3 August 2004

The family of Captain Edward Unwin have loaned his Victoria Cross group to the Imperial War Museum, London.

Medal entitlement of Commander Edward Unwin - Royal Navy

  • Victoria Cross
  • Companion, The Most Honourable Order of the Bath ( CB )
  • Companion, The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael & St George ( CMG )
  • East and West Africa Medal ( 1887-1900 )
    • 1 clasp: "Benin 1897"
  • Queen's South Africa Medal ( 1899-1902 )
  • 1914-15 Star
  • British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • Victory Medal ( 1914-19 )
  • Officer, Legion of Honour ( France )
  • Order of the Nile ( 3rd Class ) ( Egypt )
    • Not included in the group
    • King George VI Coronation Medal 1937

Edward Unwin already had a successful career at sea before the outbreak of the First World War. After completion of his education he joined Donald Currie's sailing ships, the P & O Company, and then served in the Egyptian Navy. He joined the Royal Navy on 16th October 1895 as a Lieutenant, promoted Lieutenant Commander in October 1903, and attained the rank of Commander upon retirement.

Unwin was recalled to the Royal Navy on 29th July 1914 as the Fleet Coaling Officer to HMS Iron Duke on Admiral Jellicoe's staff. In February 1915 he was given command of HMS Hussar, and later in the year was given the acting rank of Captain for the River Clyde landings on the Gallipoli peninsular, planned for April 1915.

Under the guidance of Commander Unwin, the SS River Clyde, an old collier, was prepared for landing thousands of troops on 'V' Beach, Seddul Bahr, Gallipoli. Large holes were cut in the ship's side level with the decks, and sloping gangways suspended by wire hawsers were run out so that the men could rush down them as soon as the ship touched the ground. Barges had been made fast to the sides of the steamer so that a floating bridge might be formed from them if she grounded too far from the beach. Alongside were five 'tows' of five boats each, packed with men of the Dublin Fusiliers, who were to land first and cover the disembarkation of the troops.

The open boats and River Clyde touched ground almost at the same moment and no sooner had the first of them grated on the bottom than a terrific fire was opened from the whole of the surrounding hills that dominated the beach. For a considerable distance to seaward the bottom had been strewn with barbed wire and as the Dublin Fusiliers leapt into the water they found themselves entangled in the wire and were shot down where they stood. The open boats were held fast and their naval crews were wiped out.

As the River Clyde grounded, the lighters that were to form the bridge were run out ahead, and the troops began to pour out of the holes in her sides and down the gangways; but the lighters failed to reach their proper stations. A gap was left between two of them which it was impossible for the men to cross, and scores were shot down as they stood helpless on the uncompleted bridge. Commander Unwin and Able Seaman William Williams made a line fast to one of the drifting lighters and, dropping over the side, waded through the water and towed the barge towards a spit of rock that gave direct access to the shore. Midshipman George Drewry, of the Royal Naval Reserve, was already in the water wading ashore to make a land end of the towing rope. In the meantime, Commander Unwin and Williams had nearly reached the rock with the lighter in tow when they found the rope they had was not long enough. Drewry at once went back to the ship to get another length, and while the other two were waiting, Williams was shot as he stood breast-deep in the water. Unwin carried him back to the lighter but Williams was already dead. When Drewry returned with the rope it did not take long to make the lighter fast, and then the troops began at once to pour across the shot-swept bridge.

Presently a shot severed the lashing rope, and again the lighters went adrift. Midshipman Drewry was onboard the inshore barge, but was struck in the head by a fragment of shell, but he hastily bound his wound with a soldier's scarf, and jumping overboard with a line between his teeth, swam towards the other lighter. Once again the rope was too short but Midshipman Malleson threw himself over the side and succeeded in making the connection again; but once more it was broken, and although Malleson made two further attempts to carry a rope he was unsuccessful. Another hero of this costly exploit was Seaman George Samson, Royal Naval Reserve, who remained on the lighters the whole of the day, busying himself among the wounded and giving all the assistance he could to the officers as they carried the lines from lighter to lighter.

In the meantime, Commander Unwin had been working amongst the lighters, nearly all the time above his waist in water. But the physical strain was beginning to tell, after all he was fifty-one years of age. The citation published in the London Gazette of 16 August 1915 neatly sums up the courage and fortitude of Captain Unwin during the landings from the River Clyde.

[ London Gazette, 16 August 1915 ], V Beach, Seddul Bahr, Gallipoli, Turkey, 25 April 1915, Commander Edward Unwin, Royal Navy.

"While in SS River Clyde, observing that the lighters which were to form the bridge to the shore had broken adrift, Commander Unwin left the ship, and under a murderous fire attempted to get the lighters into position. He worked on, until suffering from the effects of cold and immersion, he was obliged to return to the ship, where he was wrapped up in blankets.

Having in some degree recovered, he returned to his work against the doctor's order and completed it. He was later attended by the doctor for three abrasions caused by bullets, after which he once more left the ship, this time in a lifeboat, to save some wounded men who were lying in shallow water near the beach. He continued at this heroic labour under continuous fire, until forced to stop through physical exhaustion."

Edward Unwin was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 15th January 1916.

Following his actions at Gallipoli, Edward Unwin continued his Naval career. In 1916 he was given command of HMS Amethyst on the south-east coast of America; January 1917 appointed Principal Naval Transport Officer, Egypt; and in January 1919 PNTO Eastern Mediterranean with the rank of Commodore. He died at his home in Hindhead on the 19th April 1950, aged 86, and is buried in St Luke's Churchyard, Greyshott, Surrey.

The following members of the crew of the SS River Clyde were awarded the Victoria Cross:

  • Commander Edward Unwin - Royal Navy
  • Midshipman George Drewry - Royal Naval Reserve
  • Midshipman Wilfred St Aubyn Malleson - Royal Navy
  • Able Seaman William Charles Williams - Royal Navy ( posthumous )
  • Seaman George Mckenzie Samson - Royal Naval Reserve


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Iain Stewart, 03 August 2004