The Victoria Cross (VC), Britain’s best known military award was established 160 years ago today, the
29th January 1856. It is Britain’s highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy.
1,358 medals have been awarded with 1,355 individuals being decorated. Three recipients have won the medal twice, this sees the individual award an additional clasp, this called the VC and Bar. Only three men have won the VC twice: doctors Noel Chavasse and Arthur Martin-Leake and New Zealander Charles Upham.
The VC was created as an award for British servicemen of all ranks following an outcry from the public to recognise the heroism being reported by William Russell newspaper dispatches from the Crimea. Prior to this bravery was often rewarded by promotion, orders of chivalry or gifts - most commonly among officers. However, by this time other countries had instituted awards such as the Legion of Honour introduced by Napoleon in 1802. Following the end of the Crimean War Queen Victoria ordered the War Office to create a new medal for valour in January 1856. One suggestion for the name of the new decoration was The Military Order of Victoria however, this was dropped in favour of the simpler name, Victoria Cross.
The casting of a simple medal was ordered that would recognise neither birth nor class. The medals were ordered to be cast from the bronze cascabel’s of two Russian cannon captured at Sevastopol. Each medal weighs approximately 50 ounces, one of the original cascabels remains (see image #2). However, there has been some investigation into the true origin of the bronze, with Chinese cannons being found to be the actual source. However, it’s unknown if these were captured from the Russians or had been taken from the Chinese earlier during the Opium Wars. Regardless of the bronze’s source the same metal has been used in the casting of VCs for 160 years.
The remaining block of bronze (see image #2) weighs 358 oz (10 kg) and is stored in a Royal Logistics Corps vault and is only removed under armed guard. An estimated 85 more VCs can be cast from the remaining bronze. The medals have a red ribbon (although until 1919 the VCs awarded to members of the Royal Navy were dark blue) and have the crown of Saint Edward, a lion and the inscription ‘For Valour’ which was chosen by Queen Victoria. The recipient is also paid an additional lifetime pension, which for private soldiers during the 19th century was very rare.
The first medal was awarded to Charles Lucas of the Royal Navy for his heroism in August 1854. Lucas was aboard the HMS Hecla during the bombardment of the Russian fortress of Bomarsund when a shell from the fortress landed on the Hecla’s deck before it could explode Lucas picked up the shell and threw it over to the ship’s side. Lucas was promoted and upon the recommendation of Admiral Charles Napier he was retroactively awarded the first VC. 110 other VCs were awarded for heroic actions during the Crimean War.
The VC is awarded to those who have carried out an act of “
…most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.” 111 medals were issued for the Crimean War, 182 for the Indian Mutiny, 23 for the Zulu War, 78 during the Boer War, 181 during the Second World War and a staggering 628 during World War One. However, for various reasons eight medals have been forfeited since 1861, for reasons varying from theft to bigamy. No recipient has had their VC forfeited since the 1920s.
The VC was initially awarded to all British subjects but since the formation of the Commonwealth member nations have moved to award their own decoration. Australia, Canada and New Zealand all award their own versions of the VC. The most recent British VC issued was awarded to Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey of the Parachute Regiment for gallantry while fighting in Afghanistan. Leakey was awarded his VC in February 2015 for organising medical evacuations, re-siting machine guns and engaging the enemy under heavy fire.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the current President of Liberia. She is the first elected female head of state in Africa as well as the world’s first elected black female president. In 2011 she was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
Sirleaf was born in 1938 in Monrovia, Liberia. She attended the College of West African in Monrovia before continuing her education at Madison Business College in Madison, Wisconsin where she earned an associate degree in accounting. In 1970, she enrolled at the Economics Institute in Boulder, Colorado where she received a degree in economics. From 1969 to 1971, she studied economics and public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, graduating with a Master of Public Administration. Sirleaf then returned to Liberia, and in 1972 she gave a commencement address at the graduation convocation of her alma mater (College of West Africa) she criticised the government and set out her intentions to always speak the truth no matter the consequences. She then gained further attention when giving a speech to the Liberian Chamber of Commerce in which she claimed that the economy was being harmed by the country’s corporations who were hoarding or sending profits overseas.
In 1975, Sirleaf joined the Treasury Department, and by 1979 she had become the Minister of Finance. Sirleaf used her position to introduced measures to curb the mismanagement of government finances. In 1980, President Tolbert was overthrown in a military coup d’état led by Samuel Doe and killed. Sirleaf briefly served as the President of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) but was then forced into exile in Nairobi, Kenya after speaking out against Doe’s management of the country. Sirleaf served as Vice President of CITICORP’s Africa Regional Office, before returning to Liberia in 1985 to run for a seat in the senate as part of the Liberian Action Party. She spoke out against the military regime once again, and as a result was placed under house arrest before being sentenced to 10 years in prison. She served part of her sentence, but after international pressure calling for her release, she was released early. Sirleaf secretly fled the country to Washington D.C. where she became Senior Loan Officer at the World Bank, then Vice President for Equator Bank.
