Mystery of tragic Victoria Cross found in the Thames solved

The medal for gallantry was awarded 163 years ago

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Victoria Cross


The mystery of a long-lost Victoria Cross medal may finally have been solved - 163 years after it was awarded for gallantry.

The VC was uncovered by treasure hunter Tobias Neto while metal detecting in mud by the Thames in London.

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It was one of 16 awarded to British forces at the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War on November 5, 1854, when a force of 13,000 British, French and Ottoman Empire soldiers defeated 68,000 Russians.

Mystery behind long-lost Victoria Cross finally solved

And it almost certainly belonged to Private John Byrne - tortured by what he saw long after he left the battlefield.

Byrne, of Co Kilkenny, Ireland, returned to the front line to rescue a wounded comrade under heavy fire during battle to win the VC.

His life ended in tragedy due to what appears to have been Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on his return to civilian life.

Byrne got into a furious row after being 'mocked' by colleague John Watts as they worked for an Ordnance Survey team.

He pulled out a revolver and shot the terrified 18-year-old, wounding him on the arm. Hours later, surrounded by a large crowd and police, he turned the gun on himself.Credits: museumoflondon

museumoflondon

The inquest which followed his suicide inside the Crown Inn, in Newport, in July 1879, heard that he had probably imagined the insult.

Watts told the Coroner he had simply advised Byrne to put out his pipe while on parade, as the men had previously been instructed by their commanding officer.

But his landlady, Eliza Morgan, told the inquest he was furious at the remark, telling her: 'I served my Queen and country for 21 years and I'll never be insulted by a curr puppy.'

A few hours later Byrne - having shot Watts - found himself holed up at the Crown Inn, where he told the landlord, Salter Davy, that he had shot the youth by accident.

Mr Davy tried to persuade Byrne to give himself up, but the soldier took his gun, put the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger when confronted by police.

It is now believed his troubled state of mind may explain how the VC, worth around £50,000, ended up in the Thames mud.

Mr Neto, of Putney, south west London, is convinced that Byrne threw the medal in the Thames 'in a fit of regret and despair'.

But the search for the 'suspender bar', which will carries the recipient's name, goes on, and could double the value of the VC to £100,000 according to experts.

The only other lost Inkerman VC belonged to a Scottish soldier called John McDermond who, with no thought for his own safety, killed a Russian who had wounded a British colonel.

Records show he was registered as a Chelsea pensioner in July 1862.

Some accounts have him buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in Woodside Cemetery, Paisley - a hero unrecognised in his homeland.

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