HMS Conway - Click here to return to the menu
HMS Conway - Click here to return to the menu

In Memoriam - The Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest British military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of the United Kingdom, some Commonwealth countries and previous British Empire territories. It takes precedence over all other orders, decorations and medals. It may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service and civilians under military command, and is presented to the recipient by the British monarch. It is the joint highest award for bravery in the United Kingdom with the George Cross, which is the equivalent honour for valour not in the face of the enemy.

Four Old Conways have been awarded the Victoria Cross, three in the navy, and one in the army.



Lieutenant Colonel Philip Eric Bent VC DSO (1910-12)

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 3 January 1891, Phillip Bent left Conway in 1910. He went to sea and had gained his 2nd Mate’s ticket when the first world war broke out. He and a friend decided to volunteer. If the authorities had known he was a merchant service officer with a 2nd Mates ticket they would have put him in the Royal Navy. Instead he joined the army as a private soldier in 1914.

He was posted to the 9th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment who were promptly shipped to the killing fields of the Western Front. Losses were so great that three years later at the age of 26 he was a Lieutenant Colonel commanding his regiment! He was awarded the DSO for bravery. On 1st October 1917 the battalion was ordered to attack Polygon Wood, Zonnebeke, Belgium. The attack was not successful and the Germans responded with a heavy attack and intense artillery fire. The situation became critical and the Allies position was in danger of being over-run. Lieutenant Colonel Bent collected a platoon that was in reserve and together with men from other companies and various regimental details, organised and led them forward in a counter-attack. Charging forward in front of his men, he inspired them by shouting, “Come on the Tigers!” His actions won the day and secured the position, but during the charge he was cut down by enemy fire. “The coolness and magnificent example of the Colonel resulted in the securing of a portion of the line essential to a subsequent operation, but he was killed whilst leading a charge.”

His VC is displayed in the regimental museum in Leicester. His exploits are described in Canada's V.C.s by Lt Col George Machum, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1956

His regimental profile and a photo is here.

The battlefield is described here.

Polygon Wood





Lt. Charles Bonner VC (1899-1901)

Charles George Bonner was born on 29th December 1884 at Shuttington, Warwickshire. As a Royal Naval Reservist he was called up from the merchant service at the outbreak of the first world war. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross but the details are not known.

He was appointed as First Lieutenant of HMS Dunraven, a Q or mystery ship; an armed vessel disguised as a harmless merchantman. On 8th August 1917 in the Bay of Biscay, an enemy submarine UC 71 shelled Dunraven. Dunraven was hit, her depth charges detonated and the stern caught fire. Crew members, including Lt. Bonner and PO Pitcher stayed hidden as the fire raged waiting for the submarine to close so they could engage her. A 4 inch gun and crew was then blown away revealing Dunraven’s identity and UC-71 dived. Dunraven was next hit by a torpedo leaving only two guns manned. UC-71 came back up, shelled Dunraven and again submerged. “The lieutenant was in the thick of the fighting and throughout a whole of the action his pluck and determination had a considerable influence on the crew.” Dunraven eventually sank off Ushant. Lt. Bonner was awarded the Victoria Cross along with PO Ernest Herbert Pitcher. Her Captain Capt Gordon Campbell had also been awarded the VC for his actions in another Q ship.

After the war Captain Bonner became a salvage expert in shipping. He died on 7th February 1951 at Edinburgh.

An excellent biography "Bonner VC: The Biography of Gus Bonner - VC and Master Mariner" was published in 2008 but is now out of print. It is usually avaible second hand from Amazon, ISBN-10: 0955484014
ISBN-13: 978-0955484018


Above: Dunraven under attack

Below left: HMS Attack comes to Dunraven's aid                                         Below right: Dunraven sinking






Lt Cdr Ian Fraser VC, DSC, RD, RNR (1936-38)

Lieutenant Fraser commanded His Majesty's Midget Submarine XE-3 in a successful attack on a Japanese heavy cruiser of the Atago class (theTakao - Ed) at her moorings in Johore Strait, Singapore, on 31st July 1945. During the long approach up the Singapore Straits XE-3 deliberately left the believed safe channel and entered mined waters to avoid suspected hydrophone posts. The target was aground, or nearly aground, both fore and aft, and only under the Midship portion was there just sufficient water for XE-3 to place herself under the cruiser. For forty minutes XE-3 pushed her way along the seabed until finally Lieutenant Fraser managed to force her right under the centre of the cruiser. Here he placed the limpets and dropped his main side charge. Great difficulty was experienced in extricating the craft after the attack had been completed, but finally XE-3 was clear, and commenced her long return journey out to sea.