In 1992, Sirleaf joined the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as Assistant Administrator and Director of its Regional Bureau of Africa with the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. During her time at the UN, she was one of seven designated by the Organisation of African Unity to investigated the Rwandan genocide, one of five Commission Chairs for the Inter-Congolese Dialogue and one of two international experts selected by UNIFEM to investigate and report on the effect of conflict on women and women’s roles in peace building. She was also the initial Chairperson of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and a visiting Professor of Governance at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA).
Sirleaf had supported Charles Taylor’s rebellion against President Doe in 1990, and in 1997, she returned to Liberia to run as a presidential candidate for the Unity Party as his opposition. She received 25% of the vote, and Taylor charged her with treason. She would later speak out about Taylor, apologising to Liberia for supporting him and stating that “When the true nature of Mr. Taylor’s intentions became known, there was no more impassioned critic or strong opponent to him in a democratic process” than her. Sirleaf went into self imposed exile in Côte d'Ivoire, where she continued to maintain an interest in Liberian politics. She established the Kormah Development and Investment Corporation, a venture capital vehicle for African entrepreneurs, and Mesuagoon, a Liberian community development NGO.
In 2003, Sirleaf was considered to serve as Chairperson of the Governance Reform Commission upon the formation of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) following the Second Liberian Civil War. She took a position as head of the Governance Reform Commission instead, and led the country’s anti-corruption reform. Two years later, she resigned her position to stand for president of the Unity Party in the 2005 general election. Following investigations into election fraud, Sirleaf was declared the country’s next president. On her inauguration in January 2006, she became the world’s first elected black female president and Africa’s first elected female head of state. She focused her attention on rebuilding Liberia, and has been able to strengthen national security, revitalise the national economy and infrastructure and restore Liberia’s international reputation and credibility. In 2010, she successfully negotiated for $4 billion in debt relief for the country and UN trade sanctions were lifted to allow Liberia access to international markets. By 2011, she had increased the national budget from $80m to more than half a billion.
In 2011, Sirleaf ran for a second term as President. Four days before the election, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Sirleaf won the election, and announced the creation of a "national peace and reconciliation initiative,” led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee, to address the country’s divisions and begin “a national dialogue that would bring us together.”
In addition to her role as President, Sirleaf is Chairperson of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance and has served as Chairperson of the Mano River Union, for which she led the effort for political stability and economic cooperation among Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. She is also Goodwill Ambassador for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Africa, was a founding member of the International Institute for Women in Political Leadership. Sirleaf has been the recipient of many honours, including the the FAO CERES Medal (2008); the Crisis Group Fred Cuny Award for the Prevention of Deadly Crisis (2008) for outstanding leadership in democracy, development and peace-building in Africa; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2007), the highest civilian honour bestowed by an American President and the Indira Gandhi Prize (2013) In addition to this, she has 14 honorary degrees from American colleges and universities. In 2010, she was listed as one of the ten best leaders in the world in Newsweek magazine, placed in the top ten female leaders by Time and named the best President the country has ever had” by the Economist.
Edward A. Carter (1916-1963) served in three different wars for three different countries and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1997 by President Bill Clinton.
Carter first served in the Chinese Nationalist Army at the age of 15 after running away from home. He was promptly discharged when his true age was revealed. Extraordinarily, he managed to reach the rank of lieutenant before his age was found out. Later, he would serve in the Spanish Civil War in the famed Abraham Lincoln brigade fighting for the Spanish Republic. In 1941, Carter joined the US Army and took part in World War II as part of the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion, 12th Armored Division. Carter even managed to serve as General George S. Patton’s guards. To quote Ernest
McPherson writing for the California Center for Military History: “They had
a strong bond with the fact they both believed they had been visited
by a spirit who foretold accomplishments on the battlefield.”
Carter’s Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:
“For extraordinary heroism in action on 23 March 1945, near Speyer,
Germany. When the tank on which he was riding received heavy bazooka and
small arms fire, Sergeant Carter voluntarily attempted to lead a
three-man group across an open field. Within a short time, two of his
men were killed and the third seriously wounded. Continuing on alone, he
was wounded five times and finally forced to take cover. As eight enemy
riflemen attempted to capture him, Sergeant Carter killed six of them
and captured the remaining two. He then crossed the field using as a
shield his two prisoners from which he obtained valuable information
concerning the disposition of enemy troops. Staff Sergeant Carter’s
extraordinary heroism was an inspiration to the officers and men of the
Seventh Army Infantry Company Number 1 (Provisional) and exemplify the
highest traditions of the Armed Forces.“
Heres a belt buckle I made in stainless steel. The medal belonged to my great uncle apparently. Its WW1 and pretty much everybody who served in the war got this and another gold coloured medal with a kind of angel on it. I think this is one of the best war medals Iv'e seen. From the horses mane and stylized sun to the shield and skull n’ crossbones….luvvit.
