On June 9, 1939, during a formal visit to Washington, Britain’s King George VI greeted an American physician named Bellenden Seymour Hutcheson, who was awarded Britain’s Victoria Cross for valor during World War I.
The meeting took place in the garden of the British Embassy on the eve of World War II, as the popular king was helping to rally U.S. support against Nazi Germany by celebrating veterans of World War I.
Hutcheson was awarded the medal, which is similar to the Medal of Honor, for courageously treating wounded comrades while under heavy enemy fire in the midst of a battle in September 1918.
On Thursday, 75 years after his visit, the king’s granddaughter Princess Anne unveiled a bronze plaque at Arlington National Cemetery honoring Hutcheson and four other Americans who were given the Victoria Cross for service during the “Great War.”
Hutcheson and three of the Americans had served with Canadian forces. The fifth Victoria Cross was given in 1921 to the unknown American soldier from World War I.
The plaque was unveiled in the display room of the Arlington amphitheater.
Princess Anne, 64, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and the sister of Prince Charles, also laid a wreath at Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknowns, as her grandfather had done in 1939.
The wreath-laying was done shortly after 2 p.m. in a drenching downpour that soaked bystanders and left the American and British flags sopping.
The princess, in a dark coat and black boots, held an umbrella and bowed as a bugler sounded taps. She wore on her coat a red poppy, long a symbol in Britain of the lives lost in World War I.
Thursday’s ceremonies are part of Britain’s commemoration of the centennial of World War I.
Although the United States did not enter the war against Germany and its allies until 1917, many Americans fought in British and Canadian units before that.
Britain is honoring 175 men from 11 foreign countries who were given the Victoria Cross during the war.
“Great Britain’s most powerful and vivid symbol of courage displayed in war is the Victoria Cross, awarded for valor in the face of the enemy,” the British Embassy’s defense attache, Buster Howes, said prior to the unveiling Thursday.
“It was introduced by Queen Victoria on the 29th of January 1856 . . . [and] is awarded regardless of rank,” he said, according to the embassy.
“Four of America’s sons, fighting with Canadian forces in the Great War, displayed a raw heroism, which earned them this medal,” he said. “The fifth name on this plaque is that of ‘The Unknown Soldier.’ ”
The others honored Thursday were:
●Sgt. Raphael Louis Zengel, a native of Minnesota who earned his Victoria Cross in battle near Warvillers, France, in 1918.
●Sgt. George Mullin, who was born in Portland, Ore., but moved to Canada as a child. He was cited for gallantry at the Battle of Passchendaele, Belgium, in 1917.
●Lance Cpl. William Henry Metcalf, born in Maine, was cited for gallantry in combat near Arras, France, in 1918.
Hutcheson was born in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 1883 and attended Northwestern University’s medical school, according to the Web site of the Canadian Military Heritage Project and the Canadian Great War Homepage.
In 1915, he renounced his American citizenship to join the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He reclaimed his citizenship after the war, according to the Web site.
In a letter written after the war, he said he joined the Canadian army because he sympathized with the Allied cause and wanted to get some surgical experience.
His Victoria Cross citation honors him for his conduct on Sept. 2, 1918, in a battle near Cagnicourt, France.
“Without hesitation and with utter disregard of personal safety he remained on the field until every wounded man had been attended to,” the citation reads. “He dressed the wounds of a seriously wounded officer under terrific machine-gun and shell fire, and, with the assistance of prisoners and of his own men, succeeded in evacuating him to safety.”
The citation says, “Immediately afterwards he rushed forward, in full view of the enemy, under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, to tend to a wounded sergeant, and, having placed him in a shellhole, dressed his wounds.”
Hutcheson, who was a captain, wrote later: “The rifle, machine gun and artillery fire was intense. We got to the wounded by crawling or running in a stooping position and when the fire became too hot flattened out on the ground like limpets on a rock.”
He described helping the wounded officer: “We put him in a shell hole. His first wound being in the abdomen it was advisable to get him back . . . as soon as possible. . . . An enemy field gun about a mile away . . . began firing at us and the first or second shell landed among us, or so it seemed to me, I was knocked into the shell hole.”
“The din was terrific, with machine gun and rifle fire ahead, our low-flying planes swooping to within 50 feet of the ground and firing at the enemy and shell explosions all about,” he wrote. “Someone remarked that . . . there would be an awful mess if Fritz ever got a direct hit on our shell hole.”
Hutcheson returned home after the war. He died in 1954 at the age of 70, according to the Web site.
George VI, who suffered from a speech handicap, was the subject of the 2010 hit movie “The King’s Speech.” When he came to Washington in 1939, he was the first reigning British monarch to visit the United States.
He and his wife, the then-Queen Elizabeth, received a tumultuous welcome.
As part of the festivities, he greeted scores of World War I veterans at the gathering in the embassy garden. According to a newspaper account, the first to be presented to the king was Hutcheson, who wore the Victoria Cross he had earned 21 years before.