Nominate your British heroes: Who do you think has shaped our nation?

    Photo credit: Chris Jackson/Buckingham Palace via Getty Images/PA Media
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    Who do you think are the greatest British heroes, who have helped shape our proud nation into what it is today? Nominate your British heroes below…

    Words: Russell Higham

    This country has more than its fair share of British heroes, and they come in all shapes and sizes; from government and military leaders who have defended the nation from harm, crusaders for equal rights and social justice who have fought to make the country fairer, to the inventors and scientists who have helped improve, prolong, and even save the lives of thousands – if not millions – of people.

    Here are some of the people who come to my mind when I think of heroic Brits. Whether they’ve helped win wars, heal the sick and injured, or just raised money for good causes, they all have one thing in common – they have repeatedly put the needs of others before their own.

    Below we discuss some of the people who could be considered the greatest British heroes, but we want to hear from you about the figures you believe are the greatest British heroes, who have helped shape our proud nation into what it is today. When all nominations are in we will collate your top ten British heroes!

    Nominate your British heroes

    To nominate your British heroes, simply fill in the boxes below:

    Discover Britain’s British heroes

    Queen Elizabeth II  (1926 – 2022)

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    Queen Elizabeth II attended an armed forces act of loyalty parade in the gardens of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, as they mark her Platinum Jubilee in Scotland in 2022. Credit: PA Images/Alamy

    Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor ruled the United Kingdom for longer than any other monarch in British history. Even in her 70th year of service, in 2022 she placed duty at the heart of all she did, performing final duties just days before she passed away peaceful at Balmoral Castle. Becoming Queen at the young age of 25 on the death of her father, King George VI, and living to the age of 96 she served her country her entire life, and dedicated her life to service. Her detractors would argue that she seemed to prefer the company of dogs and horses to that of her subjects, but nobody could deny that Her Majesty certainly took her role seriously and loved her country. She was an inspiration to so many across the world and we pay tribute to her remarkable life and reign, here.

    Sir Winston Churchill  (1874 – 1965)

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    Winston Churchill’s portrait by Cecil Beaton on becoming Prime Minister, May 1940. Credit: Fremantle / Alamy

    Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was the archetypal British hero. An idiosyncratic statesman with the stubborn tenacity and unshakeable resolve of a bulldog — with the looks to match — this twice Prime Minister was a true polymath. As well as leading the country successfully through the Second World War, he also found time to write over 40 books and paint some decent artworks, some of which sell for millions today. He’s a divisive character now as he was then, though: Churchill lost the election after winning the war and many of the decisions that he made in office, as well as his personal views on empire and race, have been highly criticised.

    Emmeline Pankhurst  (1858 – 1928)

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    Emmeline Pankhurst arrested outside Buckingham Palace, London, May 1914. Credit: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd / Alamy

    Emmeline Goulden, as she was born, continued the work of her husband, Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer who authored the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882 that went some way to addressing the gross discrepancies between men and women’s rights. Seeking the still-elusive right to vote, Emmeline (or Emily as she is better known) helped found a political movement whose members were often referred to as ‘Suffragettes’. Suffragette actions included a series of violent protests and hunger strikes, even suicide when one member, Emily Davison, threw herself under the King’s Horse as it ran the Epsom Derby in 1913. The Suffragettes and their actions shocked the nation, but, eventually, women were given the right to vote 15 years later.

    Admiral Nelson (1758 – 1805)

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    Admiral Nelson. Image from The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

    A brilliant naval commander who inspired his troops to victory in several conflicts, most notably the battles of the Nile and Trafalgar, with the words: “England expects that every man will do his duty”. The Battle of Trafalgar, in 1805, claimed Nelson’s life when he was shot by a French sniper while aboard his ship HMS Victory, but not before thwarting Napoleon’s plans to invade Britain. Nelson’s flair, charisma, and innovative style of leadership — he was one of the first military leaders to give his officers the authority to use their own initiative — arguably helped secure Britain’s dominance over the world’s oceans in the 19th century.

