Foreign Awards for Gallantry

In the lead-up to the centennial, the Corps is publishing a series of short articles in the Wire magazine and on social medal titled ‘History of Signalling in 100 Objects’.

Italy - Medaglia d'oro al Valore Civile
Italy – Medaglia d’oro al Valore Civile

Object No. 7 is the Medaglia al Valore Civile—the Medal of Civilian Valour—awarded posthumously to Brigadier Russell Maynard MBE. The medal is awarded in three grades—gold (d’oro), silver (d’argento), and bronze (di bronzo), which equate to the George Cross, George Medal and Queen’s Gallantry Medal respectively. Brigadier Maynard and a Danish officer, Lieutenant Colonel Niels Erik Thorn, were awarded the Medaglia d’oro al Valore Civile for saving several children in the sea near Fregene on the coast west of Rome on 15 July 1988; both officers died during the rescue.[1]

Brigadier Maynard’s decoration was not, however, the only foreign award for gallantry or meritorious service awarded to personnel of the Corps. There have been over 300 foreign orders, decorations and medals awarded to officers and soldiers of Royal Signals; from the Italian Order of Saint Maurice and Saint Lazarus, presented to Lieutenant Colonel O C Mordaunt DSO in 1923, to more recent United States awards for service in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most awards are published in the London Gazette and many have citations that may be found in the National Archives.[2]

At this stage of the project, research is incomplete but the following orders, decorations and medals have been identified (the common English translation is used here):

Belgium: Order of Leopold, Order of the Crown, Order of Leopold II, Military Medal, and War Cross.

Czechoslovak Republic: Military Order of the White Lion, War Cross 1939–1945, Medal for Bravery, and Medal for Merit Class II.

Denmark: King Christian X Liberty Medal.

Ethiopia: Distinguished Order of the Star of Ethiopia, and Military Medal of Haile Selassie I.

France: Legion of Honour, and War Cross.

Greece: Royal Order of King George I, Medal for Outstanding Acts, and War Cross.

Italy: Gold Medal of Civilian Valour, and Order of Saint Maurice and Saint Lazarus.

Iraq: Order of Al Rafidain.

Luxembourg: War Cross.

The Netherlands: Order of the House of Orange, Order of Orange-Nassau, Bronze Lion, and Bronze Cross.

Norway: War Cross, St. Olav’s Medal with Oak Branch, King Haakon VII Liberty Cross, and King Haakon VII Liberty Medal.

Poland: Cross of Valour.

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: Medal for Battle Merit.

United States of America: Legion of Merit, Medal of Freedom,[3] Silver Star Medal, and Bronze Star Medal.

Of these awards, a significant proportion are for gallantry, mostly during the Second World War. I have chosen three awards that neatly illustrate the breadth of gallant conduct of officers and soldiers of the Corps.

United States - Silver Star Medal
United States – Silver Star Medal

The United States Silver Star Medal succeeded the Citation Star (instituted on 9 July 1918) on 19 July 1932. The medal is the third highest United States award for gallantry and broadly equivalent of the Military Cross or Military Medal. It comprises a gold coloured five-pointed star, 38 mm in diameter. Superimposed in the centre is a laurel wreath encircling rays and a small silver star. The reverse is inscribed ‘FOR GALLANTRY IN ACTION’. Two awards were made to soldiers of the Corps for gallantry during the Second World War ‘…in recognition of distinguished services in the cause of the Allies’.

One of these was to Lance Corporal Arthur Reese for his bravery at Salerno a few days after the start of Operation AVALANCHE—the landings on mainland Italy by the British X Corps and United States VI Corps—on 9 September 1943.[4] It is not known with which unit Reese was serving but his act took place during the German counter-attacks that were launched three days after the landings and which resulted in very heavy fighting:

0n 13th September, 1943, near Salerno, Italy, Signalman Reese, on his own initiative and in spite of the presence of the enemy all around him, entered a building and made his way to the top floor where he successfully sniped enemy detachments attempting to mount machine guns to cover Allied communications from a battalion headquarters. Remaining at his post continuously for many hours he successfully assisted in preventing infiltration from developing. Then leaving the safety of the building he moved forward and located an enemy observation post, which upon his directions was destroyed by friendly artillery. The initiative and courage displayed by Signalman Reese in performing those acts were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Military Service.[5]

Reese’s award was typical of many foreign awards from the Second World War in that it was announced many years after the events for which it was earned. In this case, nearly 4½ years after the Salerno landings.

