British PM David Cameron says 52 Australian soldiers awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I now have a home in England “for generations to come”.
Fifty-two Australian soldiers who were awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery during World War I have been given another home in the heart of England.
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday helped unveil individual paving stones for each Australian VC recipient at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
In total 145 stones have been laid commemorating the bravery of VC recipients from 19 countries including Australia (52 servicemen), Canada (32), India (17) and New Zealand (14).
“A century may have passed since these extraordinary acts but the courage of these men remains as humbling and inspiring today as it was back then,” Mr Cameron said.
“Today we write the names of these Victoria Cross winners into the soil of our land.
“They may have been born overseas but they will have a home here for generations to come.”
One of the paving stones is for Tasmanian grocer Walter Brown.
He was awarded the VC for his incredible bravery in Villers-Bretonneux in mid-1918.
On hearing a sniper’s post was causing trouble the 32-year-old Brown ran towards the enemy with two hand grenades.
Under heavy fire he threw the first bomb which fell short.
But on reaching the enemy he delivered a knockout punch to the German that rushed him and threatened the others with the remaining grenade.
Thirteen Germans surrendered and Brown shepherded them back to Australian lines.
Brown returned home after the war but later lied about his age so he could serve in World War II and was killed in Singapore in early 1942.
Australia’s head of Defence staff in the UK, Brigadier Bill Sowry, says Brown’s story is amazingly similar to that of Ben Roberts-Smith who was awarded the VC for bravery in Afghanistan in 2010.
He stormed an enemy position to kill two insurgent machine gunners.
“Walter Brown rushed the enemy post and jump forward 96 years and you’ve got Ben Roberts-Smith dashing the Taliban gun pit to do almost exactly the same deed to ensure that he protected others from a weapon that was likely to kill them in a very short space of time,” Brig Sowry told AAP at the arboretum.
“These are unique people who at the right moment put others before themselves. It’s a lesson for us all.”
UK Communities Secretary Eric Pickles says Britain will be forever grateful to the 145 foreign VC recipients.
“Most are remembered with great pride in their own country,” he said.
“But we want to remember them here as a small act of gratitude for standing shoulder to shoulder with our grandparents or our great-grandparents.
“They helped build the foundations for modern Britain. Their legacy is our legacy.”
Britain and Ireland will lay 504 paving stones for their home-grown World War I VC recipients in each soldier’s home town on the centenary of their courageous act.
The Victoria Cross was introduced by Queen Victoria in 1856 and superseded in Australia in 1991 by the Victoria Cross for Australia.