Two more Victoria Crosses to go on display

08 June 2017

The First World War Victoria Cross medal groups awarded to Sergeant Samuel George Pearse MM and Lieutenant Albert Chalmers Borella MM will go on permanent display at the Australian War Memorial.

Both men fought on Gallipoli and the Western Front. Pearse was killed in North Russia while serving with the British contribution to the North Russian Relief Force in 1919; while Borella, the oldest member of the First Australian Imperial Force to be awarded the VC, went on to serve in the Second World War. In addition to their Victoria Crosses, both men had received the Military Medal.

Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson said the Pearse and Borella stories are examples of remarkable courage and gallantry.

“It is impossible for us to fully comprehend the dangers these men faced. By displaying these medals we are allowing the public to more fully understand what they endured and sacrificed for our country 100 years ago.”

Albert Chalmers Borella’s story is extraordinary. A pastoralist in the Northern Territory when the war broke out, Borella travelled hundreds of kilometres from Darwin to Townsville by foot, horseback, rail, and ship in order to enlist in the AIF, and was among the first from the Northern Territory to do so. 

Borella was wounded at Pozières on the Western Front in July 1916. Promoted to sergeant in January 1917, he was awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous bravery at Malt Trench, near Warlencourt, that March. By April he was commissioned, and had been Mentioned in Despatches.

On 17 July 1918 Borella was awarded the Victoria Cross for “most conspicuous bravery in attack” near Villers-Bretonneux. While leading his platoon in an assault on an enemy support trench, he ran ahead of his men to capture the German machine-gun. He then led a small party against the trench, bombed two dug-outs, and took 30 prisoners. He was invalided to Australia owing to ill health just weeks later.

From 1920 to 1939 Borella farmed a soldier-settlement block near Hamilton, Victoria, before enlisting for service in the Second World War. He died on 7 February 1968, and was buried with full military honours.

Lt Borella’s son Rowan said the family was honoured that his father’s medal group will be on permanent display at the Memorial.

“We’re so pleased to hand the medals over to the Memorial, so everyone can understand what my father did. We’re just so proud.”

Samuel George Pearse was born in Wales in 1897 and immigrated to Australia with his family in 1911. He enlisted in the AIF in July 1915 and served briefly on Gallipoli before the evacuation. He was twice wounded in action and was awarded the Military Medal on 28 September 1917 for his bravery while attacking an enemy post near Ypres, Belgium.

On 18 July 1919 Pearse was discharged from the AIF after joining a company of the 45th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, for service with the North Russia Relief Force. Pearse displayed utter disregard for danger on the Western Front, with his commanding officer describing him as “the bravest man I [have] ever seen”. On 29 August, outside Emtsa in northern Russia, Sergeant Pearse cut his way through barbed wire under heavy fire. He then disabled a blockhouse, but was shot and killed by a Russian machine-gun. For his bravery he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

The acquisition of these medal groups takes the number of Victoria Crosses on display at the Memorial to 82.

Further information, including archival images, is available on request.

Contact:
Holly Pritchard
02 6243 4575
0409 600 038
media@awm.gov.au