Thursday 22 January 2009 by Nick Fletcher. 20 comments
Collection, News, Victoria Cross, Hancocks, VC

http://awm.gov.au/collection/RELAWM16499.001 Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery in time of war
The Victoria Cross was instituted by Queen Victoria's Royal warrant in 1856, and the first examples were presented by her in June 1857.  These first 62 awards were retrospective, for gallant actions by sailors and soldiers during the Crimean War of 1854-56.  Throughout its life, the Cross has been manufactured by Hancocks and Co, Jewellers of London.  Famously, they are made using bronze taken from guns captured from the Russians in the Crimea.  These guns appear to originally be of Chinese origin, and had previously been captured by Russian forces.  To date, 1,357 Victoria Crosses have been awarded, the most recent being to Private Johnson Beharry, of the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (2005).

The Victoria Cross for Australia replaces the Victoria Cross in the Australian Honours and Awards system.  It was instituted in 1991, and the first award was made on 16 February 2009, to Trooper Mark Donaldson, Special Air Service Regiment, for gallantry in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan, on 2 September 2008.  The reason for the change to the historic medal was to allow Australians to remain eligible for what is widely considered to be the world's most prestigious gallantry award.  Since the VC, a British imperial medal, was not compatible with the new Australian system of honours and awards, Queen Elizabeth II agreed to a new award; 'The Victoria Cross for Australia'.  The medal itself is completely unchanged, and is in fact a Victoria Cross in everything but name.  It is still manufactured by Hancocks, and each award is individually approved by Her Majesty the Queen. Under a similar system, the Victoria Cross of Canada was created in 1993 and the Victoria Cross for New Zealand in 1999.  The only other example of these Commonwealth awards so far was made to Corporal Willie Apiata, of the New Zealand SAS, in July 2007.  This award was also for gallantry in Afghanistan, in 2004.

It should be noted that the recent awards of the Victoria Cross to Australia and the Victoria Cross to New Zealand are NOT considered by the British Government to be awards of the Victoria Cross.  They are awards unique to the countries concerned. Australians, however, will consider Trooper Donaldson's award to be the latest in a long line which stretches back to Captain (later Sir) Neville Howse in South Africa in 1900. This means that 100 Australians have now been awarded the Victoria Cross.

Update, 21 January 2011: Recent research has confirmed that while the recent awards of the Victoria Cross to Australia and the Victoria Cross to New Zealand are not British imperial awards, being  unique to the Commonwealth countries concerned,  they ARE still considered Victoria Crosses in the proud tradition of the award.

Comments

Ian

Nick, I don't think Johnson Beharry is the most recent recipient of the (imperial) Victoria Cross. Corporal Bryan James Budd of the Parachute Regiment received a posthumous VC in 2006.

Nick Fletcher

Sorry Ian, you are quite right. I had overlooked Bryan Budd, even though I read up on the incident at the time! I should have said "the most recent surviving recipient is Private Johnson Beharry" and then discussed the posthumous award. Budd's courageous actions during two separate engagements in Afghanistan, the second of which, on 20 August 2006, led to his death in action, made him the most recent recipient of the (Imperial) Victoria Cross. My apologies again for this careless error.

Maurice Fleiss

I am interested in the new Australian Gallantry award...The Star of Gallantry. I have found that it appears only to have been awarded twice. One to a Commando SGT who commanded a Quick reaction force in Afghanistan during a battle with the Taliban and the other as a retrospective award to Harry Smith OC D Company 6 RAR at the Battle of Long Tan. It apparently is equivalent to the imperial DSO, although it no longer is an 'officer only' decoration. By the way that it has, so far, only been awarded to the Commander in each situation, I suspect that it may tend to be awarded in cases of 'Gallantry in Command', rather than just for individual acts of Gallantry. The information about the SG on 'It's an Honour' does not confirm this, but I wouldn't be surprised if an element of leadership in conjunction with Gallantry is considered by Honours and Awards when they bestow this decoration.

