British Military & Criminal History

1900 to 1999.

HOME

GALLANTRY

VC & BAR

PADRES VCs

Home - UK Medals - Gallantry - Victoria Cross

Introduction

This section deals with various people who have been awarded The Victoria Cross for bravery.

It is the UK's highest award for bravery by a military person in the presence of the enemy. In order of precedence, the Victoria Cross is the highest award, and is the most senior decoration. It takes precedence above all other medals and orders, including the George Cross.

Only one family (the Seagrim Brothers) has won both the Victoria Cross and George Cross; a different brother winning each of the medals.

Only three people have won the Victoria Cross twice (VC and Bar). Click here for the details of these special people.

Institution of the Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross was founded by Royal Warrant on 29 January 1856, and was originally intended to be awarded to members of the Royal Navy and British Army who, serving in the presence of the enemy, should have performed some signal act of valour or devotion to their country.

As Queen Victoria pointed out, it was not an Order, such as the Garter of the Bath. It offered no knighthood, bore no religious significance and contained no ranks within itself. It was intended solely as a decoration "to be highly prized and eagerly sought after by the officers and men of Our naval and military services".

Pensions were granted to all holders of the Victoria Cross below commissioned rank, and an expulsion clause allowed for a recipient's name to be erased from the official register in certain wholly discreditable circumstances, and his pension cancelled. King George V felt so strongly that the decoration should never be forfeited. In a letter to his Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, on 26 July 1920, his views are forcibly expressed: "The King feels so strongly that, no matter the crime committed by anyone on whom the VC has been conferred, the decoration should not be forfeited. Even where a VC to be sentenced to be hanged for murder, he should be allowed to wear his VC on the gallows".

Since the original 1856 warrant, other have been issued modifying or limiting the VC's provisions. In 1858 Queen Victoria decreed that the VC could be won by those who "may perform acts of conspicuous courage and bravery ... in circumstances of extreme danger, such as the occurrence of a fire on board ship, or of the foundering of a vessel at sea, or under any other circumstances in which ... life or public property may be saved". This warrant was only used twice.

In 1881, a new VC warrant was signed which stated "Our Will and Pleasure is that the qualification (for the award of the Victoria Cross) shall be "Conspicuous bravery or devotion to the country in the presence of the enemy". It was this last stipulation that necessitated the introduction of the George Cross in 1940.

In 1902 King Edward VII approved the extremely important principle of awarding the VC posthumously. In 1911 King George V admitted native officers and men of the Indian Army to eligibility, and in 1920, it was extended to include the Royal Air Force, and "matrons, sisters, nurses ... serving regularly or temporarily under the orders, direction or supervision" of the military authorities.

It was against emphasised that the VC "... shall only be awarded for most conspicuous bravery or some daring pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy."

Queen Victoria chose the design for the new decoration. It is in the form of a Maltese Cross ensigned with the Royal Crest and a scroll inscribed simply "For Valour". It is connected by a V-shaped link to a bar engraved on the face with the recipient's name. The date of the deed for which the honour is bestowed is engraved on the back of the Cross itself. It is worn on the left breast, before all other medals and awards, suspended from a 1-inch wide red ribbon. Originally the VC ribbon was blue for the Navy, and dark red for the Army. Since 1918, all VC awards use the crimson shade. The medal itself was, and still is, made of bronze melted down from the Russian cannons captured at Sevastopol in the Crimean War.

Sporting VC Holders

Captain Noel Chavasse (VC and bar, MC) RAMC represented Great Britain in the 400 metres at the London 1908 Olympics. Both Noel and his brother Christopher competed in the 4 x 400 metre relay at the same games.

Lieutenant General Sir Philip Neame (VC, KBE, CB, DSO, Chevalier Legion d'Honneur, Croix de Guerre) won the Gold Medal at the Paris 1924 Olympics. Neame was part of the four-man team that beat Norway and Sweden in the running deer team competition.

Second Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell (VC) was the fist professional football player to enlist for service during WWI. He died shortly after performing his VC action and is now buried in Gordon Dump Cemetery (4 miles NE of Albert in France).

Second Lieutenant John Harrison (VC, MC) played for the Hull Rugby League side, where he scored 106 tries in 116 matches. He was posthoumously awarded his VC and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial (bays 4 and 5).

Brigadier General Paul Aloysius Kenna (VC, DSO) was awarded the VC for his actions in Sudan during 1898. He was selected to lead the GB Show-jumping Team at the Stockholm 1912 Olympics. Kenna was killed at Gallipoli on 30 August 1915 and is buried in Lala Baba Cemetery (Plot II, Row A, Grave 1).

Lieutenant Colonel Brian Turner Lawrence (VC) was a member of Kenna's Show-jumping team at the Stockholm Olympic Games. He was awarded the VC for his actions during the Boer War in 1900.

Major Thomas Joseph Crean (VC, DSO) was an Irish Rugby Union international forward who won the VC. He was awarded the VC for his conduct during the Boer War.

Captain Robert Johnston (VC) was a rugby union player who played for and captained Transvaal, leading them to Currie Cup wins. He was awarded the VC for conduct during the Boer War, and became a good friend of Crean (mentioned earlier).

Brigadier Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey (VC, MC) played Rugby Union for Ireland versus Wales in 1907 and France in 1911. He was awarded the VC for conduct in France during WWI.

Lieutenant-Commander Arthur Leyland Harrison (VC) played Rugby Union for England against Ireland and France in the 1914 Five Nations Championship. Harrsion was posthumously awarded the VC for his conduct in the Zeebrugge Opertion on 23 April 1918. Due to having no known grave, Harrison is commemorated on the Zeebrugge Memorial.

