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Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is the highest gallantry award available to British and Commonwealth servicemen.

In January 1856 the final prototype produced by Hancocks was personally approved by Queen Victoria. From that time to the present day Hancocks have had the proud honour to be the sole suppliers of the Victoria Cross.

“This decoration consists of a Maltese cross formed from the cannon captured from the Russians. The execution of the work has been entrusted by Lord Panmure to Mr. Hancock ”
Daily Telegraph March 1st. 1857

The Medal

The obverse of the medal has as its main feature the Royal Crown surmounted by a lion and under this a ribbon bearing the motto For Valour. The Cross itself hangs from a bar of laurel leaves supporting the letter V, and the whole is suspended from a crimson ribbon. The original Warrant denotes "a blue rib and for the Navy and a red rib and for the Air Force." This was the case until the formation of the Royal Air Force when in a Warrant signed by King George V on 22nd May 1920, all Victoria Crosses have the same crimson ribbon irrespective of the Service in which the recipient is acting.

The reverse of the medal is unique in that each one issued is engraved with the individual recipient's name, regiment and the date of the action for which the award is made. The reverse of the suspender bar has the name, rank, regiment and serial number of the recipient. The reverse of the Cross has a circle in which is engraved the date of the action.

There is no differentiation between a posthumous award in the manner of its engraving or its detail. Such awards have been made only since 1906.

How the VC is made

Unlike any other award for gallantry the Victoria Cross is not made in a die. It is not struck, as are coins and many other medals, it is cast. Traditionally it is sand cast in moulds usually containing four specimens at a time. The medals are removed from the sand moulds when the metal has cooled, and then the hand finishing process begins. The obverse and reverse is hand chased even to the minutest detail and the whole medal has a special bronze finish applied at the end of the process. This gives even colour to the medal, because the bronze from which it is cast does not have an overall attractive appearance.

The suspender bar from which the cross itself is hung, is cast at the same time as the medal and receives the same hand finishing. It has been customary to produce 12 Victoria Crosses at a time.

The bronze from which all Victoria Crosses are made is supplied from the Central Ordnance Depot in Donnington. This metal is cut from cannons captured from the Russians at Sebastopol during the Crimean War. When more Crosses are required Hancocks request a supply of metal and this is then delivered to them by COD Donnington.

Supply of the Victoria Cross

Originally the practice was for Hancocks to manufacture the medals, place the correct ribbons on them and deliver them to the War Office. Owing to the great number of Victoria Crosses supplied during the 1914-18 War this practice was discontinued for reasons of efficiency.

The previous system meant that, when any awards were made, the appropriate number of medals were returned to Hancocks for the necessary engraving and then returned again to the War Office. During the 1914-18 War the time required to produce the Victoria Crosses meant that the engraving was done directly after the manufacturing process was complete.

It follows, therefore, that no individual Victoria Cross has ever been made specifically for an individual award, there being a stock of medals held in reserve. It must be realised that from time to time official duplicates have been issued to replace some which may have been destroyed or in other ways lost. Such replacements are under the strict control of the Ministry of Defence. At the present time there is a stock of Victoria Crosses held on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.

The birth of the Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross owes its conception to the Crimean War. It was realised that within the British military system there was no award open to all ranks without any distinction as to rank or service. The reports by the Times correspondent, William Russell, had brought home to the British public the extraordinary gallantry of the British soldier and at the opening of Parliament in 1854 Her Majesty Queen Victoria, during the Speech from the Throne, paid tribute to the soldiers of "her unconquerable Army" and expressed her admiration and gratitude to them. Consequently on the 19th December 1854 Capt. G.T. Scobell, M.P. moved on the House of Commons:

“...that an humble address be presented to Her Majesty ... to institute an "Order of Merit" to be bestowed upon persons serving in the Army or Navy for distinguished and prominent personal gallantry during the present war and to which every grade and individual... may be admissible.”

An assurance was given by the Government of the day that such an Order was under consideration and in an answer to the House of Commons given on the 19th March 1855 as a result of further questioning on the matter the Prime Minister of the day said:

“It is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to establish an order of that description... it will apply to both services because we hope that merit will be equally prominent in both.”

From this time on the formation of the text of the Warrant instituting the Victoria Cross was carried out with Her Majesty Queen Victoria being closely involved. By January 1856 the designs for the new medal were being submitted by Lord Panmure, Secretary for War, to Her Majesty.

On the 5th of January 1856 Her Majesty approved the design with one amendment. Her Majesty preferred that the motto on the Cross should be:

“For Valour rather than For the Brave as this would lead to the inferencethat only those are deemed brave who have got the Cross.”

Having approved the design, the first metal proof was submitted to the Queen on February 4th and was not accepted. A revised proof was submitted on the 21st February with more amendments being made. Further proofs were then submitted and on the 3rd March 1856 the matter was finalised when the samples were returned to Lord Panmure, one having been chosen as satisfactory.

On March 4th 1856 the War Office instructed Mr. Charles Frederick Hancock to prepare 106 specimens.

