The Times, 18th February 2003

The death has been announced of Captain Philip Gardner VC, MC, 4th Royal Tank Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps. Gardner joined the Westminster Dragoons of the Territorial Army as a trooper in 1938 and was commissioned into the Royal Tank Regiment in 1940. He joined the 4th Royal Tanks in the Western Desert, just in time to take part in the ill-fated "Battleaxe" offensive in June 1941.

Captain Philip Gardner was serving with the 4th Royal Tank Regiment in 32nd Tank Brigade in the Western Desert at the time of the British "Crusader" offensive, in the autumn of 1941, designed to destroy the bulk of Rommel's armour and force him to abandon his siege of the port of Tobruk.

The regiment took part in what turned out to be a premature attempt to break out from Tobruk to join the New Zealand Division approaching from Sidi Rezegh. During the fighting on 23rd November 1941 Gardner was sent with two Matilda tanks to rescue a pair of armoured cars of the 1st King's Dragoon Guards trapped under enemy fire.

The two tanks raced down the long desert slope as fast as they could go, abreast with a hundred yards between them. Crossing the ridge Gardner saw that both armoured cars were being used for target practice by the enemy with slow deliberate fire.

Ordering the second tank to make a wide circuit to the left, he ran his tank up to the nearer of the stricken vehicles while his accompanying tank manoeuvred and kept up sustained fire on the enemy position. Gardner dismounted and tried to unhitch one of his tow-ropes to tow the car away. The one stowed along the side of his tank was jammed, so he loosened the one at the rear and signalled his driver to turn about. In order to keep the main gun facing towards the enemy, the gunner began to traverse his turret and in doing so accidently killed the wireless operator / gun loader who most unfortunately chose that moment to put out his head to see what was happending.

The gunner had to ease the body clear before he could complete the gun traverse and having done so, saw Gardner lifting Lieutenant Beame of the Dragoon Guards, who had been lying wounded with both legs shattered, back into his armoured car. With the tow-rope now secured Gardner was signalling the driver to move when a bullet struck him in the leg, fortunately not breaking it. As the tank moved, the tow-rope parted, probably shot away. Despite his own wound Gardner returned to the armoured car, lifted Beame out and staggered back to his tank, half carrying and half dragging him.

The gunner continued loading and firing the Besa machinegun as fast as he could, single-handed, to distract the enemy whilst Gardner hoisted the badly wounded officer onto the rear deck of the tank. Gardner returned to the armoured car but found no other survivors. He then signalled the driver to advance, and clambered up beside the wounded officer, receiving another bullet, this time in the arm, as he did so. The gunner then ordered the driver full speed ahead and, reloading his gun with another belt of Besa, kept up fire on the enemy position as the gallant little party withdrew.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 10 February 1942 ], Tobruk, Libya, 23 November 1941, Captain Philip John Gardner, 4th Royal Tank Regiment.

On the morning of 23rd November 1941, Captain Gardner was ordered to take two tanks to the assistance of two armoured cars of the King's Dragoon Guards which were out of action and under fire in close proximity to the enemy, southeast of Tobruk.

He found the two cars halted two hundred yards apart, being heavily fired on at close range and gradually smashed to pieces. Ordering the other tank to give him covering fire, Captain Gardner manoeuvred his own close up to the foremost car: he then dismounted in the face of intense anti-tank and machine gun fire and secured a tow rope to the car. Seeing an officer lying beside it with his legs blown off, he lifted him into the car and gave the order to tow. The tow rope, however, broke, and Captain Gardner returned to the armoured car, being immediately wounded in the arm and leg: despite his wounds he lifted the other officer out of the car and carried him back to the tank, placing him on the back engine louvres and climbing alongside to hold him on. While the tank was being driven back to safety it was subjected to heavy shellfire and the loader killed.

The courage, determination and complete disregard for his own safety displayed by Captain Gardner enabled him, despite his own wounds, and in the face of intense fire at close range, to save the life of his fellow officer, in circumstances fraught with great difficulty and danger.

Phiip Gardner was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 18th May 1945.

After Tobruk fell to Rommel in June 1942, Philip Gardner was captured and shipped to an Italian prisoner-of-war camp. When Italy signed an armistice with the Allies in September 1943, he and others escaped from the camp, but he was recaptured by the Germans and sent to Stalag IV B in Muhlberg. He was later moved to an officer camp at Brunswick. It was while there that a collection in the form of IOUs was organised for the benefit of the poorer people of London who had suffered to badly in the blitz. After his release in 1945, Gardner arranged for the collection of the IOUs, and in due course this led to the formation of the Brunswick Boys' Club in Fulham.

Medal entitlement of Captain Philip Gardner - 4th Royal Tank Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps

  • Victoria Cross
  • Military Cross ( MC )
  • 1939 - 45 Star
  • Africa Star
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Efficiency Medal

VC Deaths

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Iain Stewart, 18 February 2003