History of the Victoria Cross

History of the Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is the best ranking British and Commonwealth award for bravery. The Victoria Cross’s original documentation states that it can only be presented as an award for “gallantry of the highest order”.

The Victoria Cross originally had links with the Crimean War. This war saw the first widespread deployment of war correspondents a war zone. William Howard Russell, writing for The Times, brought to light low-ranking soldiers and their bravery which went completely unrewarded. Only senior officers would be given medals for bravery.

Russell's reporting prompted MPs to reconsider the system of military rewards. On 19 December 1854 the House of Commons decided that Queen Victoria ought to introduce “an order of merit for distinguished and prominent personal gallantry to which every grade and individual from the highest to the lowest may be admissible”.

Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross

Many senior military figures did not like the idea of this medal since they felt that the British Army’s strength was in the way it could fight in formations commanded by an officer. They were concerned that the lure of a medal would encourage to soldiers to break formation in order to perform a noticeable act of bravery. However, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, strongly backed the medal proposal. His support won round Victoria and the senior military commanders’ objections were overruled. Prince Albert was the one to suggest the medal be named after his wife.

It was decided that the Victoria Cross would stand out from other medals of the time through the simplicity of its design. This design did not win many media friends. The Times referred to the medal as "poor looking and mean in the extreme”. The initial medal followed Prince Albert’s specifications - he preferred a “simple cross”. Victoria was apparently overjoyed by the final medal and added a metallic V to connect the medal to the medal ribbon.

The bronze for the Victoria Cross cames from Russian cannon taken by the British at Sebastopol during the Crimean War. The remainder of this metal is stored at the army base DSDC Donnington, in Telford, Shropshire. Nowadays there is only metal available for 80 medals. The medals are made by Hancocks - London jewellers based in London’s Burlington Arcade.

There have been 1,357 Victoria Crosses awarded since 1857 - 634 in World War One and 182 in World War Two. Since World War Two was finished, there have been 14 Victoria Crosses awarded for bravery in the Korean War, the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation, the Vietnam War, the Falklands War, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. L/Cpl Joshua Leakey became the most recent recipient of the Victoria Cross in February 2015. Leakey, a paratrooper, was awarded for his bravery during the war in Afghanistan, where he ran through enemy fire in Helmand Province to administer first aid on an injured comrade.

See also: Double VC winners

MLA Citation/Reference

"History of the Victoria Cross". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.