Netherlands - Bronze Cross
Netherlands – Bronze Cross

The second award of interest is that of the Bronze Cross (Het Bronzen Kruis) of the Netherlands to Company Quartermaster Sergeant James Stuart Scott Menzies MM.[6] The Bronze Cross had been instituted on 11 June 1940 and was the third highest award for gallantry of the Netherlands. The obverse of the bronze cross pattée is decorated with a crowned letter ‘W’ all within a wreath of oak and laurel leaves. The reverse is inscribed ‘1940’ in the centre and on the arms are the words ‘TROUW AAN KONINGIN EN VADERLAND’ (Fidelity to Queen and Homeland). Three awards were made to personnel of the Corps for service during the Second World War, again ‘…in recognition of distinguished services in the cause of the Allies’.

Menzies was a most gallant soldier who had served on special operations for several years. As part of Jeburgh team ‘Julian’ he had parachuted into the Indre-et-Loire region of France as the radio operator for Major A H Clutton MC and a French officer—Lieutenant M J Vermot (alias Brouillard). For his adventures on that operation he was awarded the Military Medal (his story with the Jedburgh teams will be described in detail in the book).

Company Quartermaster Sergeant James Stuart Scott Menzies MM
Company Quartermaster Sergeant James Stuart Scott Menzies MM

Later, on 3 April 1945, Menzies had been parachuted into enemy occupied Holland, near Veluwe, as part of Jedburgh team ‘Gambling’ with Major Clutton and a Dutch officer, Lieutenant M J Knottenbelt, formerly of No. 2 (Dutch) Troop, No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando. The team was responsible for coordinating the actions of Dutch resistance groups and parties of the Special Air Service, in order to preserve bridges required for the Allied advance. For this operation, Menzies was mentioned in despatches, and he and Major Clutton were awarded the Bronze Cross. Knottenbelt was awarded the Netherlands’ highest honour, the rare Military Order of William (Militaire Willems-Orde), for his gallantry in the Dutch East Indies, at Arnhem, and with this Jedburgh team. The short citation for the awards to Clutton and Menzies stated:

These awards will be given in recognition for the execution of their difficult tasks, when during the war they were landed by parachute in the Netherlands and distinguished themselves in an exceptional way, collecting valuable information for the continuation of the fight against the enemy.[7]

France - Croix de Guerre
France – Croix de Guerre

The final award is the French Croix de Guerre—broadly equivalent to a mention in despatches—to Captain Richard Oliver MacMahon Williams. The French Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 was instituted on 26 September 1939. A device is always worn on the ribbon to signify the level of award. The four levels of award, from highest to lowest were: Bronze Palm (palme en bronze—mentioned at the army level); Gilt Star (étoile en vermeil—mentioned at the corps level); Silver Star (étoile en argent—mentioned at the divisional level); and Bronze Star (étoile en bronze—mentioned at brigade level). The bronze, Maltese cross has two swords crossed between the arms of the cross, points uppermost. A medallion in the centre of the obverse bears the profile of the French Republic and is inscribed ‘RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE’ (French Republic). In the medallion on the reverse is inscribed, variously, 1939–1940, 1939–1945, or 1940. At least forty-five awards were made to personnel of the Corps.

As has proven typical of the Croix de Guerre, this particular award was not published in the London Gazette. Williams was commissioned in August 1941 and by August 1944 was serving with 51st (Highland) Division. During Operation TOTALISE—the breakout from Caen south to Falaise—on the night of 10/11 August, 154th Infantry Brigade had completed a successful night attack against German positions east of St. Sylvain, a small town south of Caen. The following morning, during the consolidation of the objectives, both Brigade signal officers became casualties (one of whom, Captain B M Waller, was killed[8]).

