The Victoria Cross (official post-nominal letters "VC") is the highest award for valour that can be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces of any rank in any service and civilians under military command.
The medal takes the form of a cross pattée, 1.375 inches (35 mm) wide, bearing a crown surmounted by a lion, and the inscription "FOR VALOUR". This was originally to have been "FOR BRAVERY", until it was changed on the recommendation of Queen Victoria, who thought some might erroneously consider that only the recipients of the VC were brave in battle. The medal, suspension bar and link weigh about 0.87 Troy Ounces (27 g). The ribbon is crimson, 1.5 inches (38 mm) wide.
The VC was first issued on 29th January 1856, recognising acts of valour during the Crimean War of 1854 - 1855. All VCs are cast from the bronze cascabels of two cannon of Chinese origin that were captured from the Russians at the siege of Sevastapol, although during the First World War metal from guns captured from the Chinese during the Boxer Rebellion was also used. The barrels of the cannon in question are stationed outside the Officers' Mess at the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich.
The remaining portion of the only remaining cascabel, weighing 358 oz, is stored in a vault by 15 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps at Donnington. It is estimated that approximately 80-85 medals could be cast from this source. A single company of jewellers, Hancocks of London, has been responsible for the production of every VC awarded since the medal's inception.
A total of 1,357 Victoria Crosses have been awarded since 1856. The largest number of VCs awarded in a single day was 24 on November 16th 1857 at the relief of Lucknow. The largest number awarded in a single action was 11 at Rorke's Drift on January 22nd 1879.
Only three people have been awarded the Victoria Cross twice, Noel Chavasse and Arthur Martin-Leake, both members of The Royal Army Medical Corps and New Zealander Charles Upham. The second award is designated by a bar worn on the suspension ribbon of the original decoration and this is thus known as a VC and Bar and since a small cross device is worn on the VC ribbon when worn alone, a recipient of the VC and bar would wear two such crosses on the ribbon.
The VC has, exceptionally, been awarded to the American Unknown Soldier; the US Medal Of Honor was reciprocally awarded to the British Unknown Warrior.
As the VC is awarded for acts of valour "in the face of the enemy", it has been suggested by some that the changing nature of warfare will result in few VCs being awarded. Only one in ten VC recipients is said to have survived the action for which they won the VC.
The corresponding honour for civilians or for acts of valour that do not qualify as "in the face of the enemy" by servicemen and women is The George Cross.
Between 1858 and 1881, the Victoria Cross could be awarded for actions taken "under circumstances of extreme danger". Six such awards were made during this period.
Australia, Canada and New Zealand have each introduced their own honours system, replacing British medals such as the Military Cross with their own awards. However each country has kept the Victoria Cross as their highest honour. The Canadian Victoria Cross, instituted in 1993 and never awarded, as of 2015, is inscribed in Latin rather than English.
Awards of the Victoria Cross are always announced in the pages of the London Gazette