A new book telling the remarkable stories of Australians who were awarded the nation’s highest awards for exceptional courage outside of combat has been launched at the Australian War Memorial.
For Gallantry: Australians awarded the George Cross and the Cross of Valour is the first book dedicated to the stories of the 28 Australians honoured for their extreme bravery away from the battlefield.
From the marooned support party of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition, to shark attack rescues and the heroes of the Bali bombings, the actions detailed in For Gallantry span almost 90 years. Some Australians were recognised for single heroic acts, others went back to the well of courage time and again.
Memorial curator and author Craig Blanch said the people featured in For Gallantry came from all walks of life and were confronted with situations they could never have foreseen. Not all survived; not all were left unchanged.
“Among the holders of the George Cross and the Cross of Valour are teachers, drivers, students, labourers, miners, police, public servants, navigators, members of the armed forces, farmers, geologists and firefighters. More than a quarter of the recipients were awarded posthumously – testimony to the selflessness recognised by these awards.”
One of the stories from the book is that of Darrell Tree, who was awarded Australia’s very first Cross of Valour in 1989 for extraordinary bravery.
“Darrell Tree was helping to remove old telegraph poles when the nearby crane hit overhead wires. On three occasions Darrell was knocked unconscious by the electric current surging through the machine as he tried to save the driver and his son,” Mr Blanch said.
“On the third occasion Darrell used his body to earth the 19,000 volts and the child was flung to safety. The violent surge crushed vertebrae in his back; he survived, but his life was never the same.”
Created to mark extraordinary deeds performed away from the battlefield, the George Cross is sometimes known as the civilian Victoria Cross. Instituted during the Second World War after acts of exceptional bravery were witnessed that did not meet the strict criteria of the coveted Victoria Cross – particularly during the devastating bombing of the Blitz – in Australia the award was replaced by the Cross of Valour in 1975.
Memorial Director Matt Anderson said the book showcases stories of people who deliberately placed themselves in harm’s way.
“They chose to go the wrong way; towards the gravest of threats rather than to comfort and safety. If these stories have one thing in common, other than extreme acts of bravery, it is that those recognised in this book placed the lives of others ahead of their own,” Mr Anderson said.
“That is why they were recognised with our highest non-combat bravery award, and why we must re-tell their stories. For we are better as a community, and as a nation, when we celebrate good in the face of evil, and selfless acts of profound gallantry.”
The book is the companion book to For Valour, which was launched in 2018 to commemorate the Australians awarded our highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.
For Gallantry retails for $69.99 online and is available from all good book stores.