Medical Victoria Crosses
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The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system. It is awarded for valour "in the presence of the enemy" to members of the British Armed Forces. It may be awarded posthumously. It was previously awarded to Commonwealth countries, most of which have established their own honours systems and no longer recommend British honours. It may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command although no civilian has received the award since 1879. Since the first awards were presented by Queen Victoria in 1857, two-thirds of all awards have been personally presented by the British monarch. These investitures are usually held at Buckingham Palace.

The VC was introduced on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War. Since then, the medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients. Only 15 medals, of which 11 were to members of the British Army and four were to members of the Australian Army, have been awarded since the Second World War. The traditional explanation of the source of the metal from which the medals are struck is that it derives from Russian cannon captured at the Siege of Sevastopol. However, research has suggested another origin for the material. Historian John Glanfield has established that the metal for most of the medals made since December 1914 came from two Chinese cannon, and that there is no evidence of Russian origin.

Owing to its rarity, the VC is highly prized and the medal has fetched over £400,000 at auction. A number of public and private collections are devoted to the Victoria Cross. The private collection of Lord Ashcroft, amassed since 1986, contains over one-tenth of all VCs awarded. Following a 2008 donation to the Imperial War Museum, the Ashcroft collection went on public display alongside the museum's Victoria and George Cross collection in November 2010.

Medical Foreword by Alistair Macmillan


Since its inception in 1856, members of the Army Medical Services have been awarded UK’s highest award for valour. This started off at the Battle of Balaclava and the lineage stretches through to the last year of World War 2. The story of each and every medical awardee is included in this collection on the RAMC Association website. It is a remarkable tale featuring as it does an exclusive company of non-combatants who, regardless, were exposed to enemy fire and showed extraordinary bravery in tending and rescuing the wounded on the battlefield. The list features some 29 awardees from the UK and is embellished by a further 10 who served with Empire troops on medical duty – mainly alongside their British confreres. This is not the largest list of VC awardees, that privilege is reserved to the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, although through the number of infantry regiment amalgamations that have happened over the last 50 years, some of these new aggregates are exceeding those ancient Corps’ totals as well as our own.

Turning to the data in more detail. There have only been three awards of the VC and Bar; two of these are to medical officers (Martin-Leake and Chavasse) thus bringing the 29 UK total to 31 awards. The early awardees served directly as members of their regiments and the Royal Artillery, so you will find their names on those other lists as well. The regimental medical officers, apart from the Household Troops ones, only passed to the Army Medical Department in 1873. The RAMC was then formed as late as 1898 and so only 14 of the 31 were wearing that cap badge at the time. Six awardees (Ranken, Green, Chavasse, Fox-Russell, Andrews, Harden) have given their lives in earning their accolade and another (Ackroyd) was killed in a separate battlefield incident after his bravery but before the citation was announced. Only three awards have been to soldiers (Fitzgibbon, Farmer, Harden), the rest are all to medical officers. Fitzgibbon is believed to be the youngest ever recipient of the award. Manley has a unique story line of his own as he was also awarded the Prussian Iron Cross and the French Croix de Secours aux Blesses during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Campbell Douglas was awarded after that rare phenomenon of a rescue at sea and not under fire. For the sake of completion it should be mentioned that there is one Royal Naval Medical Service awardee, Surgeon William Job Maillard, who earned the VC at Crete in 1898.

The Museum of Military Medicine holds 21 of the 39 medals awarded to medical staff and a further 12 are on display at other museums at home (plus Maillard’s) and abroad. Five remain in private hands and the whereabouts of Fitzgibbons’ one is not known but it is suspected that it was buried with him at the end of his life. However, there is one more VC in the collection not yet mentioned. When Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone at Netley Hospital in 1856 she buried beneath it an unmarked VC medal. After the hospital was finally demolished in 1966 this was recovered, and it is also on display at the Museum of Military Medicine alongside the other 21. It is believed that this was the first VC ever struck as its placement predated the initial award presentation parade in Hyde Park. It had been suggested that it wasn’t real as it didn’t have a name and date inscribed on it so the Colonels Commandant RAMC had it duly inscribed in 1967.

Phil Basford is to be congratulated for his painstaking compilation of the data, this website now holds, concerning the medical VCs. With each entry there are links and additional information, beyond the citation, to flesh out the individual stories. Enjoy pecking in and out of the myriad detail on offer.

This section, covering all the Medical VC’s, has been brought together with material from:

Captain Peter Starling

Brigadier Alistair Macmillan,

Produced by
Major Philip Basford ARRC

The support of the Museum of Military Medicine and Regimental Headquarters for extra material is much appreciated.

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