The story behind the only Sunderland soldier to win a Victoria Cross, and how he saved so many lives

This week marked the anniversary of one of the most extraordinary examples of bravery in the First World War and the winning of Sunderland’s only Victoria Cross.

Friday, 27th September 2019, 20:07 pm
Updated Monday, 30th September 2019, 19:52 pm
Captain George Maling is remembered with a blue plaque in Sunderland

Yet few people know the story of Lieutenant George Maling, even though dozens – even hundreds – of men who owed him their lives.

Who was George Maling?

Born in Mowbray Road in October 1888, George Allan Maling was the youngest of nine children of surgeon Edwin Allan Maling and his wife Maria.

George Maling VC

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Edwin was descended from the Maling pottery family, while Maria’ s family had established a glassmaking business in Sunderland in the 1830s.

George’s paternal grandmother was a first cousin of another Sunderland war heo, Sir Henry Havelock.

Educated at Uppingham School, George became a surgeon in 1915.

Why was George awarded the Victoria Cross?

The plaque at Sunderland War Memorial dedicated to George Maling

George was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps in January 1915 and sent to France in July.

In September 1915, the Battle of Loos saw the British launch their biggest offensive of 1915. The Allied attack was largely unsuccessful there were around twice as many and British casualties as German.

On September 25, a group of British soldiers were trapped in an area of No Man’s Land near Fauquissart, surrounded and under heavy bombardment.

George Maling worked for more than 24 hours, collecting and treating more than 300 men, despite being under heavy shelling the entire time.

The blue plaque marking George's birthplace. Picture: Sunderland City Council

He was temporarily stunned by a high explosive which wounded his only assistant and killed several patients.

A second shell covered him and his instruments with debris, but he continued his work single-handed.

Maling was gazetted for the VC for his actions in November and presented with the medal by King George V at Buckingham Palace in January 1916.

The citation for his VC, published in the London Gazette on November 18, 1915 reads: “For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the heavy fighting near Fauquissart on 25 September 1915, Lieut. Maling worked incessantly with untiring energy from 6.25am until 8am on 26 September collecting and treating in the open, under heavy shell fire, more than 300 men.

The Maling family memorial in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery

“At about 11am on the 25th he was flung down and temporarily stunned by the bursting of a large high explosive shell which wounded his only assistant and killed several of his patients. A second shell soon covered him and his assistants with debris, but his high courage and zeal never failed him, and he continued his gallant work single-handed.”

What happened next?

George was promoted to temporary captain and worked at Grantham Military Hospital, returning to the front in 1917 to join the 34th Field Ambulance in 11th Division until the end of the war.

After leaving the Army, George took up a post as Resident Medical Officer at Victoria Hospital for Children, Chelsea, and later worked as a surgeon at St John’s Hospital, Lewisham.

At some point, he went into medical partnership in South London, practicing until his death aged just 40 in July 1929.

How is George Maling remembered in Sunderland?

George is commemorated on the Maling family grave in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery, while Sunderland City Council has erected a Blue Plaque at his birthplace Carlton House, in Mowbray Road, latterly part of Sunderland High School.

A specially commissioned commemorative paving stone has also been laid at the cenotaph in Burdon Road to provide a lasting tribute to the city’s only holder of the Victoria Cross.