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Adolf Hitler awarded German Red Crosses emblazoned with the National Socialist swastika to those who treated 55 of his wounded sailors injured in the Spanish Civil War.

(Daily Mail)

The Deutschland ship was hit by two bombs off Ibiza when it was targeted by republicans in 1937 as they resisted Spanish leader General Franco.

The UK Army personnel saved all but five, inspiring high praise from the Fuhrer himself.

Four of the medals given by the fascist leader are still held in British museums, two at Ash Vale's Museum of Military Medicine in Surrey.

One is at Belfast's Royal Ulster Rifles Museum and another is at Lincolnshire's Spalding Gentlemen's Society. Others have been auctioned off.

They hark back to an era in which the British establishment was keen to appease Hitler.

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The monarch's permission is required for service personnel to receive foreign medals and the King allowed them to be accepted and worn in the interests of political expediency.

Colony governor General Charles 'Tim' Harrington told German Admiral Rolf Carls at the time: "I shall always treasure the fact that the last honour I can receive comes from the nation for which I have the most profound respect. I hope that you will express to Der Führer my deepest thanks for this great honour," he added.

The Germans awarded Red Cross medals to 37 Brits, 20 of whom were awarded the Ladies Cross.

Pat Robins, now 87, was a schoolgirl at the time. The daughter of the Royal Army Medical Corps' Major Charles Anderson, she told The Times: "It was a posh day."

She recalls the "ferociously capable matron" Margaret Russell "Madge" Casswell from Gosberton, Lincolnshire.

Winston Churchill himself signed the documents that acknowledged Madge's gallantry when he was a government minister. She was mentioned three times dispatches during the Great War.

Hitler ordered that she be awarded the German Red Cross, making her one of the few British people commended by the National Socialist leader as well as his greatest wartime adversary.

Twenty-three people died instantly and 100 were wounded in the air bombing. Two years later it sank the Stonegate, a British merchant vessel, in the north Atlantic.

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