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Thursday, 12 March 2015

Very Courageous - the only woman to win the VICTORIA CROSS

Elizabeth Webber Harris is the only woman to ever be 'awarded' the Victoria Cross
Elizabeth Webber Harris
(Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail

This story caught my eye yesterday as I trawled through the  largely depressing news in a variety of daily newspapers, mainly because it had something good to say about war. And about women.


  Mrs Elizabeth Harris, pictured above,  is the only woman ever to be awarded the Victoria Cross - the  highest military honour in Britain - for bravery on the frontline.  A replica of her gold cross will be displayed in the Imperial War Museum next month in celebration of International Women' Day, which was held last Sunday

A lone woman serving alongside the Bengal Fusilier in Peshawar, Nurse Harris  was said to have 'saved more lives with her tender consolations than a surgeon did with his medicines.'
 Born in Kent in 1834,  Elizabeth married Webber Harris, a captain in the 2nd Bengal Fusiliers (later renamed the 104th.)  In 1869, the newly promoted Major General Harris took the regiment to Peshawar on India's North West frontier. The following year cholera swept through the country and by August many of the soldiers were seriously ill.
Many soldiers and their families had died from the disease and Mrs Harris  accompanied them to a temporary camp in the country.  Now in her mid thirties she spent three months 'nursing the sick and  keeping up their spirits' in the baking Indian countryside. One night she was attacked by two tribesmen who seized her horse in an incident she modestly described as 'alarming.'
On reading this story, historians  and feminists alike will realise that women were officially ineligible to receive the Victoria Cross until  1921.  But her regiment were so struck by her 'indomitable pluck' that, after gaining special permission from Queen Victoria, they had a replica gold VC made for her.
 A journalist in June 1921 wrote 'throughout their trying time in the isolation camp Mrs Harris remained with the regiment and it was largely owing to her indefatigable exertions that the losses of the regiment were not infinitely heavier than they were.'
Interestingly,  no woman has been awarded the honour since.  Isn't it time that changed?



Francie...The Scented Cottage Studio said...

There are too many women who have done brave and remarkable things that we never hear about.
am waiting for your book to arrive from across the pond !

Guernsey Girl said...

Can I send you a copy, Francie? I should have thought of it before...xx