Arthur Sullivan (VC)

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Arthur Percy Sullivan
Private Arthur Sullivan, AIF
Born (1896-11-27)27 November 1896
Crystal Brook, Australia
Died 9 April 1937(1937-04-09) (aged 40)
Westminster, England
Allegiance Australia
United Kingdom
Service/branch Australian Imperial Force (1918–19)
British Army (1919)
Years of service 1918–19
Rank Corporal
Unit Royal Australian Artillery
45th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers
Battles/wars First World War
Russian Civil War
Awards Victoria Cross

Arthur Percy Sullivan, VC (Irish: Art Piaras Ó Súilleabháin; 27 November 1896 – 9 April 1937) was a banker, soldier, and an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Born in 1896 at Crystal Brook, South Australia, Sullivan volunteered for service with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during the First World War. The war was effectively over by the time he arrived in Europe. After being discharged from the AIF in 1919, he joined the British Army so that he could serve with the North Russia Relief Force as part of the Allied Intervention in the Russian Civil War. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in rescuing some of his fellow soldiers from a swamp while under enemy fire. Demobilised from the army after completing his service, he resumed his civilian career as a banker. He was in England for the coronation of King George VI as part of the Australian Coronation Contingent in 1937 when he died of head injuries received in a fall in London.

Early life[edit]

Arthur Percy Sullivan was born on 27 November 1896, at Crystal Brook, South Australia, the son of a storekeeper and his wife. He was educated at Crystal Brook Public School and Gladstone High School. After completing his education in 1913, he gained employment at a branch of the National Bank of Australasia in Gladstone. Soon after starting work at the bank, he was transferred to a branch at Broken Hill in New South Wales. He later returned to his home state to work at a branch in Maitland.[1]

Military service[edit]

Sullivan volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and was posted to the 10th Battalion as a private on 27 April 1918. After training, he embarked for Europe in July 1918. Upon arriving in Europe, Sullivan transferred to the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery on 5 October 1918. He was still in training in Wiltshire when the Armistice was declared on 11 November 1918, and Sullivan saw no action.[2]

On 23 May 1919, a few days before his discharge from the AIF, Sullivan was promoted to corporal. Although not formally discharged from the AIF until 12 June, he was attracted by the prospect of a tour of duty with the North Russia Relief Force as part of the Allied Intervention in the Russian Civil War. Sullivan enlisted in the British Army on 28 May 1919 as a private.[1] He was posted to Lionel Sadleir-Jackson's 45th Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers.[3]

The North Russia Relief Force landed at Archangel in the period from June to July 1919, and began to deploy immediately, in the process relieving the original expeditionary force which had been in Russia since 1918. By July 1919, 45th Battalion had moved 240 kilometres (150 mi) towards the Dvina front. On 10 August 1919, it had arrived at the Dvina front in northern Russia. Sullivan's battalion, as part of a brigade, launched an attack to aid the evacuation of the last remaining members of the 1918 expeditionary force. The attack was also intended to harass and disrupt the Bolshevik positions.[1]

During the attack his platoon was cut off and, under fire, was making its way back to the British lines when it was forced to cross a crude bridge of planks over a swamp on the Sheika River. Four men fell into the swamp. Despite the Bolshevik gunfire, Sullivan immediately set about retrieving them.[1] The first man that Sullivan followed into the swamp was Lieutenant Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, Lord Settrington, who had been wounded. He was the eldest son of the 8th Duke of Richmond and heir to the dukedoms of Richmond, Lennox and Gordon. He would die of his wounds two weeks later in hospital at Bereznik. The second and third soldiers rescued were similarly pulled out of the swamp by Sullivan after either being hit or avoiding enemy fire. The fourth man was some distance away and Sullivan waded out with a piece of broken handrail from the temporary bridge which the soldier was able to grab and be pulled to safety.[4]

It was his actions in saving his fellow soldiers that led to Sullivan being awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). The VC citation read as follows:

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 10th August 1919, at the Sheika River, North Russia. The platoon to which he belonged, after fighting a rearguard covering action, had to cross the river by means of a narrow plank and during the passage an officer and three men fell into a deep swamp. Without hesitation, under intense fire, Corporal Sullivan jumped into the river and rescued all four, bringing them out singly. But for this gallant action his comrades would undoubtedly have been drowned. It was a splendid example of heroism, as all ranks were on the point of exhaustion, and the enemy less than 100 yards distant.