C.F. Hancock, the founder of the present day firm of Hancocks & Co., formed his business in 1849 and by 1856 held the Royal Appointment to all the monarchies in Europe. The company produced extremely fine quality jewellery and very prestigious items of silver in its own workshops, and clearly had the ability to produce this new award. To this day no other company has ever supplied the Victoria Cross, a unique distinction.

Victoria Cross and Bar

There is provision made in the event that a holder of the Victoria Cross is awarded a Bar to his medal. In the same manner as other awards it is possible to be awarded a Victoria Cross more than once, but this has happened 3 times only. Such awards have an "abbreviated" version of the suspender bar attached to the ribbon above the original and the details of the "new" award are engraved on the reverse of this Bar.

The first Bar was awarded to Surgeon Capt. Martin Leake, in 1914. The Victoria Cross, to which this Bar was added to, was awarded in 1902 for action in the South African War. This resulted in a separate award in two Wars. He died in 1953.

The second Bar was awarded to Capt. Chavasse in 1917 and was a posthumous award. In this instance the original Victoria Cross was awarded in 1916 thus making it a double award in the same War.

The third was awarded to Capt. Upham in 1942, the original Victoria Cross award being in 1941. To date this is the only instance of a Victoria Cross being awarded in the same War with the recipient being alive at the time of the award of the Bar. Capt. Upham died in 1995.

Victoria Cross general information

To date there have been 1,358 medals awarded to 1,355 recipients. All awards being retrospective from 1856 to include the whole of the Crimea campaign:

1856 — 1914
523 Victorian Cross were awarded

1914 — 1918
628 Victoria Crosses were awarded
(two of which were bars to the V.C.)

1919 — 1939
11 Victoria Crosses were awarded.

1939 — 1945
181 Victoria Crosses were awarded.
(one of which was a Bar to a V.C.)

1945 — date
15 Victoria Crosses were awarded.

Since 1945 there were 4 awarded during the Korean War, 1 awarded for action in Borneo, 4 awarded during the Vietnam War and 2 for the Falklands War, 1 in the Iraq War and 3 in the War in Afghanistan.

There are several cases of the Victoria Cross being awarded to more than one member of a family. In some cases they have been awarded to a Father and Son and there are at least two cases of the Victoria Cross being bestowed on brothers:

During the Indian Mutiny Major C.J.S. Gough of the 5th Bengal European Cavalry was awarded the Victoria Cross for actions on the 15th and 18th of August 1857 and from further actions on the 22nd of January and 23rd of February 1858. His brother Lt. H.H. Gough serving with the 1st Bengal European Light Cavalry was awarded his Victoria Cross for actions on the 12th of November 1857 and the 25th February 1858.

During the First World War a Victoria Cross was awarded to Lt. R.V. Bradford MC of the 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry for action on the 1st of October 1916. His brother Lt. Cmdr. G.N. Bradford of the Royal Navy was awarded his Victoria Cross for action on the 22nd/23rd of April 1918. In each case these awards were posthumous.

The Gough family in fact have a remarkable record because another member of the family, Captain and Brevet Major A.E. Gough of the Rifle Brigade was awarded a Victoria Cross for action on the 22nd of April 1903. The Gough family have thus been awarded 3 Victoria Crosses.

There are instances where V.C's have been bestowed on Father and Son:

In the first instance Lt. F.S. Roberts (later to become Field Marshal Lord Roberts) was awarded his Victoria Cross for action on the 2nd of January 1858. His son Lt. The Hon. F.H.S. Roberts of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. was awarded his Victoria Cross on the 15th of December 1899.

In the case of the Congreve family the Victoria Cross was awarded to Capt. W.N. Congreve of the Rifle Brigade in the same action as Lt. The Hon. F.H.S. Roberts - 15th of December 1899. His son Brevet Major W. Congreve D.S.O., M.C., also of the Rifle Brigade was awarded his Victoria Cross posthumously for action during the period 6th to 20th July 1916.

  • The first investiture took place in Hyde Park on the 26th June 1857 when 62 Crosses were presented by Her Majesty Queen Victoria.
  • The first Victoria Cross is generally accepted as that awarded to Lt. Charles D. Lucas R.N. 1854.
  • Uniquely an award was made in 1921 to the Unknown Warrior of the United States of America and this was laid on the tomb of this Warrior in Arlington Cemetery by Admiral Lord Beatty on 11th. November 1921.
  • To date no woman has been awarded the Victoria Cross.
  • Each recipient receives an annual pension of £1,300.00 tax free.
  • It is the usual practice for the Victoria Cross to be awarded personally by the reigning Sovereign and this is so at the present time. Not all Victoria Crosses have been so awarded owing to the difficulties of travel in the 19th. Century, but the majority of awards since 1914 have been personal investitures. In the case of posthumous awards the investiture is made to a next-of-kin of the recipient.
  • It is the usual practice for the Victoria Cross to be awarded personally by the reigning Sovereign and this is so at the present time. Not all Victoria Crosses have been so awarded owing to the difficulties of travel in the 19th. Century, but the majority of awards since 1914 have been personal investitures. In the case of posthumous awards the investiture is made to a next-of-kin of the recipient.