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The latest gallantry awards have been announced and various recipients have been interviewed on the wireless. One is amazed at the modesty of those involved. One of the general themes may be summarised as "it's really an acknowledgement of the team". Mmm - it wasn't the team that recovered a wounded man under fire or fought off an attack single handed - it was the person getting the medal. However this self effacing approach is not confined to the military - it wasn't just me it was the team can be heard from the Oscars to the Nobels.

In WW1 there were no wireless interviews but I'm sure that some of the many awarded decorations for gallantry must had been interviewed if only by the local paper. Was there the same degree of modesty? If so was it just a British trait or was it universal?

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I've read through quite a few local papers for different areas and I can't recall reading one interview with a medal recipient about the brave deed that won them award. Remember plenty of second hand accounts though

This modest attitude as a whole might be explained by the attitudes described in something I read recently VAD in France Olive Dent (archive.org)

The author had written about a soldier who had been awarded the MM who when asked about the medal would only say

"I fetched a man in" (written in the book in a local dialect)when in fact it was later discovered that he had dragged an injured officer to safety taking him eleven hours to do so!

The author goes on to write:

"...With regard to decorations, they are modesty in excelsis. Although whispers pass round to other patients that another has a decoration, and let me add their consequent respect and envy, yet the owner himself never alludes to it, he might be suspected of " swank." One man I congratulated on the possession of the M.M. " Oh ! " deprecatingly, " only an apology for the V.C. But," with a little smile, " my wife will be pleased."

In the earlier, more leisurely days of the war we used to prefer the boys while in the wards to wear their ribbons, the South African, the D.C.M., the M.M., pinned to their pyjama coats, but the modest wretches

had a habit of taking off either of the two latter and hiding it when our backs were turned. They seemed to dread the other men regarding the wearing of it as their conceit rather than our wishes....".


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  • 3 weeks later...

I have a friend whose father dies and they found a MM in his effects. He had never mentioned it except once when he said that the company commander said, "you had better have this or it might get lost".

When they investigated they discovered that he got it in Italy when had always said he had spent the war in France!

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I think it is a natural trait in most of us that we are embarrassed by the fuss and don't want to be in the limelight, when in the cold hard light of day what we did could be seen as foolhardy.

Rarely is of course and it takes a lot of guts to put yourself in the firing line.

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Private Arthur Vickers VC, 2/Warwicks, at Loos.

On his arrival back in Birmingham on November 27 1915 he was greeted by his sister, uncle and friends at New Street Station. Vickers soon elaborated himself on the events to local reporters…

“It was a good battle until we came up against the barbed wire. We began our advance at 6.28 a.m. We were in a ploughed field and it was raining heavily. When the order ‘Turn out Wire-cutters’ was given I was standing well in front of the other fellows. I dashed forward at once. I saw my officer fall. I shouted to the others to take cover. Then I went on and cut the wires. I made two gaps and our chaps were able to get through them…..The other chaps, especially Serjeant Pountenay and Corporal Bryan, are brave men, Bryan is a Birmingham man. Pountenay, I believe, belongs to Coventry….We always sing – any old song that comes to mind – when we come

out of the trenches or are passing through a village or town, everybody knows when the Warwicks are about”.

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Two (non-WW1) cases I can think of:

Frank Jefferson of the Lancashire Fusiliers. VC Italy 1944. It is said that at first he would not wear the ribbon as it attracted attention, but was told he was improperly dressed. So he took to wearing a greatcoat, whatever the weather. There was a sad end - his Cross was stolen in a burglary in 1982; distraught, he went an laid down on a railway line.

A friend's uncle got an MC, also in Italy in WW2; the citation says he was observed saving ammunition from the gunline under fire. He always maintained he was saving the officers' mess scotch.

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He always maintained he was saving the officers' mess scotch.

No one suspects the Col would probably have recommended a higher decoration for that!

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