Private Joseph Silk GC

Joseph Henry "Harry" Silk GC, was born in London 14 Aug 1916. He was the eldest of 7 children and was actually born Joseph Henry Kibble. He changed his name to Silk when he was taken in by his maternal grandparents and adopted their surname. Silk was a member of the Territorial Army and originally joined the Devonshire Regiment at an unknown date. Sometime after the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940, Silk joined the Somerset Light Infantry.

On 4 Dec 1943, Silk, then aged 27, was with other members of his platoon, apparently cleaning weapons in a jungle clearing in Burma. For some unknown reason, one of the primed grenades belonging to Silk ignited and the fuse reportedly began to hiss. He shouted a warning and then rolled over, clutching the grenade to his stomach, with his body between the weapon and most of the men. When the grenade exploded, Silk was killed instantly but, contrary to initial reports that two comrades were slightly wounded, no one else was hurt. Silk's self-sacrifice had saved many lives. Silk was buried at the Taukkyan War Cemetery, Rangoon, Burma. His citation for the George Cross gazetted on 13th June 1944 simply said it was in "recognition of most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner."

However, a more vivid and personal account of Silk's bravery is given in the words of one of his comrades, Bill Witchell. "There is no doubt in my mind that Private Silk either saved my life or at least saved me from a peppering of shrapnel by the supreme act he took in sacrificing his own life. He was a member of my company. I was some half dozen paces from him when the tragic accident happened. No one else was even scratched....It was an act of supreme heroism...."

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by Stephen Luscombe