Obverse of the cross. Ribbon: 38 mm, dark blue.
|Awarded by Commonwealth realms|
|Awarded for||"... acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger."|
|Description||Height 48 mm, max. width 45 mm; (Obverse) plain silver cross with 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 is the Royal Cypher GVI; (Reverse) plain, centre engraved with name of recipient and date of award. Cross attached by ring to bar ornamented with laurel leaves, through which the ribbon passes.|
|Established||24 September 1940|
|Last awarded||2 October 2014 (gazetted)|
|Total awarded||407 (including 2 collective awards)|
|90 (including 4 former EGM recipients)|
|407 (including 2 collective awards)|
|Order of Wear|
|Next (higher)||Victoria Cross|
|Next (lower)||Order of the Garter|
GC ribbon bar
The George Cross (GC) is second in the order of wear in the United Kingdom honours system, and takes precedence over all other orders, decorations and medals, except 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 George Cross was instituted on 24 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 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 British Orders of Chivalry.
Bars are awarded to the GC in recognition of the performance of further acts of bravery meriting the award, although none has yet been awarded. Recipients are entitled to the postnominal 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.
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 both 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.
The Ministry of Defence announced on 18 March 2010 that Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid was posthumously awarded the George Cross for making safe 70 improvised explosive devices in his time in Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Kim Hughes was also awarded the George Cross for improvised explosive disposal efforts. Two other soldiers have been awarded the George Cross for actions carried out in the conflict in Afghanistan.
The most recent civilian recipient was Sergeant Stewart Guthrie of the New Zealand Police, who received his award posthumously for his part in apprehending a gunman in the 1990 Aramoana massacre in New Zealand.
In its history, the GC has been awarded directly to only four women:
Apart from the four women who received the GC directly, a number of women have received awards that were later superseded by the GC and exchanged for it (e.g. Doreen Ashburnham-Ruffner who in September 1916 received the Albert Medal for Lifesaving for saving her young cousin from a cougar attack. She exchanged her initial medal for the George Cross in 1971).
The GC was awarded to the island of Malta in a letter dated 15 April 1942 from King George VI to the island's Governor Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie:
To honour her brave people, I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.
The Governor answered:
By God's help Malta will not weaken but will endure until victory is won.
The cross and the messages are today found in the War Museum in Fort Saint Elmo, Valletta. The fortitude of the population under sustained enemy air raids and a naval blockade which almost saw them starved into submission, won widespread admiration in Britain and other Allied nations. Some historians argue that the award was in fact a propaganda gesture to justify the huge losses sustained by Britain to prevent Malta from capitulating as Singapore had done in the Battle of Singapore.
The George Cross is woven into the Flag of Malta and can be seen wherever the flag is flown.
The GC was awarded to the RUC in 1999 by Queen Elizabeth II following the advice of her Government. The Queen presented the George Cross to the organisation at Hillsborough Castle, County Down. The citation published by Buckingham Palace on 23 November 1999 stated:
For the past 30 years, the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been the bulwark against, and the main target of, a sustained and brutal terrorism campaign. The Force has suffered heavily in protecting both sides of the community from danger—302 officers have been killed in the line of duty and thousands more injured, many seriously. Many officers have been ostracised by their own community and others have been forced to leave their homes in the face of threats to them and their families. As Northern Ireland reaches a turning point in its political development this award is made to recognise the collective courage and dedication to duty of all of those who have served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and who have accepted the danger and stress this has brought to them and to their families.
There have been 10 GCs awarded to Canadians including those by substitution for awards superseded by the GC. The recipients comprised nine men and one woman. The GC is no longer awarded to Canadians by the Queen of Canada, who awards the Canadian Cross of Valour instead.
The George Cross was awarded to 14 Australians, five of them civilians, between 1940 and 1978. It was the highest decoration for bravery awarded to Australians during that period. An Australia-specific decoration, the Cross of Valour (CV) was established in 1975 "only for acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril". The CV is now awarded to Australians instead of the George Cross.
Of the 14 awards, four were made to officers of the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve who served in the extremely dangerous role of mine disposal during the Second World War. Courage of a different sort was displayed by two prisoners of war who endured terrible suffering without flinching, with Private Horace William Madden dying of privations while assisting fellow prisoners, and Captain Lionel Colin Matthews eventually being executed by his captors for building a resistance network. The last Australian to be awarded the GC (in 1978), and the most recent surviving civilian recipient, was Constable Michael Kenneth Pratt of the Victoria Police, Melbourne, for arresting two armed bank robbers in June 1976.
Holders of the George Cross or Victoria Cross are entitled to an annuity, the amount of which is determined by the awarding government. Since 2002, the annuity paid by the British government is £1,495 per year. In Canada under the Gallantry Awards Order, members of the Canadian Forces, or people who joined the British forces before 31 March 1949 while domiciled in Canada or Newfoundland, receive $3,000 per year. For Australian holders, the amount is determined by clause 11A1.2 of the Australian Defence Force Pay and Conditions, and as of January 2005 is $250 per year.
Since 1943, in accordance with the George Cross (Restriction of Use) Ordinance, it is unlawful in Malta to use the George Cross, an imitation of it or the words George Cross for the purposes of trade or business without the Prime Minister's authorisation.
The fictional detective inspector William E. "Jack" Frost in the novels of R. D. Wingfield is a recipient of the George Cross, which sometimes serves as a plot element in allowing him to get away with actions that would otherwise have landed him in trouble.
Charles (Karl, Graf von) Dennim, the protagonist in Geoffrey Household's 1960 thriller Watcher in the Shadows, was awarded the George Cross for espionage work during the Second World War, including undercover service as a Gestapo officer at Buchenwald concentration camp. He refused to accept the award on the basis that "one does not defile a decoration".
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