Little Bits of History

Victoria Cross

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 29, 2013
Victoria Cross

Victoria Cross

January 29, 1856: The Victoria Cross (VC) is established by Queen Victoria. It is the highest military decoration awarded for valor “in the face of the enemy.” Members of the military of the Commonwealth and some British Empire territories are eligible to receive the honor. It takes precedence over all other orders, decorations, and medals. The VC is granted regardless of rank or service area and can also be bestowed on civilians under military command. The British monarch presents the medal during an investiture service at Buckingham Palace.

The only comparable British award is the George Cross which is awarded for outstanding bravery and valor but not in the face of the enemy. Should someone receive both honors, the VC would be worn first. The medal is a bronze Cross pattée with a Crown and Lion Superimposed and holds the motto: “For Valour.” It has been awarded 1,356 times to 1,353 different individuals. Three people have been awarded the VC and bar – a medal for two separate actions.

Queen Victoria instituted the award as a result of the Crimean War. In 1854, 40 years of relative peace were brought to an end when Britain came into major conflict with Russia. The Crimean War was one of the first wars with modern reporting and dispatches from William Howard Russell told of the many acts of bravery and honor on the front lines – most of them unrewarded. Officers were eligible for awards but there weren’t awards unrelated to rank, as there were in other countries.

The Queen’s Warrant was put forth under the Royal-sign manual and backdated to 1854 in order to include the brave forces from the Crimean War. The VC comes with a yearly annuity which began at £10 and is now £1,495 if awarded by the British government, $3,000 if Canadian, and $A3,230 for Australians. At one time, the VC was forfeit should the recipient commit some heinous crime and it happened eight times. It is no longer the case and hasn’t been invoked, even while still part of the Warrant, since 1908. The last VC was awarded in 2007 to Bill Apiata who served with the New Zealand Special Air Service in Afghanistan. He is the first New Zealander to be awarded this prestigious honor.

“We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist.”

“The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them.”

“I think people really marry far too much; it is such a lottery after all, and for a poor woman a very doubtful happiness.”

“Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.” – all from Queen Victoria

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: The last VC to be awarded was on August 24, 2010 and bestowed upon Daniel Keighran, serving with the 6th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment in Afghanistan. The remuneration scale remains as stated above. Since they are rare, they are also highly prized and many have been sold at auction. The highest amount ever paid for one was over £400,000. There are both public and private collections of the medals. Lord Ashcroft began collecting in 1986 and since that time has been able to accumulate  over 1/10 of all VC ever awarded or over 135 medals. In November 2012, Lord Ashcroft’s collection was displayed at the Imperial War Museum next to their own VC and George Cross medals.

Also on this day: Oh, No – O-Three – In 1978, Sweden became the first nation to ban certain aerosols to protect the ozone layer.
“Nevermore!” – In 1845, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe was printed for the first time.
Nevermore – In 1945, the poem was published (a different look at the event).

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