The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
It was founded by Royal Warrant on 29 January 1856, and was originally intended to be awarded to members of the Royal Navy and British Army who, serving in the presence of the enemy, should have performed some signal act of valour or devotion to their country.
As Queen Victoria pointed out, it was not an Order, such as the Garter of the Bath. It offered no knighthood, bore no religious significance and contained no ranks within itself. It was intended solely as a decoration "to be highly prized and eagerly sought after by the officers and men of Our naval and military services".
Pensions were granted to all holders of the Victoria Cross below commissioned rank, and an expulsion clause allowed for a recipient's name to be erased from the official register in certain wholly discreditable circumstances, and his pension cancelled. King George V felt so strongly that the decoration should never be forfeited. In a letter to his Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, on 26 July 1920, his views are forcibly expressed: "The King feels so strongly that, no matter the crime committed by anyone on whom the VC has been conferred, the decoration should not be forfeited. Even where a VC to be sentenced to be hanged for murder, he should be allowed to wear his VC on the gallows".
Since the original 1856 warrant, other have been issued modifying or limiting the VC's provisions. In 1858 Queen Victoria decreed that the VC could be won by those who "may perform acts of conspicuous courage and bravery ... in circumstances of extreme danger, such as the occurrence of a fire on board ship, or of the foundering of a vessel at sea, or under any other circumstances in which ... life or public property may be saved". This warrant was only used twice.
In 1881, a new VC warrant was signed which stated "Our Will and Pleasure is that the qualification (for the award of the Victoria Cross) shall be "Conspicuous bravery or devotion to the country in the presence of the enemy". It was this last stipulation that necessitated the introduction of the George Cross in 1940.
In 1902 King Edward VII approved the extremely important principle of awarding the VC posthumously. In 1911 King George V admitted native officers and men of the Indian Army to eligibility, and in 1920, it was extended to include the Royal Air Force, and "matrons, sisters, nurses ... serving regularly or temporarily under the orders, direction or supervision" of the military authorities. It was against emphasised that the VC "... shall only be awarded for most conspicuous bravery or some daring pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy."
Queen Victoria chose the design for the new decoration. It is in the form of a Maltese Cross ensigned with the Royal Crest and a scroll inscribed simply "For Valour". It is connected by a V-shaped link to a bar engraved on the face with the recipient's name. The date of the deed for which the honour is bestowed is engraved on the back of the Cross itself. It is worn on the left breast, before all other medals and awards, suspended from a 1½-inch wide red ribbon. Originally the VC ribbon was blue for the Navy, and dark red for the Army. Since 1918, all VC awards use the crimson shade. The medal itself was, and still is, made of bronze melted down from the Russian cannons captured at Sevastopol in the Crimean War.
Fourteen Grenadiers have been awarded the Victoria Cross. The recipients were:
The Victoria Cross
|Sergeant A. Ablett|
|Private A. Palmer|
|Colonel The Hon. H. H. M Percy|
|Major Sir Charles Russell, Bt.|
World War 1
|Private E. Barber|
|Lance Corporal W. D. Fuller|
|Lieutenant Colonel The Viscount Gort. MVO, DSO, MC|
|Private W. E. Holmes|
|Colonel H. T. Paton, MC|
|Captain T. T. Pryce|
|Lance Sergeant J. H. Rhodes, DCM|
World War 2
|Lance Corporal H. Nicholls|
|Major The Hon. W. P. Sidney|
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
we will remember them