Victoria Cross

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Victoria Cross, Source: Veterans Affairs Canada

The Victoria Cross (official post-nominal letters "VC") is the highest award for valour that can be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces of any rank in any service and civilians under military command. It is only awarded for bravery "in the face of the enemy".

The medal takes the form of a cross patte, 1.375 inches (35 mm) wide, bearing a crown surmounted by a lion, and the inscription "FOR VALOUR". This was originally to have been "FOR BRAVERY", until it was changed on the recommendation of Queen Victoria, who thought some might erroneously consider that only the recipients of the VC were brave in battle. The medal, suspension bar and link weigh about 0.87 troy ounces (27 g). The ribbon is crimson, 1.5 inches (38 mm) wide.


Historical background

The VC was first issued on January 29 1856, recognising acts of valour during the Crimean War of 1854-1855. All VCs are cast from the bronze cascabels of two cannon of Chinese origin that were captured from the Russians at the siege of Sevastopol, although during the First World War metal from guns captured from the Chinese during the Boxer Rebellion was also used. The barrels of the cannon in question are stationed outside the Officers' Mess at the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich. The remaining portion of the only remaining cascabel, weighing 358 oz, is stored in a vault by 15 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps at Donnington. It is estimated that approximately 80-85 medals could be cast from this source. A single company of jewellers, Hancocks of London, has been responsible for the production of every VC awarded since the medal's inception.


A total of 1,355 Victoria Crosses have been awarded since 1856. Originally, the Victoria Cross could only be awarded to surviving recipients and could not be awarded to colonial troops (although it could be awarded to their European officers). Not until the 20th century was it made available to be awarded posthumously and to all troops in the service of the Crown (the first Indian soldier received it in 1914).

The largest number of VCs awarded in a single day was 24 on November 16 1857 at the relief of Lucknow. The largest number awarded in a single action was 11 at Rorke's Drift on January 22 1879.

Since the end of the Second World War the VC has been awarded only twelve times. Four were awarded during the Korean War, one in the Malaysia-Indonesia confrontation in 1965, four in the Vietnam War, two during the Falklands War in 1982, and one in the Second Gulf War in 2004.

Only three people have been awarded the Victoria Cross twice, Noel Chavasse, Arthur Martin-Leake, both members of The Royal Army Medical Corps, and New Zealander Charles Upham. The second award is designated by a bar worn on the suspension ribbon of the original decoration and this is thus known as a VC and Bar and since a small cross device is worn on the VC ribbon when worn alone, a recipient of the VC and bar would wear two such crosses on the ribbon.

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The Victoria Cross featured on a Canadian postage stamp

The VC has, exceptionally, been awarded to the American Unknown Soldier; the US Medal of Honor was reciprocally awarded to the British Unknown Warrior.

As the VC is awarded for acts of valour "in the face of the enemy", it has been suggested by some that the changing nature of warfare will result in few VCs being awarded. Only one in ten VC recipients in the 20th century is said to have survived the action for which they received the VC.

The corresponding honour for acts of valour that do not qualify as "in the face of the enemy" is the George Cross.

Between 1858 and 1881, the Victoria Cross could be awarded for actions taken "under circumstances of extreme danger" not in the face of the enemy. Six such awards were made during this period - five of them for a single incident (a shipwreck off the Andaman Islands in 1867).

Australia, Canada and New Zealand have each introduced their own honours system, replacing British medals such as the Military Cross with their own awards. However each country has kept the Victoria Cross as their highest honour. The Canadian Victoria Cross, instituted in 1993 and never awarded, as of 2005, is inscribed in Latin rather than English.

Awards of the Victoria Cross are always announced in the pages of the London Gazette.

Victoria Cross after 2000

In March 2002, it was widely reported in the British media that the VC was to be awarded to an unnamed Regimental Sergeant-Major in the 22nd Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment, for his involvement in fighting in the Tora Bora cave complex in November 2001. There was some debate over whether he should be named - a position favoured by the Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, but a compromise was reached that his name, and some specific details of the action, would be withheld from the official announcement in the London Gazette. However, this did not happen; the VC award was never confirmed, and he and another member of the SAS, who had also been discussed as a possible VC recipient, were awarded Conspicuous Gallantry Crosses in October 2002 instead.

In April of 2004 the Victoria Cross awarded to Sergeant Norman Jackson RAF was sold at auction for 235,250.

In late 2004, Duncan Gordon Boyes VC and nine other recipients were publicly celebrated on posters on the Victoria line of the London Underground [1] ( That same year, a national Victoria Cross and George Cross memorial was installed in the Ministry of Defence building on Whitehall in London; it can be visited by members of the public. [2] (

On March 18 2005, Private Johnson Gideon Beharry of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment became the first recipient of the Victoria Cross since the posthumous award to Sgt Ian McKay, 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment in 1982. Beharry was cited for "valour of the highest order" during the Iraq War. He is included in a list of more than 140 British troops awarded honours for roles in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the United Kingdom and Congo.

Forfeited VCs

Until the 1920s, the rules relating to the Victoria Cross allowed for the explusion of a VC recipient from the list of people receiving the honour, and the forfeiture of their pension, if they commited "discreditable acts". The rules have since been changed to prevent such expulsions, and the eight men who lost their VCs are still on official lists. See the category Victoria Cross forfeitures.

Theft of the VC

Given the rarity of the Victoria Cross and due to the fact they are rarely sold, these medals are highly prized on the black market by medal collectors. This has led to them being the targets of various thieves although they end up on an Interpol watch list for stolen items. One such incident was the VC awarded to Milton Fowler Gregg which was donated to the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum in London, Ontario Canada in 1979. It was stolen on Canada Day 1980 when the museum was overcrowded and has been missing ever since.

See also


External links

de:Victoria-Kreuz nl:Victoria Cross no:Victoria Cross pl:Krzyż Wiktorii fr:Croix de Victoria uk:Хрест Вікторії


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