George Cross

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George Cross
George Cross.jpg
Obverse of the cross. Ribbon: 38 mm, dark blue.
Awarded by Commonwealth realms
Type Civil decoration
Eligibility Commonwealth subjects
Awarded for "... acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger."
Status Currently awarded
Description Height 48 mm, max. width 45 mm; (Obverse) plain silver cross with circular medallion in the centre depicting the effigy of St. George and the Dragon, surrounded by the words "FOR GALLANTRY". In the angle of each limb is the Royal Cypher GVI; (Reverse) plain, centre engraved with name of recipient and date of award. Cross attached by ring to bar ornamented with laurel leaves, through which the ribbon passes.
Post-nominals GC
Statistics
Established 24 September 1940
Total awarded 406 (including 2 collective awards)
Posthumous
awards
90 (including 4 former EGM recipients)
Distinct
recipients
406 (including 2 collective awards)
Order of Wear
Next (higher) Victoria Cross[1]
Next (lower) Order of the Garter
Related George Medal
UK George Cross ribbon.svg
GC ribbon bar

The George Cross (GC) is the equal highest award of the United Kingdom honours system,[2] being second in the order of wear (but equal precedence) to the Victoria Cross.[3] The GC is the highest gallantry award for civilians, as well as for members of the armed forces in actions for which purely military honours would not normally be granted.[4]

Creation[edit]

The George Cross was instituted on 24 September 1940 by King George VI.[5] At this time, during the height of the Blitz, there was a strong desire to reward the many acts of civilian courage. The existing awards open to civilians were not judged suitable to meet the new situation, therefore it was decided that the George Cross and the George Medal would be instituted to recognise both civilian gallantry in the face of enemy action and brave deeds more generally.

Announcing the new award, the King said:

In order that they should be worthily and promptly recognised, I have decided to create, at once, a new mark of honour for men and women in all walks of civilian life. I propose to give my name to this new distinction, which will consist of the George Cross, which will rank next to the Victoria Cross, and the George Medal for wider distribution.[6]

The medal was designed by Percy Metcalfe. The Warrant for the GC (along with that of the GM), dated 24 September 1940, was published in the London Gazette on 31 January 1941.[7]

The GC replaced the Empire Gallantry Medal (EGM); all holders of the EGM were instructed to exchange their medals for a GC, a substitution of awards unprecedented in the history of British decorations. This substitution policy ignored holders of the Albert Medal (AM) and the Edward Medal (EM), awards which both took precedence over the EGM.[8] The anomaly was rectified in 1971, when the surviving recipients of the AM and the EM became George Cross recipients and were invited to exchange their medal for the George Cross. Of the 64 holders of the Albert Medal and 68 holders of the Edward Medal eligible to exchange, 49 and 59 respectively took up the option.[9]

Award[edit]

The GC, which may be awarded posthumously, is granted in recognition of:

acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.[10]

The award is for civilians but also for military personnel whose actions would not normally be eligible to receive military awards, such as gallantry not in the face of the enemy. The Warrant states:

The Cross is intended primarily for civilians and award in Our military services is to be confined to actions for which purely military Honours are not normally granted.[11]

The Cross shall be worn by recipients on the left breast suspended from a ribbon one and a quarter inches in width, of dark blue, that it shall be worn immediately after the Victoria Cross and in front of the Insignia of all British Orders of Chivalry.[12]

Bars are awarded to the GC in recognition of the performance of further acts of bravery meriting the award, although none have yet been awarded. Recipients are entitled to the postnominal letters GC.[13] In common with the Victoria Cross, a distinction peculiar to these two premier awards for bravery, in undress uniform or on occasions when the medal ribbon alone is worn, a miniature replica of the cross is affixed to the centre of the ribbon.[14]

All GC awards are published in the London Gazette with the exception of the two collective bestowals.[15]

Recipients[edit]

Since its inception in 1940, the GC has been awarded 406 times, 404 to individuals and two collective awards to Malta and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There have been 161 original awards including both collective awards and 245 exchange awards, 112 to Empire Gallantry Medal recipients, 65 to Albert Medal recipients and 68 to Edward Medal recipients.[16] Of the 159 individuals who received original awards, 86 have been posthumous. In addition there were four posthumous recipients of the Empire Gallantry Medal whose awards were gazetted after the start of the Second World War and whose awards were also exchanged for the GC. All the other exchange recipients were living as of the date of the decisions for the exchanges.[9][17]

Recent recipients[edit]

George Cross as it appears on Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones.

The Ministry of Defence announced on 18 March 2010 that Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid was posthumously awarded the George Cross for making safe 70 improvised explosive devices in his time in Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Kim Hughes was also awarded the George Cross for improvised explosive disposal efforts. Two other soldiers have been awarded the George Cross for actions carried out in the conflict in Afghanistan.

