The Victoria Cross (VC) was introduced on 29th January 1856 by Queen Victoria. She decided upon the award to reward the bravery shown by soldiers in the Crimean War. It was originally designed to recognise valour in the face of the enemy and was open to all service personnel of the British Empire (and then the Commonwealth). On the 26th June 1857, Queen Victoria personally attended a huge event in Hyde Park, where she invested 62 of the 111 Crimean War recipients of the VC. Official policy at first excluded the award of the VC to soldiers who had died during the action. In 1902, in an exception to this policy, 6 men were awarded the VC posthumously for their actions in the Second Boer War. Finally, in 1907, the policy was reversed and duly VCs were sent to the next of kin of the 6 men who were mentioned in the London Gazette before the policy was reversed as worthy of a VC.
Since 1991, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have created their own gallantry awards for their honours system. These are known as the Canadian Victoria Cross, Victoria Cross for Australia and Victoria Cross for New Zealand.
At the time of going to press (May 2019), there are 5 living recipients of the original VC award, and 4 living recipients of the new VC for Australia and New Zealand. John Cruikshank, Rambahadur Limbu, Keith Payne, Johnson Beharry and Joshua Leakey are the living recipients of the VC, and Willie Apiata, Mark Donaldson, Ben Roberts-Smith and Daniel Keighran are the living recipients of the new VC for Australia or New Zealand. Cameron Baird was awarded a posthumous VCfA in February 2014, In 2020, it was announced that Teddy Sheean would be awarded a posthumous VCfA following a lengthy campaign following his actions in World War II which originally was recognised with a Mentioned in Despatches.
The largest collection of VC's held in the world is the Lord Ashcroft Gallery in the Imperial War Museum in London which contains the joint collections of the Museum itself and the 200 VC's (as of October 2016) owned by Michael Ashcroft. The second largest is the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia which holds a large number of all the Australian VC's ever awarded. VC's demand a high price when they are brought up for auction. The reputed record price paid was for the VC and medal group of Noel Chavasse VC and Bar, which was sold to Michael Ashcroft for a reported £1.5 million. Recently, John Duncan Grant's VC was sold for £408,000 at auction.
The George Cross was instituted on 24 September 1940 by King George VI. At this time, during the Blitz, there was a strong desire to reward the many acts of civilian courage. The existing awards open to civilians were not judged suitable to meet the new situation, therefore it was decided that the George Cross and the George Medal would be instituted to recognise both civilian gallantry in the face of enemy action and brave deeds more generally.
The medal was designed by Percy Metcalfe. The Warrant for the GC (along with that of the GM), dated 24 September 1940, was published in the London Gazette on 31 January 1941.
The GC replaced the Empire Gallantry Medal (EGM); all holders of the EGM were instructed to exchange their medals for a GC, a substitution of awards unprecedented in the history of British decorations. This substitution policy ignored holders of the Albert Medal (AM) and the Edward Medal (EM), awards which both took precedence over the EGM. The anomaly was rectified in 1971, when the surviving recipients of the AM and the EM became George Cross recipients and were invited to exchange their medal for the George Cross. Of the 64 holders of the Albert Medal and 68 holders of the Edward Medal eligible to exchange, 49 and 59 respectively took up the option.
Since its inception in 1940, the GC has been awarded 415 times, 413 to individuals and two collective awards to Malta and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There have been 161 original awards including both collective awards and 245 exchange awards, 112 to Empire Gallantry Medal recipients, 65 to Albert Medal recipients and 68 to Edward Medal recipients. Of the 159 individuals who received original awards, 86 have been posthumous. In addition there were four posthumous recipients of the Empire Gallantry Medal whose awards were gazetted after the start of the Second World War and whose awards were also exchanged for the GC. All the other exchange recipients were living as of the date of the decisions for the exchanges.
On 3 August 2015 the London Gazette announced the latest award of a George Cross to Colour Sergeant Kevin Howard Haberfield of the Royal Marines, the award to be dated 22 November 2005. There was no citation. Haberfield is one of the currently 17 living recipients of the George Cross. A recipient of the George Cross, Peter Norton GC is the current Chairman of the VC/GC Association.
