This year marks the centenary of the award of the Victoria Cross to University of Sydney Law School student Percy Valentine Storkey (VC, LLB). In recognition of this historic occasion, Sydney Law School hosted a commemorative address on 11 April, given by Rear Admiral the Hon. Justice MJ Slattery RANR in his honour.
100 years on, the well-attended event demonstrates the significance of Storkey’s achievements and valuable contribution to Australia, both as a decorated soldier with the Australian Imperial Force and a remarkable lawyer.
The Victoria Cross was the highest award for gallantry that could be conferred on a soldier of the British Empire during the First World War. Sixty-six men from Australia received the Victoria Cross and Percy Valentine Storkey was one of only two Australian lawyers to receive the award.
Storkey was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace for his actions on 7 April 1918 at Hangard Wood, near Villers-Bretonneux.
In an important but ill-fated attack beyond Villers-Bretonneux a few days after the first German attempt to take the town had been defeated, Storkey bravely led bayonet assaults against enemy machine gun positions. It’s said that the initial success obtained in the battle was largely due to his efforts. While greatly outnumbered and outgunned, it was his courage and skilful plan of attack that saw the six men in his company advance the line and ultimately achieve victory. It’s these actions that won him the Victoria Cross.
After the war, Storkey returned to Australia and resumed his legal studies, which had been disrupted by the war. He qualified as a lawyer in 1921 and after working in private practice for some years, he became a crown prosecutor for the New South Wales Department of Justice. Shortly after the Second World War, he was appointed as a district court judge, presiding over the northern district of New South Wales.
After his death in 1969, the machine gun that Storkey captured during Hangard Wood was made available for the public to view at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where a street is also named in his honour.