First World War
Arthur Gerald Bagot, GC, DSC (26 April 1888 – 12 November 1979) was an Australian recipient of the Albert Medal, formerly the highest decoration for gallantry awarded to civilians or to military personnel for actions “not in the face of the enemy” in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. Bagot was awarded the Albert Medal in 1918 for his actions in removing depth charges from HM Motor Launch 356 after its engine room exploded, despite the flames, thus preventing a further explosion. With the establishment of the George Cross, the Albert Medal was discontinued and, in 1971, living recipients of the decoration were invited to exchange their medal for the George Cross; Bagot took up the offer and formally became a recipient of the George Cross.
Bagot was born on 26 April 1888, in Adelaide, South Australia. He was educated at St Peter’s Grammar and Geelong Grammar School, before his family moved to Canada.
Living in Vancouver, Bagot enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1916 for service in the First World War. Commissioned as a temporary sub-lieutenant, he was promoted to temporary lieutenant on 10 September 1917.
On 12 April 1918, the engine room of HM Motor Launch 356 exploded at Dunkirk quay, and the forward petrol tanks burst into flames. Several of the launch’s crew were blown overboard by the explosion, while the remainder were driven off by the fire. Flames soon began to issue forth from the cabin, and burning petrol spread on the surface of the water. As others proceeded to flee the scene, Bagot, along with Lieutenant Robin Hoare, realised the fire was threatening the aft petrol tanks and the depth charges located on board the launch. Jumping in a dinghy, the pair rowed out towards the blaze. On reaching the wreck, Bagot and Hoare removed the depth charges despite the flames; thus preventing any further explosion.
For their actions during the engagement, both Bagot and Hoare were awarded the Albert Medal. The announcement and accompanying citation for the award was published in the London Gazette on 20 August 1918, reading:
Admiralty, 20th August, 1918.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Albert Medal for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea to
Lieutenant-Commander Keith Robin Hoare, D.S.O., D.S.C., R.N.V.R., and Lieutenant Arthur Gerald Bagot, D.S.C., R.N clearance football jerseys.V.R.
The account of the services in respect of which the Decoration has been conferred is as follows: —
On the 12th April, 1918, an explosion took place in the engine-room of H.M. Motor Launch 356, and the forward tanks burst into flame. The Officer and some of the crew were blown overboard by the explosion, and the remainder were quickly driven aft by the flames, and were taken off in a skiff buy metal water bottle. By this time the flames were issuing from the cabin hatch aft, and there was much petrol burning on the surface of the water. It was then realised by the crews of adjacent vessels that the aft petrol tanks and the depth charge were being attacked by the fire, and might explode at any moment. At the moment when others were running away, Lieutenant Hoare and Sub-Lieutenant Bagot jumped into their dinghy, rowed to the wreck, got on board, and removed the depth charge, thereby preventing an explosion which might have caused serious loss of life amongst the crowd of English and French sailors on the quay.
Appointed second-in-command of Motor Launch 283, Bagot was in action at the First Ostend Raid on 23 April 1918. Throughout the operation, the launch conducted duties of rescuing officers and men from HMS Brilliant and Sirius. Praised for his “great coolness under fire” during the engagement, Bagot was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The notification of the award was published in a supplement to the London Gazette on 23 July 1918.
On 28 August 1918, Bagot was Mentioned in Despatches for “valuable services in action … off the enemy coast”. In March 1919, he was promoted to the substantive rank of lieutenant, which was made retrospective to 15 February 1918.
Following the conclusion of the war, Bagot re-settled in Canada for a few years. Returning to Australia, he took up a mixed farming property near Piawaning, Western Australia, during 1925. In 1938, Bagot married Noel Irene Harris. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Bagot enlisted in the Citizens Military Force on 25 April 1942. Posted to the 9th Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps, he served in Australia with the unit until his discharge on 15 October 1945, with the rank of captain.
On retiring, Bagot and his wife moved to Perth in 1962. During 1971, the British Government announced that all living recipients of the Albert Medal and Edward Medal would in future be treated as recipients of the George Cross, and were invited to exchange their medals for the latter award. As such, those who wished to exchange their insignia were invited to attend an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace to receive their George Crosses. Bagot was not fit enough to travel to London, and requested the medal be forwarded to him by registered mail. The medal was subsequently sent to the Governor of Western Australia, who presented it to Bagot on 26 November 1972.
Aged 91, Bagot died on 12 November 1979; his wife had predeceased him by seven months. Bagot was a first cousin of Lanoe Hawker, a First World War pilot and Victoria Cross recipient.