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The Victoria Cross

In the middle of the nineteenth century, it was considered that it was officers' leadership that produced results in battle, consequently, only they were awarded medals for bravery. The Crimea War (1853-1856), fought against the Russians, was the first major war that was reported on, from the field, by photographers and newspaper war correspondents. For example, Russell of The Times often commented on the suffering and heroism of the ordinary soldier, which created a demand for a bravery award that could be given to non-commissioned ranks in recognition of his bravery.

Members of Parliament debated the issue and on 19 December 1854 the Commons passed a motion that Queen Victoria should create a medal, being:

'an order of merit for distinguished and prominent personal gallantry to which every grade and individual from the highest to the lowest may be admissible'.

Some senior officers, however, were against such a medal, as they believed that the strength of the British Army lay not in individuality but in fighting as a body under the command of its officers. However, the idea had one major supporter - Prince Albert argued that there was no basis in the fear that individual soldiers might undertake acts of individual bravery in an attempt to win the medal consequently undermine unit cohesion. With his support for the medal Queen Victoria overruled the objections of senior military officers. The War Office was required to develop the idea, which Prince Albert suggested should be called the Victoria Cross.

The first prototype Victoria Cross was made to the specifications of Prince Albert who wanted a 'simple cross' but at a time when medals for bravery were elaborate, the design was widely disliked. For example, The Times referred to the medal as being 'poor looking and mean in the extreme'. Victoria was pleased by the final version of the bronze cross and personally ordered that a V be added to the suspender. The medal was first issued in 1856.

The metal from which Victoria Cross's are made comes from the breach of a Chinese-made artillery piece, used by the Russians, and captured at Sebastopol during the Crimean War. With some 1,352 VCs awarded, what is left of the metal is kept at the army stores depot at Donnington in Shropshire. There is currently sufficient metal left to make only about eighty further medals, which are made by the well-known jewellers Messrs Hancocks & Co, of Vigo Street, London who receive the metal from the Ministry of Defence as required. Strangely the firm does not make any other medal or award.

The bronze is difficult to work, as great heat was used when forging the original gun. At the time of writing (2006), Hancock's have seven VCs in stock, ready to engrave the service number, name and rank of the recipient and date of the action for which the award is made on the reverse.

Victoria Cross Winners

The Dorset Regiment

The Devonshire Regiment

Devonshire and Dorset Regiment