- Name: George Stewart Bain SMITH
- D.O.B: 1st Dec, 1898
- D.O.A: 3rd Jun, 1927
- D.O.D: 22nd Jan, 1972
- Award: Albert Medal translated to George Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Lieutenant, Royal Regiment of Artillery, attached Indian Army Ordnance Corps, Indian Army
- 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 However, an Allied North Russia Expeditionary Force had to be withdrawn once it became clear that internal opposition to the Bolsheviks had been defeated.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.
On June 3rd Major Minchinton, with two Gurkha companions, was descending an ice slope on a mountain in the Himalayas when at a height of about 14,000 feet the party lost their foothold and slid or fell some 1,000 feet on to a snow slope below. Major Minchinton and one of his companions were so badly injured that they were unable to move, but the third managed to make his way to Lakka, some 3,000 feet lower, where at 2.30 p.m. he met and informed Mr. Bain Smith of the accident. Mr. Bain Smith, though he had no knowledge or experience of mountaineering, at once set out with a coolie to rescue Major Minchinton from his position which he reached at 4.30 p.m. after a climb of 3,000 feet. Mr. Bain Smith had no ice axe and was wearing smooth-soled boots and he could only proceed across the snow-field by kicking footholds in the hard snow with his stockinged feet. The coolie who had accompanied Mr. Bain Smith from Lakka was unable to cross the snow and remained behind. On reaching Major Minchinton Mr. Bain Smith made of his coat a sledge and accompanied by the Gurkha who was just able to move, proceeded to drag the injured man over the then freezing snow to a point some 500 feet lower. Further progress without assistance was impossible and Mr. Bain Smith therefore descended alone across the snow slope until, after a journey of about a mile, he met with two shepherds who accompanied him back to where the injured man lay. Major Minchinton was lowered a further 500 feet until descent was checked by the roughness of the snow. Mr. Bain Smith sent one of the shepherds for more men but he failed to return and Mr. Bain Smith therefore made a second journey and after great difficulty found four shepherds whom he sent back to Major Minchinton. He himself was by that time so exhausted that he could only proceed by crawling. He found Major Minchinton struggling and his struggles were such that, as the snow had frozen hard, he could not be moved. Mr. Bain Smith, after sending the injured Gurkha down with two of the men, made repeated but unsuccessful efforts to continue the descent. At sunset the remaining shepherds deserted him. Mr. Bain Smith, who was clad in only a shirt, shorts and stockings, stayed for half an hour with Major Minchinton, who was then unconscious, if not already dead. An ice cold wind was blowing and there were occasional hail storms and it was obvious that nobody left exposed on the slope would survive the night. Mr. Bain Smith, after covering Major Minchinton with his coat, descended to a fire that was seen burning below the glacier where he found Mrs. Minchinton and a party of men, none of whom were capable of tackling the mountain side in the dark. The first rescue party arrived at 8 a.m. on the following morning, and Mr. Bain Smith escorted them to a point whence Major Minchinton’s body could be seen. He was then on the verge of collapse and both feet were frost-bitten.