5 September 2015

Medal entitlement of Private James Osborne,
2nd Bn, Northamptonshire Regiment

  • Victoria Cross
  • South Africa Medal ( 1877 - 79 )
    • 1 clasp:
    • "1879"

After extensive research it was discovered that James Osborne's Victoria Cross had been placed in the care of the Northamptonshire Regiment following his death in 1928 and was then subsequently lost during an air raid on Belfast on the 4th / 5th May 1941. The VC had been lodged in the Ulster Bank for safe keeping along with the regimental silver as the Northamptonshire Regiment was preparing to travel back to England following the outbreak of the Second World War. The German raid on Belfast was described as a 'Fire Raid' and comprised two hundred aircraft and was the third raid on the city in 1941 which destroyed the Ulster Bank.

In 1964 James Osborne's daughter, Mrs Edith Poulter, wrote to the Ministry of Defence asking after the whereabouts of her father's Victoria Cross and was told it had been destroyed in an air raid on Belfast in 1941. It would appear that no replacement Victoria Cross was applied for by the Northamptonshire Regiment, nor by Mrs Edith Poulter, probably because she was unaware this was possible at the time.

It was when the Hertfordshire Royal British Legion was raising funds to renovate James Osborne's grave in St Bartholomew's Churchyard, Wiggington in 2008 that the idea of applying for an 'official' replacement Victoria Cross crossed my mind.

With the assistance of Brian Davies, Secretary of Group Five, Hertfordshire County, Royal British Legion, a letter was composed on behalf of James Osborne's granddaughter, Mrs Rhoda Whitehouse, and mailed special delivery to Colonel ( Retd ) R. Jammes, Head of the Military Secretary's Honours Branch of the Ministry of Defence requesting an 'official' replacement Victoria Cross to replace the original destroyed in the Belfast air raid. The reply from the Military Secretary was disappointing, but not surprising, the relevant paragraph stated.

I have consulted, among others, the Ministry of Defence Medal Office and the Victoria Cross & George Cross Association. In terms of official replacements the former is mandated to conform to a very strict code of practice regarding the issued of such medals. The rules, that have only recently been reviewed, preclude the issue of replacements to the family lineage beyond the direct Next of Kin. As a granddaughter, I'm afraid you fall outside this criterion.

Three points appear strange in this statement. The statement "The rules, that have only recently been reviewed"...... one wonders if the rule was reviewed after receiving the letter from James Osborne's granddaughter. Discounting Rhoda Whitehouse as not being a 'direct Next of Kin' is stretching credibility to its limits and is a poor excuse. And, why was the VC & GC Association involved when it has no official status in the award of a Victoria Cross.

The Military Secretary's Honours Branch had spoken to the Regimental Secretary of the Royal Anglian Regiment, which had incorporated the Northamptonshire Regiment, suggesting that a 'replica' set of medals be presented to Mrs Rhoda Whitehouse in place of an 'official' replacement Victoria Cross. This was agreed by the regiment.

However, after consultation between myself and Brian Davies, Secretary of Group Five RBL, we decided to appeal over the refusal of an 'official' replacement VC. Therefore, a further letter and email was composed by myself setting out my extensive research into the loss of the James Osborne Victoria Cross in the raid on Belfast in 1941 and was again sent to the Military Secretary's Honours Branch of the Ministry of Defence. With the same result. Refusal.

After further discussion between myself and Brian Davies we came to the decision that the application for an 'official' replacement Victoria Cross should go higher up the chain as we were not satisfied with the contents of the letter from the Military Secretary's Honours Branch. As a result a further letter was composed on behalf of James Osborne's granddaughter addressed to Sir Bill Jeffrey KCB, Permanent Under Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Chairman of the Victoria Cross Committee. Unfortunately, the response to the application was also a refusal to issue an 'official' replacement Victoria Cross.

This looked like the end of the road and James Obsorne's granddaughter was therefore happy to receive a 'replica' Victoria Cross and a 'replica' South Africa Medal ( 1877-79 ) with the clasp "1879", enclosed in a framed presentation case, from the Royal Anglian Regiment.

The presentation of the James Osborne replica Victoria Cross group:
  • Colonel Peter Worthy - President of the Northamptonshire Regimental Association
  • Major Bill O'Driscoll (Retd) - Area Secretary of The Royal Anglian Regiment
  • Mrs Rhoda Whitehouse ( Granddaughter of James Osborne VC )
  • Mr Lou Whitehouse

  • ( select to enlarge )


    In 1976 the grandson of Sergeant Thomas Byrne VC, 21st Lancers, applied to the Ministry of Defence for an 'offcial' replacement Victoria Cross to replace the original which had been stolen from Edward Byrne, the son of Thomas Byrne, in Nairobi in 1949. The application was successful and Hancocks were instructed to produce an official replacement Victoria Cross fitted in a case which was presented to the Byrne descendants. However, two years later, in 1978, the Byrne replacement Victoria Cross was placed at a Sotheby's auction and was sold for £700.

    As a result the Queen was not amused. Sir Angus Ogilvy, first cousin to the Queen, reported Her Majesty as saying "I will never grant another replacement Victoria Cross". Therefore, the action by the Byrne family to sell the replacement VC scuppered the legitimate application by Mrs Rhoda Whitehouse for an 'official' replacement James Osborne Victoria Cross.


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    Iain Stewart, 5 September 2015