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The Victoria Cross

The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes
The Imperial War Museum opened a new permanent gallery in November 2010 to house the largest collection of Victoria Crosses in the world.

The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes contains over 220 Victoria Crosses, as well as over 30 George Crosses. The awards on display are a combination of both Lord Ashcroft’s and the Imperial War Museum’s collections. The medals in the gallery range from the Crimean War to the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alongside the medal groups, nearly 100 objects related specifically to those acts of bravery are on display – many for the first time. To find out more about the medals, visitors can choose from a range of interactive touch screens, video montages, animated graphic novels and sound clips to delve into the life stories and actions of all featured recipients.

http://www.iwm.org.uk/heroes

The Victoria Cross

 

When was the VC instituted?
The Victoria Cross was instituted by a Royal Warrant dated 29 January 1856, but was made retrospective to the autumn of 1854 to cover the period of the Crimean War.  It was the first medal for bravery that could be earned by anyone in the Army or the Navy. Officer, soldier or sailor – nothing else mattered except acting in the most courageous possible way.

Who designed the VC?
Prince Albert, the Prince Consort was much involved in the decision to institute the Victoria Cross - but the popular idea that the Prince designed the Cross is not supported in any of the surviving documents. It is thought that the manufacturers were responsible for the design. However, it was Queen Victoria who chose the inscription on the obverse: For Valour

Who makes the VC?
One of the Royal Family’s jewellers, Hancocks Ltd of London, has made all the Victoria Crosses since the inception of the award in 1856.

What is the VC made of?
All VCs are made from bronze, traditionally taken from a gun captured in the Crimean War. The rough cast Crosses are then individually hand finished; each is therefore unique. The Victoria Cross was deliberately intended to have little actual value. It’s worth lies in what it stands for and what people do to earn it: be extremely brave.

What does the VC look like?
The design of the Victoria Cross is a cross pattée showing a lion guarding the Royal crown. This emphasises the personal link that has always existed between the monarch and recipients of the VC.

What colour is the ribbon of the VC?
The first Victoria Crosses for members of the Army hung on red ribbons, those for the Navy on blue ribbons. Since the creation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, all VCs have been worn on red ribbons.

What is the inscription on the front of the medal?
The inscription on the Victoria Cross is "For Valour", a traditional word for bravery. It was personally chosen by Queen Victoria, after whom the medal was named. The Queen turned down the first suggestion, "For the Brave", explaining that all her solders were brave.

How is the reverse inscribed?
The recipient's name, rank, number and unit are inscribed on the reverse of the suspension bar. The date of the act of bravery is inscribed in the centre of the reverse of the cross.

How is the VC awarded?
A Victoria Cross act has to be seen by several witnesses. After being carefully considered, it is sent for approval by the monarch. The medal allows the King or the Queen to show their personal admiration for an individual’s act of extreme bravery.

Who was the first recipient of the Victoria Cross?
Mate Charles Lucas, Royal Navy, HMS Hecla, Baltic, 21 June 1854, Crimean War. Lucas's VC was therefore the first one awarded to the Royal Navy.

Who was the first Army VC?
Sergeant Luke O'Connor, 23rd Regiment (later Royal Welch Fusiliers), Battle of Alma, 20 September 1854, Crimean War.

2nd Lt W B Rhodes-Moorhouse VC, RFC

2nd Lt W B Rhodes-Moorhouse VC, RFC

Who was the first Air VC?
2nd Lieutenant William Rhodes-Moorhouse, Special Reserve, 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, France, 26 April 1915, First World War.

The VC awarded to Rhodes-Moorhouse is on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

Which sailor, soldier and airman was the first to be awarded the VC during the First World War?
In each case the date of the action is given, not the date of Gazette.

  • Sailor Commander Henry Ritchie, Dar-es-Salaam, East Africa, 28 November 1914.
  • Soldier Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Private Sidney Godley, 4th Bn, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), Mons, Belgium, 23 August 1914.
  • Airman 2nd Lieutenant William Rhodes-Moorhouse, (see First Air VC above).

Which sailor, soldier and airman was the first to be awarded the VC during the Second World War?
In each case the date of the action is given, not the date of Gazette.

  • Sailor Lieutenant Commander Gerard Roope, HMS Glowworm, North Sea, 8 April 1940.
  • Soldier 2nd Lieutenant Richard Annand, Durham Light Infantry, France 15/16 May 1940.

The VC awarded to Annand is on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

  • Airmen Flying Officer Donald Garland and Sergeant Thomas Gray, 12 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Maastricht Bridges, Belgium, 12 May 1940.

Who is the most recent VC?

