Only a rare breed of men have received the Victoria Cross, awarded to ‘the bravest of the braves’ for exceptional courage, far beyond the call of duty. And it still is, to those who serve the British Crown. Since its inception in 1856 a total of 1,355 have been awarded to individuals; with three men having received bars — the equivalent of a second Victoria cross — and one has gone to the ‘Unknown Warrior’ in America. The VC is today, arguably the world’s best known award for bravery. Instituted by Queen Victoria herself, it is shaped like an equally sided cross, and made of brass, carrying the simple inscription “For Valour”. Initially thought to be made from bronze that came from the captured Russian guns captured at Sevastopol, during the Crimean campaign, it turned out, many years later, that these guns were in reality Chinese, and might not have been at Crimea at all!
Manufactured only by Hannocks of London, each medal has a secret mark that helps in checking its authenticity. This fortunately prevents any forgeries or fakes. While the youngest winner was 15-years-old Andrew Fitzgibbon and the oldest Lt. William Raynor at 62, the Cross has also been won by four pairs of brothers, three fathers and sons and by three members of a single family, the Gough’s. Certainly, these were no ordinary men. All this and more has been highlighted in a book on “Victoria Cross Heroes” by Michael Ashcroft, who has — after 150 years of the inception of the award — the world’s largest individual collection of these medals — 145 VCs — that includes three official replacements, an unofficial cross and un-issued specimen medal.
But Lord Ashcroft’s collection of these rare medals has been built up by buying those medals that do not remain with the recipient’s family or because the medal means little to the remote descendants of the winner, or from families that cannot agree which member should have the medal and in some cases from families, or the winner that has hit hard times and need to sell the medal for money. It is only such medals that are bought and added to the Trust that Michael Ashcroft has created in 2005. But these medals aren’t cheap to buy. From £29,000 plus taxes for the first medal that he bought in 1985, to over £200,000 for the one that was earned by Sergeant Norman Jackson during World War II.
However, the Victoria Cross was not awarded to any Indian soldier until 1912. They weren’t apparently good enough to receive this award! Instead, there was the Indian Order of Merit, first introduced in 1837 and was the only gallantry award available for native soldiers until 1907. But when the award was decreed to be awarded to people of Indian subcontinent (India and Nepal and what is now Pakistan), our men literally picked them up by the dozens. In all, forty Victoria Crosses were awarded to Indians, in the nearly four decades that followed until 1947. Since then, we’ve had our very own Param Vir Chakras. And at least a dozen Indians have won that coveted award. In their book on Indian VC winners, Till Memory Serves, Jaswant Singh and Manvender Singh — the father-son combination of soldiers — scholars — politicians, have paid a fitting tribute to the Indian men who went out to earn this distinction with complete disregard to personal safety. The first of these being Khudadad Khan in 1914 and the youngest being 15 year old Lance Naik Nand Singh. For each of them it was their endearing commitment to izzat that led them to put their life on the line.
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