Australians awarded the George Cross
& the Cross of Valour
Randwick, NSW: NewSouth Books, 2020
Hardback 192pp RRP $69.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, November 2020
This is a superb Australian War Memorial (AWM) publication that provides recognition of the amazing acts of gallantry of Australians over the last 100 years. It is the companion to For Valour (published in Nov 2018) which relates the incredible stories of the 100 Australians awarded the Victoria Cross for exceptional acts of bravery and self-sacrifice in battle.
The nation's highest non-combat award for bravery was the Imperial George Cross, and now its 1975 Australian Honours and Awards replacement is the Cross of Valour. For Gallantry tells the stories of the 28 Australians awarded these two honours. They ‘chose to go the wrong way; towards the gravest of threats rather than to comfort and safety’. The AWM and the Royal Australian Mint have a number of George Crosses in their permanent collections.
The Empire Gallantry Medal was discontinued when the George Cross was created in September 1940. Two surviving holders had their medals exchanged for the George Cross. Likewise the seven surviving holders of the Albert Medal for Lifesaving and Edward Medal for saving life in mines had their medal exchanged for the George Cross in 1971. This made the efforts of Richard Richards, from 1915 to March 1918 to save the lives of members of the Ross Sea Party of the Shackleton Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the earliest Australian George Cross recipient.
The George Cross has been awarded to military members who provided outstanding examples of stoicism and resistance during their long incarceration as prisoners of war, heroism during the Japanese Cowra Breakout in 1944, disarming sea mines and unexploded ordnance during World War II, and the HMAS Voyager disaster in 1964. The only surviving George Cross recipient is Michael Pratt, who as an unarmed off-duty police constable, attempted to foil a bank robbery in 1976.
The Cross of Valour has only been awarded five times during its 45-year existence. Its first recipient was Daryl Tree, a farmer, who in 1988 repeatedly used his body to earth 19 000 volts as he flung a young child to safety after a crane had struck overhead electric wires. Other awards have been made for rescuing a child trapped in a stormwater drain after an excessively heavy rainstorm, and rescue efforts at the Sari Club in Bali in 2001. To date none has been awarded to a member of the military.
Comprehensive descriptions of the heroic events have been matched with biographical profiles of most recipients, where available, to provide insights into their lives before and after their gallant effort. In excess of a quarter of recipients had the award bestowed posthumously, indicating their sacrifice of self for their fellow man. None of the Cross of Valour awards have been made posthumously, but post-traumatic stress disorder has dogged one recipient.
The work has been divided into three parts: George Cross exchange awards (1915 – 37), Direct George Cross awards (1941 – 76) and the Cross of Valour (1988 – 2002). Excellently illustrated with both black and white and coloured photographs, and meticulously referenced, this is a publication that should grace every Australian public library.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.