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The Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is the highest recognition for valour in the face of the enemy that can be given to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces of any rank in any service, and civilians under military command.

On January 29th 1856, Queen Victoria introduced the idea of the Victoria Cross. On June 26th 1857, on horseback in Hyde Park, she personally gave the Victoria Cross to each of 62 servicemen, bending down to pin it on their uniforms.

The decoration, chosen by the Queen, is in the form of a Maltese cross on a crimson ribbon. Each medal is said to be made of bronze melted from enemy cannon captured at Sevastopol during the Crimean War and bears the royal crest and the inscription For Valour. The recipient's name, rank, number and unit are inscribed on the reverse of the suspension bar. The date of the act of bravery is inscribed in the centre of the reverse of the cross.

Gallantry under fire

One thousand three hundred and fifty-three recipients have been awarded 1,356 Victoria Crosses. Some of them have been awarded posthumously. Three men have been awarded the VC and Bar, a second award of the VC: 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 actions in combat.

The first act of valour to be recognized was that of Charles Davis Lucas, 20 years old, of the Royal Navy -

In May 1854 Lucas was appointed mate of HMS Hecla, a small paddle-wheel steam warship, under the command of Captain William Hutcheon Hall. On the night of 21–2 June 1854 the Hecla, with two other ships, was engaging the Russian fortress at Bomarsund, on the Baltic ?land Islands. At the height of the action a Russian shell landed on deck, the fuse still hissing and burning. All hands were ordered to fling themselves flat, but Lucas with great coolness and presence of mind ran forward and hurled the shell into the sea, where it exploded with a tremendous roar. All the sailors lived.

What inspires a man to defy almost certain death to save others?


Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson VC with his wife Emma and daughter Kaylee. He gave the VC he had received on January 16th 2009 to the Australian War Memorial as a permanent loan..
Image: The Australian Government

The first recipient of the newly created Victoria Cross for Australia was Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson VC -

He was patrolling with Afghan and US forces when they were ambushed by a well-prepared and larger Taliban force. Sustained machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire caused casualties. Donaldson deliberately exposed himself to fire from the Taliban fighters in order to draw their attention away from the casualties, allowing them to be moved to cover.

When the patrol attempted to withdraw, the number of casualties filling the vehicles was such that the unwounded personnel (including Donaldson) had to make their way on foot. As they set off, it was realised that an Afghan interpreter attached to the patrol was wounded, and had been left behind.

Donaldson immediately crossed the 260 feet or so of open ground between the convoy and the interpreter, under heavy fire, and then carried him back to the vehicles where he administered first aid. The patrol eventually broke free of the ambush after two hours.

Other Victoria Cross holders are described here. Their gallantry is an inspiration.

This post was first published on this day last year.

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