The VC
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History and Facts about the Victoria Cross

Ever since its institution the Victoria Cross has been supplied by the well-known London jewellers, Messrs. Hancocks and Co., now of Burlington Gardens London W1. The Cross and suspender are first cast in gunmetal and then chased and finished by hand; from 1914 to 1950 a die-cast suspender was used. The metal used to forge every Victoria Cross is tended by 15 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps in Donnington. The VC metal rarely sees the light of day as it is secured in special vaults and is removed only under exceptional circumstances. Weighing 358 ounces and looking somewhat like a lump of cheese, it is all that remains of the bronze cascabels from two Russian cannon captured at Sebastopol, the last great battle of the Crimean War in 1854-55. The cascabel, a large knob at the rear of the cannon, held ropes which were used when the artillery piece was being man-handled. The two cannon, minus cascabels, stand proudly outside the Officers Mess in Woolwich.

The most recent issue of metal, exactly fifty ounces and sufficient to make twelve medals, occurred on 23 October 1959, to Messrs Hancocks & Co (Jewellers) Ltd, the royal jewellers who have been responsible for individually making each medal since the inception of the VC in 1857. Given that fifty ounces are required to make twelve Victoria Cross medals, the remaining 358 ounces contain enough for a further eighty five. Arthur's VC came in a cardboard box with his name on it and also that of the Jewellers - Hancocks.

The components of the decoration are then treated chemically to obtain the uniform dark brown finish which is darker on some issues than on others. The Cross is 1.375 inches wide and, together with the suspender bar and link, weighs about 0.87 ounces troy, although chasing and finishing may cause slight variation in these figures. The design of the Cross is attributed to H.H. Armstead who at the time of its inception was working for Hancocks, the design then being approved by the Queen.

Crimson (described as red in the Warrants), 1.5 inches wide. Originally the ribbon was dark blue or the Royal Navy and crimson for the Army. Shortly before the Royal Air Force was formed on 1st April 1918 the King approved the recommendation that what had been the Army ribbon should be adopted by all recipients. When the ribbon is worn alone a miniature of the Cross is pinned on it, a bar being indicated by a second miniature worn beside the first (when first approved in 1916, a single miniature indicated the award of a bar; from 1917 this was changed to the current configuration).

By a straight bar, slotted for the ribbon, with a V-lug below, made in one piece. The front of the bar is ornamented with laurels (the die-cast bars having the leaves set more closely together), and the reverse engraved with details of the recipient. The Cross and suspender bar are joined by a small link which passes through the lugs of both components. On earlier issues the link is completely circular and the inside bottom of the V-lug slightly recessed to accommodate it. Later the link was made oval and the lug not recessed.

In reality the Cross is not a Maltese Cross, as it is described in the Royal Warrants, but is closer to a cross patté.

The date (or dates), of the act of gallantry is engraved in the centre circle.

This is based on the suspender bar but without the V-lug, ribbon and frame above. The reverse is engraved with details of the recipient and the date or dates of the act.

Details of the recipient are engraved in capital letters on the reverse of the suspender bar, and the date or dates of the act of gallantry in the centre circle of the reverse of the Cross. The style of engraving varies although, generally speaking, the use of serifs seem to have been discontinued during the South African War (Boer) War. However, King Edward VII having approved posthumous issues, some comparatively modern Crosses exist which were awarded for services performed many years before. Sometimes the inscription is of the same colour as the decoration itself. The latter practice seems to have been more general before the Boer War although thereafter no particular pattern is apparent.

The details on the suspender bar include the rank, name and regiment, or other description of the recipient. Abbreviations are used, according to the length of the inscription, and during the First World War the practice of adding the regimental or equivalent number in the case of recipients below commissioned rank was introduced. Occasionally the recipient's full (or abbreviated) first names appear. The First World War and later inscriptions tend to be fuller than those appearing previously. The details on the reverse of the Cross give the date or dates of the act concerned, the month usually being abbreviated.

Below is a drawing depicting the first presentation of Victoria Crosses by Queen Victoria, made in Hyde Park on 26th June 1857 where Queen Victoria decorated 62 officers and men for actions during the Crimea War.