Medals

Scraping the rooftops… the most remarkable aerial duel ever

By Lord Ashcroft

First published in the Daily Express on 15 September 2020.

On the 80th anniversary of Battle of Britain Day, Lord Ashcroft asks whether an RAF pilot was denied a posthumous VC because he RAMMED his German rival.

EVEN by the standards of do-or-die aerial duels, it was a remarkable spec­tacle. The Battle of Britain was more than ten weeks old but the residents of Hailsham, Sussex – accustomed to watching dogfights overhead – had never seen anything quite like it. Screaming just feet above the town’s rooftops were the aircraft of Hauptmann Horst Liensberger and Flying Officer Percy Burton. As the two aircraft lifted away over the nearby country­side, they were just yards apart with Burton’s Hurricane on the tail of Liensberger’s Messerschmitt 110 fighter-bomber.

What happened next was certainly deadly but it was also controversial. Eighty years on, there is still a debate over whether Burton should have been awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain and the Commonwealth’s most pres­tigious gallantry award for bravery in the face of the enemy. (more…)

Dame Vera Lynn, the ‘Forces’ Sweetheart’, Remembered

By Lord Ashcroft

First published in The Royal British Legion magazine on 08 September 2020.

The film footage taken on 14 May 1944 is remarkable. It shows Dame Vera Lynn sitting on the driver’s footstep of an Army truck with troops of the Fourteenth Army in what was then India, close to the Burmese border.

Smiling and looking relaxed, wearing a WAAF cap and an officer’s tunic and shorts, she is seen chatting to British and Burmese Karen soldiers. In another clip from the same day, she signs autographs for Servicemen on pieces of paper and the rims of their slouch hats, worn for protection from the hot sun.

With her passing, we have lost a much-loved singer, songwriter and entertainer, who was a colossal inspiration during the Second World War. (more…)

See the September issue of Britain at War for Lord Ashcroft’s new bravery article

By Lord Ashcroft

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC has had his latest “hero of the month” article published in Britain at War, the country’s best-selling military history monthly magazine.

The September issue of the magazine has four pages on the life and career of Major-General George Alexander Renny, who was awarded the VC for bravery during the Indian Mutiny.

Renny, the son of a Scottish merchant, was born in Riga, Russia (now Latvia), in May 1825. He was commissioned into the Bengal Horse Artillery as a second lieutenant in June 1844. (more…)

See the August issue of Britain at War for Lord Ashcroft’s new bravery article

By Lord Ashcroft

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC has had his latest “hero of the month” article published in Britain at War, the country’s best-selling military history monthly magazine.

The August issue of the magazine has four pages on the life and career of Flight Lieutenant Andrew Beauchamp Proctor VC, DSO, MC & Bar, DFC, who was awarded the VC for bravery during the First World War.

Headmaster’s son Andrew Frederick Weatherby Proctor – his full name at birth but later amended – was born in the small port of Mossel Bay, Cape Colony, South Africa, on September 4 1894. (more…)

Half blinded, flesh peeling and flames licking through his cockpit: How Battle of Britain hero ‘Nick’ Nicolson still hunted down one more kill

By Lord Ashcroft

First published in the Mail on Sunday on 12 July 2020.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,’ said Winston Churchill as the Battle of Britain reached its height in the late summer of 1940.

This desperate fight for the skies above southern England – and for the fate of Britain herself – lasted for almost four months, from July 10 until October 31.

Yet for all the bravery shown by thousands of airmen, only one individual was awarded the Victoria Cross – Britain and the Commonwealth’s ultimate gallantry award.

That man was Flight Lieutenant (later Wing Commander) ‘Nick’ Nicolson, for a single act of valour in the skies that typified the grit and fighting spirit summed up in Churchill’s words as the RAF, led by Fighter Command, sought to prevent Germany from invading. (more…)

See the July issue of Britain at War for Lord Ashcroft’s new bravery article

By Lord Ashcroft

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC has had his latest “hero of the month” article published in Britain at War, the country’s best-selling military history monthly magazine.

The July issue of the magazine has four pages on the life and career of Captain James Edgar Leach, who was awarded the VC for bravery during the First World War.

Leach, who was born in Lancaster, Lancashire, enlisted in the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, the Northamptonshire Regiment, in 1910. (more…)

The ups & downs of the Battle of Britain’s busiest flying ace.

By Lord Ashcroft

First published in Saga Magazine in July 2020. 

John Freeborn, a daring Spitfire pilot, overcame tragedy to end the war a hero, notching up more flying hours than any other defending our isles. Lord Ashcroft tells his amazing story as we mark the Battle of Britain’s 80th anniversary.

Wartime stories often contain a mix of tragedy and triumph. However, few pilots can have experienced such a range of emotions as Wing Commander John Freeborn during the Second World War.

A tough, no-nonsense Yorkshireman, Freeborn began the war as the central figure in a ‘friendly fire’ incident that claimed the life of a British airman, yet ended it not only highly decorated but with the distinction of flying more Battle of Britain hours than any other RAF pilot. (more…)

The parachuting padre

By Lord Ashcroft

First published in the Mail on Sunday on 07 June 2020.

When these battle-hardened troops from the recently formed SAS dropped behind German lines after D-Day, they demanded jeeps, guns, explosives – and a gallant Scot carrying a makeshift ‘church’ in a wicker hamper…

Thousands of Allied troops were already pressing forward on the ground by the time British Special Forces flew south over the darkened fields of France on June 21, 1944.

But for the SAS , this journey, two weeks after D-Day, would be one of the most dangerous missions of the Second World War – a parachute drop into the heart of occupied France, where the Germans were digging in. And where to be caught was a death sentence. (more…)

Our emergency service workers are genuine heroes – and those who have sacrificed their lives fighting Covid-19 deserve a fitting memorial in their memory

By Lord Ashcroft

First published in the Daily Express on 06 June 2020.

MY passion for bravery has spanned well over half a century and yet, even now, certain quotations associated with courage still stir my blood.

Thucydides was one of the first Greek historians and a skilled military general.

In the fifth century BC, he wrote: “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

Nelson Mandela once said: “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

These two quotations, which I have long cherished, explain why I have such a deep-rooted admiration and respect for our emergency service workers. (more…)

See the June issue of Britain at War for Lord Ashcroft’s new bravery article

By Lord Ashcroft

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC has had his latest “hero of the month” article published in Britain at War, the country’s best-selling military history monthly magazine.

The June issue of the magazine has four pages on the life and career of Captain Gerald O’Sullivan, who was awarded the VC for bravery during the First World War.

O’Sullivan, who was born in Co Cork, was commissioned into the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1909. During the First World War, he served with the 1st Iniskillings that were chosen for duties in the Dardanelles. (more…)