A lost Victoria Cross awarded posthumously during the First World War was found in a museum store room in Brighton
This Victoria Cross won by a British Major who was shot on his horse during a bid to capture the Turkish army’s standard in April 1915 was discovered by curators in a Brighton Museum jewellery box in 2015.
Major Godfrey Massy Wheeler’s Victoria Cross medal – the highest honour for Commonwealth service – was awarded posthumously following his death in the early morning of April 13 1915, when he made his daring attempt alongside Jamadar Sudhan Singh, his junior officer who was captured and burned alive by the Turks.
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A commendation for the award, written by The War Officer and published in The Supplement to The London Gazette on August 31 1915, reads:
“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.”
Andy Maxted, the Collections Projects Curator at Brighton Museum, says the Cross thrilled its finders but surfaced narrowly too late to join an exhibition recognising the roles played by local people during the First World War.
“We were searching through our collections database last year, looking for objects that might enhance the War Stories exhibition,” he says.
“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.
“After we checked the record number we 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.
“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.”
Born in Chakrata to an Anglo-Irish family with Indian ancestry, Wheeler was the grandson of Sir Hugh Massy Wheeler, a Brigadier-General killed with his wife and two children while serving the East India Company during the Indian Mutiny of 1857.
He married Nellie Maud Purcell in March 1900, three years after becoming a Lieutenant in the Indian Staff Corps in 1897. Serving with the 17th Hariana Lancers, he was promoted to Captain in 1902 and Major in 1911.
Wheeler’s final foray was part of a campaign to attack the Ottoman Empire from the Persian Gulf. Basra was captured on November 21 1914, but the Turkish army counterattacked at Shaiba – an area of flooded desert where the cavalry waded through water caused by seasonal rainfall.
Despite heavy losses, the British and Indian armies were successful in a battle known as the Miracle of Shaiba due to the retreat of the Turkish army.
Major Massy Wheeler is buried in Basra War Cemetery. Singh, who was awarded the Indian Order of Merit, is commemorated on the Basra War Memorial as one of 40,682 British and Indian fatalities during the Mesopotamian campaign.
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
Brighton & Hove, East Sussex
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, with its rich and diverse collections, creates a vibrant cultural centre in and around the Royal Pavilion estate in the heart of the city of Brighton & Hove. Dynamic and innovative galleries provide greatly improved access to the Museum's nationally and locally important collections. Objects…