MHM chooses five lesser-known people whose war efforts deserve higher praise.
5. William Manley
Manley is the only recipient of both the British Victoria Cross and the German Iron Cross. He served with distinction as a surgeon with the Royal Artillery during the Crimean War, but earned his VC in the Maori Wars of the 1860s, rescuing troops who were wounded while storming an enemy stronghold. In the Franco- Prussian War, Manley and his ‘Woolwich ambulance’ were attached to the German army, who awarded him the Iron Cross for seeking out wounded soldiers. At the siege of Paris in 1871, he tended to French casualties and was decorated by the French Red Cross. He died peacefully in Cheltenham aged 69.
4. Enrico Toti
Toti is one of the few civilians to receive Italy’s highest honour for bravery, the Gold Medal of Military Valour. Enrico lost his left leg aged 24, while working on the railway. He took up cycling, riding as far as Lapland and Egypt between 1911-1913. When Italy declared war on Austria in 1914 he volunteered, but was refused military service due to his disability. Undaunted, he cycled to the frontline, serving as an unpaid civilian. Sent home by the military police, Toti returned, attaching himself to a Bersaglieri Bicycle Battalion, and was fatally wounded in the Sixth Battle of Isonzo.
3. Simon the Cat
Simon is the only cat to receive the Dickin Medal for animal bravery. ‘Able seacat’ Simon served on the sloop HMS Amethyst when she sailed up the Yangtze river in 1949 to protect British interests during the Chinese Civil War. Communist artillery launched an unprovoked attack, killing the captain and 21 sailors, and forcing her aground. Suffering burns and shrapnel wounds, which were treated in the sick bay, the wounded cat still managed to kill the ‘king rat’ that was plaguing the ship while it was ‘stuck in the mud’. After Amethyst escaped and returned to England, Simon died from a virus while in quarantine.
2. Matvey Kuzmin
Kuzmin was a Russian peasant who refused to join a Soviet collective farm and survived by hunting and fishing. When German troops occupied his region in February 1942, Matvey was 83. The German commander bribed him to guide his men behind the Soviet lines for a surprise attack, but Kuzmin sent his grandson ahead to alert the defenders. During the night, he led the Germans into an ambush and was shot by one of the officers, who realised that he had double-crossed them. He is the oldest person to be a Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest distinction of the Soviet Army.
1. Mary Edwards Walker
Walker qualified as a doctor in 1855 and is the only woman to hold the Congressional Medal of Honor. When Civil War broke out the Union Army refused to commission a female surgeon, so she headed to the frontline in Virginia, where she was commissioned in 1863. The following year, Walker strayed into Confederate territory and was captured. Released on a prisoner exchange, Mary returned to duty and was given the Medal of Honor in 1865. Her award was withdrawn in 1917, because she had not served in a combat role, but was finally reinstated in 1977.