About the George Cross
‘For acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger’
The George Cross is awarded for acts of meritorious service. It is second only to The Victoria Cross (VC) in order of wear (taking precedence over all other orders medals and decorations) though the George Cross is a much rarer award with only circa 160 directly awarded (some 244 have been exchanged for Empire Gallantry, Albert and Edward Medals as these awards no longer exist).
Originally instituted on 24th September 1940 by King George VI, the George Cross (GC) was intended primarily for civilians to reward their bravery; it remains the highest gallantry award available to civilians. It can be, and is, awarded to members of the Armed Forces but only for those actions where purely military honours would not normally be granted.
The George Cross medal, with its distinctive navy blue ribbon, was designed by Percy Metcalfe, a sculptor, artist and designer originally from Wakefield who studied at The Royal College of Art, London.
The first recipient of the George Cross was Thomas Hopper Alderson for his heroic actions in rescuing people during the blitz. A number of women have received the George Cross though the only female living, to be awarded the George Cross is Odette Samson Hallowes, a member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) and Special Operations Executive (SoE) who was awarded the GC for resistance activities; a posthumous award was made to fellow FANYs, Violette Szabo and Noor Inyat Khan.
A collective award was made to the Island Of Malta via a letter dated April 1942 from King George VI ‘To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.’ One of the most recent awards was made in 2015 to Colour Sergeant Kevin Howard Haberfield RM with the award dated 2005. A number of Commonwealth citizens have also received the George Cross.
Living recipients of the George Cross are entitled to an annuity from the British Government – as of 2015 this was £10,000
The Royal Signals and the George Cross
Awarded posthumously to Signalman Kenneth H Smith GC
A superb clandestine operations
The George Cross awarded to Signalman Kenneth Smith for ‘warning of explosion’ is proudly exhibited in the Royal Signals Museum, Blandford.
How Signalman Smith won The George Cross
Extracted from The London Gazette of 19 October 1945
Smith George Cross
On the night of 10 January 1945, on the Island of Ist in the Adriatic (off the coast of Yugoslavia), Signalman Smith was a member of a patrol of the Long Range Desert Group, which was attacked by saboteurs, who laid time-bombs in the vital houses of the Island. After hearing some shots, Signalman Smith entered the Wireless Room and found one such bomb on the table. Realising that there were a number of partisans in the room and young children elsewhere in the house, Signalman Smith immediately picked up the bomb, which was ticking.
He intended to move it to a place of safety behind a nearby wall, but he had only gone a few yards outside the house when the bomb exploded and he was blown to pieces.
There is no doubt that Signalman Smith’s action certainly saved the lives of many of his comrades, partisans and civilians, and that he showed superb courage and complete disregard for personal safety in lifting a time-bomb which was already ticking when he knew that it might explode at any minute.
Family visit to the island of Ist
Originally, the posthumously awarded George Cross of Signalman Smith became the property of his mother along with his 5 campaign medals. She in turn eventually gave her second son the George Cross and her third son Michael the campaign medals to safeguard. Michael was only 3 years old when Kenneth won the George Cross so he never really knew his brother but later stated,
‘I had always wanted to know more about the circumstances in which my brother had given his life. Then, in 1985 my sister saw an article by the local British Legion in the Lincoln press. They were seeking information about my brother on behalf of the Council of Ist (pronounced EAST) who wished to erect a memorial to him. As a result we sent them a copy of the citation and a photograph of him.’
This stirred Michael’s interest in his brother’s award, the story was featured on an ITV lunchtime news programme -Pebble Mill.
It was eventually arranged with the Ist council that Michael, his wife and his son should visit the small Island. In July 1988 they flew to Split, drove to Zedar and sailed to the Island.
The visit to Ist proved an extremely rewarding and moving family occasion. A reception was held where they not only met locals who knew Kenneth but most importantly met Vjeko Smoljan and a friend Maria. Vjeko who had befriended Kenneth and Maria was in the house at the time of the original fatal incident.
The family saw the original house, the original radio room and Kenneth’s initial burial place. After visiting the Island, Michael and his family went on to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Military Cemetery in Belgrade where Signalman Kenneth Smith GC had been finally laid to rest after the War.
The medal is lost, found and ‘rescued’ by The Royal Signals Museum
When Michael and Kenneth’s brother died the George Cross could not be found; it was assumed to have been lost or sold – in fact his wife declared the medal had been sold some 6 months after being put into his care.
Armed with this knowledge Michael and his son Jamie set out to determine the medal’s whereabouts but made no headway until Jamie, a computer specialist, tried the Internet. Within a short period he received an e-mail from a South African “surfer” advising that the medal was in the hands of Spink and would soon appear for auction. On making contact with them they advised that the Royal Signals Museum had also sought information about the medal. Michael made contact with Trustees and was present when the museum acquired the medal – with his blessing.
‘I am delighted that the medal has finally found a safe home where it will be respected and treasured. I think it would have been a great pity for such a national treasure to have gone overseas or to a private collector. I am a very happy man. It will now be on show as a permanent reminder to the nation of those who gave their lives so freely that we may live on in freedom.’