In the sticky heat of an October day, I found myself in the Commonwealth cemetery in Stanley on Hong Kong Island. There is much to see. If you’re a regular pilgrim on the battlefield trail you will have seen grave markers denoting other awards, but here you will find four quite unusual headstones bearing the image of the George Cross. These four holders of the award were immensely brave men, who, as prisoners of war, defied their Japanese captors and paid a heavy price even before their executions.
Much closer to home, in Boulogne, you will see a similar headstone for an airman, Gerald Close. He was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal for attempting to save the life of a pilot trapped in the wreckage of a burning aeroplane. Close was one of many who were required to exchange their medal for the new George Cross at its inception.
Of course, the George Cross is distinctive because it is not simply an award for military personnel, but is intended to honour acts of heroism across the civil and military spectrum. In this excellent directory, the author brings all the holders together; be they airmen, miners, farm boys, deckhands or policemen, all under one roof. Notes on burial locations and the whereabouts of the medals are included with accounts of the medal action and, where applicable, information on living recipients.
A history of the award and the system of exchanges for the Albert, Edward and Empire Gallantry medals are explained. It is, however, important to note that these do not include holders of these medals who were not alive at the time the GC was introduced in 1940.
I have made good use of a similar book for the Victoria Cross and this excellent reference work will prove as valuable to anyone interested in the George Cross. There are hundreds of interesting stories to learn from the days of industry and empire, the two world wars and right up to the modern day. The most recent recipient of the award is the iconic Oz Schmid of the Royal Logistic Corps. He is just one of the remarkable people described by Kevin Brazier in this most valuable and timely work. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
THE COMPLETE GEORGE CROSS
A Full Chronological Record of All George Cross Holders
By Kevin Brazier.
Published in hardback by Pen & Sword Military £25.00
ISBN: 978 1 84884 287 8