The very last Victoria Cross awarded to a soldier in the European theatre of World War II was to Edward Colquhoun Charlton of the Irish Guards for actions on the 21st April 1945. Charlton was born on 15th June 1920 and had lived at 12 Basford Road, Old Trafford in Manchester


On the morning of 21st April 1945, Guardsman Charlton was co-driver in one tank of a troop, which, with a platoon of infantry seized the village of Wistedt. Shortly afterwards, the enemey attacked this position under cover of an artillery concentration and in great strength, comprising as it later transpired a battalion of the 15th Panzer Grenadiers supported by six self-propelled guns. All the tanks, including Guardsman Charlton's, were hit, the infantry were hard pressed and in danger of being over-run. Thereupon, entirely on his own initiative, Guardsman Charlton decided to counter-attack the enemy. Quickly recovering the Browning from his damaged tank, he advanced up the road and in full view of the enemy, fired the Browning from his hip. Such was the boldness of his attack and the intensity of his fire that he halted the leading enemy company, inflicting heavy casualties on them. This effort at the same time brought much needed relief to our own infantry.
For ten minutes Guardsman Charlton fired in this manner until wounded in the left arm. Immediately, despite intense enemy fire, he mounted his machine-gun on a nearby fence which he used to support his wounded left arm. He stood firing thus for a further ten minutes until he was again hit in the left arm, which fell away shattered and useless. Although twice wounded and suffering from loss of blood, Guardsman Charlton again lifted his machine-gun on to the fence, now having only one arm with which to fire and reload. Nevertheless, he still continued to inflict casualties on the enemy until finally he was hit for the third time and collapsed. He died later in enemy hands. The heroism and determination of this Guardsman in his self-imposed task were beyond all praise. Even his German captors were amazed at his valour. Guardsman Charlton's courageous and self-sacrificing action not only inflicted extemely heavy casualties on the enemy and retrieved his comrades from a desperate situation, he also enabled the position to be speedily recaptured.


Charlton was not mentioned in the battalion's war diary because apart from the troop commander all the tank commanders had been either captured or kllled and most other witnesses close to the site of Charlton's exploit were also captured. The Germans who made them prisoner were sailors who had been based on the Kiel Canal. The first indication of the extent of Charlton's bravery came to light when several guardsmen taken prisoner were released from POW camps on 28 April 1945 and confirmation of his death came when his grave was discovered after the war.


When Sergeant Jim Connolly, one of Charlton's comrades, was released from the POW camp he reported Charlton's gallantry to a staff liaison officer, repeating what a German officer had told him after Charlton's capture. His daring and bravery had astonished the enemy. Back in Britain, Connolly made a further report to the OC Guards Depot at Tring and for good measure repeated it to Captain Parker at No. 9 RAOC Company at Thetford.


A condition of the award is that an exploit must have been witnessed by at least two other individuals. Proof of Charlton's exploit was found in accounts taken from German prisoners of war who spoke of a lone guardsman who stood in front of three burning tanks and held up a battalion of German infantry, obviously buying time for his comrades to reorganise themselves. Gradually the full story of Charlton's valour came out and was recognised. His VC was gazetted in what was to be the final wartime honours list, on 2nd May 1946.


Guardsman Edward Charlton is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Soltau, Germany, close to the grave of Captain Ian Liddell VC. On 28th May 1946, at the opening of the Household Brigade War Memorial Cloister at the Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks, London, Charlton's mother presented his VC to the Irish Guards for permanent safekeeping.