The Victoria Cross, first awarded by Queen Victoria during the Crimean War, has long been recognised as Britain's premier award for gallantry.

There have been dozens of Welsh winners of the VC but none of them is more memorable or noteworthy than Sam Pearce. Sam hailed, originally, from Penarth, just outside Cardiff, and won his medal posthumously in 1919 while serving with the North Russia Expeditionary Force.

The Expeditionary Force was a multi-national group of soldiers and sailors operating on behalf of the White Russians, supporters of the deposed (and soon to be murdered) Czar in their civil war against Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

Victoria Cross medal

Samuel George Pearce was born in Arcot street in Penarth but moved, while still young, to Salop Street in the town. He and his brothers played in the Penarth Salvation Army Brass Band, the young Sam performing admirably on the French Horn.

Life in Wales in the early 20th century was not easy. Work was short and the standard of living for the Pearce family in a town like Penarth was limited. Consequently, in 1911 Sam's family decided to emigrate to Australia.

There, for a few years, they enjoyed a good life but the shadows of war were looming and when conflict broke out in August 1914, many Australian men immediately joined the Anzac forces to support the British Empire in its moment of crisis.

Sam was still too young to enlist and did not come of age until the second year of the war. Then he immediately joined up, like his brothers before him. He saw action in the futile and, ultimately, disastrous Gallipoli campaign but by the summer of 1916 he was in France, ready to take part in the Battle of the Somme.

Sam Pearce went on to fight in the Ypres Salient, being awarded the Military medal for bravery during an action on the Menin Road. In May 1918 he was wounded in the foot at Ville-sur-Ancre and was still on sick leave when the war ended.

Despite the fact that he had recently married, Pearce - his wife and his comrades always called him by his second name, George - had become used to the military life and was not yet ready to settle down.

He discussed the situation with his wife, Kitty, and together they decided that he could have one "last fling." He immediately enlisted in the North Russia Expeditionary Force and, after a brief period of training, was soon sailing for Archangel.

Pearce had just set off when he received a letter from Kitty. It told him that she was pregnant. If he had known that before he enlisted it is unlikely that Pearce would have undertaken his final adventure, but now it was too late and he had no alternative - he would have to see things through to their conclusion.

Despite his agreement with Kitty, he had actually been considering the possibility of joining a machine gun unit to fight in Mexico. This sudden news convinced him that his place, now, was at home with his family.

Pearce and his comrades reached Archangel on 11 July 1919. The civil war was not going well for the White Russian units who were badly led and, unlike Trotsky's Red Army, did not have the ideology to see them through difficult times.

Nevertheless, after landing in Russia, Sam's unit marched through dense forests to reach Emptsa where they were ordered to attack a series of strong blockhouses. In these concrete strong points the Red Russian forces were waiting, and Pearce's platoon immediately became pinned down by enemy fire.

Nothing daunted, Pearce took a pair of wire cutters, forced his way through the defensive barbed wire around one of the blockhouses and raced for the side of the building. Once there he threw several hand grenades into the blockhouse. As the sound of the explosions echoed around the clearing Pearce moved away.

And at that moment he was hit in the groin by a burst of machine gun fire. The Bolsheviks were using dum-dum bullets, soft nosed shells that burst and spread when they hit their target. Unfortunately for Sam Pearce, the gun fire had caused an artery to be severed.

As Pearce lay on the ground, bleeding to death, his comrades could do no more than gather around and comfort him as he waited for the end. He was, apparently, quite calm and philosophical.

The White Russians withdrew soon afterwards and the costly civil war came to an end. For his actions that day at Emptsa, Pearce was a warded the Victoria Cross. His wife Kitty received the medal in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace in 1920.

Sam Pearce was one of many men who were displaced and clearly upset by the effects of World War One. Could he have settled down to married life, perhaps in Australia, perhaps back in Penarth?

It is one of those imponderable questions that will now never be answered. All that remains are the record of his bravery and the simple medal to prove it.

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