Iv'e photographed it upside down just to try and capture all the details. On my waist , the medal hangs down off the buckle.
Coldstream Guardsmen Joseph Nunn (Rgt. No. 3180), Joel Potter (Rgt. No. 3595), James Deal (Rgt. No. 2274), 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards 1856. All three men were awarded the Crimean War Medal with clasps for Alma, Inkerman, Balaklava and Sebastopol.
Originally, it was General Westmoreland who played a major part in establishing the most famous Recondo school of them all—MACV Recondo School.
In 1958, 101st Airborne Division commander Major General William Westmoreland gave Korean War Medal of Honor recipient Major Lewis Millet an important assignment. His task? Establishing a condensed, but intense, patrolling and raiding school for the division. Westmoreland was concerned that his division’s paratroopers needed more intensive training in raiding and reconnaissance patrolling, but was aware that the U.S. Army Ranger School was unable to provide training on the scale he envisioned for an entire division.
When conventional U.S. troop units began deploying to the Republic of Vietnam, the men of Project Delta (B-52) and its predecessor, Project Leaping Lena, had already honed their skills and gained experience in conducting reconnaissance and other special operations in Vietnam, as well as in training indigenous troops in these arts. It soon became evident that the conventional units would need a reconnaissance capability beyond their organic cav troops and infantry battalion recon platoons.
In September 1966, the 1st Brigade 101st Airborne Division sent 10 paratroopers through Delta’s training program, and soon other units were begging to send some of their soldiers through the course. By August 1966, things were getting out of hand. Delta’s CO went to Colonel Kelly, who at this time was reorganizing and expanding 5th SF Group’s intelligence operations, and in the process of organizing and bringing online Project Omega (B-50), Project Sigma (B-56), and a group recon school.
In the midst of all this, Project Delta was also training LRRPs for the conventional units. Colonel Kelly went to General Westmoreland (by then MACV’s commanding general), and on July 1st, 1966, Major A. J. Baker was given the job of forming and commanding the MACV Recondo School, based on Delta’s recon experience and the 101st’s Recondo School. From that beginning, the MACV Recondo School at Nha Trang was on its way.
Drummer John Rennie (Regt. Nº 2125) 72nd (Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders) Regiment of Foot, Aldershot Garrison 1856 (aged 25) He is shown wearing the Bandsman’s distinctive white doublet with shoulder “wings” and armed with the brass basket-hilted sword unique at the time to bandsmen of Highland regiments.
John Rennie was born in the Parish of Everton and attested for the 72nd Regiment at Glasgow in the County of Lanark on the 25th November 1846 at the age of 15. He was appointed Drummer on 24 October 1847, awarded the Crimea War Medal with the Sebastopol clasp in 1855, and as a Drum Major during 1857/59, he was awarded the Indian Mutiny Medal.
British Crimea & China Medal Group, Captain Henry Briscoe Royal Artillery Group to Henry William Briscoe, Captain Royal Artillery. Consists of; Crimea Medal with Sebastopol bar, rim impressed “H.W. Briscoe Lieut Royal Artillery”; China War Medal with Pekin 1860 and Taku Forts bars, rim impressed “Capt. H.W. Briscoe 4th Bde Rl Arty”; French issue Turkish Crimea Medal; Turkish Order of Mejidie, reverse engraved “Crimea 1854-55 W.H. Briscoe Royal Artillery”; Miniatures mounted in pairs. All with silver buckle pin-back suspension, lightly worn original ribbons, typical minor nicks, good toning. Officers feather shako plume with silver socket contained in original tin tube. Original Carte de Visite of Captain Briscoe.
110 pages of typed, single sided transcripts of letters written by Captain Briscoe to his parents relating his military service in the Crimea, and transcripts of his diary relative to his service in China via Egypt. Letters and diary entry’s are highly detailed and entertaining.
Accompanying the lot is a silver hat badge of the Royal Rifle Corps, four screw back with separate silver plate with the initials and date “J.H. 10/8/89” scratched in, and basket hilt sword 32 ¾" blade with inset “Proved” mark on ricasso, etched blade with “ER” cypher. Blade displays light powdery rust mixed with original plating. Nickel plated basket hilt with red wool lining, fish skin handle showing minor wear. Leather covered scabbard with typical scuffs.
The sword is not related to the owner of the medals, but it is a great photo so why not?