Re-discovered Victoria Cross on display in Brighton Museum

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The re-discovered Victoria Cross awarded posthumously to a British Army Major killed during the First World War is to go on display at Brighton Museum.

The VC which was awarded to Major George Godfrey Massy Wheeler, 7th (Hariana ) Lancers, (1873 – 1915) is the most prestigious gallantry award for British or Commonwealth service. Museum staff found it while searching for items to display to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War.

Andy Maxted Curator (Collections Projects) at Brighton Museum says

“We were searching through our collections database last year, looking for objects that might enhance the War Stories exhibition. During the search we came across a reference to the Massy Wheeler VC along with a full size and miniature copy, strangely enough, in a box of Decorative Arts jewellery. We checked the record number and found that a whole set of Massy Wheeler military medals were donated to Hove Museum in 1950. We then tracked down the remainder of the medals which we found in a general medals box that also contained a telegram from the King to Massy Wheeler’s widow expressing sympathy on the news of his death. We were obviously delighted when we found the VC as it’s a rare object and was at the time, recorded as ‘missing’. It’s a great piece of history from the First World War.

The VC did not make it into the War Stories exhibition, which ended in March, but instead will have it’s own display alongside Major Massy Wheeler’s other campaign medals in the Prints and Drawings gallery at Brighton Museum until 7 June 2015.
Information for Editors

George Godfrey Massy Wheeler was born in Chakrata, India, of an Anglo-Irish family with Indian ancestry. He was grandson of Brigadier-General Sir Hugh Massy Wheeler, an officer in the East India Company army who died during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and whose wife and two children were also killed.

George Godfrey Massy Wheeler married Nellie Maud Purcell in the March of 1900. He was appointed Lieutenant in the Indian Staff Corps in 1897. Serving with the 17th Hariana Lancers, promotions to Captain in 1902 and Major in 1911 were to follow.

The aim of the Mesopotamian campaign was to attack the Ottoman Empire from the Persian Gulf.

Basra was captured on 21st November 1914. In the spring of 1915 the Turkish army counterattacked at Shaiba. Due to the seasonal rains, the area was one of flooded desert and the cavalry waded through water levels varying between 6 inches and 5 feet.

It was in these conditions that after 7am on the 13th April 1915 that Major George Godfrey Massy Wheeler and his junior officer, Jemadar Sudhan Singh, made an effort to capture the enemy’s standard. Major Massy Wheeler
was shot on his horse, and Sudhan Singh was captured and burned alive by the Turks.

Despite heavy losses, the British and Indian armies were successful and the battle became known as the Miracle of Shaiba due to the retreat of the Turkish army.

Major Massy Wheeler was awarded the Victoria Cross and Jemadar Singh was awarded the Indian Order of Merit.

The Supplement to The London Gazette, 31st August 1915, gives the commendation for the Victoria Cross from the War Office for Wednesday, 1 September, 1915, as follows

For most conspicuous bravery at Shaiba, Mesopotamia.

On the 12th April, 1915, Major Wheeler asked permission to take out his Squadron and attempt to capture a flag, which was the centre point of a group of the enemy who were firing on one of our picquets. He advanced and attacked the enemy’s infantry with the Lance, doing considerable
execution among them. He then retired while the enemy swarmed out of hidden ground and formed an excellent target to our Royal Horse Artillery guns.

On the 13th April, 1915, Major Wheeler led his Squadron to the attack of the “North Mound.” He was seen far ahead of his men riding single-handed straight for the enemy’s standards. This gallant Officer was killed on the Mound.

Major Massy Wheeler is buried in Basra War Cemetery, and Jemadar Singh is commemorated on the Basra War Memorial.
The Basra War Memorial commemorates 40,682 British and Indian casualties lost during the Mesopotamian campaign
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