The Life Saving Awards Research Society

Society Publications

Here we highlight books having a life saving theme which have been published by LSARS or published elsewhere by LSARS Members.

Fire Brigade Awards of the Second World War

Fire Brigade Awards of the Second World War.

Published by the Life Saving Awards Research Society, 2017. Size 168mm x 245mm, soft bound with colour cover, 284 pages, many black & white illustrations..

Another monumental effort by seven members of LSARS, this book will be of considerable value to all collectors and researchers of awards to fire officers. There is little or no text, save for the citations relating to the various awards made to the subjects of the book and inspiring reading they make, too. Just dealing with a fire in peacetime situations must be traumatic enough but these men and women had to contend with being under fire as well, in the shape of enemy bombing. The book is also a notable example of how awards within the Order of the British Empire reflect the recipients’ perceived place in society – a situation which persists to this day. Apart from the main body of the book, which is essentially a Roll of Honour, there are five interesting appendices, one of which discusses an award to Boy Messenger Neil Leitch of Glasgow in 1941. It mentions the possibility of 'reviving' the Albert Medal in his case, although the AM was still being awarded at that time, both in Gold and Bronze. Though recommended for the GC, he eventually received a posthumous King’s Commendation, the official honours system being as much of a dog’s breakfast then as it appears to be now! Appendix 3 lists a staggering 808 persons being killed in the course of their duties or dying as a result of them, although this is at variance with the official figures, which give only 693. There are photographic images of eighteen personnel and fifteen drawings or paintings, though it seems odd that only one of the three GCs was selected to be the subject of a painting. A most interesting read and full of useful information.

Allan Stanistreet

Free to members of LSARS; £9 plus postage costs to non-members. Contact the Journal Editor for details or to obtain your copy.

The Burning of the Sarah Sands

The Burning of the Sarah Sands by Roger Willoughby and Alan Cole.

Published by the Orders and Medals Research Society, 2018. Softback, illustrated, 176 pages, black and white and colour plates; £9.00 (£7.00 OMRS Members). ISBN 978-0-9957505.

While my medal interests do not extend to Victorian campaigns, my interest in military history does, so it was with great pleasure that I was able to review this book. The 'headline' story of the troopship Sarah Sands, is widely known: ship catches fire, stoic British soldiers save the day, no lives lost and another epic tale of the British Empire. However, the detail is far more interesting.

The first interesting detail, and more generally know fact, is that the commanding officer of the 54th Regiment of Foot, Lieutenant Colonel Bowland Moffat, was absent from the ship for the 14 hours of extreme danger which marked the event and which he was only able to watch from the relative safety of a lifeboat some hundreds of yards away. The factors leading up to the departure of Lt Col Moffat, and which kept him away from the ship, are sympathetically described in detail as is his subsequent fate. While he was never censured for his departure, his reputation never fully recovered and he was removed from command of the 54th after it reached India.

The second interesting detail, and this time much well known, is the quest to have a Victoria Cross awarded for the incident. This resulted in many years of campaigning and a change in the warrant for the Victoria Cross. This would ultimately be unsuccessful in the Sarah Sands for a very simple reason, but in no small part due to an unhelpful and obstructive civil service; the Sarah Sands amendment to the warrant for the Victoria Cross allowed the award for acts where the test of courage was not changed but the circumstances and danger did not need an enemy to be present. This amendment stood from 1858 until 1881 and resulted in the award of the Victoria Crosses for two incidents.

It would be easy to think that once the fire had been extinguished the passengers' troubles would have been over, but this was not the case as the ship was now an iron wreck held together with wood and rope and stranded in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The passengers then faced a slow passage to Mauritius in the constant fear that the ship would founder. So afraid were they that some wrote their accounts on paper, sealed them in bottles and then cast them over the side in the hope that if the worst should happen, the world would know their fate.

The book is produced to the normal high standards of the OMRS and will withstand prolonged use. This is just as well as there are no fewer than eight appendices covering the individuals involved and their medals. A thoroughly absorbing and useful book which is obviously the product of painstaking research and effort; it is a credit to the authors.

Steve Butler


Not specifically mentioned in this review is the fact that three life saving awards were made, these being Royal Humane Society silver medals. An article – The Burning of the Sarah Sands; the Life Saving Awards - which tells the most interesting story of these awards, and the controversy that surrounded one of the awardees was published in Journal No. 92.