The Story of... Three Victoria Cross winners at one auction

Not one but three winners of the Victoria Cross - the highest and most prestigious British and Commonwealth medal 'for gallantry in the face of the enemy' - will appear at a Bosley's UK auction of medals and militaria, in September.

Medals and ephemera from the lives and careers General Sir Samuel James Browne, Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, and Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson will be going under the hammer. So, to mark the sale, here's a look at the men and their remarkable achievements...

General Sir Samuel James Browne VC

Browne's item of memorabilia in the auction is of an unusual nature: a cocked hat tin. Nevertheless, it will undoubtedly mean a lot to the lucky collector who acquires it - especially when considering Browne's remarkable life story.


General Sir Samuel James Browne

Born in Barrakpore, India, the son of a doctor, Browne later became a British Indian Army cavalry officer in India and Afghanistan. It was for his services leading the 2nd Punjab regiment in several engagements during the Bozdar Expedition of 1857 that he would be awarded the VC.

His VC win happened on August 31, 1858, while engaging with the Rebel Forces under Khan Allie Khan at day break. Browne's first feat, accompanied by one other soldier, was to confront a nine-pounder gun commanding one of the approaches to the enemy's position.

Browne attacked the gunners and, in the process, received a severe wound on his left knee, and shortly afterwards another sword-cut wound. The second wound severed his left arm at the shoulder - not, however, before Brown had succeeded in cutting down one of his assailants.

As a result of this personal conflict, the nine-pounder gun was prevented from being re-loaded, and was eventually captured by the Infantry, with its gunner slain.

General Browne retired from the army in 1898 and relocated to the Isle of Wight, England, where he died aged 76. A memorial to him can be found in the island's Ryde Town Cemetery.

Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire, VC

Born in Chester, the son of Geoffrey Chevalier Cheshire, a barrister, academic and influential writer on English law, the younger Cheshire received his Victoria Cross for his efforts as a bomber pilot.

"In four years of fighting against the bitterest opposition he maintained a standard of outstanding personal achievement... the result of careful planning, brilliant execution and supreme contempt for danger - for example, on one occasion he flew his P-51 Mustang in slow 'figures of eight' above a target obscured by low cloud, to act as a bomb-aiming mark for his squadron. Cheshire displayed the courage and determination of an exceptional leader" - Cheshire's VC citation, 1944

In September, 1943, Cheshire succeeded fellow VC winner Wing Commander Guy Gibson as commander of the legendary 617 "Dambusters" Squadron and, while there, helped pioneered a new method of marking enemy targets.


Baron Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire

Even at this stage, the tactics he employed met the VC's "gallantry in the face of the enemy" criteria, including flying at a very low level in the face of strong defences in a small and versatile Mosquito fighter (he later moved-on to doing it in a P-51 Mustang).

Cheshire's methods were controversial and met resistance from within the service - some thought the 'suicidal' nature of his techniques impinged the responsibilities of his own command.

Nevertheless, while nearing the end of his fourth tour in July 1944, Cheshire became just one of 32 airmen to be awarded the Victoria Cross, for his sustained courage and outstanding effort, rather than a single act of valour.

After the war, Cheshire became a charity worker, setting up the Leonard Cheshire Disability as well as other philanthropic organisations.

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson VC

Born in Simla, India during the British Raj, Gibson later moved to Cornwall, England, aged six. He grew up to become the first CO of the Royal Air Force's 617 Squadron - the "Dambusters" - whose Operation Chastise raid in 1943 resulted in the destruction of two large dams in the Ruhr area.

The 617 Squadron accomplished this with the bouncing bomb, which was dropped from 60 feet and 'skipped' across the water towards the dam face, before exploding beneath the water at a predefined depth.


Wing Commander Guy Gibson

As if the skill requirements to pull this off weren't mind blowing enough, it was also deemed that the raid would have to take place at night, and at perilously low level over mountainous terrain - deemed difficult by even the most experienced pilots.

To achieved the correct altitude, the crew attached two spotlights to the nose and tail of the Lancaster, beams pointing downwards. Meanwhile, the damn was aimed at using a simple handheld wooden triangle with dowel markets. When the dowels lined up, the bomb was released.

The Dambusters' raid took place beneath the light of the full moon (also necessary to the mission's success) on the night of May 16, 1943. Nineteen Lancaster bombers, each carrying one bomb, were poised to assault the two dams.


Guy Gibson's medals at the RAF museum - his VC is furthest to the left

After five attempts,Gibson then led the three remaining Lancasters, eventually felling the Eder Dam. The other dam remained unbreached, and 53 crew members died in the raid. Nevertheless, considerable damage was done to German resources, while also achieving a considerable propaganda boost for the Allies.

Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition not just of the raid, but also for his leadership and valour, demonstrated as master bomber on many previous sorties. He returned to operational duties in 1944 after pestering Bomber Command, but was later killed on a bombing raid on Rheydt.

 

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