  • L/Cpl Matthew Croucher of the Royal Marines Reserve was awarded the George Cross for smothering a grenade explosion with his body and equipment on an operation in Afghanistan. Croucher was the first reservist to receive either a VC or GC since current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan began.[18][19]
  • Mark Wright, of the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, was posthumously awarded the George Cross for entering a minefield in an attempt to save the lives of other injured soldiers. He maintained the morale of the other wounded soldiers, despite his serious injuries, but died of his wounds during the flight to the field dressing station.[20]

The Iraq conflict saw two military recipients of the George Cross, Peter Norton and Christopher Finney.

The most recent civilian recipient was Sergeant Stewart Guthrie of the New Zealand Police, who received his award posthumously for his part in apprehending a gunman in the 1990 Aramoana massacre in New Zealand.[23]

Female recipients[edit]

In its history, the GC has been awarded directly to only four women (although a number of others have received the awards superseded by the GC):

Collective awards[edit]

The Flag of Malta displays its George Cross

The George Cross has, on the express instruction of the Sovereign, been awarded twice on a collective basis, to the island of Malta and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

Malta[edit]

The George Cross awarded to Malta (National War Museum, Malta)

The GC was awarded to the island of Malta in a letter dated 15 April 1942 from King George VI to the island's Governor Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie:

To honour her brave people, I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.

The Governor answered:

By God's help Malta will not weaken but will endure until victory is won.

The cross and the messages are today found in the War Museum in Fort Saint Elmo, Valletta. The fortitude of the population under sustained enemy air raids and a naval blockade which almost saw them starved into submission, won widespread admiration in Britain and other Allied nations. Some historians argue that the award was in fact a propaganda gesture to justify the huge losses sustained by Britain to prevent Malta from capitulating as Singapore had done in the Battle of Singapore.[28]

The George Cross is woven into the Flag of Malta and can be seen wherever the flag is flown.

Royal Ulster Constabulary[edit]

The GC was awarded to the RUC in 1999 by Queen Elizabeth II following the advice of her Government. Buckingham Palace announced,

The Queen has awarded the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to honour the courage and dedication of the officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and their families who have shared their hardships.

The Queen paid her own personal tribute to the RUC by presenting the George Cross to the organisation in person at Hillsborough Castle, County Down.

The citation published by Buckingham Palace on 23 November 1999 states:

For the past 30 years, the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been the bulwark against, and the main target of, a sustained and brutal terrorism campaign. The Force has suffered heavily in protecting both sides of the community from danger—302 officers have been killed in the line of duty and thousands more injured, many seriously. Many officers have been ostracised by their own community and others have been forced to leave their homes in the face of threats to them and their families. As Northern Ireland reaches a turning point in its political development this award is made to recognise the collective courage and dedication to duty of all of those who have served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and who have accepted the danger and stress this has brought to them and to their families.

Two years later (on 4 November 2001), the RUC was renamed and is now the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Awards by nation[edit]

Canada[edit]

There have been 10 GCs awarded to Canadians (including those by substitution for awards superseded by the GC): nine men and one woman. The GC is no longer awarded to Canadians by the Queen of Canada, who awards the Cross of Valour (Canadian) instead.

Australia[edit]

Memorial to Australian recipients, George Cross Park, Canberra

Fourteen George Crosses were awarded to Australians between 1940 and 1978, five of this total going to civilians. Of the 14, four awards were made to officers of the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve who served in the extremely dangerous role of mine disposal during World War II. Courage of a different sort was displayed by two prisoners of war who endured terrible suffering without flinching, with Private Horace William Madden dying of privations while assisting fellow prisoners, and Captain Lionel Colin Matthews eventually being executed by his captors for building a resistance network. The last Australian to be awarded the GC (in 1978), and the most recent surviving civilian recipient, was Constable Michael Kenneth Pratt of the Victoria Police, Melbourne, for arresting two armed bank robbers in June 1976.

A memorial to Australian recipients, George Cross Park, was opened in the Capital, Canberra, on 4 April 2001 by the Governor General of Australia, Sir William Deane. The George Cross is no longer awarded to Australians. The Queen established the Cross of Valour in 1975 to be awarded by the Crown "only for acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril", and this is now used instead of the George Cross.

Annuity[edit]

Holders of the George Cross or Victoria Cross are entitled to an annuity, the amount of which is determined by the awarding government.[29] Since 2002, the annuity paid by the British government is £1,495 per year.[6] In Canada under the Gallantry Awards Order, members of the Canadian Forces, or people who joined the British forces before 31 March 1949 while domiciled in Canada or Newfoundland, receive $3,000 per year.[6] For Australian holders, the amount is determined by clause 11A1.2 of the Australian Defence Force Pay and Conditions, and as of January 2005 is $250 per year.