In 2015, the medal group of Violette Szabo was purchased by Michael Ashcroft for £250,000.
The Medal of Honor is the United States of America's highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. The medal is awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the U.S. Congress to U.S. military personnel only. There are three versions of the medal, one for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Air Force. Personnel of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard receive the Navy version.
The Medal of Honor was created as a Navy version in 1861 named the "Medal of Valor", and an Army version of the medal named the "Medal of Honor" was established in 1862 to give recognition to men who distinguished themselves "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity" in combat with an enemy of the United States. Because the medal is presented "in the name of Congress," it is often referred to as the "Congressional Medal of Honor". However, the official name is the "Medal of Honor," which began with the U.S. Army's version. Within United States Code the medal is referred to as the "Medal of Honor", and less frequently as "Congressional Medal of Honor".
In 1990, Congress designated March 25 annually as "National Medal of Honor Day". Due to its prestige and status, the Medal of Honor is afforded special protection under U.S. law against any unauthorized adornment, sale, or manufacture, which includes any associated ribbon or badge.
With the 19 double awards the Congressional Medal of Honor Society (CMOHS) total number of awards is 3514. A total of 19 men have been awarded the Medal of Honor twice. Fourteen of these received two separate medals for two separate actions, while five received both the Navy and Army Medals of Honor for the same action. As of June 2011, since the beginning of World War II, 851 Medals of Honor have been awarded, 523 (61.45%) posthumously. One has been awarded to a woman: Mary Edwards Walker.
Nineteen men have been awarded the Medal of Honor twice. The first two-time Medal of Honor recipient was Thomas Custer (brother of George Armstrong Custer) for two separate actions that took place several days apart during the American Civil War.
Five "double recipients" were awarded both the Army and Navy Medal of Honor for the same action; all five of these occurrences took place during World War I. Since February 1919, no single individual can be awarded more than one Medal of Honor for the same action, although a member of one branch of the armed forces can receive the Medal of Honor from another branch if the actions for which it was awarded occurred under the authority of the second branch.
Arthur MacArthur, Jr. and Douglas MacArthur are the first father and son to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The only other such pairing is Theodore Roosevelt (awarded in 2001) and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Five pairs of brothers have received the Medal of Honor:
1. John and William Black, in the American Civil War. The Blacks are the first brothers to be so honored.
2. Charles and Henry Capehart, in the American Civil War, the latter for saving a drowning man while under fire.
3. Antoine and Julien Gaujot. The Gaujots also have the unique distinction of receiving their medals for actions in separate conflicts, Antoine in the Philippine–American War and Julien when he crossed the border to rescue Mexicans and Americans in a Mexican Revolution skirmish.
4. Harry and Willard Miller, during the same naval action in the Spanish–American War.
5. Allen and James Thompson, in the same American Civil War action.
Another notable pair of related recipients are Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher (rear admiral at the time of award) and his nephew, Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher (lieutenant at the time of award), both awarded for actions during the United States occupation of Veracruz.
Since 1979, 85 belated Medal of Honor decorations were presented to recognize actions from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. In addition, five recipients who names were not included on the Army Medal of Honor Roll in 1917 had their awards restored.
A 1993 study commissioned by the U.S. Army investigated "racial disparity" in the awarding of medals. At the time, no Medals of Honor had been awarded to American soldiers of African descent who served in World War II. After an exhaustive review, the study recommended that ten Distinguished Service Cross recipients be awarded the Medal of Honor. On January 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to seven of these World War II veterans, six of them posthumously and one to former Second Lieutenant Vernon Baker.
In 1998, a similar study of Asian Americans resulted in President Bill Clinton presenting 22 Medals of Honor in 2000. Twenty of these medals went to American soldiers of Japanese descent of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (442nd RCT) that served in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. One of these Medal of Honor recipients was Senator Daniel Inouye, a former U.S. Army officer in the 442nd RCT.
In 2005, President George W. Bush presented the Medal of Honor to Tibor Rubin, a Hungarian-born American Jew who was a Holocaust survivor of World War II and enlisted U.S. infantryman and prisoner of war in the Korean War, whom many believed to have been overlooked because of his religion.
