Sunday, August 18, 2013

Female George Medal Recipients (1)

Whenever one reads citations for bravery awards one is always in awe of what ordinary people are capable of when faced with extreme situations and the next few posts in this blog will search out some of the obscure women who have been recognised for such awards, including the comparative few who have received the George Medal.

The George Medal was first instituted in 1940 by King George VI to recognise the bravery of policemen, fire-fighters, nurses and other civilians not eligible for military awards during World War II and it has continued ever since.

The first story is one from my own youth and happened just outside my hometown. An African woman showed extraordinary courage when she rescued a white policeman from a crocodile attack. He had just rescued three children before the crocodile turned on him. Here is the full citation from The London Gazette of Friday, 6th April 1962, pages 2917 & 8


St. James's Palace, London S.W.I.
10th April 1962.

The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to give orders for the undermentioned awards of the George Medal and of the British Empire Medal, and for the publication in the London Gazette of the names of those specially shown below as having received an expression of Commendation for their brave conduct.

Awarded the George Medal


John William Maxwell, Assistant Inspector, Northern Rhodesia Police, Western Province of Northern Rhodesia.

Mrs. Belini Maloni, Children's Nurse, Ballybush Farm, Chingola, Northern Rhodesia.

Whilst swimming in the Kafue River with three children aged 7, 9 and 12 years, Assistant Inspector Maxwell saw a large crocodile between them and the river bank. He called to the children and directed them to a rock, projecting from the river, on to which he climbed. The 9 year old boy scrambled to safety with his assistance, but the two other boys were unable to climb the rock due to its slippery surface and to their being petrified with fear. The crocodile approached and Maxwell jumped between it and the children. With complete disregard for his personal safety and appreciating that he was laying himself open to attack he helped the boys out of the river and on to the rock. He lifted the elder boy out and while helping the other, Maxwell was seized by the crocodile. He beat it on the snout and in the eye and it released him, but it immediately turned in the water and seized him again before he could get on to the rock. He was dragged into deep water, but managed to open the crocodile's jaws and release his leg. Then, with his fingers, he gouged out the eyes of the beast and it let go its hold. With his left foot practically severed and his right leg badly mauled, Maxwell swam to the rock where he climbed out. With the help of the children he tore up a towel and applied a tourniquet to his leg to prevent further loss of blood. Belini Maloni was at her employer's farm when children called for aid in rescuing Maxwell from the rock. Mrs. Maloni ran to the river. She was unable to swim, the crocodile was thrashing about in the water and there was danger that other crocodiles would be attracted. She nevertheless entered the river and waded across to Maxwell. She assisted him on to her back and, crawling on her hands and knees, carried him through the water to safety. Belini Maloni, in spite of being terrified, entered the river with complete disregard for her own safety, knowing full well the risk, and her cool bravery in the face of serious danger made possible the rapid medical attention necessary for saving Maxwell's life.

There is little else to be found on Belini Maloni. Probably reports and photographs are accessible in yet to be digitised archives of the colonial newspapers of the day, but the only one to be found online is a fuzzy photo of her from the Sydney Morning Herald of 18 April 1962, as she received news of her recognition.

The London Times 11 April 1962 also carried this article about John William Maxwell (no relation of mine by the way) and rather typically for the era, it is sad to say, Belini seems to receive only secondary recognition. In hindsight, one might also query the wisdom of Maxwell and the children swimming in the river in the first place knowing that the Kafue River had crocodiles, but that must never diminish the bravery of those involved.

If she is still alive, where is Belini Maloni now? It may be her name wasn’t spelled as it ought to have been. I recall she also received the gift of a bicycle (as valuable as a car to Africans in that era) and it was probably more useful and appreciated than the medal. 

If anyone reading this knows any more about what happened to all the people involved, and in particular this exceptional woman, please contact me.