During the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) newspaper reports described many acts of bravery and valour performed by British servicemen that went unrewarded. Before the Crimean War there was no official system for the recognition of gallantry within the British armed forces and Queen Victoria, desirous to make note and reward such acts of valour, issued a warrant on 29th January 1856 that officially constituted a new military medal – The Victoria Cross – or more simply, the VC.
The chosen design was a simple bronze Maltese cross, bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion and was cast from cannon captured during the Crimean War. The initial inscription was to have been “For the Brave”, but Queen Victoria objected to this, allegedly stating: “…but all my soldiers are brave”. Hence, the inscription was changed to “FOR VALOUR”. Hancocks of London cast all VC medals, though the bronze from which it is cast is held by the Ministry of Defence. The cross would be suspended under a plain deep crimson ribbon for the Army and dark blue for Royal Navy recipients, though since 1918 all ribbons have been deep crimson. The reverse of the cross is engraved with the recipient’s name and the date of the act for which the award has been made.
Queen Victoria instructed the War Office that the new medal would be awarded regardless of status, class or rank. The original warrant stated that the VC would only be awarded to soldiers who had performed some “signal act of valour… in the face of the enemy”. First intended only for the British military, The VC can be awarded to British, former Empire Territories and Commonwealth personnel. Besides only being awarded for an act in the face of the enemy, the account of the act must also be supported by witnesses and final approval of an award can only be made by the Reigning Monarch. All VC awards are reported in the London Gazette accompanied by an account of the act resulting in the award.
Since its inception, tens of millions of men and women have served in the British and Commonwealth Armed Forces in battles and campaigns across the World. Despite this less than 1400 VC awards have been made, nearly 300 of these awards have been posthumous. Remarkably, three soldiers have been awarded the VC twice!
To this day, the VC is held to be the highest of all military awards. Regardless of all other honours, titles and decorations, the VC takes precedence and is always listed first amongst a recipient’s awards.
The Worcestershire Regiment
Nine VC awards have been made to men of the Worcestershire Regiment – all during the First World War.
Herbert James, 27. Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. 28th June, 1915
For most conspicuous bravery during the operations in the Southern Zone of the Gallipoli Peninsula. On 28th June, 1915, when a portion of the Regiment had been checked, owing to all the officers being put out of action, Second-Lieutenant James, who belonged to a neighbouring Unit, entirely on his own initiative, gathered together
a body of men and led them forward under heavy shell and rifle fire. He then returned organised a second party and again advanced. His gallant example put fresh life into the attack. On 3rd July, in the same locality, Second-Lieutenant James headed a party of bomb throwers up a Turkish communication trench and after nearly all his throwers had been killed or wounded he remained alone at the head of the trench and kept back the enemy single-handed until a barrier had been built behind him and the trench secured. He was throughout exposed to murderous fire.
Edgar Kinghorn Myles, 21. Sanna-i-Yat, Mesopotamia (now Iraq). 9th April 1916
For most conspicuous bravery. He went out alone on several occasions in front of our advance trenches, and, under heavy rifle fire and at great personal risk, assisted wounded men lying in the open. On one occasion he carried in a wounded officer to a place of safety under circumstances of great danger
Thomas George Turrall, 30. La Boiselle, France. 3rd July 1916.
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. During a bombing attack by a small party against the enemy the officer in charge was badly wounded, and the party having penetrated the position to a great depth was compelled eventually to retire. Private Turrall remained with the wounded officer for three hours under continuous and very heavy fire from machine guns and bombs, and, not withstanding that both himself and the officer were at one time completely cut off from our troops, he held to his ground with determination, and finally carried the officer to our lines after our counter attacks had made this possible.
William Leefe Robinson, 22. Cuffley, Hertfordshire, UK. September 2nd – 3rd 1916 (attached to the Royal Flying Corps)
He had been in the air for more than two hours, and had previously attacked another airship during his flight.
Eugene Paul Bennett, 24. Le Transloy, France. 5th November 1916
Temporary Lieutenant Bennett, of the Worcestershire Regiment, when in command of the second wave of the attack, found that the first wave had suffered heavy casualties. Its commander had been killed and the second line was wavering. Lieutenant Bennett advanced at the head of the second wave and by his personal example of valour and resolution reached his objective with but sixty men. Isolated with his small party, he at once took steps to consolidate his position, under heavy rifle and machine gun fire from both flanks, and although wounded, he remained in command, directing and controlling. He set an example of cheerfulness and resolution beyond all praise, and there is little doubt that, but for his personal example of courage, the attack would have been checked at the outset.