On April 11, 2013, President Obama presented the Medal of Honor posthumously to Army chaplain Captain Emil Kapaun for his actions as a prisoner of war during the Korean war. This follows other awards to Army Sergeant Leslie H. Sabo, Jr. for conspicuous gallantry in action on May 10, 1970, near Se San, Cambodia, during the Vietnam War and to Army Private First Class Henry Svehla and Army Private First Class Anthony T. Kahoohanohano for their heroic actions during the Korean War.
As a result of a Congressionally mandated review to ensure brave acts were not overlooked due to prejudice or discrimination, on March 18, 2014 President Obama upgraded Distinguished Service Crosses to Medals of Honor for 24 Hispanic, Jewish, and African American individuals—the "Valor 24"—for their actions in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Three were still living at the time of the ceremony.
The Cross of Valour (Australia) was established on 14th February 1975 as the highest Australian Bravery Award. The awards were established as part of the institution of the Australian Honours System. The Cross of Valour has been awarded to five Australian civilians and although there has been no Australian military recipient, they would be eligible in situations where normal honours to the military do not apply.
The Cross of Valour is awarded "only for acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril". The award carries the post-nominal initials CV; awards may be made posthumously. The Cross of Valour is a gold, straight-armed cross pattée with diminishing rays between the arms. It is ensigned with the Crown of St Edward. The obverse has the shield and crest of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms surmounted by a Federation Star. A suspender bar is engraved with the words 'For Valour'. The ribbon is 38mm wide, magenta with a central 16mm blood-red band. The two reds in the ribbon represent the colours of venous and arterial blood.
As of April 2017, the award has been bestowed on five occasions - in 1989 to Captain Darrell Tree, in 1995 to Mr Victor Boscoe, in 1998 to Senior Constable Allan Sparkes, and twice in 2003 to Senior Constable Timothy Britten, and Mr Richard Joyes for their involvement in the aftermath of the Bali Bombings.
The Cross of Valour (Canada) is a decoration that is, within the Canadian system of honours, the second highest award (superseded only by the Victoria Cross), the highest honour available for Canadian civilians, and the highest of the three Canadian Bravery Decorations. Created on 1st May 1972, the medallion is presented to individuals, both Canadians and foreigners, living and deceased, who have performed acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril and grants recipients the ability to use the post-nominal letters CV. Prior to 1967, the equivalent medal that Canadians received was the George Cross, of which ten were awarded in Canada: eight military, one merchant navy, and one civilian.
The medal is a cross of four equal limbs rendered in gold, with the obverse enamelled in red and edged with gold, and bearing at the centre a gold maple leaf surrounded by a gold laurel wreath. On the reverse is the Royal Cypher of the reigning Canadian sovereign and a crown above, on the upper arm, while the words VALOUR • VAILLANCE are etched below, extending along the upper edge of the two lateral arms of the cross.
Anyone may nominate or be nominated for receipt of the Cross of Valour; the incident need not take place in Canada, but Canadian people and/or interests must be involved. The decoration may be awarded posthumously, though nominations must be made no later than two years following either the act of bravery itself or the conclusion of any coroner's or court's inquest into the events for which the person was nominated.
Currently, there have been 20 recipients of the Cross of Valour (Canada), five of which were posthumous awards. The first awards were in July 1972 to Vaino Partanen and Lewis Stringer, and the last award was in May 2006 to Leslie Palmer. There has been one award to a woman, Mary Dohey, on 1st December 1975.
The New Zealand Cross (NZC) is New Zealand's highest award for civilian bravery. It was instituted by Royal Warrant on 20 September 1999 as part of the move to replace British bravery awards with an indigenous New Zealand Bravery system. The medal, which may be awarded posthumously, is granted in recognition of "acts of great bravery in situations of extreme danger". The medal is primarily a civilian award, but it is also awarded to members of the armed forces who perform acts of bravery in non-operational circumstances (given that the New Zealand gallantry awards may only be awarded "while involved in war and warlike operational service (including peacekeeping)".
