The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest recognition for valour "in the face of the enemy" that can be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces of any rank in any service, and civilians under military command.
The decoration is a cross pattée, 1.375 inches (35 mm) wide, bearing a crown surmounted by a lion, and the inscription "FOR VALOUR". This was originally to have been "FOR BRAVERY", until it was changed on the recommendation of Queen Victoria, who thought some might erroneously consider that only the recipients of the VC were brave in battle. The decoration, suspension bar and link weigh about 0.87 troy ounces (27 g).
The recipient's name, rank, number and unit are engraved on the back of the suspension bar, and the date of the act for which it was awarded on the back of the cross.
The VC was created by Royal Warrant on 29 January 1856, backdated to 1854 to recognise acts of valour during the Crimean War. The first award ceremony was on 26 June 1857.
A total of 1,356 Victoria Crosses have been awarded since 1856. This figure is made up of 1,352 people who have earned the VC, plus three bars (awarded to people who receive the decoration a second time), and one award in 1921 to the American Unknown Soldier of the First World War. (The British Unknown Warrior was reciprocally awarded the US Medal of Honor.)
Originally, the VC could not be awarded posthumously, and could not be awarded to Indian or African troops (although it could be awarded to their European officers). In 1905 it was made available to be awarded posthumously. Not until the 20th century was it made available to all troops in the service of the Crown (the first Indian soldier, Khudadad Khan, received it in 1914).
The largest number of VCs awarded in a single day was 24 on 16th November 1857, at the relief of Lucknow. The largest number awarded in a single action was 11 at Rorke’s Drift on 22nd January 1879. The largest number of Victoria Crosses awarded in a single conflict was 634 during the First World War.
Since the end of the Second World War the VC has been awarded 13 times. Four were awarded during the Korean War, one in the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation in 1965, four to Australians in the Vietnam War, two during the Falklands War in 1982, one in the Iraq War in 2004, and one in the Afghanistan War in 2006.
Only three people have been awarded the Victoria Cross twice: Noel Chavasse and Arthur Martin-Leake, both members of The Royal Army Medical Corps, and New Zealander Charles Upham. The second award is designated by a bar worn on the suspension ribbon of the original decoration and this is thus known as a "VC and Bar". Since a small cross device is worn on the VC ribbon when worn alone, a recipient of the VC and Bar would wear two such crosses on the ribbon.
New Zealander, Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg, has the distinction of being the only serviceman ever awarded a VC on evidence solely provided by the enemy, for an action in which there were no surviving Allied witnesses. The recommendation was made by the captain of the German U-boat U-468 sunk by Trigg's aircraft. Lieutenant-Commander Gerald Roope was also awarded a VC on recommendation of the enemy, the captain of the Admiral Hipper, but there were also numerous surviving Allied witnesses to corroborate his actions.
Irishman, Surgeon General William Manley, remains the sole recipient of both the Victoria Cross, for his actions during the Waikato-Hauhau Maori War, New Zealand on 29th April 1864, and the Iron Cross, for tending the wounded during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.
The Victoria Cross featured on a Canadian postage stamp. The stamp on the right also contains a facsimile of words handwritten by Queen Elizabeth II which read: "Approved", followed by Her Majesty´s Royal Sign Manual "Elizabeth R".
As the VC is awarded for acts of valour "in the face of the enemy", it has been suggested by some that the changing nature of warfare will result in fewer VCs being awarded. Only one in ten VC recipients in the 20th century is said to have survived the action for which they received the VC.
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