Bravery award for war hero blocked

AN Australian historian is opposing a proposed honour for a South Shields-born war hero.

Australia's new Labour government is considering retrospectively awarding its own version of the Victoria Cross to war heroes it believes were overlooked by Britain in the distant past.

Among those who could be honoured is John Simpson Kirkpatrick, better known as "the man with the donkey".

Kirkpatrick used the animal to save the lives of 300 soldiers while under fire at Gallipoli in 1915 – losing his own life in the process.

Anthony Staunton, editor of Sabretache, the journal of the Military History Society of Australia, has called for the plans for the retrospective honours to be scrapped.

He believes too much time has passed to recognise heroes from bygone eras.

Mr Staunton's opposition comes amid fears that any tribunal set up to assess honours could be inundated with hundreds of requests from their modern-day descendents.

He said: "No matter how deserving, I hope Australia follows the British lead in not granting belated awards of the Victoria Cross.

"The longest time between a VC action and the announcement of the award is less than six years.

"I do not think we want to go down the US path, when in 1999 then president Bill Clinton awarded a US Medal of Honor to a soldier for gallantry 135 years earlier in the American Civil War.

"The six Victoria Crosses sent to the next of kin in 1907 were not belated awards, but represented a change in policy on posthumous awards.

"In all six cases, including two dating back to the Indian Mutiny, notices had appeared in the London Gazette shortly after the deaths of the recipients stating that they would have been awarded the Victoria Cross had they survived.

"With the policy change in 1907 to approve posthumous awards, there was no reason not to send the next of kin the actual medals.

"However, King Edward VII was still reluctant and eventually only agreed to the issue of medals on the understanding that there were only six cases and the issue of these medals would not lead to belated awards."