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The George Cross (GC) is the highest civil decoration of the United Kingdom, and also holds, or has held, that status in many of the other countries of the Commonwealth of Nations. The GC is the civilian counterpart of the Victoria Cross (VC) and the highest gallantry award for civilians as well as for military personnel in actions which are not in the face of the enemy or for which purely military honours would not normally be granted.

Creation

The GC was instituted on 24 September 1940 by King George VI. 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."

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

The GC was intended to replace 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. The anomaly was only rectified in 1971, when the surviving recipients of the AM and the EM were invited to exchange their award 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.

Award

The George Cross, 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."

The cross is primarily a civilian award; however the George Cross may be awarded to military personnel for gallant conduct which is not in the face of the enemy. As the Warrant states:

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. 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.

The details of all awards are published in the London Gazette with the exception of the two collective bestowals.

Recipients

Since its inception in 1940, the GC has been awarded posthumously to 86 recipients and to 73 living people (excluding the two collective awards to Maltamarker and the Royal Ulster Constabulary); including those who were originally awarded other medals, the total number of recipients is 404.

Recent recipients

The Ministry of Defence announced on 23 July 2008 that L/Cpl Matthew Croucher of the Royal Marines Reserve will be awarded the George Cross for smothering a grenade explosion with his body and equipment on an operation in Afghanistan.Croucher will be the first reservist to receive either a VC or GC since current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan began.

Prior to 23 July 2008 the most recent recipient of the George Cross was Corporal Mark Wright, of the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, who died in Helmand Province of Afghanistanmarker on 6 September 2006, after entering a minefield in an attempt to save the lives of other injured soldiers. He entered the minefield with a small team after another soldier stepped on a landmine. While the first casualty was being tended to, further landmines detonated as a landing space was cleared for a CASEVAC attempt, causing severe injuries to several others. Cpl Wright remained in the minefield, and ordered others out, but he was himself injured by another mine while making his way to the helicopter. 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.

Prior to that, the two most recent military recipients of the George Cross were Captain Peter Norton, an Ammunition Technical Officer of the Royal Logistic Corps, for gallantry when, on 24 July 2005, he led a bomb disposal team at the site of an IED attack on a US military patrol in Iraq, sustaining serious injuries. Previously, Trooper Christopher Finney of the Blues and Royals had been awarded the George Cross on 31 October 2003 for gallantry during a friendly fire incident in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Finney is also the youngest military recipient of the decoration.

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 massacremarker in New Zealandmarker.

Female recipients

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), Odette Sansom, Violette Szabo, and Noor Inayat Khan (all members of FANY, who were awarded the George Cross for actions carried out while serving as agents in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II), and Barbara Jane Harrison, an Air Stewardess, on a BOAC flight at Heathrow Airport, who died on 8 April 1968 after helping many passengers escape from an onboard fire.

Collective awards

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

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:

The Governor answered:

The cross and the messages are today found in the War Museum in Fort Saint Elmo, Vallettamarker. 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 Singaporemarker had done in the Battle of Singaporemarker.

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

Royal Ulster Constabulary

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

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

The citation published in the London Gazette on 23 November 1999 states:

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

Awards by nation

There have been 10 GCs awarded to Canadiansmarker (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

Memorial to Australian recipients, George Cross Park, Canberra
14 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 Madden dying of privations while assisting fellow prisoners, and 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, Melbournemarker, for arresting two armed bank robbers in June 1976.

A memorial to Australian recipients was opened in the Capital, Canberramarker, on 4 April 2001 by the Governor General of Australia, Sir William Deane. George Cross Park is in Blamey Crescent bounded by Moten Street, Campbellmarker.

The George Cross is no longer awarded to Australians. The Queen of Australia established the Cross of Valour in 1975 to be awarded by the Australian Crown "only for acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril". This is now used instead of the George Cross.

Annuity

Holders of the George Cross or Victoria Cross are entitled to an annuity, the amount of which is determined by the awarding government. Since 2002, the annuity paid by the British government is £1,495 per year. As at January 2005, under the Canadian 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. 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.

Restriction of Use

As of 1943 in accordance with the George Cross Ordinance, in Maltamarker 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.

Notes

Bibliography

  • 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)
  • Mackay, J and Mussell, J (eds) - Medal Yearbook - 2005, (2004), Token Publishing.
  • Smyth, Sir John - The Story of the George Cross, Arthur Baker Ltd. (1968) ISBN 0213763079
  • 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)


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