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Royal Engineers Museum displays unique Victoria Cross from British Sergeant

A Victoria Cross awarded to a sergeant after he was recommended for it by a German commander, is displayed in the Royal Engineers Museum in Gillingham.

Sgt Thomas Frank Durrant, 23, was awarded the Victoria Cross after his efforts in a raid on St Nazaire, France, on 28 March, 1942.

Sgt T F Durrant
Sgt T F Durrant

Sgt Durrant was part of the No 1 Commando unit which was tasked with the destruction of a Normandie dry dock. This would force any large German warships in need of repair to return to home waters, rather than seek safe haven on the Atlantic coast.

While positioned by the Lewis gun on board the HM Motor Launch 306 during the raid, Sgt Durrant refused to leave his post, despite being shot in the arm. En route to St Nazaire on the River Loire, his vessel was attacked by the German torpedo boat, Jaguar.

Sgt Durrant drew enemy fire to himself after the searchlight fell on the Launch, sustaining further severe wounds to the arms, legs and chest. By this point, the only way he could support himself was by leaning on his gun.

When the German commander demanded the ship’s surrender, Sgt Durrant again refused to leave his post, even after the Motor Launch was boarded and captured.

Sgt Durrant died from his wounds several days after the raid. However, the German commander came across the captured British commander a week later and mentioned Sgt Durrant's actions during the raid, suggesting that he should be put forward for the Victoria Cross.

Sgt Thomas Durrant's medals with the Victoria Cross on the left in the Royal Engineers Museum. Picture:Chris Davey
Sgt Thomas Durrant's medals with the Victoria Cross on the left in the Royal Engineers Museum. Picture:Chris Davey

The medal was presented by King George VI to Sgt Durrant's mother at Buckingham Palace on October 29, 1946.

Danielle Sellers, 41, collections manager at the Royal Engineers Museum, said: "The medal was loaned to the Royal Engineers Museum in the 1950s and eventually got gifted to the museum in 2009. This was given to the museum as Durrant was a Royal Engineer, so his family thought it would be a good home for his medal."

The Victoria Cross is the most prestigious and highest award within the British honours system.

Members of the British Armed Forces are awarded the medal when valour is demonstrated in the presence of the enemy.

Very few British soldiers have been awarded the Victoria Cross due to a recommendation from the opposing side.

Danielle added: "Durrant is one of the few examples of this actually happening. I think it's the only example for a Royal Engineer's Victoria Cross."

Ms Sellers also said it was not uncommon for opposing sides to recognise the bravery and ability of the soldiers they were fighting against.

She said: "Looking back through history, you would actually get people shaking hands after a battle had finished. When I was reading about the raid, there were other veterans saying that when they got captured there were German soldiers patting them on the back and congratulating them on their bravery. Even though they got caught, they were still seen as incredibly brave."

The Victoria Cross has been awarded to 1,354 recipients, 93 of which have links to Kent. The museum has 25 of the 55 that were awarded to Royal Engineers.

"There are many things we can learn from the men who won the Victoria Cross. Their great skills in the numerous things they were awarded VCs for; valour, gallantry, devotion to their fellow soldiers and the tasks that they were trusted with."

These people from kent were awarded the Victoria Cross
These people from kent were awarded the Victoria Cross

To read about the Armed Forces and how they have served Kent and beyond, click here.

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