Frederick Corbett VC (birth name: David Embleton, 17 September 1853 to 25 September 1912) was an English 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.
Corbett was born on 17 September 1853 in Maldon, Essex, and died there in 1912. His name at birth was David Embleton. He served in first the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (1873-1883) and second, the Royal Artillery (1884-1891).
Corbett served in the British Army between 1873 and 1891.
Corbett was 28 years old and a private in the 3rd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps during the 1882 Anglo–Egyptian War, which had resulted when discontented Egyptian officers under Ahmed ‘Urabi rebelled and the United Kingdom reacted to protect its financial and expansionist interests in the country and in particular the Suez Canal. It was during this service that the following deed took place for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross:
The citation in The London Gazette of 16 February 1883, read:
During the reconnaissance upon Kafr Dowar, Egypt, on 5 August 1882, the Mounted Infantry, with which Private Corbett was serving, came under a hot fire from the enemy and suffered some loss, including Lieutenant Howard Vyse, mortally wounded. This officer fell in the open, and there being then no time to move him, Private Corbett asked and obtained permission to remain by him, and though under a constant fire, he sat down and endeavoured to stop the bleeding of this officer’s wounds, until the Mounted Infantry received orders to retire, when he rendered valuable assistance in carrying him off the field…
The event occurred during a probing attack on the Egyptian position. He also served at the decisive Battle of Tel el-Kebir on 13 September 1882. Subsequently, when Kafr-el-Dawwar surrendered following the British victory in Egypt, the works there were found to be strong and well-stocked with modern artillery and arms and ammunition. Held by determined defenders, they would have been extremely difficult to take.
The British Army Discipline and Regulation Act of 1879 (Army Act) required active soldiers to display their medals on their uniforms on specific occasions. After leaving the army, Corbett sold the medal. He re-enlisted, this time into the Royal Artillery, in 1884. On 30 July 1884, after being convicted of being absent without leave and for embezzlement and theft from an officer, Corbett’s name was erased from the VC Register by Royal Warrant and his VC pension was terminated.
Corbett was among eight recipients of the VC whose awards were withdrawn for later criminal offences. The original Royal Warrant for the Victoria Cross involved an expulsion clause that allowed for a recipient’s name to be erased from the official register in certain wholly discreditable circumstances and his pension cancelled. The power to cancel and restore awards is still included in the warrant but none has been forfeited since 1908.
By 1903 the Corbett VC had come into the possession of a Mr Mansfield, Clerk of Kingsbury Urban District Council, who approached the War Office (WO) apparently with the intention of returning the actual medal to Frederick Corbett, or to his family. The War Office informed Mansfield that, “as the name of Frederick Corbett had been erased from the VCR, the cross should not be delivered to Corbett or his representatives.” Worried as to whether he could retain the medal, Mr Mansfield sought clarification; a further letter from the WO confirmed that, “in view of Corbett having sold his VC at a time when he was not subject to the Army Act, Mr Mansfield was entitled to retain it.”
The Victoria Cross awarded to Frederick Corbett was sold at auction by Glendining’s on 17 June 1924 for £50 and now resides in the Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum in Winchester.
Original Warrant Clause 15
Fifteenthly. In order to make such additional provision as shall effectually preserve pure this most honourable distinction, it is ordained that, if any person be convicted of treason, cowardice, felony, or of any infamous crime, or if he be accused of any such offence, and doth not after a reasonable time surrender himself to be tried for the same, his name shall forthwith be erased from the registry of individuals upon whom the said Decoration shall have been conferred, and by an especial Warrant under Our Royal Sign Manual, and the pension conferred under Rule 14 shall cease and determine from the date of such Warrant. It is hereby further declared, that We, Our Heirs and Given Successors, shall be the all judges of the circumstances requiring such expulsion; moreover, We shall at all times have power to restore such persons as may at any time have been expelled, both to the enjoyment of the Decoration and Pension.
Corbet died in Maldon Union Workhouse on 25 September 1912. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Maldon cemetery. On 16 April 2004, a regimental headstone was placed over the grave and, in a simple ceremony, the headstone, covered in the regimental flag of the 60th Rifles, was unveiled by Lieutenant General Sir Christopher Wallace. Howard Vyse, the man he tried to save, was buried with three other fatalities shortly after the battle at the English cemetery outside the (now demolished) Rosetta Gate of Alexandria.