The Victoria Cross & George Cross Association represents all living holders of the Victoria Cross and its equivalent the George Cross, which is awarded to civilians and military personnel. The VC and GC Association was officially established following the Victoria Cross Centenary Celebrations in Hyde Park, attended by Her Majesty The Queen on 26th June 1956. Sir John (Jackie) Smyth Bt. VC MC, at that time a Member of Parliament, agreed to be the founder Chairman. In 1957, Her Majesty The Queen graciously consented to be Patron and has fulfilled that role ever since. This page provides the history of the Association itself and both the Victoria Cross and George Cross medals in chronological order.
The Victoria Cross
‘‘To be rewarded to those officers and men who have served us in the presence of the enemy and shall there have performed some single act of valour or devotion to their country.’’
GEORGE CROSS AND VICTORIA CROSS MEMORIAL, MINISTRY OF DEFENCE BUILDING, WHITEHALL, LONDON
Liam O’Connor Architects was invited to prepare designs for a permanent memorial to commemorate recipients of the VC and GC. A site was chosen at the centre of the pillared hall in the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall. The building is a Listed Grade I building designed by E. Vincent Harris RA in 11915. Construction was delayed due to the First and Second World wars and completed later to a revised design by Harris. The building is on the site of the Tudor palace of Henry VIII and close to the Banquetting Hall built for James II by Inigo Jones.
‘‘For acts of great honour or the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.’’
King George VI
Within the Pillared Hall of the refurbished Main Building stands a new memorial and tribute to the servicemen who have been decorated with the Victoria Cross and the servicemen and women who have been decorated with the George Cross. The memorial is designed to perpetuate their memory and the deeds which won them the highest decorations that the country can bestow for valour and gallantry. Further it is designed to remind all who work within the Ministry that in all aspects of the defence of the realm, courage of the highest order and, if necessary, the supreme sacrifice may be demanded. The character of the memorial is designed to exemplify the courage, selflessness, example and sacrifice of those who were decorated with these supreme awards. The concept called for a design
that was simple, dignified and timeless and of a nature that would resonate strongly with those who stand before it. The memorial, located centrally along the east side of the Pillared Hall, is based upon two elements blending together as a single monument. First a bronze sculpture mounted on a column and designed to capture the spirit, character and qualities of the recipients. A military figure depicting leadership and selfless courage in the face of adversity emerges from the pitted column leading with is right arm and reaching out to help others while carrying the full weight of responsibility. The sculpture leads through to the memorial's stained glass window - just over three metres in height - that encompasses the two crosses in coloured and etched glass together with a column mirroring the bronze column of the sculpture. Quotations from Queen Victoria and King George VI instituting the Crosses iterate the values that underpin the award of the medals.
The two texts are linked by a short quotation from Pericles; "They fled only from dishonour but met danger face to face". The depth and choice of colour for the glass for the window has been chosen to ensure compatibility with the general colour scheme of the Pillared Hall. Muted green, blue, red and offwhite opaque glass has been selected from many parts of the world to guarantee suitability.
The red and blue ribbons depicted have been carefully conceived to create an impression of woven fabric. A deep reddish brown was chosen for the perspective floor that matches the actual colour of the newly laid terrazzo of the Pillared Hall. The Victoria Cross is the country's highest decoration for "conspicuous bravery or devotion to the country in the presence of the enemy". It was instituted by Queen Victoria towards the conclusion of the Crimean war. All VCs are made from bronze and the metal comes from the melted down breeches of guns captured from the Russians at Sebastopol in the Crimea. The design is a Maltese Cross bearing in the centre the royal crown surmounted by a lion with the roll inscribed "For Valour". The colour of the ribbon has been described as wine red. 1354 awards have been made of the Victoria Cross, many of them posthumously and 11 crosses have been awarded since the Second World War. A number have been awarded to members of the Commonwealth Forces. There are currently fifteen surviving holders of the Victoria Cross.
The George Cross was instituted by Royal Warrant in 1940. King George VI had been greatly moved by the fortitude and courage displayed by many civilians and by those engaged in bomb and mine disposal during the Blitz and wanted these outstanding acts of bravery to be suitably recognised. The King, with his advisors, decided to create a new decoration which would be equivalent in status with the Victoria Cross. The George Cross is made of silver and the colour of the ribbon is officially described as "Garter Blue". The inscription reads "For Gallantry". The decoration may be awarded to servicemen and women as well as civilians for acts of great heroism in circumstances other than battle. Of the 155 direct awards of the George Cross since its inception over 100 have been awarded to servicemen and women.
The concept for a memorial within the refurbished Ministry of Defence was conceived by Lieutenant General Sir Peter Duffell together with Mrs Didy Grahame of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association.
The eventual design was approved by the Secretary of State for Defence and the Chiefs of Staff and English Heritage.
The stained glass window was designed by Rachel Foster and the skilled production group of the Eastwood Senior Citizens Art Project Enterprise (ESCAPE). The membership of the group includes elderly disabled women and they had already created a number of stained glass windows including that for the United Nations building in Geneva and for the European Parliament building before being commissioned to execute the Memorial window. The lettering on the window was designed and set out by Richard Kindersley.
The powerful bronze figure depicting courage was sculpted by Marcus Cornish.
Liam O'Connor Architects were commissioned to design the memorial and to manage its installation within the Ministry of Defence.