The History of the Victoria Cross – 19 February 2019

The Victoria Cross (VC) was born in the carnage of the Crimean War and is the highest award of the United Kingdom Honours System. It is awarded for gallantry “in the face of the enemy” to members of the British Armed Forces.

Local man, Alexander Hall, has a keen interest and admiration for the British Armed Forces and supports the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, cleaning and maintaining CWGC headstones wherever he finds them. He is an expert on the highly regarded VC medal, and gave an excellent and hugely interesting talk on this subject to the members.

His presentation started with an explanation of how the Royal Warrant for the instigation of the Victoria Cross was laid before Queen Victoria and signed by her on Tuesday, 29 January 1856. The award of the Cross was made retrospective to include the Crimean War which had formulated the idea of a new gallantry award in the mind of Queen Victoria after meeting some of the wounded from the conflict. The same idea had also occurred to the Secretary of State for War, the Duke of Newcastle. In January 1855 he had written to Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband), reminding him of an earlier conversation. The Duke suggested ‘a new decoration open to all ranks. The medal is still occasionally, although rarely, awarded today. It is made from the metal of antique bronze gun barrels from the Crimean conflict.

Alex had an amazing store of interesting facts at his disposal and said that the VC has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients. Inevitably some are lost, stolen, or sold due to financial hardship and the largest private collection of 213 VC medals, with an estimated value of £30M, belongs to the peer Lord Ashcroft. Only three people have twice been awarded the VC (VC and bar) one being to Captain Noel G Chavasse, and awarded posthumously for rescuing soldiers in no-man’s land at Ypres in 1917 when mortally injured. It is now guaranteed a permanent place of honour in the new Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Alex also paid personal tributes to a number of holders of the VC, including young men who had seen recent action in Afghanistan and Iraq and Scottish servicemen (74 in WW1 alone), whilst poignantly describing the terrible experiences of wars.

Brian Strathern delivered the vote of thanks to Alex.