S. Fox

I agree with Maurice. There isn't a lot of info on the Star of Gallantry. It is the equivalent of both the DSO and DCM. The DCO was awarded for both heroism and distinguished command. I assume that although the SG may be awarded for individual Conspicuous Gallantry which doesn't quite warrant the award of the VC, it may also be awarded for 'Gallant command in action'. Harry Smith OC of D Coy, 6 RAR was awarded the medal because it was equivalent to the old DSO. This is recognising his Heroic Command in that battle, rather than any act or acts of Gallantry he did that set him above the others that were there on that day. I guess he wears the medal on behalf of all his men that went unrecognised. That has been the case with a lot of the VC's awarded to Officers over the years. With the recent award of the VC for Australia to TPR Donaldson VC, I would be interested to know the criteria which made their decision to give him the VC rather than the SG. From what I have read about that battle there were several other SAS soldiers involved. Some of them must have been fighting just as hard as TPR Donaldson VC. Will one of them get an SG? Was there an officer or Commander there leading them? Would he get the SG for his 'Gallant Command' in that incident? The VC is such a famous medal, but the general public don't know or recognised the other Gallantry medals. It would be good if they were publicised or displayed especially leading up to ANZAC day so that people would know what they are and what they signify.

Francis Noonan

Trooper Mark Gregor Donaldson, in my opinion, CAN NOT be considerded Australia's ninety seventh Victoria Cross winner as it is NOT a Victoria Cross but a completely different decoration namely the Victoria Cross for Australia. Australia Should be proud of its own decorations rather that pretend they are actually British decorations.

A.Goy

The Victoria Cross For Australia is indeed an Australian award. Mark Donaldson VC has the first of those to be awarded. However, the Australian award is given based on exactly the same criteria as the original imperial award. Indeed, it is actually the same medal and was made by Hancock's of London just like all the original crosses were and still are. Perhaps when the Victoria Cross of Australia was instituted, they should have stated that the post nominals were to be VCA rather than just VC. Nevertheless, we can't escape the fact that the Victoria Cross for Australia stands as Australia's highest award for gallantry in action and we can feel just as proud of Mark Donaldson as any of our previous Imperial VC recipients.

F.B.Taylor

British criteria for the V.C.may have been relaxed since Aug-1916, but I could not find if this is so. From our Australian War Memorial publication, "They Dared Mightily", page 2. Directions issued by the British High Command in France, August 1916. Consequent orders by the 1st. and 2nd.Australians Divisions laid it down that in future the V.C. would be (given) awarded, only for acts of conspicuous gallantry which were "Materially conductive to the gaining of a Victory ",Cases of gallantry in saving life, of however fine a nature, would not be considered. If this criteria still stands a lot of V.C.have definitely been upgraded,or the criteria downgraded.