Bars are awarded to the NZC in recognition of the performance of further acts of bravery meriting the award. Recipients are entitled to the postnominal letters NZC. This medal replaced the award of the George Cross in respect of acts of bravery in, or meriting recognition by, New Zealand. The design of this medal was based on the original New Zealand Cross (1869), though with a change of ribbon color to differentiate it from the Victoria Cross.
The New Zealand Cross is similar in design to the original New Zealand Cross (1869). The decoration is a silver cross pattée, 52 millimetres high, 38 millimetres wide, with six-pointed gold star on each limb. In the centre there are the words 'New Zealand' within a gold fern wreath. The cross surmounted by gold Royal crown which is attached by a ring and a seriffed 'V' to a bar ornamented with gold fern leaves, through which the ribbon passes. On the reverse "FOR BRAVERY - MO TE MAIA" is inscribed.
At present in May 2017, there are just 2 recipients of the award (1 living, 1 posthumous)
The New Zealand Cross was introduced in 1869 during the Land Wars in New Zealand. The wars were fought between natives of New Zealand, the Mori, and forces raised by European settlers known as Pkeh assisted by British troops.
Many acts of bravery, gallantry and devotion to duty were recorded among the local militia, armed constabulary and volunteers, but there was one militia Victoria Cross awarded to Charles Heaphy in 1867 for action in 1864.
On 10 March 1869, without checking the facts and under the mistaken impression colonial troops were not eligible for the Victoria Cross unless under command of British troops, the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Bowen, instituted the New Zealand Cross as the highest New Zealand award.
He was widely criticised in England, and accused of usurping the prerogative of Queen Victoria, but she eventually ratified his action.
Only 23 New Zealand Crosses were awarded with first six published in the New Zealand Gazette in 1869. There was one award gazetted in 1870 and the remaining 16 awards gazetted between 1875 and 1910, from six to 44 years after the actions commended.
It has the form of a silver cross pattée. The obverse contains the words 'NEW ZEALAND' in the centre, gilded in gold, which are encircled by a laurel wreath. Each limb of the cross has a six-point star, in gold. The cross is surmounted by a gold Imperial State Crown. The reverse of the medal has two concentric circles with the name of the recipient engraved between the circles, and the date of the action engraved within the inner circle. A crimson ribbon passes through a silver suspender clasp with small gold laurel leaves. For the first 20 medals cast in 1871, the reverse of the suspender clasp contains the cartouche of the goldsmith Messrs Phillips Brothers and Son of Cockspur Street, London; which was omitted from a further five medals cast in 1886.
The PDSA Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943 in the United Kingdom by Maria Dickin to honour the work of animals in World War II. It is a bronze medallion, bearing the words "For Gallantry" and "We Also Serve" within a laurel wreath, carried on a ribbon of striped green, dark brown, and pale blue. It is awarded to animals that have displayed "conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units". The award is commonly referred to as "the animals' Victoria Cross" (although the Victoria Cross Trust has opposed this association).
Maria Dickin was the founder of the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a British veterinary charity. She established the award for any animal displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty whilst serving with British Empire armed forces or civil emergency services. The medal was awarded 54 times between 1943 and 1949 – to 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, 3 horses, and a ship's cat – to acknowledge actions of gallantry or devotion during the Second World War and subsequent conflicts.
The first recipients of the award, in December 1943, were three pigeons, serving with the Royal Air Force, all of whom contributed to the recovery of air crew from ditched aircraft during the Second World War. The most recent animal to be cited for the honour is Kuga, a Belgian Malinois who served with the Special Air Service Regiment in Afghanistan in 2012.
The awarding of the medal was revived in 2000 to honour Gander, a Newfoundland dog, who saved infantrymen during the Battle of Lye Mun. In early 2002, the medal was given in honour of three dogs for their role responding to the September 11 attacks; it was also awarded to two dogs serving with Commonwealth forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq. In December 2007, 12 former recipients buried at the PDSA Animal Cemetery in Ilford, Essex, were afforded full military honours at the conclusion of a National Lottery-aided project to restore the cemetery.
As of October 2018, the Dickin Medal has been awarded 70 times, plus one honorary award made in 2014 to all the animals that served in the First World War.