The Victoria Cross is the highest decoration for bravery in the British Armed Forces.
Its origins can be traced back to 1854 while Britain was locked in a war with Russia, the Crimean War.
This conflict was different to all previous wars that Britain had fought in as this was the first time War Correspondents were evident. With this, the reporters were able to tell the world of acts of gallantry, not only from officers, but also the common soldier.
Officers could have their acts of bravery noted and also could be awarded the Order Of The Bath in recognition but for the common soldier, there was no such award available.
Great Britain it seemed lagged behind other European countries here and Queen Victoria noticed this in 1856 and ordered the War Office to strike a new medal. This medal was to be non discriminant to rank, culture, age or wealth. The award was to also be backdated to 1854 to include acts of bravery from the Crimea.
Queen Victoria held the first Investiture of the Victoria Cross in Hyde Park, London in 1857.
The award is a bronze cross pattee bearing the crown of St Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription ‘FOR VALOUR’. the cross is suspended by a ring in the shape of a V. The reverse of the suspension bar would have the recipients name, rank, number and unit and on the reverse of the medal inside the circular panel, the date of the action would be engraved. Initially the Army awards would have a crimson ribbon and the Royal Navy a dark blue ribbon but his was changed to just the crimson ribbon in 1918 with the birth of the Royal Air Force.
The original Royal Warrant for the award stated
“…ordained with a view to place all persons on a perfectly equal footing in relation to eligibility for the Decoration, that neither rank, nor long service, nor wounds, nor any other circumstance or condition whatsoever, save the merit of conspicuous bravery shall be held to establish a sufficient claim to the honour.”
Mate Charles Davis Lucas was the first person put forward of the award for actions on June 21st 1854 for attacking the guns of the Russian fort at Bomarsund.
1879 saw one of the most famous episodes in its history when 139 British troops fended off a force off approximately 4500 Zulus at Rorkes Drift. A total of 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded for that one action alone. An action immortalised in the 1964 film with Michael Caine and Stanley Baker, Zulu.
To date, 1358 awards have been made but it has only ever been awarded twice to three men.
Arthur Martin Leake RAMC 13/05/1902 & Oct/Nov 1914. Noel Godfrey Chavasse RAMC 9/08/1916 & 31/07/1917. Charles Upham New Zealand Military Forces 14/10/1941 & 14-15/07/1942
The oldest recipient to date is William Raynor who was 61 when he was awarded his in 1857 and the youngest wa Andrew Fitzgibbon who was just 15 years and 3 months in 1860.
The latest award of the VC was to Joshua Leakey of the PARAS who received his for his bravery in Afghanistan 2013.