The Victoria Cross is the UK’s highest award for gallantry, established in 1856 and awarded 1356 times since then. The decoration has a special London link, with every one being made by New Bond Street jewellers Hancock and Co.
The Victoria Cross (VC) was awarded 628 times during the First World War, almost half of all the awards made since 1856. One of the 627 men who earned it, Noel Chavasse, was awarded the medal twice during the war; all earned it for acts of extreme gallantry in the face of the enemy. Another nine earned it in Russia and Waziristan in the next three years.
Hancock and Co have been the makers of the VC since it was created. The medals are said to be made from the metal of Chinese guns captured from the Russians in the Crimean War (the first conflict for which the medal was awarded). According to research by John Glanfield, it seems that the metal used for the medals changed in December 1914, but the medals made during the rest of the war were all made from the same ingot. You can visit Hancocks (as they are now called) in Burlington Arcade.
In 1916, the Illustrated War News carried a series of photos of the production of the medal. They described how the ingot of bronze was sent by the War Office to the jewellers each time a medal or medals were to be made (the metal is still kept securely by the MOD today). “No dies are used; each Cross is produced separately. A wax model was made for the first, from which the pattern was cast. From it moulds are made in special sand, and smoothed with plumbago. The bronze is melted at about 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Then the case has to be filed, drilled, and chased.”
Once the blank medal was complete, it was sent to the War Office for inspection. It was then returned to Hancock and Co for the name, rank and date to be engraved.
Part of the current UK Government’s Great War commemoration plan is to lay a paving stone in honour of every British Victoria Cross winner. According to their list (on the government website), eighty of those who earned the Victoria Cross had London connections, including those in the bits of Essex and Kent that are now in London.
Those eighty include two Londoners that we have met before: Noel Mellish, the gallant curate from Deptford, and George Jarratt, whose wife was presented with his medal by the King in 1917. The investiture, like many others for the VC and other medals, was held at Buckingham Palace.
Another London winner was Edward Dwyer from Fulham. He earned the VC at Hill 60 in May 1915, when he helped wounded comrades and then dispersed a German attack with hand grenades. He was killed in action at Guillemont in 1916. Remarkably there is an audio recording online of him (here) talking about the campaign in 1914, and singing. There is also a British Pathe video (here) of a parade held in his honour, probably in London.
Private Train of the London Scottish earned his VC in 1917 in Palestine, when he rushed an enemy machine gun team that was holding up his unit.
The Victoria Cross was the most prestigious gallantry medal awarded to soldiers, sailors and airmen of the British Empire in the Great War. The Imperial capital, London, had a special connection with the medal, which was produced and often presented in the city.