29th January 1856. For Valour.
Surgeon (later Surgeon-General) William Manley is unique having been awarded the VC and the German Iron Cross, winning the first in New Zealand and the second in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 as a member of the British Ambulance Corps on the Prussian side.(1)
One of the most decorated NCO’s of WWI was conscientious-objector Lance-Corporal Coltman born near Burton-on Trent, Staffordshire. He was a stretcher-bearer and awarded the MM (twice), DCM as well as the VC and Croix de Guerre.
The Victoria Cross, the highest award regardless of rank, was instituted Today in 1856 by Warrant under Royal Sign-Manual. It was backdated to 1854 to recognise bravery in the Crimean War.
The first investiture of 62 medals was held in Hyde Park on 26th June, 1857 by the Queen on horseback. (2)
It was William Howard Russell of The Times who reported on the bravery of the common soldier in the Crimea, who was the instigator of the VC, an idea taken up by the Commons in 1854, that the Queen should create a medal for the highest and the lowest.(3)
An early VC was presented retrospectively to Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) Charles Lucas for his action in throwing a live bomb overboard from HMS Hecla in 1854. The youngest recipient was Andrew Fitzgibbon for action at Taku Forts, China on 21.8.1860.(4)
The list of awards is a litany of Empire conflict and beyond, from the Crimea (111); Indian Mutiny ((182) when 23 were won in a single day.(5); The New-Zealand Maori Wars (15); 2nd Afghan War (16), when the first padre to be awarded the Cross was the Rev. James Adams on the staff of Lord Roberts.
The Zulu War (23) saw the largest number awarded in a single action with 11 awarded at Rorkes’s Drift on 22nd– 23rd January 1879; In 1881 the medal was restricted for action in the presence of the enemy. The 2nd Boer War saw 78 medals awarded between 1899-1901.
The VC Medal comprises a bronze Maltese Cross captured from a Chinese-made Russian cannon captured at Sebastopol, the metal kept by the Logistic Corps at Donnington Supply Depot in Shropshire. Hancocks the London jewellers inscribe the blanks of a medal which has a royal crown surmounted by a lion in the centre; beneath is the inscription ‘For Valour’.
There were 627 recipients out of 628 in WWI. The first airman was William Rhodes-Moorhouse RFC.(6) The only holder to be Court-Marshalled was Lt. Colonel Sherwood-Kelly, for objecting to a raid against the Bolsheviks in 1919, using a newly developed gas, but ostensibly for his communication to the Press.
Not until 1920 could a VC be awarded posthumously with one quarter of WWI being so awarded
The first Army medals in WWII resulted from Dunkirk.(7) Five were awarded after the 1942 St Nazaire raid, the most for any single operation in a War when 182 were awarded altogether. D-Day saw only one VC awarded to Sergeantt-Major Stanley Hollis.
There have been 10 British awards since WWII which saw among conflicts the Korean, the Falklands to Colonel H. Jones (the 36th Old Etonian VC), and Sgt. Mackay whilst in recent times the 2003 Iraq and the Afghanistan Wars were to see the ultimate awards for bravery.
(1) Announced in the British Gazette on 22.12 1864.
(2) The VC was Gazetted on 5th February 1856 in the London Gazette 21846 pp.410-411.
(3) On 19th December 1854.
(4) 117 have been awarded to RN to date which includes Naval Reserve and Marines.
(5) On November 16th 1857.
(6) Of No 2 Squadron for action on 26.4.1915. In all 15 RFC and RNAS and 26 to RAF in total of which 23 were to Bomber Command.
(7) Announced in the London Gazette on Monday July 30th 1940 for awards to Lt. Harald Marcus Ervine-Andrews (East Lancs) and L/Corp Harry Nicholls (Grenadiers), posthumously.
Ref: Crook MJ. The Evolution of the VC. Midas Books, 1976. Ch. 8, P68-90.
Ref: Wikipedia List of VCs.