Percy Howard Hansen VC DSO MC

b. 26/10/1890 Dresden, Germany. d. 12/02/1951 Copenhagen, Denmark.

Percy Howard Hansen (1890-1951) was born in Dresden, Germany on 26th October 1890 into a successful Danish trading family with royal connections and extensive business interests across South Africa. His father, Viggo Julius Hansen, came from Naestved, a small town some 50 miles south of Copenhagen, and his mother, Elsa (nee Been), belonged to a wealthy shop-owning family that held the warrant as grocer to the Royal Danish Household. Percy’s parents had married in 1886 in Copenhagen, and his father’s personal fortune continued to grow, and they could afford to divide their time between Copenhagen, Monte Carlo and Germany. It was during one such trip that Percy was born.

Percy H Hansen

At some point in the late 1890s, the Hansen family moved to London and lived firstly at 39 Hyde Park Gate. Both Percy and his younger brother were given public English educations. They attended Hazelwood, a preparatory school in Oxted, Surrey, where their contemporaries included another future VC in Geoffrey Cather. From there, aged 13, Percy entered Eton College on 20th September 1904. While his academic career continued unremarkably, he proved a keen rower, superb horseman and a great marksman, before he left for Sandhurst. It was while he was at Sandhurst, that his father successfully applied for British citizenship in order that Percy could take up a commission in the British Army. He was gazetted second lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment on 4th March 1911.

His military career quickly prospered. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 3rd August 1912, and travelled with the 2nd Battalion to Bermuda where he contracted blood poisoning which necessitated a return to England, lengthy spells in hospital and a period of rest in Denmark. Rejoining his unit two days before the declaration of war in 1914, he was promoted temporary captain on 4th September 1914, and promptly posted to 6th (Service) Battalion as Adjutant. Five months later, whilst the battalion was training in Grantham, he was given the rank of Captain.

The Battalion were soon posted to Egypt, and then took part in the Anzac Landings in April 1915. On 9th August 1915 at Yilghin Bumu, Gallipoli, Turkey, Captain Hansen’s battalion was forced to retire leaving some wounded behind, owing to the intense heat from the scrub which had been set on fire. After the retirement Captain Hansen, with three or four volunteers dashed forward several times over 300-400 yards of open scrub, under a terrific fire and succeeded in rescuing six wounded men from inevitable death by burning.

Exactly, a month later, on 9th September 1915, at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, Major Hansen made a reconnaissance of the coast, stripping himself and carrying only a revolver and a blanket for disguise. He swam and scrambled over rocks, which severely cut and bruised him, and obtained some invaluable information and located a gun which was causing much damage. The undertaking was hazardous. One occasion he met a part of 12 Turks who did not see him, and later a single Turk whom he lulled. Major Hansen returned to the lines in a state of great exhaustion.

Following his distinguished service in Gallipoli and two months hospitalisation and convalescence, he was gazetted for the VC for his actions at Yilghin Bumu, and the Military Cross for Suvla Bay. He received the VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 4th December 1915. He returned to duty with 9th (Reserve) Battalion before taking up the first of a series of staff appointments. A spell at Halton Park camp, as brigade major “under instruction”, during the summer of 1916 was followed by his appointment as a general staff officer. Posted as brigade major to the 170 Infantry Brigade, part of the 57th (West Lancashire) Division, on 17th September 1916, he proceeded to France with them on Christmas Day.

In August 1917, he took over the duties of GSO II for the division and three months later was posted to the HQ of 2nd ANZAC, later designated XXII Corps. It was in this role that he added to his Gallipoli honours  with two mentions in despatches, a French Croix de Guerre (7th October 1918), and the DSO (16th September 1918) for carrying out hazardous reconnaissance duties on the Ypres Salient. Returning to England shortly before the armistice, he travelled to Denmark, where his parents had spent the war and where they laid a homecoming ball for him. It was attended by the Danish Royal Family including Princess Margrethe with whom Percy developed a close friendship which became the subject of much rumour.

In February 1919, alongside fellow VCs, Viscount Gort, Bernard Freyberg and George Pearkes, he was on the first post-war Staff College course at Camberley. It didn’t particularly shine, and obtained the nickname “Piccadilly Percy” due to his high society connections. Having graduated, he was appointed Brigade Major of the 8th Infantry Brigade, Southern Command, a post he took in February 1920. He served in a similar capacity with 12th Infantry Brigade before being appointed GSO in the Territorial Army’s 55th (West Lancashire) Division in February 1925. More staff appointments followed  before he returned to his old regiment as second in command of the 2nd Battalion. He served with this unit in England, in Malta during the Abyssinian Crisis and in Palestine where the Lincolnshires were involved in internal security duties.

He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 9th September 1937, assuming command of the Battalion the following day. It lasted less than two years. On the declaration of war, he was required to take up an appointment as assistant adjutant and quartermaster general of 55th Division. His Second World War career was marked with a series of staff posts. In 1943, he was made head of a Civil Affairs unit in Norway, which brought him fresh honours in the form of the US Legion of Merit and the Norwegian Royal Order of St Olav. He retired from the Army in January 1946 with the honorary rank of Brigadier.

His private life was a complicated one. Alongside the friendship with Princess Margarethe, he also had a long-standing relationship with Sylvia Poulett, a former member of the Gaiety Girls, a famous London chorus line, whose husband died in 1918. Percy and Sylvia were engaged in 1921, and had an illegitimate daughter, Phoebe, born in October 1923, six months before their engagement was called off on the grounds that by remarrying Sylvia would have forfeited the bulk of her income under the terms of her late husband’s will. Four years later, on 12th June 1928, Percy married a divorcee, Maria Rosa Emsell, who already had an 8 year-old daughter, June. They had a daughter of their own, Kinsa born in 1930.

Hansen, who was a keen sportsman and long distance swimmer, was also a passionate cinematographer, and made amateur films. Between 1946 and 1950 he conducted film lecture tours around Britain, Canada and the USA. It was on a lecture tour in the latter part of 1950, that his health began to fail. He caught pneumonia and complications set in. On 12th February 1951, Percy died and was buried in the Garrison Cemetery, Copenhagen, Denmark. His extensive medal group including VC, DSO, MC, Croix de Guerre, Legion of Merit and Royal Order of St Olav, plus WWI and WWII campaign medals were loaned to the Imperial War Museum. In March 2017, it was announced that Michael Ashcroft had privately acquired the medals into his collection, thus maintaining their place in the Imperial War Museum’s Ashcroft Gallery.