— The London Gazette, No. 31572, 26 September 1919[5]

The evacuation of all forces was completed by late September 1919, and the North Russia Relief Force was demobilised upon its return to England. Sullivan wished to return to Australia immediately without waiting for his investiture from King George V. He left England on 1 November 1919. He was presented with his VC in Adelaide on 12 July 1920 by Edward, the Prince of Wales during his royal tour of Australia, who smiled at Sullivan, and quipped "Aren't you the man who ran away from father?"[1]

Later life[edit]

The memorial plaque in memory of Arthur Percy Sullivan, on the railings of Wellington Barracks, London.

Arthur Sullivan was a very popular man, and was known as the "Shy VC". Upon his return to Australia, he resumed his former employment with the National Bank of Australasia. He married to Dorothy Frances Veale at an Anglican church in Fairfield, Victoria, on 5 December 1928, and in 1929 he transferred to the bank's head office in Sydney where he and Dorothy lived for five years. During this time they had three children, two of whom were twins.[1]

In 1934, Sullivan was made the manager of the Casino branch of the bank. As a VC recipient, Sullivan was selected to join the Australian contingent to attend the coronation of King George VI and to return the remains of British soldier Sergeant Arthur Evans, VC, who had died in Australia.[1] The "Australian Coronation Contingent" comprised 100 soldiers, 25 sailors and 25 airmen. Half the soldiers were serving troops and half were returned members of the AIF. Sullivan was the only VC winner in the group.[6]

On 9 April 1937, eleven days after ceremonially handing over Evans's ashes and thirty-four days before King George VI's coronation, Sullivan died when he was returning to his accommodation and accidentally slipped in Birdcage Walk, Westminster, near the Wellington Barracks, and struck his head against the kerb. He died as a result of the severity of the head injuries he had sustained.[1] He was afforded a full military funeral in London where the Australian contingent's salute volley was respectfully returned by the Foot Guards. Field Marshal Lord Birdwood and a dozen British VC winners attended the funeral. His body was cremated at Golders Green[7] in London and his ashes were returned to Sydney and interred at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium where they rest by a plaque on Tree 267A in the North section.[7] A month after the funeral, a gap was deliberately left in the ranks of the Australian contingent as they marched in the coronation parade.[8]

In 1939 a plaque was placed upon the iron railings of Wellington Barracks in his honour. When his wife died in 1980, she left his Victoria Cross to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It is displayed in the Hall of Valour.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Staunton, Anthony (1990). "Sullivan, Arthur Percy (1896–1937)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  2. ^ Challinger 2010, p. 200.
  3. ^ Kelleher, JP (2010). "The Royal Fusiliers Recipients of The Victoria Cross for Valour" (PDF). Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Challinger 2010, p. 155.
  5. ^ "No. 31572". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 September 1919. p. 11997. 
  6. ^ Challinger 2010, p. 205.
  7. ^ a b [1] Burial locations VC holders – Golders Green Crematorium.
  8. ^ Challinger 2010, p. 205


  • Challinger, Michael (2010). Anzacs in Arkhangel. The untold story of Australia and the invasion of Russia 1918–19. Prahran: Hardie Grant. ISBN 978-1-74066-751-7. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Quinlivian, Peter (2006). Forgotten Valour: the Story of Arthur Sullivan VC. Frenchs Forest: New Holland. ISBN 978-1-74110-486-8.