Introduced to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War, the Victoria Cross is the highest award for the military of Britain and Commonwealth countries. The decoration is awarded “for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.”
Here are five facts about the history of the Victoria Cross…
Since 1856, the Victoria Cross has been awarded 1,361 times, although not a single one has been given to a woman. Only 17 have received the honour since the end of World War II – a result of the changing nature of warfare. Soldiers find themselves “in the presence of the enemy” less often – so aren’t eligible for the VC – so, therefore, in the past 70 years, the George Cross has been a more common award.
Royal Navy officer Charles Lucas was the first recipient of the Victoria Cross, in recognition of an extraordinary act of bravery that took place two years before the medal existed. On 21 June 1854, Lucas was serving on the Hecla in the Baltic when a live shell landed on the deck. While every other sailor threw themselves to the floor for cover, Lucas ran forward, picked up the shell and hurled it into the water before the fuse burnt out. No one on the Hecla was killed due to his courageous deed.
Traditionally, every Victoria Cross medal is made using bronze from two Russian cannons captured at the Siege of Sevastopol. Modern research, however, suggests that the metal has been obtained from a variety of sources, including Chinese cannons seized by the Russians before being lost to the British.
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The cross is inscribed with the words, ‘For Valour’. The medal was originally going to read ‘For the Brave’ until Queen Victoria suggested it be changed – as it implied that not every soldier was brave.
In the aftermath of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War, 11 soldiers were deemed worthy of the Victoria Cross. Seven of these recipients were men of the 2nd/24th Foot, which is the most VCs awarded to a single regiment for one action.