The Victoria Cross

Britain's Highest Award for Gallantry

The Victoria Cross is the highest decoration which is, or has been, awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories. It is not restricted to citizens of these countries and has been awarded to a Swede, a German, a Swiss and five Americans who were serving in the armed forces of Commonwealth countries.

It takes precedence over all other orders, decorations and medals. It may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service and civilians under military command. In the United Kingdom, it is usually presented to the recipient or their next of kin, by the British monarch during an investiture held at Buckingham Palace. In those Commonwealth countries where the British monarch is the head of state, the Governor-General usually fulfils the same function. It is the joint highest award for bravery in the United Kingdom with the George Cross, which is the equivalent honour for valour not in the face of the enemy. However, the VC is higher in the order of wear and would be worn first by an individual who had been awarded both decorations (which has not so far occurred).

The Victoria Cross was introduced on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria to reward acts of valour during the Crimean War. Since then, the medal has been awarded 1,356 times to 1,353 individual recipients. Only 13 medals, nine to members of the British Army, and four to the Australian Army have been awarded since the Second World War. The traditional explanation of the source of the gunmetal from which the medals are struck is that it derives from Russian cannon captured at the siege of Sevastopol. Recent research has thrown doubt on this story, suggesting a variety of origins for the material actually making up the medals themselves.

Due to its rarity, the VC is highly prized and the medal can reach over 400,000 at auction. There are a number of public and private collections devoted to it. Lord Ashcroft, whose collection contains over one-tenth of the total VCs awarded, announced in July 2008 a donation to the Imperial War Museum, allowing his collection to be displayed there in a new gallery which opened in 2010.

Since 1990, three Commonwealth countries that retain the Queen as head of state have instituted their own versions of the VC. As a result, the original Victoria Cross is sometimes referred to as the "British Victoria Cross" or the "Imperial Victoria Cross", to distinguish it from the newer awards

The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association is made up of holders of the Victoria Cross and the George Cross, the equivalent award for civilians and military personnel who have displayed conspicuous gallantry but not in action. Holders of these awards receive a civil pension and attend reunions which receive much coverage in the national press. Membership is dwindling due to the increasing age of the holders and the tendency until recently of the government to award these medals posthumously.

We made a short film of David Callaghan, former director of Hancock and Sons, the suppliers of the VC, about the history of the Victoria Cross it may be seen at click here which has been used in our education programme.

For other Berkshire Victoria Cross winners CLICK HERE

The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association is for holders of these decorations. To see more click HERE We are grateful to Iain Stewart for his help with this page.

We also acknowledge with thanks the information coming from the Wikipedia entry for the Victoria Cross. You can read the full entry by clicking HERE

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