The Times, 22 February 2002

It has been announced in Sydney, Australia, of the death of Sir Roden Cutler VC, AK, KCMG, KCVO, CBE, who won his Victoria Cross in Syria during the Second World War.

Lieutenant Roden Cutler won his Victoria Cross for sustained gallantry in the brief but unexpectedly bitter campaign against the Vichy French in Lebanon and Syria in 1941. British reverses in Greece, Crete and the Western Desert led Churchill's War Cabinet to suspect Germany would next attempt a strategic advance through the Caucasus, Turkey and Syria to Palestine and the Suez Canal. Churchill ordered the occupation of Lebanon and Syria, both of which were still controlled by the Vichy Government following the French surrender in Europe.

Intelligence reports suggested that, if pressed, the French authorities in Beruit and Damascus would declare for General de Gaulle, and a Free French brigade was included in the invasion force as encouragement. The reports proved false, resulting in several hard-fought engagements. The Allied Force - comprising the 7th Australian Division, 5th Indian Division and the Free French brigade - entered the Lebanon from Palestine in a three-pronged advance on Beruit, Damascus and Rayak, the main French airbase on the road linking the two capitals.

Roden Cutler was a forward observation officer serving with the 2 / 5th Field Regiment in support of the Australian Brigade advancing on Rayak. Fierce opposition was encountered at Merj Ayoun, 15 miles west of Mount Hermon, on the 19th June. When the infantry were held up and suffering casualties owing to an enemy counter-attack with tanks, he led his observation post crew forward under cover to a house from where he could direct his battery's bombardment. The initiative was regained but the OPs field telephone line was cut and the house came under direct attack.

[ London Gazette, 28 November 1941 ], Mergjayoun, Syria, 19 June to 6 July 1941, Lieutenant Roden Cutler, 2 / 5th Field Regiment, Australian Military Forces.

For most conspicuous and sustained gallantry during the Syrian Campaign and for outstanding bravery during the bitter fighting at Merdjayoun when this artillery officer became a byword amongst the forward troops with whom he worked.

At Merdjayoun on the 19th June 1941 our infantry attack was checked after suffering heavy casualties from an enemy counter attack with tanks. Enemy machine gun fire swept the ground but Lieutenant Cutler with another artillery officer and a small party pushed on ahead of the infantry and established an outpost in a house.

The telephone line was cut and he went out and mended this line under machine gun fire and returned to the house, from which enemy posts and a battery were successfully engaged. The enemy then attacked this outpost with infantry and tanks, killing the Bren gunner and mortally wounding the other officer. Lieutenant Cutler and another manned the anti-tank rifle and Bren gun and fought back driving the enemy infantry away. The tanks continued the attack, but under constant fire from the anti-tank rifle and Bren gun eventually withdrew.

Lieutenant Cutler then personally supervised the evacuation of the wounded members of his party. Undaunted he pressed for a further advance. He had been ordered to establish an outpost from which he could register the only road by which the enemy transport could enter the town.

With a small party of volunteers he pressed on until finally with one other he succeeded in establishing an outpost right in the town, which was occupied by the Foreign Legion, despite enemy machine gun fire which prevented our infantry from advancing. At this time Lieutenant Cutler knew the enemy were massing on his left for a counter attack and that he was in danger of being cut off. Nevertheless he carried out his task of registering the battery on the road and engaging enemy posts. The enemy counter attacked with infantry and tanks and he was cut off. He was forced to go to ground, but after dark succeeded in making his way through the enemy lines.

His work in registering the only road by which enemy transport could enter the town was of vital importance and a big factor in the enemy's subsequent retreat. On the night of the 23rd - 24th June he was in charge of a 25-pounder sent forward into our forward defended localities to silence an enemy anti-tank gun and post which had held up our attack. This he did and next morning the recapture of Merdjayoun was completed.

Later at Damour on the 6th July when our forward infantry were pinned to the ground by heavy hostile machine gun fire Lieutenant Cutler, regardless of all danger, went to bring a line to his outpost when he was seriously wounded. Twenty-six hours elapsed before it was possible to rescue this officer, whose wound by this time had become septic necessitating the amputation of his leg. Throughout the Campaign this officer's courage was unparalleled and his work was a big factor in the recapture of Merdjayoun.

Roden Cutler was invested with his Victoria Cross by the Governor General of Australia, Lord Gowrie VC, in Sydney on the 11th June 1942.

Medal entitlement of Lieutenant Roden Cutler, 2 / 5th Field Regiment, Australian Brigade

  • Victoria Cross
  • Knight Commander, Order of Australia ( AK )
  • Knight Commander, Order of St Michael & St George ( KCMG )
  • Knight Commander, Royal Victorian Order ( KCVO )
  • Knight of Justice, Order of St John of Jerusalem ( KStJ )
  • Commander, Order of the British Empire ( CBE )
  • 1939 - 45 Star
  • Africa Star
  • Defence Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Australian Service Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )

VC Deaths

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Iain Stewart, 22 February 2002