Victoria Cross Commemorations in Jamaica

The Jamaica Defence Force commemorated  the memories of Jamaican and other West Indian soldiers who obtained the British highest award for bravery in battle- the Victoria Cross -over the period 28-31 May 2004.  This year's event was the 38th such commemoration.

Each year units of the Jamaica Regiment stages a number of commemorative events to honour the memory of the first non-European soldiers to be awarded the Victoria Cross - the British Army’s highest award for bravery. To qualify for this award the soldier must render service, in the face of enemy action, above and beyond the call of duty.

The Jamaica Defence Force has no living recipients of the Victoria Cross, but honours as part of its heritage, the two West Indian soldiers: Sergeant William Gordon of Jamaica and Private Samuel Hodge of the Virgin Islands who received this military decoration. They were decorated with the Victoria Cross for their great bravery on the battlefield during the 19th Century campaigns of West Africa, whilst serving in the West India Regiment. Sergeant William Gordon and Private Samuel Hodge had enlisted in the 1st and 4th Battalions of the West India Regiment, respectively.

The Victoria Cross

Valour" ranks higher than all other British Orders and Decorations. Queen Victoria, as the name implies, started the Award in 1856. The recipient of this prestigious award is cited for outstanding acts of bravery in an operational setting, campaign or battle.

The following extracts taken from the “History of the Victoria Cross” by Philip A Wilkins published in 1904 and believed to be the Citations for Sergeant William Gordon and Private Samuel Hodge.

Sergeant William Gordon
“On 13 March 1892, an attack was made on the town of Toniataba in West Africa. Major G C Madden, who commanded the troops, was superintending a party of twelve (12) men, who were trying to break down a gate of the town with a huge beam which they were using as a battering ram. The Major’s back was, for a moment, turned to the gate, when suddenly several musket barrels, not more than two or three yards from him, were pushed through two rows of loopholes which up to that moment had been masked. In an instant Gordon called to his Officer, “Look out sir,” and pushing him aside, flung himself between him and the muskets which were at the moment fired, the contents of one of them entering Gordon’s lung. His quick act of heroic devotion undoubtedly saved the life of Major Madden.

Private Samuel Hodge
“On the 30 June 1866 at the storming of the town of Jubabecolong in the Kingdom of Barra, River Gambia, West Africa, this Private soldier behaved with great bravery. Colonel D’Arcy having called for volunteers to hew down the stockade with axes, Hodge and another soldier (afterwards killed) sprang forward and commenced to work. On our troops gaining entrance, Hodge followed his Officer through the town, opening two gates from the inside, which were barricaded, and thereby allowing support to enter, upon which the enemy cleared out at the point of the Bayonet. The Colonel in the presence of the men, acknowledged Hodge as the bravest soldier in the Regiment.”

(Hodge died in Belize Honduras in July 1867).   

Background on local Commemoration of the Victoria Cross

On the re-formation of the West India Regiment in January 1959, a command decision was taken to institute a Regimental Holiday to remember ‘Deeds of Valour’ performed by members of the Regiment. The Victoria Cross (VC) award was selected for commemoration. With the decision, Jamaican-born Sergeant William Gordon of the 1st Battalion, The West India Regiment, and Lance Corporal Samuel Hodge of the 4th Battalion, The West India Regiment, the only two known West Indian recipients of the Victoria Cross award, became ‘military heroes’ of the Jamaica Defence Force. 

Each year, their deeds of valour, as recognized with their award of the Victoria Cross; Sergeant Gordon on March 13, 1892, and Lance Corporal Hodge on June 30, 1866, are celebrated with a grand dinner, church service and a military holiday.

Attendance at the Dinner and Church Service is compulsory for all serving officers in the Jamaica Regiment - which comprise the 1st Battalion The Jamaica Regiment, 2nd Battalion The Jamaica Regiment and the 3rd Battalion The Jamaica Regiment (National Reserve).

All past Regimental officers also enjoy an automatic invitation. Invitations are also extended to specially selected guests, representatives of the Allied (foreign) Regiments of the Jamaica Regiment and Defence Attachés serving in Jamaica.

However, VC Day is enjoyed by all members of Jamaica Defence Force as a military holiday for all persons who are not on or warned for specific duties.