The Victoria Cross was founded by Royal Warrant on 29th January 1852 and is awarded for acts of conspicuous bravery in the face of the enemy. The decoration is in the form of a Maltese Cross made from the bronze of cannons captured at Sevastopol during the Crimean War. Originally the ribbon of the Victoria Cross was blue for the Navy and dark red for the Army, however in 1918 the colour was changed to the current crimson for all 3 services.
The first Victoria Cross was awarded to Charles Davis Lucas, an Irishman serving with the Royal Navy, on 26th June 1854 some 19 months prior to the institution of the Royal Warrant. Lucas was serving aboard HMS HECLA during the Crimean War when a live Russian shell landed on the Ship's Deck. Lucas picked up the shell and threw it overboard where it exploded. This prompt action saved the Ship and its crew from certain destruction.
The first Territorial Officer to win the Victoria Cross was Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Woolley of the 9th (County of London) Battalion The London Regiment (Queen Victoria's Rifles) on Hill 60 in the Ypres sector of Belgium, on the night of 20th April 1915. This was followed 41 days later by the first Territorial from the Ranks to win the Victoria Cross, Lance Sergeant Douglas Belcher of the 1st / 5th (City of London) Battalion The London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) for a deed of gallantry, also in the Ypres sector.
During the Great War there were two double Victoria Crosses, awarded to Territorial RAMC Officers, Captain Arthur Martin-Leake and Captain Noel Chavasse. Captain Chavasse served with the 1/ 10th The King's Liverpool Regiment and Captain Martin-Leake served with 5th Field Ambulance.
The George Cross was instituted in 1940 by King George the VI. At the time the United Kingdom was engaged in total war and therefore acts of Gallantry by civilians, members of the Emergency services and the Armed Forces in circumstances other than in combat situations would need to be recognised. At the same time the George Medal was instituted. This medal would be awarded more freely than the George Cross however, the standard would be high.
Prior to 1940 there were 3 National medals awarded for outstanding gallantry by both civilians and the military. They were:
The Empire Gallantry Medal
The Albert Medal
The Edward medal (Specifically for bravery in industrial accidents)
On the 24th September 1940 the date of the issue of the George Cross warrant, recipients of the Empire Gallantry Medal were required to exchange their award for the George Cross. On the 21st October 1971 recipients of the Albert and Edward Medal were invited to exchange their medals for the George Cross should they so wish.
The George Cross has been awarded collectively on two occasions. On 15th April 1942 to the people of Malta and on 23rd November 1999 to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
In 1985, Sergeant Barry Smith, 289 Commando Battery RA (V) was awarded the George Medal, after he chased two armed raiders during which he was shot in the chest and twice in the groin. Despite his injuries he caught the raiders and held them until the police arrived.