    Alan Turing (1912-1954)

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    Alan Turing. Credit: Geopix / Alamy

    A Cambridge and Princeton-educated mathematician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist; Alan Turing’s ideas helped usher in the computer age as well as helping win the Second World War. However, he died labelled a petty criminal purely for being gay. Turing, based at the British government’s secret intelligence unit at Bletchley Park, is remembered most for helping to crack the ‘Enigma’ code by which the Nazis communicated their military plans with each other. For this heroic work, he was awarded the OBE. A few years later, though, in 1952, he was arrested for ‘gross indecency’ (committing a homosexual act, illegal in those days) but avoided imprisonment by agreeing to undergo chemical castration. Turing died by suicide by cyanide poisoning in 1954, just weeks before his 42nd birthday.

    Noor Inayat Khan (1914 – 1944)

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    Bust of Noor Inayat Khan. Credit: PjrStatues / Alamy

    Born in Russia to an Indian father and American mother, Noor Inayat Khan nevertheless died for Britain and for this I think she is a British hero. After being educated in France, Inayat Khan fled to England to escape the Nazi occupation. Here, she was recruited by Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret intelligence organisation who carried out dangerous missions of espionage and sabotage throughout Europe in the Second World War. She trained as a radio operator and was sent back to Paris, deep behind enemy lines, to help the resistance movement. She was captured by the Gestapo but refused to divulge information, even under torture. She was shot at Dachau concentration camp and posthumously awarded the George Cross (a medal for gallantry) by Britain in 1949.

    Diana Princess of Wales (1961 – 1997)

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    Diana, Princess of Wales. Credit: PA Images/Alamy

    Despite a privileged upbringing and many years spent living as a princess, Diana Frances Spencer is often regarded as a hero of popular culture by many people all around the world, even those who have never stepped foot in Britain. As the most photographed woman on the planet — a title that would later contribute to her demise — Princess Diana brought attention to hard-hitting causes that the Royal Family had never focused on before, such as AIDS, drug addiction and homelessness. Diana’s campaigning on behalf of the anti-landmine HALO Trust, culminating in her walk through a landmine in war-torn Angola, helped lead to the signing of a treaty calling for an end to the use of these devastatingly indiscriminate weapons.

    Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

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    Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Credit: GRANGER – Historical Picture Archive / Alamy

    Possibly the most famous mechanic in history, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born with engineering in his blood. His French-British father Marc constructed the first underwater tunnel that successfully connected both sides of the River Thames in London between Rotherhithe and Wapping (it now forms part of the London Overground line). Isambard was a child prodigy who had mastered the art of geometric drawing by the age of eight. He later designed the 700-foot-wide Clifton Suspension Bridge that spans the River Avon at Bristol, the Great Western Railway, and Paddington Station, as well as various steamships, docks and even hospitals.

    Mary Seacole (1805 – 1881)

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    Mary Seacole. Credit: GL Archive / Alamy

    When it comes to nursing, Florence Nightingale has generally been the name that gets all the glory. Only now are the efforts of a black Afro-Caribbean woman by the name of Mary Seacole beginning to be appreciated again. At a time when many people from Jamaica, where she was born, were being traded as slaves, Mary (who was born a free woman, her father being a Scottish army officer), helped nurse wounded British soldiers in the Crimean War. She set up the ‘British Hotel’ — a form of convalescent home for officers — but also worked on the battlefield, as well as in a hospital situated close to the fighting. A statue of her was erected in 2016 at St Thomas’ Hospital in south London.

    Captain Sir Tom Moore (1920 – 2021)

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    Captain Tom Moore. Credit: Xinhua/Alamy Live News

    In the dark days of the pandemic and the long, lonely lockdown that accompanied it, it wasn’t our political parties who we looked to for hope and inspiration, it was a 99-year-old former Army Officer from Yorkshire. Retired Army Officer Captain Tom proved himself to be the real hero of the hour by combining a lifelong spirit of selflessness with a dollop of good old British gumption. Alarmed by the dwindling resources of the NHS as it struggled to cope with the Covid crisis, Captain Tom set himself the target of raising £1,000 by walking 100 laps of his garden. He completed his charitable mission and became a national treasure into the bargain by raising the truly heroic sum of £32million for the NHS. He later became knighted for his efforts, though he died just nine months after his 100th birthday.

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    Do you love Britain? Let others know!