The Victoria Cross
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 supplied by Hancocks and Co, Jewellers of London. Generally believed to be made using bronze taken from guns captured from the Russians in the Crimea, this initial supply was exhausted by the start of the First World War. The Crosses are now made using the metal from guns of Chinese origin. The history of these guns is unknown, but they may have been captured during the Opium Wars of the nineteenth century.
In 1991, the Victoria Cross for Australia was granted through letters patent by Queen Elizabeth II to accommodate the award within the Australian Honours and Awards system. The actual medal itself is unchanged. It is still supplied by Hancocks from the same metal, 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 Victoria Cross for Canada, unlike Australian and New Zealand awards, has a distinctive Canadian design and metallurgical variation.
Though uniquely Australian, the Victoria Cross for Australia carries on the history and proud traditions of its Imperial antecedent. Its recipients continue to be known simply as holders of the Victoria Cross. As recipients they are members of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association, and attend reunions in London that are generally held every two years. Queen Elizabeth II is patron of the association.
The first award of the Victoria Cross for Australia was made on 16 February 2009, to Trooper Mark Donaldson, Special Air Service Regiment, for gallantry in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan, on 2 September 2008. There have been five awards of the Victoria Cross for Australia, the last being to Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean RANR for gallantry on board HMAS ‘Armidale’ during the Second World War. Sheean was originally awarded a posthumous Mention in Despatches, but this was upgraded to the Victoria Cross on 1 December 2020. The only other example of these Commonwealth awards so far was made to Corporal Willie Apiata, of the New Zealand SAS, in July 2007 for gallantry in Afghanistan in 2004. He is, as of 2021, the sole recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand.
To date, there have been 1359 awards of the Victoria Cross. This includes 101 Australians from Captain Neville Howse in South Africa in 1900, to Corporal Cameron Baird’s posthumous award for actions in Afghanistan in 2013.