Frederick George Dancox, 38. Boesinghe, Belgium. 9th October 1917
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack. After the first objective had been captured and consolidation had been started, work was considerably hampered, and numerous casualties were caused, by an enemy machine gun firing from a concrete emplacement situated on the edge of our protective barrage. Pte. Dancox was one of a party of about ten men detailed as moppers-up. Owing to the position of the machine gun emplacement, it was extremely difficult to work round a flank. However, this man with great gallantry worked his way round through the barrage and entered the “Pillbox” from the rear, threatening the garrison with a Mills bomb. Shortly afterwards he reappeared with a machine gun under his arm, followed by about 40 enemy. The machine gun was brought back to our position by Pte. Dancox, and he kept it in action all day. By his resolution, absolute disregard of danger and cheerful disposition, the morale of his comrades was maintained at a very high standard under extremely trying circumstances.
Frank Crowther Roberts, 26. Pargny, France. 22nd March – 2nd April 1918
During continuous operations which covered over twelve days Lt -Col Roberts showed most conspicuous bravery, exceptional military skill in dealing with the many very difficult situations of the retirement, and amazing endurance and energy in encouraging and inspiring all ranks under his command. On one occasion the enemy attacked a village and had practically cleared it of our troops, when this officer got together an improvised party and led a counter-attack which temporarily drove the enemy out of the village, thus covering the retirement of troops on their flanks who would otherwise have been cut off. The success of this action was entirely due to his personal valour and skill.
John James Crowe, 41. Neuve Eglise, Belgium. 14th April 1918
For most conspicuous bravery, determination, and skilful leadership when the enemy, for the third time having attacked a post in a village, broke past on to the high ground and established a machine gun and snipers in the broken ground at the back of the village. 2nd Lt. Crowe twice went forward with two N.C.O.s and seven men to engage the enemy, both times in face of active machine-gun fire and sniping. His action was so daring that on each occasion the enemy withdrew from the high ground into the village, where 2nd Lt. Crowe followed them and himself opened fire upon the enemy as they collected in the doorways of the houses.
On the second occasion, taking with him only two men of his party, he attacked two enemy machine guns which were sweeping the post, killed both the gunners with his rifle, and prevented any others from reaching the guns and bringing them into action again. He then turned upon a party of the enemy who were lined up in front of him, killed several, and the remainder withdrew at once. He captured both the guns, one of which was the battalion Lewis gun which had been captured by the enemy on the previous day.
Throughout the seven days of operations 2nd Lt. Crowe showed an utter disregard of danger and was recklessly brave. His personal example and cheerfulness contributed largely to the determination of the garrison of the post to hold out. It may safely be said that but for his coolness and skill at the last moment, when he personally placed the covering party in close proximity to the enemy, who were again closing round, and were also forming up in fours nearby, the garrison of the post could never have effected its escape. The valour and zeal displayed by 2nd Lt. Crowe were of the highest order.
George W. St.George Grogan, 42. Third Battle of the Aisne, France. 27th –29th May 1918
For most conspicuous bravery and leadership throughout three days of intense fighting. Brigadier-General Grogan was, except for a few hours, in command of the remnants of the Infantry of a Division and various attached troops. His action during the whole of the battle can only be described as magnificent. The utter disregard for his personal safety, combined with the sound practical ability which he displayed, materially helped to stay the onward thrust of the enemy masses.
Throughout the third day of operations, a most critical day, he spent his time under artillery, trench mortar, rifle and machine-gun fire, riding up and down the front line encouraging his troops, reorganising those who had fallen into disorder, leading back into the line those who were beginning to retire, and setting such a wonderful example that he inspired with his enthusiasm not only his own men but also the Allied troops who were alongside. As a result the line held and repeated enemy attacks were repulsed. He had one horse shot under him, but nevertheless continued on foot to encourage his men until another horse was brought. He displayed throughout the highest valour, powers of command and leadership.