Object of the Month - January

11 January, 2023

For January’s Object of the Month we wanted to share another of the medals from our collection and the remarkable story behind it. In total we care for 21 Victoria Crosses, the highest and most prestigious military decoration. It is awarded for valour "in the presence of the enemy" to members of the British Armed Forces.

This particular medal was posthumously awarded to 2nd Lieutenant George Ward Gunn, J Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, while serving in the Middle East. It was kindly gifted to the Royal Artillery Museum in 2021 and the citation below, published in the London Gazette on 2 April 1942, outlines 2nd Lieutenant Gunn’s heroic actions.

‘On November 21st, 1941, at Sidi Rezegh, 2nd Lieutenant Gunn was in command of a troop of four anti-tank guns which was part of a battery of 12 guns attached to the Rifle Brigade Column. At 10.00 hrs a covering force of enemy tanks was engaged and driven off, but an hour later the main attack by about 60 enemy tanks developed. 2nd Lieutenant Gunn drove from gun to gun during this period in an unarmoured vehicle encouraging his men and reorganising his dispositions as first one gun and then another were knocked out. Finally, only two guns remained in action and were subjected to very heavy fire. Immediately afterwards one of these guns was destroyed and the portée of the other was set on fire and all the crew killed or wounded except the sergeant, though the gun itself remained undamaged. The battery commander then arrived and started to fight the flames. When he saw this, 2nd Lieutenant Gunn ran to his aid through the intense fire and immediately got the one remaining anti-tank gun into action on the burning portée, himself sighting it while the sergeant acted as loader. He continued to fight the gun, firing between 40 and 50 rounds regardless alike of the enemy fire which was by then concentrated on this one vehicle, and of the flames which might at any moment have reached the ammunition with which the portée was loaded. In spite of this, 2nd Lieutenant Gunn’s shooting was so accurate at a range of about 800 yards that at least two enemy tanks were hit and set on fire and others were damaged before he fell dead, having been shot through the forehead. 2nd Lieutenant Gunn showed the most conspicuous courage in attacking this large number of enemy tanks with a single unarmoured gun, and his utter disregard of extreme danger was an example which inspired all who saw it. He remained undismayed by intense fire and overwhelming odds, and his gallant resistance only ceased with his death. But for this very gallant action the enemy tanks would undoubtedly have overrun our position.’

It should be noted that 2nd Lieutenant Gunn had previously been awarded the Military Cross in May 1941, for sustained gallantry and coolness, which inspired all ranks, under heavy and close enemy fire on a number of occasions, and particularly on January 4th and 5th 1941, as one of the Tobruk garrison. His Military Cross is also held in our collection.