The Victoria Cross is the highest-ranking British award for gallantry, and as such is the most prized decoration that any subject of the realm can earn. It was instituted in 1856 and was available to officers and men alike. It was deemed by Queen Victoria that the cross should be simple in design and was to be made from the bronze of cannon (formerly believed to be from Russian guns captured during the Crimean war but latterly found also to be from other conflicts, such as China). The first awards were made in June 1857 with Queen Victoria personally investing many of the Crimean recipients. Until 1918, naval recipients wore the cross from a blue ribbon and the army from a crimson one. Since 1918 the crimson ribbon has been adopted for all services. The cross may be awarded posthumously. When the ribbon alone is worn a miniature bronze cross is worn. Bars may be awarded for further acts of gallantry. To date three bars have been awarded.
· A. Martin - Leake. The Cross during the Boer War as a Surgeon Captain in the South African Constabulary, the Bar as a Lieutenant, R.A.M.C. in Belgium, 1914.
· N.G. Chevasse. The Cross as a Captain, R.A.M.C. in France, 1916 and the Bar, posthumously in Belgium, 1917.
· C.H. Upham. The Cross as a 2/Lieutenant in the New Zealand Military Forces, Crete, in 1941, the Bar in the Western Desert in 1942.
The youngest recipient was just over fifteen years old and the oldest sixty-nine! Three have been awarded to father and son and four to brothers. Eight crosses have been forfeited for misconduct - however this practice was discontinued after the First World War.
Of the 1,354 awards since its inception, the Army has received 832, the Royal Navy 107, the Royal Air Force 31, the Royal Marines 10 and four were given to civilians. The remainder were awarded to Commonwealth units.
In the form of a cross pattee (with flared sides) the obverse shows a lion standing 'gardant' on the royal crown with the words 'FOR VALOUR' on a semi-circular scroll underneath. On the reverse is a circular panel with the date of the act for which the medal is awarded. The medal is suspended from a bar with laurel leaves on the obverse and the engraved name, rank and unit of the recipient on the reverse.
The ribbon is plain crimson.