For more details of sportsmen and women commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, please visit their web site.

Unusual VC Awards

Two Victoria Cross medals have been won by men who saved the lives of their brothers:

  • Major C.J.S. Gough saved his brother Lieutenant H.H. Gough (who was already a VC) during the Indian Mutiny.
  • Trooper H.E. Ramsden saved his brother's life in the South African War in 1899.

Victoria Crosses awarded for actions other than in time of war against the enemy:

  • Privates D. Bell, J. Cooper, W. Griffiths, T. Murphy and Assistant Surgeon C.M. Douglas, all member of the 24th Regiment (later The South Wales Borderers), for bravery at sea in saving life in a storm off the Andaman Islands, 1867.
  • Private T. O'Hea (The Rifle Brigade) for extinguishing a fire in a railway car containing 2,000 lbs of ammunition at Danville Railway Station, Quebec, Canada, in 1866.

Non-Commonwealth VC Awards

Rank Person Nationality
Captain B.S. Hutcheson American
Lance-Corporal W.H. Metcalf American
Sergeant G.H. Mullin American
Ordinary Seaman W.H.H. Seeley American
Sergeant R.L. Zengel American
Lieutenant Colonel A. Carton de Wiart Belgian
Stoker W. Johnstone German
Sergeant-Major C. Wooden German
Corporal F.C. Schiess Swiss
Trooper P.Brown Swedish
Private T.Dinesen Danish
Private J.C. Jensen Danish
Major A.F.E.V.S. Lassen Danish
Corporal F. Konowal Russian
  Unknown Soldier American

The American Unknown Warrior, who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, was presented with the Victoria Cross on behalf of King George V by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Beatty at the same time that he laid the King's wreath on the tomb, on 11 November 1921. The US Government bestowed a Congressional Medal of Honour on the British Unknown Soldier buried in Westminster Abbey.

Civilian VC Awards

Five civilians have won the VC:

  • Mr. R.L. Mangles, Mr. W.F. McDonell, Mr. T.H. Kavanagh of the Bengal Civil Service, Mr. G.B. Chicken, a volunteer of the Indian Naval Brigade, during the Indian Mutiny, 1857.
  • Reverend J.W. Adams, of the Bengal Ecclesiastical Department, during the 2nd Afghan War, 1879.

Family Awards

Family Name Individual Names Relationship
Gough Maj. C.J.S. Gough and Lieu. H.H. Gough (Indian Mutiny 1857-8) Brothers.
  Maj. J.E. Gough (Somaliland 1903) Son of Major C.J.S. Gough & Uncle of Lieu. H.H. Gough.
Sartorius Maj. R.W. Sartorius (Ashanti 1874) and Capt. E.H. Sartorius (Afghanistan 1879) Brothers.
Bradford Lieu-Col. R.B. Bradford (France 1916) and Lieu-Cdr. G.N. Bradford (Zeebrugge 1918) Brothers.
Turner 2nd Lieu. A.B. Turner (France 1915) and Lieu-Col. V.B. Turner (W. Desert 1942) Brothers.
Roberts Lieu. F.S. Roberts (Indian Mutiny 1858) and Lieu. the Hon. F.H.S. Roberts (S. Africa 1899) Father & Son.
Congreve Capt. W.N. Congreve (Boer War 1899) and Maj. W. La T. Congreve (France 1916) Father & Son.
Esmonde Capt. T. Esmonde (Crimea 1855) and Lieu-Cdr. E.K. Esmonde (Dover 1942) Great Uncle & Great Nephew).
Grieve Sgt-Maj. J. Grieve (Crimea 1854) and Capt. R.C. Grieve (Belgium 1917) Uncle & Nephew.
Lyster & Reed Lieu. H.H. Lyster (Indian Mutiny 1857) and Capt. H.L. Reed (S. Africa 1899) Uncle & Nephew.
Gifford & Butler Lieu. Lord Gifford (Ashanti 1873-4) and Capt. J.F.P. Butler (Cameroons 1914) Uncle & Nephew.
Blair Capt. J. Blair and Lieu. R. Blair (Indian Mutiny 1857) Cousins.
Dawson & Pollock Cpl. J.L. Dawson and Cpl. J.D. Pollock (France 1915) Cousins.
Cadell & Lawrence Lieu. T. Cadell and Lieu. S.H. Lawrence (Indian Mutiny 1857) Cousins.
Maude Bt. Lieu-Col. F.F. Maude (Crimea 1853) and Capt. F.C. Maude (Indian Mutiny 1857) Cousins.
Young & Boyes Lieu. T.J. Young (Indian Mutiny 1857) and Midshipman D.G. Boyes (Japan 1864) Brothers-in-Law.
Gort & Sidney Lieu-Col. Viscount Gort (France) and Maj. W.P. Sidney (Italy 1944) Father-in-Law & Son-in-Law.
Cubitt & Hills Lieu. W.G. Cubitt and and 2nd Lieu. J. Hills (Indian Mutiny 1857) Brothers-in-Law.
  Lieu-Col. L.P. Evans (Belgium 1917) and Lieu. W.G. Cubitt (Indian Mutiny 1857) Nephew & Uncle.
Campbell Cmdr Gordon Campbell (Atlantic 1917) and Lieu-Col Lorne Campbell (Tunisia 1943) Uncle & Nephew
Manser & Randle Flying Officer L.T. Manser (Germany 1942) and Capt. J.N. Randle (Assam 1944) Brothers-in-Law.
Site Index | UK Medals | Remembrance | War Crimes | Spying | Courts Martial | Criminal Cases | Contact Me