Friday, August 23, 2013


Have you ever met a real life character, someone so different to your preconceptions?

I certainly have, a few years ago I met a real-life hero, and I would have passed him in the street and never have known that he had performed a feat of valour that won him the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for bravery on the battlefield in the Australian and British army.

In 1854 during the Crimean War, The Victoria Cross came into being. It was named for Queen Victoria and was the highest award for valour. The medals were struck from a bronze Russian cannon captured in the Crimea.

Like the American Medal of Honor, only the bravest of the brave receive this award.

The first war in which any Australians won the Victoria Cross was in South Africa (1899-1902), six were awarded. In the 1st World War sixty four Victoria Crosses were won by Australians, in the 2nd World War the number was twenty. Four were awarded for The Vietnam War, and four Victoria Crosses have recently been awarded to Australian soldiers who fought in  Afghanistan. In some instances the medal was awarded posthumously.

I had always thought of heroes as young, tall, strong and virile looking, always confident, sometimes brash even (like the heroes in my wartime romances). Of course, the heroes from Afghanistan are young men, the same ages as my sons, but my experience dates from a number of years ago.

I worked in a medical clinic that treated war veterans.  I had seen this man’s file and I couldn’t believe it when I saw that he had won the Victoria Cross and a couple of other valour awards. I couldn’t wait to see this real live hero. I knew I would recognise him straight away. I mean, he would be old because he had served in 2nd World War, but he would have a presence about him, I didn’t doubt that for a moment.

An old man shuffled up to the counter. He was thin and short in stature, made worse by being hunched over, and his hair was grey and sparse. He quietly gave his name, his voice wavering, almost apologetic, because he obviously thought his presence here was causing extra work for me.

When he handed in his appointment card, I was shocked, this little old man was a hero, one of the bravest of the brave.

2014 is the centenary year of the start of the 1st World War, or the Great War as it was called.
On August 4th 1914, the Germans crossed the Belgium border and Britain declared war on Germany.The Australian government immediately promised to supply 20,000 troops. In fact the number eventually ended up being over 300,000 before the war ended in 1918. This was bloodiest and most costly war Australia would ever be involved in.

My novel, Allison's War, is set against a background of the 1st World War and I have also writen three other novels set during this period.



Caroline Clemmons said...

Margaret, great post. I'm sure we often have that experience. I was surprised that a quiet, almost reclusive man in our former church had been a war hero. He would never have mentioned it, but his wife did as she illustrated a story one day about something. We never know, do we, in whose presence we stand?

Rhobin said...

What a great story. Loved that the hero was really the antithesis of our expectations.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Caroline,
Thanks for dropping by. Most real heroes seem to be very modest, and I think they really believe that they didn't do anything extraordinary. Glad the wife "outed" the war hero.



Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Rhobin,
Tanks for dropping by and allowing me to particiapte in your Round Robin.



darkwriter said...

Loved your post and definitely someone bigger than life. You were very lucky to be touched by someone like that.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Beverley,
Thanks for dropping by, I appreciate it. It was an honour to have met a hero like him. It was a few years ago but I still cherish the memory.



Lynn Crain said...

A very sobering thought indeed.

My best friend from high school's father was a WWII vet who had a purple heart. He was a hero but he didn't act like one when I knew him. When he was much older, he told his daughter about things he regretted and still how proud he was that he'd been a vet. But because of his behavior during the rest of his life, he died alone. Sad but very true.

Thanks for sharing such a great story.