George Cross Committee[edit]

The George Cross Committee considers cases of military and civilian gallantry.[30] The Committee has no formal terms of reference.[30]

Restriction of use[edit]

As of 1943, in accordance with the George Cross (Restriction of Use) Ordinance, in Malta it is unlawful to use the George Cross or an imitation of it or the words George Cross, for the purposes of trade or business without the authorisation of the Prime Minister.

George Cross in literature and the arts[edit]

The fictional detective inspector William E. "Jack" Frost in the novels of R. D. Wingfield is a recipient of the George Cross, which sometimes serves as a plot element in allowing him to get away with actions that would otherwise have landed him in trouble.

Ray Davies makes reference to George Cross recipients in The Kinks song The Village Green Preservation Society with the lyric "God save The George Cross and all those who were awarded them".

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 56878. p. 3351. 17 March 2003.
  2. ^ also known as the Imperial or British honours system and includes some countries of the Commonwealth of Nations
  3. ^ London Gazette, 56878, Monday, 17 March 2003, p. 3351, Order of Wear
  4. ^ Mussell, J W (Editor), (2012), Medal Yearbook 2013, (Token Publishing Ltd: Devon)
  5. ^ British Gallantry Medals, p. 138
  6. ^ a b c "George Cross Database". Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. 
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 35060. pp. 622–624. 31 January 1941. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
  8. ^ British Gallantry Awards, p. 138
  9. ^ a b George Cross Database. Retrieved on 12 September 2007.
  10. ^ London Gazette, No. 35060 – Warrant, Fifth clause
  11. ^ The London Gazette: no. 35060. p. 623. 31 January 1941. secondly
  12. ^ The London Gazette: no. 35060. p. 623. 31 January 1941. seventhly
  13. ^ London Gazette, No. 35060 – Warrant, Eighth clause
  14. ^ One miniature replica signifying a single award. In the event of a second award of the GC (the award of a bar), a second replica would be worn on the ribbon, and so on for further awards. The London Gazette: no. 35060. p. 623. 31 January 1941. eighthly
  15. ^ Exchange awards are not gazetted although the original EGM, AM and EM announcements were gazetted.
  16. ^ Kevin Brazier. The complete George Cross, Pen & Sword, 2012, ISBN 978 1 84884 287 8
  17. ^ "George Cross for Army Afghanistan bomb heroes". BBC. 18 March 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2010. 
  18. ^ "Royal Marine Reservist to receive the George Cross". Ministry of Defence. 23 July 2008. 
  19. ^ "Marine who threw himself on exploding grenade to protect comrades awarded George Cross". Daily Mail. 23 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-23. 
  20. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58182. pp. 17352–17353. 15 December 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
  21. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 57935. pp. 7191–4192. 24 March 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
  22. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 57100. p. 1. 30 October 2003. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
  23. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 52837. pp. 2783–2784. 17 February 1992. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
  24. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37693. p. 4175. 16 August 1946. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
  25. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37820. p. 6127. 13 December 1946. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
  26. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38578. p. 1703. 5 April 1949. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
  27. ^ The London Gazette: no. 44913. p. 8211. 7 August 1969. Retrieved 2008-05-16.
  28. ^ Grove, Dr Eric (17 February 2011). "The Siege of Malta in World War Two". BBC. Retrieved 15 April 2007. 
  29. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 43684. p. 5693. 11 June 1965. Retrieved 2008-01-10. – Warrant, Fourteenth clause
  30. ^ a b Letter from Roger Smethurst dated 20 April 2012, released as part of a response from Cabinet Office to a request made using WhatDoTheyKnow, accessed 2 August 2012.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Abbott, PE and Tamplin, JMA – British Gallantry Awards, (1981), Nimrod Dix and Co.
  • Bisset, I – The George Cross, MacGibbon & Kee (1961)
  • Duckers, P – British Gallantry Awards 1855–2000, (2001), Shire Publications
  • Hebblethwaite, M – One Step Further: Those whose gallantry was rewarded with the George Cross. Series of 9 books. Chameleon HH Publishing Ltd from 2005 (ISBN 0954691717 onwards)
  • Hissey, Terry – Come if ye Dare – The Civil Defence George Crosses, (2008), Civil Defence Assn (ISBN 9780955015328)
  • Mussell, J (Editor), (2012), Medal Yearbook 2013, (Token Publishing Ltd: Devon)
  • Smyth, Sir John – The Story of the George Cross, Arthur Baker Ltd. (1968) ISBN 0-213-76307-9
  • Stanistreet, A – 'Gainst All Disaster, Picton Publishing Ltd. (1986) ISBN 0-948251-16-6
  • The Register of the George Cross, This England, 2nd Edition (1990) ISBN 0-906324-17-3
  • George Cross (Restriction of Use) Ordinance, Government of Malta, (1943)

See also[edit]

Media related to George Cross at Wikimedia Commons

External links[edit]