It is the most humbling meeting of the year. The one where we meet to decide who has been the bravest civilian in Britain and some members of the Commonwealth. With my fellow committee members of the Royal Humane Society, originally instituted in 1774 to recognise acts of bravery, I have to decide who deserves the society’s greatest annual award, the Stanhope Gold Medal.

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But as our lunch host, the High Commissioner for New Zealand, said to our President Princess Alexandra and assembled guests, how do you choose? The man who dived off a boat in Australia to rescue a woman who was being attacked by a great white shark? But what about the woman who rushed to the aid of a disabled pensioner whose electric wheelchair was wedged in railtracks in the face of an oncoming goods train? It was difficult to imagine what it must have been like for the Canadian man who fought to smash the front windscreen of a truck to drag out the badly injured driver seconds before the whole thing exploded.

In all these cases, ordinary people were going about their daily life, then, in a split second, they were doing something extraordinarily heroic. We all wonder how we would react in the same situation. Luckily for those saved in these cases, the raw courage of their fellow human beings allowed them to live another day. The awards ceremony will be next year.

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