Above and Beyond – Australian Acts of Bravery

Over 1,400,000 Australians have served in wars and conflicts over more than a century. While bravery comes with the territory, some men and women have gone above and beyond to receive prestigious military awards. Fuelled by supreme courage and driven by a need to do the right thing, these Australians will be remembered in history forever.

From Bricklaying to Bullecort – Corporal George Howell

Portrait of Corporal George Howell

George 'Snowy' Howell is one name never to be forgotten. Born in Sydney in 1893, Howell worked as an apprentice Bricklayer before enlisting at the age of 21.

In 1917, at the Western Front, he demonstrated just how brave he really was.

On the 9th of April, Corporal Howell led a rifle bombing section in the successful capture of the village of Demicourt. His actions earned him the Military Medal, "for courage and devotion to duty."

Less than a month later on the 6th May, he fought near Bullecourt. The battle was remembered as one of the First World War's most devastating, amassing 10,000 Australian casualties.

Under heavy fire, Howell scrambled to the top of a parapet and began to bomb the enemy, forcing them to retreat. Even when his stock of bombs ran out, he continued to fight – this time with his bayonet. He took 28 bullets in the conflict, but miraculously survived.

This act of "conspicuous bravery" earned Howell the Victoria Cross, the highest award of the British honours system.

Corporal George Howell receives his Victoria Cross metal for an act of courage at Bullecourt, 1917

Corporal George 'Snowy' Howell receives his Victoria Cross medal, c. 1917

Replica Victoria Cross medal

Replica Victoria Cross Medal

Selfless courage – Warrant Officer Class 2 Ray Simpson

Military honours weren't just given out to those who served during WWI. One Victoria Cross recipient earned the award with feats of selfless heroism in the Vietnamese jungle.

Rayene (Ray) Simpson was born in Sydney in 1926. He enlisted as soon as he turned 18, and served in the Pacific at Morotai, Borneo and New Guinea. He then returned to the front line for the war in Korea (1951-1953) and three separate tours in Vietnam.

Sergeant (Now Warrant Officer Class 2) Ray Simpson finishes decorating his company's Christmas tree while deployed in Korea, 1953

Sergeant Ray Simpson finishes decorating his company's Christmas tree, Korea, 1953.

It was a search-and-clear operation in 1969 that saw Simpson earn the Australian Military's highest honour. He was commanding the operation when one of his platoons was met with heavy fire. He made a snap decision: he would place himself in front of enemy lines to draw attention away from the platoon.

Another Warrant Officer was critically injured in the conflict. At great personal risk, Simpson carried his colleague out of harm's way.

Five days later, Simpson's battalion came under fierce attack once again. And yet again, he placed himself in the line of fire, providing cover so that his men could safely retreat.

For acts of valour

Few honour systems are as iconic or prestigious as those adopted by the military. In remembering each award, we're remembering the people – and the incredible feats – that earned them. Whether it's a selfless and calculated risk, a sense of calm under intense pressure or a refusal to leave a man behind, we remember them.

The Australian Military Awards Collection is now online at Macquarie Mint! For more information, click here.