The courage and determination of Lieutenant Fraser are beyond all praise. Any man not possessed of his relentless determination to achieve his object in full, regardless of all consequences, would have dropped his side charge alongside the target instead of persisting until he had forced his submarine right under the cruiser. The approach and withdrawal entailed a passage of 80 miles through water which had been mined by both the enemy and ourselves, past hydrophone positions, over loops and controlled minefields, and through an anti-submarine boom.

Lieutenant Fraser's other crew member in the midget submarine was Leading Seaman James Magennis, Royal Navy, who was also awarded the Victoria Cross. Ian Fraser and James Magennis were invested with their Victoria Crosses by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 11th December 1945. Ian Fraser's and James Magennis's Victoria Cross groups are included in the Lord Ashcroft VC Collection and will be on display at the new Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum, planned to be opened in 2010.

He was the last living Royal Navy recipient of the Victoria Cross. A tribute and details of his funeral are here.

Japanese heavy cruiser Takao





Capt Edward Unwin VC CB CMG (1878 - 80)

When he left Conway in 1880 he joined Donald Currie’s sailing ships, then P & O and then the Egyptian Navy. He joined the Royal Navy in 1895.

During the war he was placed in command of the SS River Clyde, an old collier, which had been adapted to land 2,000 troops straight onto ‘V’ Beach at Gallipoli. Eight ports were fitted in the ship’s side level with the interior decks through which sloping gangways could be run out to facilitate speedy landing. Barges were made fast to her port side that could be used to form a floating bridge if she grounded too far out. When the ship grounded a hopper on the starboard side would manoeuvre to bridge the gap between ship and shore. 25 small boats were secured alongside, packed with soldiers who were to land first and cover the main disembarkation. V Beach was a natural amphitheater with perpendicular cliffs on one side and the castle and village of Seddul-Bahr on the other. The beach was steep and covered with barbed wire entanglements to below low watermark. Large numbers of Turkish troops were well dug in around the beach. It was expected to be a very difficult and costly undertaking; probably the most dangerous of all the planned landing beaches. Captain Unwin beached the River Clyde as planned but the hopper became stuck. He quickly realised that it could not be positioned in time to be of use so he went down into the lighters which had shot ahead as the ship lurched to a halt. He took a line from one of them and swam ashore where he hauled the lighters towards him, assisted by Seaman Williams who had followed him. Standing up to their shoulders in water they were fully exposed to exceptionally heavy rifle and machine-gun fire from the Turks and became obvious targets. It is said that for some hours 10,000 shots a minute fell in or close to the River Clyde. Against the odds they managed to establish a connection with the shore. The army brigade diary records: “Thanks to the extraordinary gallantry displayed by the naval party, the barges were got into some sort of position” As Unwin and Williams held the line taught, the soldiers swarmed forward but under unrelenting, withering fire few got ashore. The sea was soon crimson and awash with bodies. After about 40 minutes Williams was shot and collapsed into Unwin’s arms. Holding him up so he did not drown Unwin relinquished the rope to other sailors finally coming to their assistance. Unwin was 51, exhausted and frozen from the strain of holding the heavy barges whilst all but submerged in the sea, surrounded by death and destruction, but he got Williams to safety. Unwin returned to the ship himself needing urgent medical treatment for a heart complaint. For an hour, doctors tried to get his heart to work normally but against doctors’ orders he decided to go down into the hopper to try and improve the connection with the shore. Unwin was wounded by bullet splinters in the face and was forced to return to the ship for further treatment. He then took to a ship’s lifeboat and still under heavy fire began rescuing wounded men lying in the shallows. He continued until he collapsed through physical exhaustion.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross, along with four other mariners from the River Clyde. His citation is here and details of his award are here and here.

                                                                       SS River Clyde unloading



                                                     View from the Bridge and view from the fort







A fifth VC? - Lt Col E B Boston (1908-10) CMG DSO

The December 1918 edition of the Cadet included the latest list of awards to OCs in the Great War. One of the entries claims that Lt Col E B Boston (Conway 08-10) CMG DSO had been awarded the VC. Later editions made no mention of this and I have been unable to find any reference of an award of the VC to him. REsearch  shows that the entry was a mistake.












HMS Conway - Click here to return to the menu Page Last Modified (D/M/Y): 10/3/11 HMS Conway - Click here to return to the menu