  • The most recent recipient of the VC is Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith, Special Air Service, Australian Defence Force, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, 11 June 2010. He received the Victoria Cross for Australia.
  • The most recent British recipient of the VC is Corporal Bryan Budd, 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, Sangin, Afghanistan, July and August 2006. His award was posthumous.
  • The most recent surviving British recipient of the VC is Private Johnson Beharry, The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, Al Amarah, Iraq, 1 May 2004 & 11 June 2004.

Beharry’s medals are on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

Who was the youngest VC recipient?
Jointly, Hospital Apprentice Andrew Fitzgibbon, Indian Medical Establishment, Taku Forts, China, 21 August 1860 and Drummer Thomas Flinn, 64th Regiment, Cawnpore, India, 28 November 1851. They were both aged 15 years and 3 months at the time of their actions.

Who was the oldest VC recipient?
Lieutenant William Raynor, Bengal Veteran Establishment, Indian Mutiny, 11 May 1857. Age: 69 years.

Captain Noel Chavasse VC*, MC

Captain Noel Chavasse VC*, MC

Has anybody been awarded the VC twice?

  • Lieutenant Arthur Martin-Leake. First award as a surgeon-captain, South African Constabulary, Vlakfontein, South Africa, 8 February 1902, Second Anglo-Boer War. Second award as a lieutenant with the Royal Army Medical Corps, Zonnebeke, Belgium, 29 October-8 November 1914, First World War.
  • Captain Noel Chavasse, Royal Army Medical Corps. First award, Guillemont, France, 9 August 1916, First World War. Second award, Wieltje, Belgium, 31 July- 2 August 1917, First World War.
  • Captain Charles Upham, 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force. First award as a second lieutenant, Crete, 22-30 May 1941, Second World War. Second award, as a captain, El Ruweisat Ridge, Western Desert, 14/15 July 1942, Second World War.

The VC and Bar awarded to Chavasse are on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes

What is the largest number of VCs awarded for a single collective action?
The largest number of VCs awarded for a single collective action was the eleven for the defence of Rorke’s Drift, South Africa on 22/23 January 1879, made famous by the 1964 feature film, Zulu.

Two of the Rorke’s Drift VCs – those belonging to Lieutenant John Chard and Private Robert Jones – are on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

Twelve VCs were also awarded to members of both the British Army and the Royal Navy for the landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.

Eight of these – those belonging to Midshipman George Drewry, Corporal John Grimshaw, Midshipman Wilfred Malleson, Sergeant Alfred Richards, Leading Seaman  George Samson, Commander Edward Unwin, Able Seaman William Williams and Captain Richard Willis – are on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

Can the VC be awarded by ballot?
The original 1856 warrant provided for the award of VCs by ballot where an act of outstanding gallantry was performed by a body of men. The number of VCs that could be granted was later modified, but the principle of election remained. Some 46 VCs have been awarded by ballot, including:

  • Major John Guise, 90th Regiment, Second Relief of Lucknow, India, 16 November 1857, mutinies in India

The VC awarded to Guise is on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

  • Private John Pearson, 8th Hussars, Gwalior, India, 17 June 1858, mutinies in India

The VC awarded to Pearson is on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

  • Driver Horace Glasock, ‘Q’ Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, Korn Spruit, South Africa, 31 March 1900, Second Anglo-Boer War

The VC awarded to Glasock is on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

  • Corporal John Grimshaw, Sergeant Alfred Richards and Captain Richard Willis, 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, Cape Helles, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, First World War

The VCs awarded to Grimshaw, Richards and Willis are on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

  • Petty Officer Ernest Pitcher, HMS Dunraven (Q-ship), Royal Navy, Bay of Biscay, 8 August 1917, First World War

The VC awarded to Pitcher is on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

  • Captain Alfred Carpenter, and Able Seaman Albert McKenzie, HMS Vindictive, Royal Navy, Zeebrugge, 22/23 April 1918, First World War

The VCs awarded to Carpenter and McKenzie are on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

What is the total number of VCs awarded?
To date, February 2011, 1359 VCs have been awarded to 1355 named recipients. This figure includes three 'Bars' (second awards) and one 'ungazetted' award made to the American Unknown Warrior on 28 October 1921.

VC's awarded by
Services and countries
1856-1913 1914-1919 1920-1938 1939-1946
RN, RNR, RNVR, RM 45 51 - 23
Army 357 411* 1 61
RFC, RAF, RAF(VR) - 10 - 22
Australian Forces 5 63 - 19
Canadian Forces 4 63 - 13
New Zealand Forces 2 11 - 9**
South African Forces 21 4 - 3
Newfoundland - 1 - -
Fiji Military Forces - - - 1
King's African Rifles - - - 1
The Hon. East India Company
and Indian Army
84 20 3 30
Civilians 4 - - -
American Unknown Warrior - - 1 -
TOTAL 522 634 5 182
Includes *2 Bars **1 Bar

Lance Corporal Rambahadur Limbu VC

Lance Corporal Rambahadur Limbu VC

How many VCs have been awarded since 1946?
Eleven VCs have been awarded of which six have been given posthumously:

  • Korea 1951-53 - 4
  • Sarawak 1965 - 1
  • Vietnam 1966-69 - 4
  • Falklands - 1982 - 2
  • Iraq - 1
  • Afghanistan - 4

Are there any instances of the VC being awarded to father and son?

