Deathless Honour for Such as These

The War Illustrated, Volume 10, No. 250, Page 631, January 17, 1947.

Lieutenant Thomas Wilkinson, V.C., R.N.R.

Posthumous award of the V.C., in recognition of his heroism and sell-sacrifice and of that of all who fought and died with him in a most gallant action on February 14, 1942, was announced on December 17, 1946. On the former date H.M.S. Li Wo, a patrol vessel of 1,000 tons and formerly a passenger steamer on the Upper Yangste River, was sailing from Singapore to Batavia. Her ship's company consisted of 84 officers and men, including one civilian. The crew were mainly survivors from others of His Majesty's ships, but a few were from units of the Army and R.A.F. The armament was one 4-inch gun, for which she had 13 practice rounds, and two machine-guns.

Since leaving Singapore the previous day four air attacks had been beaten off, and the vessel had suffered considerable damage. Late in the afternoon two enemy convoys were sighted, the larger of which was escorted by Japanese naval units, including a heavy cruiser and destroyers. Lieutenant Wilkinson gathered together his ship's company and told them that rather than try to escape he had decided to engage the convoy and to fight to the last, in the hope of inflicting some damage on the enemy. In making this decision, which was heartily endorsed by the entire crew, he knew that his ship faced certain destruction and that his own change of survival was small.

H.M.S. Li Wo hoisted her battle ensign and steamed towards the enemy. In the ensuing action her two machine-guns were used with effect upon the crew of all ships in range, and the crew of the one 4-inch gun set on fire one of the transports.

After a little over an hour the Li Wo had been critically damaged and was sinking. Lieutenant Wilkinson then decided to ram a large transport that had been abandoned by her crew. It is known that this ship burnt fiercely throughout the night following the fight and was probably sunk. H.M.S. Li Wo's gallant fight ended when, her shells spent and under heavy fire from the enemy cruiser, Lieutenant Wilkinson gave the order "abandon ship". He himself remained on board and went down with her. There were only about ten survivors, who were later made prisoners of war.

Sub-Lieutenant Ronald G. G. Stanton, R.N.R., who was First Lieutenant of H.M.S. Li Wo and her only surviving officer, was appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order on Dec. 17, 1946. The organization of the ship devolved on him; and during the action he served as a member of the volunteer crew of the 4-in. gun, which weapon was fought with steadfast courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Acting Petty-Officer Arthur William Thompson was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for his outstanding conduct in such a brave company. He volunteered to serve as gun-layer to the 4-in. gun, carrying out his duties with great coolness and displaying the utmost skill, courage and resource throughout the action. Leading-Seaman Victor Spencer, who manned the port machine-gun, received the Distinguished Service Medal for his resolution and steadiness. Able Seaman Albert Spendlove, who was a member of the 4-in. gun crew, was also awarded the D.S.M.

Madame Violette Szabo, G.C.

Awarded the George Cross posthumously on December 17, 1946, Madame Szabo, as a member of the Women's Transport Service (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry), had volunteered to undertake a particularly dangerous mission in France and was parachuted into that country in April 1944. In her execution of the researches entailed she showed great presence of mind and astuteness. She was twice arrested by the German security authorities, but managed to escape each time. Eventually, however, with other members of her group, she was surrounded by the Gestapo in a house in the south-west of France.

Resistance appeared hopeless, but Madame Szabo, seizing a Sten gun and as much ammunition as she could carry, barricaded herself in a part of the building and exchanging shot for shot with the enemy killed or wounded several of them. By constant movement she avoided being cornered and fought until she dropped exhausted. She was arrested and had to undergo solitary confinement. She was then continuously tortured, but never by word or deed did she give away any of her acquaintances or tell the enemy anything of value. She was ultimately executed. Madame Szabo gave a magnificent example of courage and steadfastness.

She was 24 years of age, and in 1940 married an officer of the French Foreign Legion, who was killed at Alamein in 1942. She joined the A.T.S. in 1941, and later was attached to the W.T.S., being employed on Intelligence work after her husband's death. She spoke perfect French, having been brought up partly in France and partly in England. She is survived by a four-year-old daughter.

The final story of the fate of this very brave woman was told at Hamburg on January 1, 1947, during the trial of 16 members of the staff of the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she was imprisoned with tow other women agents Lilian Rolfe and Denise Madeline Bloch. In a deposition read to the court, Johann Schwarzhuber, the deputy camp commandant, described how the three heroines were shot, without evincing the slightest sign of fear.

Lilian Rolfe was an Englishwoman, born in Paris, who joined the W.A.A.F. in 1943. Because of her fluent French she was voluntarily transferred to a section of the Army which was preparing to staff the Underground Movement on the Continent. In March 1944 she was parachuted into France, where she joined up with Denise Bloch. Both women worked as wireless operators, keeping in touch with Allied forces until their capture by the Gestapo in July 1944. They remained silent under six months of torture and questioning, their bravery evoking the admiration even of their presecutors.

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