The George Cross (GC) is the equal highest award of the United Kingdom honours system, being second in the order of wear (but equal precedence) to the Victoria Cross.
The GC is the highest gallantry award for civilians, as well as for members of the armed forces in actions for which purely military honours would not normally be granted.
The GC was instituted on 24th September, 1940 by King George VI.
At this time, during the height of the Blitz, there was a strong desire to reward the many acts of civilian courage. The existing awards open to civilians were not judged suitable to meet the new situation, therefore it was decided that the George Cross and the George Medal would be instituted to recognise both civilian gallantry in the face of enemy action and brave deeds more generally.
Announcing the new award, the King said:
In order that they should be worthily and promptly recognised, I have decided to create, at once, a new mark of honour for men and women in all walks of civilian life. I propose to give my name to this new distinction, which will consist of the George Cross, which will rank next to the Victoria Cross, and the George Medal for wider distribution.
The medal was designed by Percy Metcalfe. The Warrant for the GC (along with that of the GM), dated 24th September, 1940, was published in the London Gazette on 31st January 1941.
The GC replaced the Empire Gallantry Medal (EGM); all holders of the EGM were instructed to exchange their medals for a GC, a substitution of awards unprecedented in the history of British decorations. This substitution policy ignored holders of the Albert Medal (AM) and the Edward Medal (EM), awards which both took precedence over the EGM.
The anomaly was rectified in 1971, when the surviving recipients of the AM and the EM became George Cross recipients and were invited to exchange their medal for the George Cross. Of the 64 holders of the Albert Medal and 68 holders of the Edward Medal eligible to exchange, 49 and 59 respectively took up the option.
The GC, which may be awarded posthumously, is granted in recognition of:
..acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.
The award is for civilians but also for military personnel whose actions would not normally be eligible to receive military awards, such as gallantry not in the face of the enemy. The Warrant states:
The Cross is intended primarily for civilians and award in Our military services is to be confined to actions for which purely military Honours are not normally granted.
The Cross shall be worn by recipients on the left breast suspended from a ribbon one and a quarter inches in width, of dark blue, that it shall be worn immediately after the Victoria Cross and in front of the Insignia of all
All GC awards are published in the London Gazette with the exception of the two collective bestowals.
Since its inception in 1940, the GC has been awarded 406 times, 404 to individuals and two collective awards to Malta and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There have been 161 original awards including collective awards and 245 exchange awards, 112 to Empire Gallantry Medal recipients, 65 to Albert Medal recipients and 68 to Edward Medal recipients.
Of the 159 individuals who received original awards, 86 have been posthumous. In addition there were four posthumous recipients of the Empire Gallantry Medal whose awards were gazetted after the start of the Second World War and whose awards were also exchanged for the GC. All the other exchange recipients were living as of the date of the decisions for the exchanges.
Materials: The majority of the British medals and clasps are made of solid silver, though some were issue in bronze versions, mainly to Indian non-combatants. The majority of the British campaign awards are circular, usually 36mm in diameter.
Ribbons: Medals are worn suspended from their own specific ribbons. These were first made of silk but cotton was increasingly used as the nineteenth century developed. Their own colours often have a symbolic significance: the equal stripes of the ‘1939 to 1945 Star,’ for example, are dark blue to represent the service of the Royal and Merchant Navies, red, to represent that of the Armies and light blue to represent that of Air Forces.
Ribbon width can vary slightly though it is generally 32mm wide.
Ribbon – Dark blue
Type – Civil decoration
Eligibility – Commonwealth subjects
Awarded for – "... acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger."
Established – 24th September 1940
Designer – Percy Metcalfe
Post-nominals - GC
Naming – Medal reverse is plain and bears in the centre the name of the recipient and the date of the award
Suspender – Straight
Total Awarded – 407
Clasps – One
Description – Height 48mm max; width 45mm – The obverse is a plain bordered cross with a circular medallion in the centre depicting the effigy of St. George and the Dragon, surrounded by the words "FOR GALLANTRY". In the angle of each limb bears the cypher of the reigning Monarch, during the war “GRI” or “GRVI”, after the war “EIIR”. The medal reverse is plain and bears in the centre the name of the recipient and the date of the award.
Clasps are usually referred to as ‘bars’. They are single-faced metal bars carried on a ribbon attached to the medal, indicating the recipient’s service in a particular campaign or battle. The clasps carry side flanges to enable them to be attached to the medal and riveted to each other, so that new ones can be attached as earned. Usually the first earned Clasp is closest to the medal, so that the latest earned should be at the top, although they can be found in the wrong order.
Bars are awarded to the GC in recognition of the performance of further acts of bravery meriting the award, although none have yet been awarded. Recipients are entitled to the post nominal letters GC. In common with the Victoria Cross, a distinction peculiar to these two premier awards for bravery, in undress uniform or on occasions when the medal ribbon alone is worn, a miniature replica of the cross is affixed to the centre of the ribbon.
Major L L Gordon ‘British Battles and Medals’
Medal Year Book 2006
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