Harry Smith

A friend directed me to this site as my name is mentioned relative to Long Tan and the Star Of Gallantry (SG). I thought I might add a few comments. In 1966 I was recommended by my CO and COMATF for the award of DSO, which was "for conspicuous leadership and gallantry under fire" under the Imperial System. My award was downgraded by COMAFV to the Military Cross, normally awarded at platoon level in past conflicts, but which I have been very proud to wear for over forty years on behalf of my former Company. Not one DSO was awarded at Company Commander level, Major rank, in the Australian Task Force. Similarly, not one VC was awarded in ATF despite some 500 men KIA, yet there were obviously several deserving cases, and if I had my time over again I would have cited my CSM Jack Kirby and a 12 Platoon Medic who acted similar to the VC awarded in Afghanistan. I am aware of at least one Vietnam SAS heroic act rescuing a badly wounded mate under fire, deserving of the VC. And I believe similar acts were performed in 6RAR Operation Bribie 1967. Unfortunately, the system in Vietnam downplayed such awards in favour of awards for distinguished service, as the statistics show. Only 61 private soldiers were recognised in the 726 Army awards approved for Vietnam. The domino effect of my downgrading caused my two surviving platoon commanders to be relegated to the MID, lesser awards than the MCs they were cited, and awards for other men to be reduced or deleted. In the belated 2008 Review of Long Tan awards, my platoon commanders were upgraded to the Contemporary equivalent of the MC, the Medal For Gallantry (MG). The Panel upgraded me to the SG and in doing so, the Panel suggested it would bestow considerable wider prestige on D Coy 6RAR for the Battle Of Long Tan. Similarly, the Panel suggested the awards to the platoon commanders would allow members of all platoons to claim equal recognition. Some people have suggested that the DSO is replaced by the DSC, but like the DSO, it has been used for distinguished service, not under fire, in Timor and other conflicts. The Panel believed the SG to be most suitable award to replace the DSO for Long Tan. The SG Regulations include gallantry under fire. The Panel also noted that all Battalion COs in Vietnam (and I add several Task Force Commanders, as well as RAN and RAAF commanders) were awarded the DSO, a system that had been developed by Australia to use the DSO for recognition of distinguished service, albeit contrary to the UK Regulations requiring service under fire. The subject is well documented in the 1984 Book by Ian Barnes published by the Military Historical Society: "Gallant and Distinguished service in Vietnam". Barnes' suggests the awards system in Vietnam was questionable, and says "those furthest from the action were the first to claim awards". He also makes a point that the lowest award for gallantry should have taken priority over the highest award for distinguished service in the Vietnam awards ration system which was reduced by over half the Korean scale in mid-1966 on the basis that "operations to date were of lesser intensity than Korea". I can say that I wear the SG with pride on behalf of all my men, and it represents the outstanding performance by my former Company in manouvering and then holding our ground in the face of suicidal battalion attacks by the six enemy battalions which we encountered at Long Tan. They were resting up east of the rubber, prior to attacking the ATF Nui Dat Base that night in conjunction with another Regiment to the north. My men were supported by all the Artillery, the RAAF, the USAF and in the finale, by a platoon of Bravo Company and the Troop of APCs carrying Alpha Company. We fired over 10,300 rounds and prevented the enemy from penetrating our defensive position. The horrendous casulaties he suffered, now stated as 1500 KIA or later DOW, caused him to abandon the battle and start to withdraw about the time Bravo Company was seen arriving at about 1845hours. The APCs fought through two company groups, one at least already withdrawing, as they moved up from the south and hastened the main enemy withdrawal. The 2008 Review did not recognise another twelve men who had been cited for awards in 1966, including one APC Officer and two Alpha Company men. They were referred by the Government for reconsideration by the 2009 Honours and Awards Tribunal. Although the final results for individual awards have been questioned, the Tribunal believed the gallantry exhibited by all my D Company men was worthy of the award of the Unit Citation For Gallantry, adding Australian unit recognition to the unit citations presented by the US and GRVN Armies in circa 1967. I owe my life to my men, and I wear the SG with pride, for them, especially those who sacrificed their lives for our nation. They are now the most decorated Company of the Vietnam War.

CIA

The laying of ones life down for more than self is something that we luckily, thanks to these brave individuals, and others unknown but to the dead, can imagine. Australia unlike other countries in this world ie Russia, China, Germany, UK, and USA, has undertaken acts of selflessness, through the lifes of her young and weary, to provide a glimmer of hope, in a world losing hope. The USA is no longer the bright hope of liberty and democracy, as Australia provides the same hopes without tainted action.

J O'Malley

Fantastic to hear from Harry Smith SG. So proud of all you blokes and so happy you have been recognised. I was lucky enough to have attended a talk last April by Mark Donaldson VC and 'Sgt T' who was a patrol commander in that ambush. Very interesting tale. I think more is bound to come out about that ambush in years to come. The Sgt was the fellow who was shot twice, hit by shrapnel and shot in his rifle, and then got himself secured behind the bullbar so he could keep fighting and commanding. Amazing stuff! The Anzac spirit of Gallantry carried by Harry Smith and the D Coy 6 RAR boys is definitely alive and well in the current generation. Very Proud!

M. Shepley

I met Mark Donaldson VC and that Sergeant at a function in Adelaide. Fantastic blokes. The story of their ambush and the events leading up to it was certainly a thrilling tale. They were very lucky to have got away from the much larger enemy force. I hope the other men in that incident, such as the Sergeant are recognised too. Definitely a potential movie. Great to see that Bruce Beresford is making a film about Long Tan. Can't wait to see it. I also heard that Mark Donaldson VC is a nominee for Young Australian of the year. Good luck to him. He's certainly a great inspiration.

John Kennett

Comments 3 and 4 mention the Star of Gallantry and make mention of two awarded so far. In fact there have been three. Major Harry Smith's for Long Tan and the Commando Sergeant who won his in Afghanistan in 2006. But I found mention of another, to, I presume a Commando Private for Afghanistan in 2008. I wonder when Afganistan is all done and dusted the names and awards of these and the other Special Forces soldiers will be known ?? It would also be interesting for someone to compile a list of what awards have been awarded to 4RAR(Cdo) / 2 CDO Regt for Iraq and Afghanistan as they seem to take a back seat to the SAS in the media. (Probably how they prefer ir too.)

