10 things you might not know about the Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is the highest award given to the Armed Forces for bravery. Here are some interesting facts that you might not know about the VC.

1. The VC was created on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria

A Victoria Cross. Credit: On display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum

The Victoria Cross was introduced by Queen Victoria to recognise acts of bravery in the wake of the Crimean War. The war was the first ‘modern war’ with reporters from national press reporting many acts of bravery by servicemen on the front-line that went unrewarded. 

The inscription “For Valour”, a traditional word for bravery, was personally chosen by The Queen after she turned down the first suggestion, “For the Brave”, as she said all her soldiers were brave. 

2. It’s the highest award for gallantry given to British and Commonwealth Forces

 Johnson Beharry with fellow VC recipient Bill Speakman who died aged 91 in 2018

The medal is awarded to those serving in the British Armed Forces “for most conspicuous bravery…acts of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy." It can also be awarded to people serving from commonwealth countries, but most of these countries now have their own honours systems.

At the awarding ceremony a VC is always presented first, taking precedence over knighthoods. 

3. 1,355 people have received a Victoria Cross

The VC has been awarded to over 1,300 people since its creation in 1856. Since the Second World War only 15 medals have been awarded, 11 to service personnel from the British Army and 4 from the Australian Army.

There are currently 9 living VC recipients but it can also be awarded posthumously. 

Lance Corporal James Ashworth of the Grenadier Guards was awarded the VC for crawling right up to an enemy position to neutralise enemy pinning down his platoon. He was killed when about to post a grenade. The result was the fierce storming of the enemy position by his comrades and Ashworth was posthumously awarded the VC in 2013 aged just 23. 

Lord Ashcroft has the largest collection of Victoria Crosses, which went on display in the Imperial War Museum in 2010.

 

4. 628 VCs were awarded in the First World War, 181 in the Second World War.

The largest number of medals for one campaign were given in the First World War, 628 medals were awarded to 627 recipients. 181 VCs were given for actions in the Second World Warm and in both world wars two people received the VC twice. 

In recent conflicts 2 VCs were awarded in the Falklands, 1 in Iraq and 3 in Afghanistan.

5. Anyone regardless of rank, service or sex can be awarded a Victoria Cross

Anyone from any rank in the Royal Navy, British Army or Royal Air force can be awarded the honour. Civilians who are under military command can also be awarded the medal, although no civilian has received one since 1879. 

The VC was also the first bravery medal to be earned by anyone in the Army or the Navy and in 1920 a Royal Warrant made it possible to award VCs to women in the Armed Forces, although none have been awarded yet.

6. There are only three British VC recipients alive today

Since 2000 4 VCs have been awarded to British soldiers. All four received the award for bravery in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only two of those recipients are still alive today; Joshua Leakey who was awarded the VC in 2015 and Johnson Beharry who received the VC in 2005.

The third living VC recipient is John Cruickshank who at 98 is the last living person to be awarded a VC for bravery during the second world war.

Johnson Beharry VC

7. Three people have received the VC twice

Captain Noel Chavasse was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1916 and 1917. He was awarded his first VC for helping the wounded “under heavy fire and frequently in view of the enemy”. He saved the lives of twenty badly wounded men as well as many others.

He was awarded a Bar to the VC after he was hit in the head but refused to leave his post despite a fractured skull, venturing into no man’s land time and again to treat the wounded.

Early on 2 August 1917, Noel’s first-aid post was hit by a shell. With his face unrecognisable and a serious stomach wound, he crawled half a mile for help but sadly died a few days later.

“His courage and self-sacrifice were beyond praise.”

Captin Noel Chavasse VC Credit: PA Photos/TopFoto

Surgeon Captain Arthur Martin-Leake and Captain Charles Upham are also the only other men to be double VC holders.

8. The youngest recipients of the VC were aged 15 years and 3 months and the oldest was 69 years old

The two youngest recipients of the Victoria Cross were Thomas Flinn in 1857 and Andrew Fitzgibbon in 1860, who were both 15 years and 3 months. The oldest person to receive the award was 69-year-old William Raynor who defended an ammunition store for five hours in 1857.

9. The VC is hand-made using bronze taken from cannons captured in the Crimean war

Since the VC’s creation a single company of jewellers, Hancocks of London, have been the sole suppliers of the prestigious award.

The medal takes the form of a Maltese cross and is made of bronze taken from cannons that were captured from the Russians during the Crimean War. Its main feature is a lion guarding the Royal Crown with a ribbon underneath bearing the motto ‘For Valour’.

The design is intended to emphasis the personal link between the British monarch and the recipients of the VC.

Johnson Beharry's Medals including his VC which are on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery

10. The George Cross is the equivalent of the VC but awarded for extreme bravery not in the presence of the enemy

The George Cross was created on 24 September 1940 and is awarded for extreme bravery carried out in peacetime when facing the perils of ordinary life and in wartime but not in the presence of the enemy.

Retired Major Dominic Troulan was the first civilian in more than 40 years to be awarded a George Cross in 2017 after he risked his life to save 200 people during a terrorist attack in Kenya in 2013.