10 November 2010

( select to enlarge )
Medal entitlement of Sergeant Thomas Steele,
1st Bn, Seaforth Highlanders

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1914 Star + clasp "5th Aug-22 Nov 1914"
  • British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • Victory Medal ( 1914-19 ) + MiD Oakleaf
  • Defence Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • King George VI Coronation Medal ( 1937 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )

The Victoria Cross and campaign medals awarded to Sergeant Thomas Steele, 1st Bn, The Seaforth Highlanders, have been acquired by the Michael Ashcroft Trust, the holding institution for Lord Ashcroft's VC Collection.

By the 22nd February 1917 the slow British advance towards the town of Kut-el-Amara in Mesopotamia had reached Sannai-I-Yat. At 6.30 a.m. British artillery began to bombard the enemy's camp behind their trench lines and simultaneously guns of the 7th Division shelled the enemy front trenches. In addition machine-guns swept the area. All this activity drew little response from the Turks.

Later in the day when, after no fewer than five counter-attacks, the enemy made the decision to retire. During the afternoon Indian troops to the right of the Seaforth Highlanders moved forward but later had to give ground. Seeing what was happening Sergeant Thomas Steele and Private Joseph Winder, both of the Seaforths, rushed out to rally the Indians and to help save the situation. Doubling across the open landscape they seized a machine-gun which the Indians had carried back, took it to the right of a gap in the lines and brought it into action just in time to prevent a Turkish advance.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 8 June 1917 ], Shumran Bend, Sanna-y-Yat, Mesopotamia ( Iraq ), 22 February 1917, Sergeant Thomas Steele, 1st Bn, Seaforth Highlanders.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty ( near Sannaiyat, Mesopotamia ).

At a critical moment when a strong enemy counter-attack had temporarily regained some of the captured trenches, Sjt. Steele rushed forward and assisted a comrade to carry a machine gun into position. He kept the gun in action until relieved, being mainly instrumental in keeping the remainder of the line intact.

Some hours later another strong attack enabled the enemy to reoccupy a portion of the captured trenches. Again Sjt. Steele showed the greatest bravery, and by personal valour and example was able to rally troops who were wavering.

He encouraged them to remain in their trenches and led a number of them forward, thus greatly helping to re-establish our line. On this occasion he was severely wounded. These acts of valour were performed under heavy artillery and rifle fire.

Thomas Steele was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 10th April 1919.

Private Joseph Winder was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal ( DCM ) and Medaille Militaire and was later promoted company sergeant major. He was killed in action on the 2nd November 1918 in France a few days before the Armistice.

Thomas Steele died at his home in Springfield, Oldham, Lancashire, aged 87, on the 11th July 1978 and was cremated at the Hollingwood Crematorium, Oldham. His ashes were interred in the family grave at St Anne's Churchyard, Lydgate.


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Iain Stewart, 10 November 2010