A BVI Hero
- February 28th, 2011
- in Yachting
A BVI Hero
BVIslander Samuel Hodge would forever stake his name in history, when in 1866 he bravely volunteered and fought in a battle against a ruthless West African tribal chief.
He fought heroically and fearlessly under the United Kingdom flag, with his West Indian regiment, eventually earning himself the highest honour bestowed upon a UK soldier of war: The Victoria Cross. Hodge would become the only BVIslander and first soldier of African descent to be awarded the prestigious VC.
The Cross is bestowed sparingly upon British and Commonwealth servicemen “for conspicuous bravery … in the face of the enemy.” Only 1,356 have been awarded since Queen Victoria instituted the award in 1856, at the end of the Crimean War. Since World War II, only nine have been awarded to UK servicemen, five to Australians. It is the equivalent to the US Medal of Honor.
Hodge was born in Tortola in 1840 and was only 26 when he was awarded his VC. At the time, the young soldier was serving with the 4th West India Regiment and would heroically fight in an epic battle to siege and capture Tubabecolong in Gambia, West Africa, on June 22, 1866.
As history tells us, some two hundred officers and men of the 4th West India Regiment led by one Colonel D’Arcy went up the Gambia River to attack the fortified stockade of a troublesome tribal chief. The regiment’s light artillery made little impression on the logs of the stockade, so Col D’Arcy called for volunteers to breach the wall by hand. Two officers and fifteen men answered his call and armed with axes he led them under heavy fire to try and force an entry. The two officers were immediately killed and only Col D’Arcy and Privates Hodge and Boswell were left unwounded to attack the wall with their axes. As soon as a breach was big enough to pass through, Pvt Hodge followed his colonel through. Pvt Boswell was killed, and Pvt Hodge, though badly wounded, cut open the gate fastenings, allowing the rest of the attackers to storm the fort and overcome the rebels. Col D’Arcy warmly praised Pvt Hodge in front of the rest of his force as the bravest soldier in their regiment, a fact they acknowledged with “loud acclamations” and subsequently recommended him for the VC.
This was Gazetted on Jan. 3, 1867, and presented to then-Lance Corporal Hodge in Belize, British Honduras, where his regiment was serving, on June 24. Sadly, he succumbed to his wounds only seven months later and was buried with full military honours in Belize. We know his widow was allowed to retain his VC—but from there the story fades and no trace of the VC has been found.
This poignant story meant a lot to me when I heard about it, not only as a retired Army officer, not only as a proud resident of the BVI since 1966 (as it was a great honour for a Tortolian to have won); but also because my great, great grandfather as a young Sapper won one of those first VCs in the Crimean war. This is why I was proud to make the exhibit of valiant L/Cpl Hodge’s deed, with a replica of a VC, to put into the Old Government House Museum. Also on display is a copy of the Royal Gazette entry of 1867, which bears official proof of L/Cpl Hodge’s valiance in battle. If the original VC could be found, it would be worth in the region of $200,000-400,000. All VCs are cast from the Russian bronze cannon captured during the Crimean war, similar to the two British cannon in front of Old Government House, which came here after serving in that war. There are many things that Tortolians can be proud of in their past—this is but one such story.