  • Father - Lieutenant Frederick S (later Field Marshal Earl) Roberts, Bengal Horse Artillery, Indian Mutiny, 2 January 1858.
    Son - Lieutenant Frederick H S Roberts, King's Royal Rifle Corps, South African War, 15 December 1899.
  • Father - Captain Walter Congreve, Rifle Brigade, South African War, 15 December 1899.
    Son - Brevet Major William Congreve DSO MC, Rifle Brigade, France 6-20 July 1916.
  • Father - Major Charles Gough, 5 Bengal European Cavalry, Indian Mutiny, 15 August 1857, 18 August 1857, 27 January 1858 and 23 February 1858.
    Son - Captain and Brevet Major John Gough, Rifle Brigade, Somaliland, 22 April 1903.

Have any brothers been awarded the VC?

  • Major Charles Gough, 5th Bengal European Cavalry, Indian Mutiny 15 August 1857, 18 August 1857, 27 January 1858 and 23 February 1858.
    Lieutenant Hugh Gough, 1st Bengal European Light Cavalry, Indian Mutiny, 12 November 1857 and 25 February 1858.

    Charles Gough saved the life of his brother Hugh at Khurkowdah, India on 15 August 1857. It was one of four acts that earned him the VC.

The VC awarded to Charles Gough is on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

  • Captain Reginald Sartorious CMG, 6th Bengal Cavalry, Ashanti War, 17 January 1874.
    Captain Euston Sartorious, 59th Regiment, Afghan War, 24 October 1879.
  • 2nd Lieutenant Alexander Turner, Royal Berkshire Regiment, Vermelles, France, 28 September 1915.
    Lieutenant Colonel Victor Turner, Rifle Brigade, Western Desert, 27 October 1942.
  • Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford, Durham Light Infantry, Eaucourt l'Abbaye, France, 1 October 1916.
    Lieutenant Commander George Bradford, HMS Iris II, Zeebrugge, Belgium, 22-23 April 1918.

The VC awarded to George Bradford is on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes.

Have members of the same family ever been awarded the VC and the GC?
There is one instance of the VC and GC being awarded to brothers:

  • Lieutenant Colonel Derek Seagrim, 7th Bn, The Green Howards was awarded a posthumous VC in North Africa, 20/21 March 1943
  • Major Hugh Seagrim, 19th Hyderabad Regiment and SOE, was awarded a posthumous GC behind the Japanese lines in Burma, 2 September 1944

Lt Col D A Seagrim VC 7 Bn, The Green Howards

Lt Col D A Seagrim VC 7th Bn, The Green Howards

Major H P Seagrim GC, DSO, MBE, 19 Hyderabad Regiment & SOE

Major H P Seagrim GC, DSO, MBE, 19th Hyderabad Regiment & SOE

Can the VC be awarded to a woman?
Women are eligible for the VC since 1920 but to date, no award has been made.

Is there an annuity paid to recipients of the VC?
Provision for the payment of an annuity of £10 to non-commissioned recipients was contained in the original warrant. From 1959 living holders of the VC were granted a tax-free annuity of £100 regardless of rank. The figure remained at £100 until 15 August 1995 when it was raised to £1,300.

Have any VC's been forfeited?
Under the terms of the original Warrant there was an expulsion clause that allowed for a recipient's name to be erased from the official Register in certain wholly discreditable circumstances.

King George V had expressed his strong disapproval of the practice of forfeiture; however the amending Warrant of 1920 still contained the relevant clause.

A later amending Warrant published in 1931 gave the Sovereign the new power to annul any forfeiture and restore both the award and pension. Although there are eight instances of forfeiture, the names of these men continue to be included in official lists of recipients.

The VC awarded to Midshipman Edward Daniel, HMS Diamond, Naval Brigade, for his actions at Sebastopol, 18 October 1854; at Inkerman, 5 November 1854 and again at Sebastopol, 18 June 1855, Crimean War, is on display in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes. He forfeited his award in 1861.

The medals of Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire VC, DSO**, DFC (Trustees of the Imperial War Museum, London)

The medals of Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire VC, DSO**, DFC (Trustees of the Imperial War Museum, London)

 

Glossary