By the Second World War the changing nature of warfare required the introduction of new awards to acknowledge the bravery of civilians as well as certain servicemen and women. In 1940 King George VI instituted the George Cross, the highest of the new awards, to rank immediately after the Victoria Cross. The bombing of Britain had brought civilians into the front line, and their brave deeds, sometimes comparable to those for which Victoria Crosses had been awarded, deserved recognition. And, among troops of all kinds, there were numerous courageous acts that did not involve contact with an enemy. Eligibility for the George Cross extended to deeds performed in peacetime. Australians received the George Cross until 1975 when it was effectively replaced locally by the Cross of Valour.

The introduction of the George Cross rendered some older awards obsolete. In time, holders of the Albert Medal and the Empire Gallantry Medal were able to exchange them for the George Cross. Among those who did exchange their awards were two Australians who had received the Albert Medal for bravery while in the armed services before the Second World War: Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Bagot RNVR and Aircraftman William McAloney RAAF.

Several Australian servicemen received the direct award of the George Cross during the Second World War, and the Royal Australian Navy was heavily represented among them. Four officers of the RANVR, Lieutenants John Mould, Hugh Syme and George Gosse and Lieutenant Commander Leon Goldsworthy, received the cross for their cool and courageous efforts in rendering enemy mines safe in Britain or, later, in Germany.

Two Australian soldiers killed when Japanese prisoners staged a mass breakout from No. 12 Prisoner-of-war Camp, at Cowra, New South Wales, in August 1944, received posthumous awards for their brave resistance. They were Privates Benjamin Hardy and Ralph Jones.

A few years later, Private Horace Madden was awarded the George Cross; this was the highest decoration given to an Australian in the Korean War. Madden, like Captain Lionel Matthews before him, received a posthumous award for remarkable courage while a prisoner of war. In Matthews’s case, this was for his actions while a prisoner of the Japanese in Borneo in 1942–44. The last George Cross awarded to an Australian serviceman went posthumously to Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Rogers for his courage and example during the sinking of HMAS Voyager in 1964.

Fourteen Australians have received the direct award of the George Cross; nine have been won by servicemen and five by civilians or police. The following are the servicemen; some of these awards are displayed in the Australian War Memorial:

Name Where displayed
Lieutenant J.S. Mould  
Lieutenant H.R. Syme Hall of Valour
Lieutenant Commander L.V. Goldsworthy  
Lieutenant G. Gosse Hall of Valour
Captain L.C. Matthews Hall of Valour
Private B.G. Hardy  Hall of Valour
Private R. Jones Hall of Valour
Private H.W. Madden Hall of Valour
Chief Petty Officer J. Rogers Hall of Valour