Three Victoria Cross medals from the First World War will go on display in the Australian War Memorial’s Hall of Valour as part of the Victoria Cross centenary project.
These medals, awarded to Captain Robert Cuthbert Grieve, Sergeant Lewis McGee, and Lieutenant Clifford William King Sadlier, take the number of Victoria Crosses on display at the Memorial to 85, of which 82 were awarded to Australians over more than a century of armed conflict.
The three loans, from Victoria, Tasmania, and Western Australia, come as part of the Victoria Cross centenary project, which has run throughout the centenary of the Great War. The Memorial has previously had the opportunity to showcase 13 Victoria Crosses held by private collectors and other institutions alongside the 69 already on permanent display.
During their service in the First World War, Sergeant McGee and Captain Grieve received their VCs for bravery while in Belgium, while Lieutenant Sadlier was awarded his VC for his actions in France.
Director of the Australian War Memorial Dr Brendan Nelson said it was hugely rewarding for the Memorial to have been able to showcase these stories of bravery and heroism during the centenary period.
“We are so grateful to all the donors and lenders we have worked with over the past few years in order to highlight these magnificent achievements. The medals themselves are precious, but the opportunity to shed light on these gallant young men and what they did for Australia is invaluable,” Dr Nelson said.
“I urge everyone who has not yet had a chance to visit the Hall of Valour, deep within the Memorial, to do so in the lead up to Remembrance Day 2018 and learn more about what these men endured and sacrificed for us.”
Captain Robert Grieve, commanding officer of the 37th Battalion’s A Company, fought at Messines in June 1917. With the company having suffered heavy casualties, Grieve set out alone to disable two machine-guns. He was wounded in the shoulder, and spent six months recovering in hospital in England, during which time he received the following letter signed by his men:
Sir, NCOs and men of your company, especially those who had the honour of being led into action at the battle of Messines, wish to take this the earliest opportunity to congratulate you upon the very high and distinguished honour it has pleased His Majesty the King to confer upon you at this time, and also the honour of bringing to our battalion, the first VC.
During the battle of Broodseinde on 4 October 1917 Sergeant Lewis McGee of the 40th Battalion rushed across open ground and stormed a machine-gun post armed only with a revolver. Descending upon the position, he shot some of its crew and captured the remainder. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for “coolness and bravery”, but never received it; McGee was killed on 12 October as he ran to subdue another machine-gun post. He was buried in Tyne Cot cemetery in Belgium.
Lieutenant Clifford Sadlier of the 51st Battalion was decorated for leading his bombing platoon against a machine-gun post during the fierce fighting at Villers-Bretonneux in France. He had already been wounded before he successfully attacked the position, armed only with a revolver, on the evening of 24 April 1918. During the action he was wounded again and forced to the rear, effectively ending his active service. Sadlier's medal was conferred on him by King George V at Buckingham Place on 17 July 1918.
The Memorial is grateful to Wesley College in Melbourne, the Queen Victoria Museum and Gallery in Launceston, and St George’s Cathedral, Perth, for the loans of these medals.
A public talk about Captain Robert Grieve VC will be delivered by Phillip Powell from Wesley College in the BAE Systems Theatre at 3 pm on 18 July 2017.
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