowling to Peter Willey of England in a Test match at The Oval in 1976.

This is now considered apocryphal; Johnston claimed not to have noticed saying anything odd during the match, and that he was only alerted to his gaffe by a letter from "a lady" named "Miss Mainpiece". According to Christopher Martin-Jenkins, his Cricinfo biography, and the biography by Johnston's son Barry, Johnston never actually made the remark. Barry Johnston says "It was too good a pun to resist ... but Brian never actually said that he had spoken the words on air."

Another version holds that Brian Johnston was apparently warned against accidentally saying this phrase in a letter sent to him by Miss Mainpiece - which he read on the air - but he didn't actually say the phrase during the match.


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