b. 20/04/1864 Fawley, Hampshire. d. 19/04/1950 Hindhead, Surrey.
Edward Unwin (1864-1950) was born on 17th March 1864 at Forest Lodge, Fawley, Hampshire, son of Edward Wilberforce Unwin and Henrietta Jane nee Carnac. After attending private schools in Cheltenham, Malvern Wells and Clavering, he joined the Merchant Navy training ship “Conway”, aged 14. He then suffered two tough years, during which he was once punished with 24 strokes of the birch, but it did not blight his career. He spent 15 years as a Merchant Navy officer, first with the firm Donald Currie and then with P&O, before transferring to the Royal Navy as a Lieutenant on 31st October 1895.
Two years later, he married Evelyn Agnes Carew, a general’s daughter, and shortly after took part in the punitive expedition against Benin, in West Africa, which resulted in Edward’s first campaign medal. Following a spell in HMS Thunderer, he saw active service in the Boer War and in 1903 was made Lieutenant Commander. He retired six years later as a Commander, but was recalled shortly before the outbreak of war. Appointed fleet coaling officer on Admiral Jellicoe’s staff, Unwin was given command of Hussar in February 1915.
In 1915, when planning began for the amphibious landing on the Gallipoli peninsula, Unwin proposed beaching the 4,000 ton collier SS River Clyde on the narrow beach beneath Sedd el Bahr at Cape Helles, known as V Beach, thereby allowing 2,000 troops to be landed together. At the age of 51, Unwin was promoted to acting Captain and given command of the River Clyde for the operation.
While in SS River Clyde, observing that the lighters which were to form the bridge to the shore had broken adrift, Commander Unwin left the ship, and under a murderous fire attempted to get the lighters into position. He worked on, until suffering from the effects of cold and immersion, he was obliged to return to the ship, where he was wrapped up in blankets. Having in some degree recovered, he returned to his work against the doctor’s order and completed it. He was later attended by the doctor for three abrasions caused by bullets, after which he once more left the ship, this time in a lifeboat, to save some wounded men who were lying in shallow water near the beach. He continued at this heroic labour under continuous fire, until forced to stop through physical exhaustion.
He had a spell of recuperation back in England following V Beach, before returning the Mudros, and was given command of the cruiser Endymion, and was then involved in the landing at Suvla Bay in August 1915. For three days and nights he worked tirelessly to get men and supplies ashore, serving first as beachmaster and then as naval transport officer. For these efforts, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
He was reputedly the last man to leave Suvla when it was evacuated in December 1915, and he ended his time by rescuing a soldier who fell overboard. He was recommended for the Royal Humane Society Medal and was commended by Admiral Wemyss for his services throughout the Gallipoli campaign from 25th April – 20th December 1915.
For his part in the evacuations, he received his VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 15th January 1916, and made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George. The rest of his war service was dull by comparison. He commanded the Amethyst on the South East America Station was then followed by staff duties as Principal Naval Transport Officer, firstly in Egypt and then in the Eastern Mediterranean. He was then awarded the Order of the Nile, 3rd Class (March 1919), Companion of the Order of the Bath (May 1919) and the French Legion of Honour (December 1919). He retired for a second time in 1920 with the rank of captain.
Following the war, he was busy with the veterans of the Gallipoli campaign. He lived in Cheltenham and then Ashbourne, Derbyshire. From 1929 to 1939 he was Deputy Lieutenant of Staffordshire, and then, having moved to Hindhead, Surrey in 1936, became President of the local branch of the Royal British Legion. Edward collapsed and died on 19th April 1950, while walking into Grayshott, Surrey. He was buried in St Luke’s Churchyard, Grayshott, six days later, exactly 35 years after his actions on V Beach. In addition to his VC and CB, he was awarded the Companion, The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael & St George ( CMG ), East and West Africa Medal ( 1887-1900 ) with 1 clasp: “Benin 1897”, Queen’s South Africa Medal ( 1899-1902 ), 1914-15 Star, British War Medal ( 1914-20), Victory Medal ( 1914-19 ), Officer, Legion of Honour ( France ), Order of the Nile ( 3rd Class ) ( Egypt ) and the 1937 George VI Coronation Medal. The medals are on loan to the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ST LUKE’S CHURCHYARD, GREYSHOTT, SURREY.
Kevin Brazier – Image of Unwin VC’s grave at St Luke’s, Grayshott, Surrey.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the Unwin VC Brass Plaque at Lochnagar Crater, The Somme.