The George Cross was introduced on 24 September 1940 by King George VI. It is the second most prestigious British Honour, behind the Victoria Cross. However, unlike the Victoria Cross, it can be awarded to civilians as well as military personnel. It is the most prestigious award for gallantry that civilians can earn.
The George Cross came about during the Blitz, when there was strong demand for an award that recognised the bravery of civilians. The existing awards available to civilians didn’t seem to fit the new set of circumstances brought about by war, therefore it was decided that the George Cross would recognise bravery in the face of wartime danger.
The Empire Gallantry Medal was replaced by the George Cross. Holders of the Empire Gallantry Medal were requested to give their medals back and exchanged with a George Cross.
Individuals have typically been awarded the George Cross but it can also be awarded collectively. For example, the civilian population of Malta were awarded the George Cross in recognition of their bravery during the German attack on Malta 1941-1942. In April 1942, George VI wrote a letter to Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie, the island’s Governor, praising Maltese heroism and informing Dobbie of the award. Malta’s national flag now features a woven George Cross.
Since its inception in 1940, the GC has been awarded 407 times, 405 to individuals and two collective awards to Malta and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There have been 161 original awards including both collective awards and 245 exchange awards, 112 to Empire Gallantry Medal recipients, 65 to Albert Medal recipients and 68 to Edward Medal recipients.
See also: Double VC Winners
"The George Cross". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.