Military History

The Highest Honour

By The Cove January 11, 2021


The Highest Honour

In 2020 The Cove ran a series of articles called 'This Week in History' where we looked at important events in Australian Army history. 

In 2021 our history articles will be looking at Australians who have been awarded the Victoria Cross.

Each week we will feature two Victoria Cross recipients who were awarded the Victoria Cross under the Imperial honours system and those awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia, which was introduced as part of the Australian honours system.

We will feature the Victoria Cross recipients alphabetically each week on Mondays.

The Victoria Cross for Australia

The Victoria Cross for Australia is the pre-eminent award for acts of bravery in wartime and is Australia's highest honour. The Victoria Cross for Australia is awarded to a person who, in the presence of the enemy, displays the most conspicuous gallantry, or daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty.

History

The British or Imperial Victoria Cross was originally created by Queen Victoria in 1856 and made retrospective to include the Crimean War (1854–1856). One hundred and one Australians have been awarded the Victoria Cross: 96 were awarded the Victoria Cross under the Imperial honours system (before the Australian Government chose to introduce its own honours system in 1975) and four Australian Army soldiers and one Royal Australian Navy Seaman have been awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia, which was introduced as part of the Australian honours system by Letters Patent on 15 January 1991. Australians have been awarded the Victoria Cross in the following conflicts:

  • 6 in the Boer War (1899–1902)
  • 64 in World War I (1914–1918)
  • 2 in North Russia (1919)
  • 21 in World War II (1939–1945). This includes the Victoria Cross for Australia presented posthumously to Edward "Teddy" Sheean on 01 December 2020. 
  • 4 in Vietnam (1962–1972)
  • 4 in Afghanistan (2001– )

Australian soldiers were awarded nine Victoria Crosses at Gallipoli, including seven during the Battle of Lone Pine (6–9 August 1915). The first Australian to be awarded a Victoria Cross was Captain Sir Neville Howse, VC, KCMG, CB, KStJ, during the Boer War. He also served in World War I and, later, as an Australian Government minister responsible (separately) for the health, defence and repatriation portfolios.

Warrant Officer Class Two Keith Payne was the last Australian to be awarded the Imperial Victoria Cross. Invested with the Victoria Cross by Queen Elizabeth II aboard Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia in Brisbane on 13 April 1970, Warrant Officer Payne was awarded the VC for his “sustained and heroic personal efforts” while under heavy enemy fire in Kon Tum Province, Vietnam, on 24 May 1969.

Medal design

The Victoria Cross is designed in the form of a cross pattee : in the centre of the medal is a lion guardant standing upon Saint Edward's Crown.

The words "For Valour" are inscribed below. The Victoria Cross is suspended from a bar by a crimson ribbon. On the reverse of the cross the date of the act of bravery is inscribed, along with the name, rank and unit of the recipient.

Hancocks Jewellers, London, has manufactured the Victoria Cross since its inception and its jewellers continue to make the Victoria Cross for Australia. The medal itself is cast (not struck like a coin or pressed using a die) and hand-finished by the Hancocks jewellers, who use metal from the bronze cascabels of two captured cannons to make the medals.

 


Portrait

Biography

The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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