The Victoria Cross

22 January 2009 by Nick Fletcher

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.