The Victoria Cross is the highest medal for gallantry that a military serviceman or servicewoman in the British or Commonwealth armed forces can earn. It was established in 1856 when it was realized that many acts of bravery were going unrecognized during the Crimean War. The metal used to make every Victoria Cross medal has been made from cannons captured by the British at the siege of Sevastopol. But the cannons weren’t Russian. It has recently been revealed that the metal used to make the Victoria Cross medals are made from antique Chinese cannons, not Russian.
Why are the Victoria Cross medals made from Chinese cannons and not Russian?
During the siege of Sevastopol in 1854-55, the British captured two cannons from the Russians. It was these two cannons that were used to make the Victoria Cross medals. While it has long been held that the cannons were indeed Russian, it now appears as though they were Chinese in origin. Historian John Glanfield, through examining and using X-rays of some of the original VC’s, has revealed that the metal used to make the Victoria Cross medals originated in China, not Russia. It’s believed that the Russians had captured Chinese cannons and reused them at Sevastopol where the British captured them.
A little background on the Victoria Cross medal
When war broke out in the Crimea in 1854 the British had no system in place to recognize acts of gallantry. After a period of 40 years of peace this war was one of the first that faced reporting from the media. This media often reported in the press back home that many acts of bravery were going unrecognized In reality, the only way to get any recognition for valour was to be an officer.
In 1856 Queen Victoria issued a Royal Warrant instructing the War Office to strike a new award that would recognize bravery regardless of rank or social status. The military award was first issued in a ceremony in 1857, and it was backdated to acts of valour from 1854.
In an attempt to keep it simple, Queen Victoria, with the guidance of Prince Albert, chose to simply call it the Victoria Cross. The medal was originally going to be inscribed “For the brave”, however Queen Victoria recommended the wording be changed to “For Valour” as the original wording suggested that not all men in battle were brave. While there is no written doctrine enforcing it, there is a tradition that all ranks, including Generals and Field Marshals will salute the bearer of a VC.
The VC has been produced from the same cannons, in the same jewelers , Hancock’s of London, since its inception. It’s believed that there is enough metal from the cannons to strike a further 80 to 85 VC’s.
Regardless of the origin of the metal to make the Victoria Cross medals, the fact remains that it is one of the most highly recognized medals of gallantry in the world. Thankfully though, they are not stamped made in China.