Three more Victoria Cross medals go on display

13 July 2017

Captain Robert Grieve’s Victoria Cross was on display in his old school library when a fire tore through it in 1989. The medal survived and, remarkably, was found among the ashes.

The medal, which had been scorched in the blaze at his beloved Wesley College and was found by the then deputy principal Alan Storen, is one of the latest three First World War Victoria Crosses to go on display at the Australian War Memorial as part of the Victoria Cross centenary project.

Memorial Director Brendan Nelson said the loan of the medals awarded to Captain Robert Grieve, Lieutenant Clifford Sadlier, and Sergeant Lewis McGee took the number of Australian Victoria Crosses on display in the Hall of Valour to 82.

“We’re very proud of these men,” Dr Nelson said. “We’re proud of the stories that are behind them and we’re very proud to be able to exhibit these three Victoria Crosses here at the Australian War Memorial.”

Three Victoria Cross Medals

Grieve was awarded his Victoria Cross for his actions at Messines in Belgium on 7 June 1917. Having already suffered a massive gas attack from the Germans, his company came under sustained fire and was being held up by barbed-wire defences. As the only officer in his company who was not dead or wounded, Grieve made his way through a gap in the wire to attack a machine-gun post.

He had been a good left-arm bowler at Wesley College in Melbourne and his well-aimed grenades silenced some of the gunners, allowing him to reach the nearby trench and bomb the rest of the machine-gun crew. Grieve was wounded in the action, but survived the war and continued to host an annual dinner with his men until he died in 1957.

“He saw the fact his own men had recommended him for the cross as a greater accolade than the cross itself,” Dr Nelson said.

Grieve’s great-niece Mary Carter, who was at the Memorial for the handover, said her great-uncle was a modest man who would have been embarrassed by all the fuss.

“He was always there for people when they needed him,” she said. “That was just in his nature.”

Wesley College Curator of Collections Kenneth Park, who was also at the Memorial when Grieve’s VC was handed over, said the school was extremely proud of Grieve’s actions and was proud to be able to loan the medal to the Australian War Memorial.

Captain Robert Grieve

Captain Robert Grieve

The second Victoria Cross to go on display was awarded to Lieutenant Sadlier for his actions at Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918, and is on loan from St George’s Cathedral in Perth.

“His company was being attacked by German machine guns from the left flank when Sadlier attacked successfully not only one, but three machine gun posts,’’ Dr Nelson said. “He did so by leading a small number of his men using what today we would call grenades and his revolver and he was able to successfully overcome those three machine guns which played a significant role in the Australian successful counter attack at Villers-Bretonneux.”

Lieutenant Clifford Sadlier

Lieutenant Clifford Sadlier 

The third medal to go on display is Sergeant Lewis McGee’s, and is on loan from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.

Dr Nelson said McGee, “one of Tasmania’s finest”, was a member of what the Tasmanians called the “Fighting 40th”, and was awarded his Victoria Cross for his actions “in the mud, the slime, and the bloodbath” at Passchendaele in 1917.

“The Australians had to get through barbed wire,” Dr Nelson said. “Lewis McGee, realising … his men were being cut to ribbons, and armed only with a revolver, attacked a German pill-box that was holding them up and was able to successfully kill a number of the Germans manning that machine gun and take another 20 prisoners. Unfortunately and tragically he was killed a week later on 12 October [at Passchendaele] and posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.”

He is buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery, just 250 metres from the pill-box he captured.

“There are very, very few of us that perhaps have in us the qualities that are behind these medals and that are in these medals, but these are people that inspire us,” Dr Nelson said.

“A century on, they continue to inspire us in our everyday lives … We see it every day in Australian life, just everyday Australian men and women who when the time comes run towards tragedy to help other human beings. That is the value and importance of these crosses.”

The Victoria Crosses are on loan to the Memorial for six months and will be on display in the Hall of Valour.

Sergeant Lewis McGee

Sergeant Lewis McGee