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VC Holder Felled by Kerb

16-September-2011
16-September-2011 0:00
in Curiosities
by Peter Berthoud

This bronze plaque commemorates the untimely death of Arthur P. Sullivan VC.

It is mounted on the railings of Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, close to Buckingham Palace. 

Arthur P Sullivan plaque Birdcage Walk

Arthur Percy Sullivan VC, an Australian bank manager was just 40 years old when he died, leaving a widow and four children in Manley, New South Wales. He  won his VC in 1919, in Russia, by heroically jumping into a swamp, under heavy fire, to rescue four colleagues.

But his death was not that one might expect of a soldier.

In 1937 Arthur Sullivan  ad travelled to England for the Coronation of George VI, he was a member of the Australian contingent. A month before the Coronation he met his death in Birdcage Walk, just across the road from the plaque.

Initially a traffic accident was thought to be the cause. At the inquest Coroner Ingleby Oddie heard the evidence of William Charles Piddington, described as "a motor driver from Lambeth" who said in his evidence

"That he was on his way home on his bicycle. He was on the near side, going at about 10 miles an hour, when he came into collision with  something. He could not say what it was, and he was flung to the road and slightly stunned. When he sat up he saw an Australian soldier lying in the road with his head nearly in the gutter. He had not seen him standing up at all."

Mr Piddington's evidence was corroborated by three girls aged "about 11". Florence Mead, of Peabody Buildings, Westminster, said in evidence that

"About 8 p.m. she asked the soldier for his autograph. She did not get it, and ran across the street to the barracks side. The soldier was going to step into the roadway to cross, but slipped and fell backwards and struck his head on the road. She saw a man on a bicycle. He did not knock the soldier down. The soldier was down before the bicycle reached him."

After evidence from a doctor that Arthur Sullivan's injuries were consistent with his head hitting the kerb after a simple fall a verdict of “accidental death” was returned.

That Arthur Sullivan had not wanted to give Florence Mead an autograph is perhaps unsurprising. He was known to be a very modest man and accordingly was nicknamed "The Shy VC". So modest was he, that he deliberately avoided meeting George V in 1919 when he was to have been awarded his VC at Buckingham Palace. Instead he had to wait until 1920 to receive the medal in Australia from Edward, Prince of Wales, who is said to have joked with him "Aren't you the man who ran away from father?"

The full text on the plaque reads:


 

To The Glory Of GOD And In

Ever Living Memory Of

Gnr. Arthur P. Sullivan. V.C.

Who was accidentally killed on April 9th

1937 whilst serving as a

representative of his country at the

Coronation of H.M.King George VI.

THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED BY

HIS COMRADES OF THE AUSTRALIAN

CORONATION CONTINGENT 1939


 

More on the life of Arthur Sullivan, can be found in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Details of the inquest are taken from coverage in: The Times, Wednesday, Apr 14, 1937; pg. 19; Issue 47658; col E.

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