Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Forfeiting the VC

Sir: Although Charles Moore (Notes, 18 February) is correct to say (quoting Colonel Tim Collins) that a holder of the Victoria Cross cannot be stripped of it whatever subsequent disgrace he suffers, he could have added that this is so only thanks to royal intervention. Early in the last century, some functionary proposed, in a characteristic display of official spite, that VCs should lose the decoration if they were convicted of a serious offence. This came to the attention of King George V, whose sense of decency, just as characteristically, was outraged. As he protested, the VC was awarded for supreme gallantry, which nothing could subsequently efface. To make his point with mordant emphasis, the King added that, if a holder of the VC were convicted of murder, he should be allowed to wear his medal on the gallows. That was the end of the obnoxious proposal.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Combe Down, Bath

Sir: Charles Moore raises an interesting point regarding the forfeiture of a VC.

Eight men have been stripped of their awards, all prior to 1914 and mainly after criminal conviction for theft. George V strongly objected to the use of forfeiture and, while no awards have been forfeited since the start of his reign, the power to cancel (and restore) awards is still included in the Victoria Cross warrant. One of the sadder aspects of these forfeitures was that the men involved also lost the pensions to which their VCs entitled them - and that, before the welfare state, often meant destitution.

Richard Sherrin London N1 Never benign Sir: With due respect to William Shawcross (Letters, 18 February) in his polite assault on my book, I have not there or anywhere else suggested that the USSR aimed to be a benign force - only that it had no desire whatever to launch a third world war.

Andrew Alexander

London SW10

Dinner with Dreyfus

Sir: I read Allan Massie's review of Piers Paul Read's The Dreyfus Affair (Books, 11 February) with interest. My grandfather Sir Kenneth Pickthorn met Dreyfus in unusual circumstances in the early part of the first world war. The rifle regiment in which he was a young lieutenant had been placed in the front line alongside a French regiment. Because his French was good, his colonel asked him to attend a routine liaison meeting at the French regimental headquarters along the line.

When the meeting had concluded, the French colonel asked if my grandfather was hungry and would like to eat. He indicated the French officers' mess which was in a nearby farm building. In the French mess there were groups of officers seated at tables. My grandfather felt diffident and joined a French officer seated on his own. …

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