Williams was sent forward to take over the Brigade signal section. His citation recorded that:

‘…he proceeded to do so under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions with remarkable success. He immediately made his way forward, under extremely heavy shelling and mortaring and notwithstanding that an enemy counter-attack was in progress at the time, to the leading battalions and personally supervised and attended to the establishment of communications between the forward battalions and brigade headquarters. Throughout the day these communications, owing to enemy shelling and counter attacks, were frequently disrupted and on each occasion Captain Williams went forward and personally supervised the repair of them. Without the splendid example of courage and disregard of personal safety shown by Captain Williams it would have been impossible for communication to have been maintained during this decisive phase of the battle and the effect, if they had failed, might well have been extremely serious.’[9]

This was not the last time that Williams demonstrated great bravery in his efforts to deliver communications. On 14 February 1945, 51st (Highland) Division established a bridgehead over the River Niers in order to capture Kessel, a small town in western Germany, just over the border with the Netherlands. To get a line over the river Williams tied it to his waist, swam the swollen, fast flowing river under shellfire and pulled the line by brute force up to a forward battalion headquarters on the far bank. He then swam back across the river. For this act of superb gallantry, he was awarded an immediate Military Cross.[10] Williams was made an MBE (Military) in 1951 as Officer Commanding 155 (Lowland) Infantry Brigade Signal Squadron, Territorial Army, and an OBE (Civil) in 1977 for service as Law Agent to the Forestry Commission in Scotland.

The large number of foreign awards made to Royal Signals personnel and the broad spectrum of gallant and meritorious acts that they represent make them an important part of the medallic history of the Corps, and an equally important part of this project.

Royal Signals Museum: Photograph of the Medaglia d’oro al Valore Civile
Dix Noonan Webb: Photographs of the Silver Star Medal, Het Bronzen Kruis, and Croix de Guerre.

1. (Back) The award was announced on 24 January 1990. The citation stated: ‘Alerted by cries for help, he did not hesitate, together with another military officer, to dive into the sea to go to the rescue of six young people who, because of the adverse weather and sea conditions, were about to drown. General Maynard generously succeeded in saving the lives of all the young people but, overcome by fatigue, he was himself swept away by the waves and drowned. He sacrificed his own life for the most noble ideals of altruism and human solidarity.’ The award was not published in the London Gazette.
2. (Back) Foreign awards do not have to be published in the London Gazette to be authorised for wear. The authority for wear comes from the Sovereign and may be by letter from the Sovereign’s private secretary.
3. (Back) Replaced by the modern Presidential Medal of Freedom.
4. (Back) 2379158 Lance Corporal Arthur Leslie Reese. London Gazette 14 May 1948. Issue 38288, page 2917.
5. (Back) The National Archives (TNA). Public Record Office (PRO). (1947-1948). Recommendation for Award for Reese, A L. WO 373/148/500.
6. (Back) 2363352 Company Quartermaster Sergeant James Stuart Scott Menzies. London Gazette 14 November 1947. Issue 38122, page 5355.
7. (Back) TNA. PRO. (1942-1952). Recommendation for Award for Menzies, James Stuart Scott. WO 373/144/37. On the same submission were awards to Major Clutton and Sergeant Claude Charles Somers, Royal Air Force; the latter was the radio operator of Jedburgh team ‘Dicing’ that landed in north-east Holland on 7/8 April 1945.
8. (Back) Captain Bertram Morley Waller, killed in action on 11 August 1944. Originally buried at Cormelles on the outskirts of Caen, his remains were reinterred in Bretteville-Sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery on 12 October 1945.
9. (Back) TNA. PRO. (1944). Recommendation for Award for Williams, Richard Oliver MacMahon. WO 373/186/1343.
10. (Back) London Gazette 10 May 1945. Issue 37072, page 2451.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.