Warren Jones

I was interested to hear on TV about the release of "SAS Sniper", which is written by Rob Maylor, who was the scout in the Taliban ambush during which Mark Donaldson conducted the acts that result in him being awarded the VC. It will be very interesting to read more detail about this day in Australian military history. I can't help but think that there were probably blokes there who in other circumstances would have got high recognition too.

Mark Korff

I noticed this interview on the SBS website. This is the Sergeant mentioned above who was involved in the same ambush as Mark Donaldson VC. He says he was the one who got behind a bullbar to escape the ambush, after being shot twice. http://www.sbs.com.au/documentary/program/sasthesearchforwarriors/about/crew/article/131/blogs_article.php It has some interesting personal information on his background and motivation for joining SAS. Apparently, he is now an instructor helping run the SAS Selection course. http://www.blackfive.net/main/2008/10/not-surprised-.html I'm looking forward to seeing 'SAS- The search for warriors' documentary about the Australian SAS selection.

Geoff Bradley

I think this is the sergeant mentioned above. A recent radio interview for Adelaide radio. http://blogs.abc.net.au/sa/2010/12/behind-the-lines-of-the-special-air-service-regiment.html?site=adelaide&program=adelaide_breakfast

Henry T

There are rumours of another VC about to be awarded to another Aussie Digger. http://www.smh.com.au/national/diggers-query-vc-award-for-soldier-in-afghanistan-20101225-197fb.html ''But in a battlefield like Afghanistan, it is sometimes almost impossible to pick out the most deserving soldier for a gallantry award. Indeed, in the action where Mark Donaldson won his VC, at least two other SAS troopers deserved decorations for bravery which have yet to be awarded. It is probably time to review the system.'' The army should have another look at the incident where Mark Donaldson carried out his VC actions. It seems like other deserving soldiers were overlooked for recognition and forgotten in the wake of the excitement surrounding the actions of one man.

Henry T

I found this on the SBS website. A profile of one of the other soldiers in Mark Donaldson's action. http://www.sbs.com.au/documentary/program/sasthesearchforwarriors/about/crew/article/131/Meet%20Sergeant%20T

Geoffrey Wilson

Do you think the the Imperial award will ever be given again to an Australian / New Zealander / Canadian for gallantry? Would it take a declared war rather then peace keeping missions for the Imperial award to be received? I have been debating this issue with my brother who is a medal collector and sometime amateur war historian. My brother also has a minature VC in his collection that so far we haven't been able to validate it. Are the minatures made from the same metal as the official award?

Mark Donaldson VC

Hi, thanks for the nice words from some of you and the level of discussion and interest in this matter. I would like to clarify a few things however. To Francis Noonan's comments I would like to say a VC is a VC. The British do recognize it. It is made from the same metal and goes through the same criteria to meet their standards. Ik know this because I have met the people in England that had sat on the board in the MOD(ministry of Defence) and the British honors tribunal. I can also say with absolute fact that they have not relaxed standards of criteria for the award. There have been multiple and multiple cases in England alone that probably deserve it but for some reason or another they have down graded it. I'm talking Afghanistan here. The MOD said they would not change their criteria just so there can be more VC's in the world. Additionally, like Harry, I wear it with absolute pride for what not only my mates did that day in achieving our mission but also that 2008 trip but as well what the whole of SASR has done in Afghanistan in recent years. There has been a lot of interest in SASR in the past two years however by no means do we go looking for that interest. I am extremely proud of those whom I fight alongside and continue to do so. I have seen a man shot through the head and get up to keep fighting. Guys been blown apart and keep fighting. Yet they have gotten no recognition as I'm sure hundreds and thousands have not since we have been fighting as a nation ever since the Boer war. Therefore it is especially important to me to not only wear the, first VC of Australia but also be the 97th VC Australia has had bestowed upon it, with absolute pride. Words cannot describe how immensely proud I am of Australia as a fighting force which is bar none to any other. As Harry, I owe my life to my mates and every time we are asked to stand and fight for Australia I will be there next to my mates.

jeff rose

Here Here Mark Donaldson. I would be interested to know Mr Noonans background or lack of it. I think his comments were in very poor taste (to be polite)