- Name: Jack CHALMERS
- D.O.B: 11th May, 1894
- D.O.A: 4th Feb, 1922
- D.O.D: 29th Mar, 1982
- Award: Albert Medal translated to George Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Life Guard, Coogee Beach, Sydney
- Book: The Complete History - Volume 3
BETWEEN THE WARS
The stresses of the First World War led to political revolution in much of Europe and, in extreme cases, social collapse. Even the victors, Britain and France, were not immune to the economic upheaval and labour unrest resulting from the transition from war to peace and the demobilization of hundreds of thousands of men. This made them extremely nervous of the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia and they decided to send aid to the anti-Bolshevik forces. However, an Allied North Russia Expeditionary Force had to be withdrawn once it became clear that internal opposition to the Bolsheviks had been defeated. In Britain a postwar boom failed to prove long-lasting and in May 1926 there was a General Strike, triggered by a crisis in the Mining Industry. The Great Depression followed in 1929 and by 1931 Britain was forced to abandon the Gold Standard. In large parts of the country and especially in the traditional industries there was widespread unemployment throughout the 1930s, symbolized by the Jarrow Crusade of 1936. Conditions were much worse on the Continent and the interwar period witnessed the rise of the Dictators. The coming to power in Germany of Hitler in 1933 was to lead inexorably to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. In the years of increasingly uneasy peace between 1919 and September 1939 only eleven VCs were awarded and of these only one, the award to Captain G P Meynell in 1935, took place outside the period 1919-21. Of the eleven awards, five related to actions against the Bolsheviks, four to actions on the North-West Frontier of India and one to an an engagement in what is now Iraq. The remaining award was that in 1921 to the American Unknown Warrior. Of the Albert, Edward and Empire Gallantry Medals awarded in the same period, 142 recipients lived long enough for their awards to be converted to the GC. The geographical distribution of the actions that occasioned the awards is witness to the Global spread of the British Empire, which reached its widest extent after the First World War. However, some of the awards, for gallantry in India, Egypt and the Sudan, and Palestine, reflected both the stresses in maintaining that dominion and the duties it entailed. After service personnel and policemen, coal miners formed the largest group of recipients, demonstrating the central importance of coal to the British economy and the dangers inherent in securing it. Those who worked in coal and gold mines in India and Africa were also honoured. Both in the mines and in industry as a whole, the threat posed by poisonous gases led to many awards. New industries brought new hazards with them. Other dangers overcome were of a more basic sort. Awards were also made to those who, throughout the Empire, confronted mad elephants, rabid dogs and marauding sharks.
The following is an account of the services in respect of which the Decoration has been conferred:– On the 4th February, 1922, Milton Coughlan was swimming just outside the breakers at Coogee Beach, Sydney, N.S.Wales, when he was attacked by a shark, which bit deeply into his left forearm. Freeing himself, he fought and drove away the shark, which, however, returned and succeeded in establishing a hold on his right arm, but the grip was again broken. Observing what had happened, Jack Chalmers had a line tied round his waist, and immediately dashed across the rocks to the rescue, and although he slipped and fell, and was momentarily stunned through his head coming into contact with a rock, he quickly recovered, plunged into the water and swam out to Coughlan, who was floating helplessly in the water; Chalmers caught hold of him round the body, and held him until they were both hauled in to the rocks. The injured bather’s arms were practically bitten through and the flesh torn from them, and the unfortunate man succumbed to his injuries shortly after reaching hospital. Jack Chalmers undoubtedly fully realised the risk he was incurring, and showed extraordinary gallantry in going to Coughlan’s rescue in the circumstances. That the danger was considerable is clear from the fact that a number of sharks were seen swimming around the spot where the rescue occurred immediately after the bather was lifted ashore.