The Victoria Cross

As  the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross is celebrated, Richard Vinen looks beyond the individual acts of heroism that have merited the honour, to the wider social, cultural and historical significance of  the medal.

The highest medal for gallantry awarded to members of the British armed forces, the Victoria Cross (VC), was instituted in 1856. Since that time, a huge body of literature has grown up around it. Much writing on the subject involves recounting particular actions in which the medal was won. Yet beyond this both military and cultural historians have tended to steer clear of the subject. However, records relating to the medal (particularly during the twentieth century) are extremely good and it is possible to establish biographical detail about almost all those who have won the medal since 1914. To mark the medal’s 150th anniversary, the National Archives are putting many of these records online.

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