Henry John Andrews VC

b. 23/03/1871 London. d. 22/10/1919 Waziristan, India.

Henry John Andrews (1873-1919) was born in London on 23rd March 1871. His father was the foreman in a cardboard box factory and his mother died shortly after his birth. Both his parents were members of the Salvation Army and his mother’s dying wish was that baby Henry (who became known as Harry) should be cared for by Bramwell Booth, the first chief-of-staff and the second general (or head) of the Salvation Army. This wish was granted and Bramwell’s sister, Emma, helped care for the young Harry.

Henry J Andrews VC

Andrews’ early care and education came at The Salvation Army Nursery at Clapton, London, when Emma Booth was the principal of the Officers’ Training Home. As a youth of 15, Harry accompanied the woman he called “mother” when having got married, Booth went with her new husband, Commissioner Booth-Tucker, to India. Andrews was destined to become The Salvation Army’s first “medical man” in India, eventually serving there for almost 30 years.

His work began within months of arrival in Bombay, even though just a teenager and completely unqualified for any kind of medical work. A chance meeting with an Indian boy with acute toothache led him to reading a dental manual and then using sterilised forceps to remove a decaying tooth. The grateful Indian youngster christened his young healer as “the little doctor” and, after returning to his village, word soon spread that Andrews was willing to treat those suffering from ailments at his “office”. As his workload rapidly grew, his nickname soon changed to that of “Dr Sikundar” in honour of a Sikh of that name who had, in turn, been known as “The Brave One”.

Aged just 17, he unsurprisingly became an officer in the Salvation Army and, as his amateur medical work increased, he eventually received formal training as a pharmacist. Additionally, he was appointed to assist Major William Stevens at The Salvation Army’s Indian HQ at Nagercoil and during the 1893 cholera outbreak in Travancore, India, Andrews worked tirelessly to help the sick and dying. On his return to the UK in 1896, he received more training as a dresser of injuries and wounds. However, he was keen to return to India and was soon back in his adopted homeland to assist in the establishment of the Catherine Booth Hospital in Nagercoil.

Four years later, he transferred to Anand in Gujarat, where he helped establish the Emery Hospital. In October 1899, he married Gena Smith, who had shared his childhood home in the Clapton nursery established by his “mother”. Later he underwent more medical training in the USA, graduating from the University of Chicago in 1910, before returning to India in 1912, based at Moradabad.

After the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, The Salvation Army placed the hospital at Moradabad under the jurisdication of the government together with Dr Andrews and his staff. Once the war began, Andrews, now a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Salvation Army, volunteered for active service but was turned down because of his superlative work as a hospital commandant. However, in June 1917, he was finally commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Indian Medical Service and a year later promoted to Acting Captain.

In June 1918, he was awarded the MBE and soon afterwards was permitted to give up his hospital post in order to head to the North-West Frontier, where problems continued. On 21st October 1919, Andrews, by now 46, was serving at Khajuri Post, Waziristan, India (now Pakistan).

On that day, he heard that a convoy had been attacked in the vicinity of the post, and that men had been wounded. He at once took out an Aid Post to the scene of action and, approaching under heavy fire, established an Aid Post under conditions which afforded some protection to the wounded but not to himself. Subsequently he was compelled to move his Aid Post to another position, and continued most devotedly to attend to the wounded.

Finally, when a Ford van was available to remove, the wounded, he showed the utmost disregard of danger in collecting the wounded under fire and in placing them in the van, and was eventually killed whilst himself stepping into the van on the completion of his task.

Andrews was buried in Bannu Cemetery, India (now Pakistan), and his posthumous VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace to his widow on 2nd November 1920. In 2010, his VC was acquired by the Michael Ashcroft Trust, and is now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum. His other medals are not with his VC.