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Victoria Cross

 

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system. It is awarded for gallantry "in the presence of the enemy" to members of the British Armed Forces. It may be awarded posthumously. It was previously awarded to Commonwealth countries, most of which have established their own honours systems and no longer recommend British honours. It may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command although no civilian has received the award since 1879. Since the first awards were presented by Queen Victoria in 1857, two-thirds of all awards have been personally presented by the British monarch. These investitures are usually held at Buckingham Palace.

In 1854, after 39 years of peace, Britain found itself fighting a major war against Russia. The Crimean War was one of the first wars with modern reporting, and the dispatches of William Howard Russell described many acts of bravery and valour by British servicemen that went unrewarded.

The cross is suspended by a ring from a seriffed "V" to a bar ornamented with laurel leaves, through which the ribbon passes. The reverse of the suspension bar is engraved with the recipient's name, rank, number and unit. On the reverse of the medal is a circular panel on which the date of the act for which it was awarded is engraved in the centre.

In the case of a gallant and daring act being performed by a squadron, ship's company or a detached body of men (such as marines) in which all men are deemed equally brave and deserving of the Victoria Cross then a ballot is drawn. The officers select one officer, the NCOs select one individual and the private soldiers or seamen select two individuals. In all 46 awards have been awarded by ballot with 29 of the awards during the Indian Mutiny. Four further awards were granted to Q Battery, Royal Horse Artillery at Korn Spruit on 31 March 1900 during the Second Boer War. The final ballot awards for the army were the six awards to the Lancashire Fusiliers at W Beach during the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 although three of the awards were not gazetted until 1917. The final seven ballot awards were the only naval ballot awards with three awards to two Q-Ships in 1917 and four awards for the Zeebrugge Raid in 1918. The provision for awards by ballot is still included in the Victoria Cross warrant but there have been no further such awards since 1918.

With effect from 6 April 1952, when the Union of South Africa instituted its own range of military decorations and medals, these new awards took precedence before all earlier British decorations and medals awarded to South Africans, with the exception of the Victoria Cross, which still took precedence before all other awards. The other older British awards continued to be worn in the order prescribed by the British Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood.

As there was no formal order of wear laid down, the Victoria Cross was at first worn as the recipient fancied. It was popular to pin it on the left side of the chest over the heart, with other decorations grouped around the VC. The Queen's Regulations for the Army of 1881 gave clear instructions on how to wear it; the VC had to follow the badge of the Order of the Indian Empire. In 1900 it was ordained in Dress Regulations for the Army that it should be worn after the cross of a Member of the Royal Victorian Order. It was only in 1902 that King Edward VII gave the cross its present position on a bar brooch. The cross is also worn as a miniature decoration on a brooch or a chain with mess jacket, white tie or black tie. As a bearer of the VC is not a Companion in an Order of Chivalry, the VC has no place in a coat of arms.

Three people have been awarded the VC and Bar, the bar representing a second award of the VC. They are: Noel Chavasse and Arthur Martin-Leake, both doctors in the Royal Army Medical Corps, for rescuing wounded under fire; and New Zealander Charles Upham, an infantryman, for combat actions. Upham remains the only combatant soldier to have received a VC and Bar. An Irishman, Surgeon General William Manley, remains the sole recipient of both the Victoria Cross and the Iron Cross. The VC was awarded for his actions during the Waikato-Hauhau Maori War, New Zealand on 29 April 1864 while the Iron Cross was awarded for tending the wounded during the Franco-Prussian War of 187071. Royal New Zealand Air Force Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg has the distinction of being the only serviceman ever awarded a VC on evidence solely provided by the enemy, for an action in which there were no surviving Allied witnesses. The recommendation was made by the captain of the German U-boat U-468 sunk by Trigg's aircraft. Lieutenant Commander Gerard Roope was also awarded a VC on recommendation of the enemy, the captain of the Admiral Hipper, but there were also numerous surviving Allied witnesses to corroborate his actions.

Missouri Civil War Museum


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