Was the VC more awarded in the past?

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by BaronBoy, Mar 26, 2010.

Welcome to the Army Rumour Service, ARRSE

The UK's largest and busiest UNofficial military website.

The heart of the site is the forum area, including:

  1. Reading the thread on the imminent sale of the first, or one of the first VCs' to be awarded got me thinking. Was the VC more readily awarded in the past than today?

    There have been several examples of exceptional heroism from both Iraq and Afghanistan that one would have thought deserved the awarding of the VC but only received a lesser award. However, when Queen Vic handed out the original lot there were something like 62 recipients.

    Similarly at Rorkes Drift 11 were awarded and it would possibly have been more except posthumous awarding of the medal was not introduced until 1907 when ironically it was awarded to Lts Melville and Coghill for attempting to save the colours at Isandhlwana. Linky for source.

    Which brings up another point. Was the award of the medal for more than bravery in the past? Similarly, has the medal ever been awarded for political purposes? I am currently reading "Operation Corporate" by Martin Middlebrook and the circumstances surrounding the award of the medal to Lt Col "H" Jones and Sgt Ian McKay would appear to suggest that there was an element of the political in the case of the former. Linky for information.

    According to here 1,356 have been awarded but only 13 since WW2 (actually I think that should be 1,358 and 15 - the link needs updating) which makes the point clearer.

    I am not disparaging the actions of anyone who has been awarded the VC, merely observing that it appears to be less frequently awarded now than in the past and asking others who are better informed than me to comment.
  2. Maybe they realised they were running out of metal for the medals so became more frugal with the awards.

    It's fact that the medal has been awarded very few times since WW2, but there may be various reasons for this.
  3. As other medals were made available yes the frequency has gone down, in WW1 the Military Medal and Military Cross were brought in 1915. So to get a VC in the latter part of the war was a lot harder.
  4. My opinion is that, unfortunately, it was more readily used as a political tool originally and this attitude has receded as time past.

    Also I'm not decrying the valour of the awardees.
  5. I think, so I may not be spot on, but to start with there were no bravery medals at all.

    Then they decided during Victoria's time that brave deeds should be recognised, hence the introduction of the VC as the only gallantry award available.

    At some point the status of the VC was raised as the introduction of (and I really hate to use this word in such a context) 'lesser' awards such as the MC, MM etc came in underneath it.
  6. I'm guessing as well here from some patchy distant memory. I think there were gallantry awards but mostly for officers only, the VC was introduced for all ranks.
  7. I always noticed that the mustachioed CSM figure in the film Zulu, who seemed in the script seemed to play such a prominent part in the battle, was never awarded a VC and assumed his was a made up part to add dramatic effect.

    Not for the first time I recently discovered I was completely wrong, the man, whose name to my shame escapes me, was an absolute legend and was offered the choice between a VC and a commission.

    As a family man he took the rank, along with the pay etc. He was once introduced to Queen Victoria who asked him how he was. 'As ever maam,' he replied 'five foot seven and slightly under weight'.
  8. If ever there was a VC earned, it was by Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba at the battle of Mirbat. Instead, and shamefully, all he got was an MiD. But wasn't there some sort of movement to award him one posthumously?

    I reckon there's always been a certain political element in the awards of VCs, and even more so for so-called "lesser" awards, particulary to Ruperts.

  9. BBear

    BBear LE Reviewer

    I remember a documentary with Jeremy Clarkson talking about his Father-in-Law who received the VC. One point which he raised, which I think holds a great deal of weight, is that the award is a victim of it's own success. The more heroic the act, the even greater amount of heroism needed to surpass it and gain a further award.

    I am not decrying anyone's actions, nor saying that those awarded today are greater than those of 50 years ago. This is patently not the case.

    I would imagine, however, that in a world war where operations are being mounted in various theatres all over the world, the proliferation of valour and courage would be perhaps more frequent than those of today due to the sheer number of combatants.
  10. I think I'm right in saying that of the 'lesser awards' only the MM was introduced as exclusively for gallantry. In WW1 it was possible to be awarded the MC and DCM for 'distinguished service' - hence the (in)famous case in WW1 of an ASC Sgt being awarded the DCM for his services in a bakery on the LoC in France. The introduction of the Order of the British Empire in 1917 (?) did away with this sort of thing and the awards of DSOs and MCs to officers for good staff work.

    As for the VC. Yes, I'm sure the criteria has changed over time and that some awards carry 'political' overtones - but I've yet to read a citation and thought 'I could have done that'.

  11. The VC was instituted in 1856 though the initial awards were back-dated to include the bulk of the Crimea War. It is to recognise exceptional heroism by anyone of any rank and of any service.

    Prior to that, the Distinguished Conduct Medal was instituted in 1854: an award specifically for ORs. Until then, other than the awards/promotions/despatches of individual commanders, there was little to recognise the actions of the lewd and licentious soldiery. For officers, the CB was pretty much the only method of recognising outstanding service or bravery.

    The system of awards and honours up to this point very haphazard: the Military General Service Medal (1847) was awarded retrospectively from 1793, FFS! There was a companion Naval General Service Medal, awarded under the same criteria. Trouble is, in 1847, the stipulation was that the claimant had to claim it (none of this NOK malarkey).So, if you survived and if you could write - or find someone else who could write - then you may have got one........but, at least it was a start.

    Soooo, the reason why some may think that the perceived level of bravery displayed during the early years of the VC was mariginally less than that required now is, for me, quite simple: there was nothing else on the shelf.
  12. OldSnowy

    OldSnowy LE Moderator Book Reviewer

    Answer to the question - no, and when you think about it the logic is clear.

    There have been less than 1,400 awarded, and, when you consider that this includes WW1 and WW2, both of which involved many tens of thousands of men in combat for protracted periods, as opposed to the Bde+ we have now, then it is clear that, proportionately, the criteria are probably the same as they ever were.

    Do not ever forget, though, that the award of a Tier 1 Decoration like this is, whether you like it or not, a political statement - see the thread above re. Rorke's Drift (lots) and Mirbat (none).
  13. Since the second world war, Britain has lost it's empire. Perhaps that has something to do with it? Troops are located in far less places, and opportunities may have been greater when it existed. Also in the olden days, we were involved in building the said empire, so in both cases perhaps there was plenty of chances to earn one. Either way, that should never detract from the actions that earned them.
  14. Yes, although I fear that one reason why this award wasn't given was because we weren't 'advertising' that particular conflict and a VC is still, rightly, a headline award. Similarly, as several earlier posters have inferred, the lack of altenative awards was one reason why so many VCs were awarded in Victorian times: it was simply that or nowt
  15. BaronBoy - "Which brings up another point. Was the award of the medal for more than bravery in the past? Similarly, has the medal ever been awarded for political purposes?"

    ??? ALL gallantry awards have been subject to an element of ‘political purposes’, and perceived protocol ;) Equally citations can NOT be relied upon to be accurate in all cases, and, mores the great shame, there are many who escaped recognition.

    There are instances of awards being made from ‘Whitehall’, meaning not actually recommended by the CO on the spot. Gallantry awards are officially not for cumulative deeds, though these may appear presented in a Citation ‘suggesting’ they were consecutive. If you are able to carefully reconstruct events with the help of those who were there, you may well find there was more than one ‘hero’, but only one has been recognised. You’ll also find instances of two separate occasions where men performed virtually identical deeds. Though one got a gong and one got nothing :omg:

    It’s the way it is, and why do you say "in the past?" :roll: