How Hitler honoured British troops and nurses for saving the lives of German sailors

By Sebastian Murphy-bates For Mailonline06:10 EST 01 Jan 2019, updated 12:52 EST 01 Jan 2019

  • Adolf Hitler’s sailors bombed by Spanish republicans resisting General Franco 
  • British hospital treated 55 servicemen, managing to save all but five of them 
  • Nazi leader would go on to award 37 Red Crosses to British military personnel 

The British military hospital personnel who saved 50 foreign servicemen in Gibraltar were honoured by the dictator they would be warring with in a matter of months.

Adolf Hitler awarded German Red Crosses emblazoned with the Nazi swastika to those who treated 55 of his wounded sailors injured in the Spanish Civil War.

The Deutschland ship was hit by two bombs off Ibiza when it was targeted by in 1937 as they resisted Spanish dictator General Franco. 

The UK Army personnel saved all but five, inspiring high praise from the Fuhrer himself.

The Deutschland (pictured) was bombed by republicans who were fighting in the Spanish Civil War, injuring German sailors aboard
The Deutschland (pictured) was bombed by republicans who were fighting in the Spanish Civil War, injuring German sailors aboard
A total of 37 Britons were awarded the Red Cross by the Germans after their efforts off the coast of Gibraltar
A total of 37 Britons were awarded the Red Cross by the Germans after their efforts off the coast of Gibraltar
A total of 37 Britons were awarded the Red Cross by the Hitler (pictured) after their efforts off the coast of Gibraltar
A total of 37 Britons were awarded the Red Cross by the Hitler (pictured) after their efforts off the coast of Gibraltar

Four of the medals given by the fascist leader are still held in British museums, two at Ash Vale’s Museum of Military Medicine in Surrey.

One is at Belfast’s Royal Ulster Rifles Museum and another is at Lincolnshire’s Spalding Gentlemen’s Society. Others have been auctioned off. 

Who were some of the Britons that were given the Red Cross by Hitler?

Among the Brits to receive the medal were: 

Rear-Admiral Alfred Englefield Evans – The Hampshire cricketer would also be knighted and promoted to vice-admiral

Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Norman Fraser – Also served in the Boer War as part of the Volunteer Medical Corps and was stationed in Egypt during the First World War

Lieutenant Colonel John Thomas Simson – Officer in charge of the hospital with seven Scottish rugby caps to his name

Major J T Smyth – Irish rugby player who won a cap against France in 1920

Margaret Russell ‘Madge’ Casswell – Hospital matron and life-saver with ‘terrifying’ reputation according to Dr Charles Anderson

Sister Gertrude Morgan – Went on to become principal matron, retired from nursing as a full colonel  

They hark back to an era in which the British establishment was keen to appease Hitler.

The monarch’s permission is required for service personnel to receive foreign medals and the King allowed them to be accepted and worn in the interests of political expediency. 

Colony governor General Charles ‘Tim’ Harrington told German Admiral Rolf Carls at the time: ‘I shall always treasure the fact that the last honour I can receive comes from the nation for which I have the most profound respect.

‘I hope that you will express to Der Führer my deepest thanks for this great honour,’ he added. 

The Germans awarded Red Cross medals to 37 Brits, 20 of whom were awarded the Ladies Cross.

Pat Robins, now 87, was a schoolgirl at the time. The daughter of the Royal Army Medical Corps’ Major Charles Anderson, she told The Times: ‘It was a posh day.’

She recalls the ‘ferociously capable matron’ Margaret Russell ‘Madge’ Casswell from Gosberton, Lincolnshire.

Winston Churchill himself signed the documents that acknowledged Madge’s gallantry when he was a government minister. She was mentioned three times dispatches during the Great War. 

Hitler ordered that she be awarded the German Red Cross, making her one of the few people commended by the Nazi leader as well as his greatest wartime adversary. 

Twenty-three people died instantly and 100 were wounded in the air bombing. Two years later it sank the Stonegate, a British merchant vessel, in the north Atlantic.  

Hitler (pictured) honoured the British service personnel who saved his sailors when they were bombed by opponents of General Franco
Hitler (pictured) honoured the British service personnel who saved his sailors when they were bombed by opponents of General Franco
Hitler honoured the British service personnel who saved his sailors when they were bombed by opponents of General Franco (pictured)
Hitler honoured the British service personnel who saved his sailors when they were bombed by opponents of General Franco (pictured)

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